Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strangers in the homeland

Wall Street Journal:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano extended temporary amnesty to Haitians who were illegally inside the U.S. before Tuesday's earthquake, but warned that the Coast Guard would turn back any new refugees fleeing the devastation.

At Christmas dinner, one of my relations used the expression "A stranger in the home is Christ in the home" which I thought remarkable considering their apparent opinion of Christ.

The transposition of what is regarded as "holy" onto unpopular categories of humanity, like the powerless, is a tendency which sustains my interest in the Gospel message. Taken to heart, it would appear to undermine every power system.


Anonymous said...

"know that you too were strangers in the land..." sayeth the big Yah over & over in the hebrew scriptures.

global capital creates global mass poverty, and yet i am supposed to hate & despise those fleeing such misery?

d.mantis said...

I attended a family function from which a lively conversation about the war on terror and our enemies sprang up. I stayed completely silent. When someone finally asked me about all the tongue waving, I simply asked where in the bible does it state the actual acceptable number of innocent deaths versus enemy combantants. This earned a swift kick under the table from Mrs. Mantis.

Later, an elderly, very religous relative who had seen WWII first hand, pulled me aside. He said, "I have never been able to figure out why we feel vindicated for killing people who want us to get the fuck out of their country."

It is unfortunate that religious doctrine applied without bias is so rare. Sometimes your own family can surprise you.

Ethan said...

It's a nice thought, but one problem with it is that what you worship, you dehumanize. A lot of vile misogynists, for example, think of women as "holy." I don't know how one could avoid this tendency.

JRB said...

But what if you did?

It seems to me the greatest drawback in venturing too far from science is that you end up dealing in imprecise terms. But if that's true, then what you are left with is interpretation, not necessity one way or the other.

Ethan said...

Very true about imprecision. If we can separate out the bad aspects of assigning values of "holy" to human beings, then that would be a truly amazing thing.

JRB said...

What would John G. Miller do?

d.mantis said...

Ethan, this seems to go back to the idea of being a sexual flaneur.

Sometimes religious people (like the elderly relative I mentioned) seem more concerned with how we treat people rather than what we worship. Some of the more difficult if not impossible edicts in the Gospel come from how to behave in relationships with friends and enemies. This, to me seems the ultimate goal of spirtuality.

At least this is what I was trying to get across in the impercise anecdote above.

d.mantis said...

What would be the consequences if the U.S. made the choice to worship all human life everywhere?

JRB said...

Thanks for the observations, everyone!

So I don't won't to get hung up on particular terms, but what interests me is this logic that takes that which is purportedly most important and then transposes it onto that which is relegated to the bottom of human hierarchies. The poor, the enemy, the stranger -- these are categories that are already dehumanized; they must be in order to justify empire. Yet the ethical logic of the old and new testaments -- or at least the specific one I am referencing -- seems to undermine this as a rule: it insists that we are obligated to each other, not the demands of power.

For what it's worth, I find the trend intriguing, in no small part because it provides a common language with poor and working "conservatives," for whom the Bible is often their only ethical frame of reference.

Ethan said...

It seems cheap to reply to both of you with nothing other than "I completely agree" but that's all I can think of.

d.mantis said...

I think it is a trick of the trade with organized/institutionalized Christianity (or take your pick). These institutions allow a way to alleviate guilt by accessing large categories like the poor in an abstract way. You tithe on Sunday and speed past a begger on Monday.

The church in this case operates much as the state. It consumes a power (giver of charity) that people freely give because it is just too messy.

The difficulty is convincing working conservatives that the church is just another form of oppressive power.