The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.1 (Winter 2010)
FAITH AND CULTURAL MELTDOWN
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Eradicating National Borders Is Not a Christian Duty
Virtually all major Christian denominations–Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Methodist–have over the past decade produced lofty exponents of granting full amnesty for illegal residents of the United States. To begrudge wealth and opportunity to those of this world who have far less than we Americans, it seems, would contradict the spirit of Christ. We should be generous with what we possess, even though doing so may render us poorer. Blessed are the poor in spirit–and so, too (it is implied), the poor in pocket.
Let a few obvious rejoinders lie quietly as we seek out the broader issue. Let the duty of those who :have” to help those who “have not”, for instance, pass at face value, even though that clear general obligation is often haunted in specific cases by the question: How, then, can the rich not be more virtuous than the poor if the poor must be made more rich, or how will the poor not be made less virtuous once they are enriched if the rich need to humble their wicked souls? (For starvation is seldom a risk here: most Mexican families can get TVs and shoes–they just need a boost to reach hi-def or Nikes.)
Also enjoying a free pass for now will be the perennial bugbear of the mathematically challenged: how many times can a fraction be halved before its real-world value is zero? The Land of Open Wallets, naturally, will draw more and more immigrants like flies to proverbial honey, so the inevitable outcome of offering unlimited subsidies must be streets teeming with more and more angry hands reaching for less and less loot, which must lead to rioting and injury, which bears no resemblance to anything urged by Christ… and the story, if we were to tell it, quickly goes very, very wrong.
Let us further ignore for the nonce the root cause of illegal labor: that it is cheap, being employed most often at an illegally low wage; and let us be so dense or so serene as to overlook that these workers must virtually all turn to public welfare once they go legal, their places having been filled by yet more illegals. (For if we are morally bound to employ illegal workers, why would we not be equally so to cut checks indefinitely for the legally unemployed?)
Let us be sure to pretend, as well, that no distinction exists between a Christian’s giving his own money to charity and his forcing others to do so under legal duress. Such hair-splitting appears much too fine for most of the contemporary church’s bishops. They reason pragmatically. Act X is good in itself, regardless of what the agent may have in his heart. Therefore, lies, laws, and threat of hand-held lumber are all tolerable stimulants in persuading the retrograde faithful (or the hopeless infidel) to pony up cash for the good cause. Putting emphasis on right intention would suggest that God is more interested in the individual’s heart than in society’s overall material prosperity–that spiritual reality trumps physical reality. Frankly, many leaders in the more liberal Protestant denominations no longer even believe in a spiritual reality per se. Christ never walked on water, but as the quintessential “good man”, he exemplified for all posterity how to advance social health and efficiency.
As it turns out, we now find ourselves at last on the verge of the broader issue: i.e., what precisely are “good works”? The Christian, following his Lord’s direction, prays, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done,” using long-discarded subjunctives in what he probably understands as a vow to bring heaven to earth. Surely everyone must share his possessions in heaven–surely private property is indeed obliterated beyond the Pearly Gates. Hence, in order to fulfill his vow, the Christian is obligated to make things on earth resemble his fanciful image of heaven as much as possible. Most members of the laity soon give up on their more ambitious fancies; there simply isn’t enough money to buy Christmas turkeys for every poor family in town and also finance Ashley’s braces. But clergymen view themselves as called to think big. Their mission is nothing less than to scourge the congregation with exhilarating guilt until the plate runneth over: more for the poor, and more for them to champion the cause of the poor. If they are not displaying an almost insane disregard for practical necessity, then the spirit has insufficiently touched them. After all, we know what Christ did with seven loaves–and they are Christ’s living ministers, his divine electricity humming through their fingertips. Give, sinners, give!
The problem with all this is that the Christian is not charged to create a terrestrial utopia. What Christ says about his followers’ time on earth, rather, emphasizes that they may expect steady derision and persecution. They are to sacrifice material comfort, yes, in walking the righteous road–and it is precisely in doing so that they will appear fools to the worldly. This is lightyears away from masterminding a social blueprint, however, wherein everyone is forced to shell out except the blueprint’s masterminds. The baron and the vagabond are scarcely more different than these alternatives. The utopian engineer is a self-appointed Moses, his every word received in awe by the masses, his public position almost that of God come to earth in all His glory (or so he would have it). The true Christian, on the other hand, embraces poverty as much as he fights it, sharing what he has with those who ask but not craving to have more that he might “share” more ostentatiously. His real gift is not a “spreading of the wealth”, but a demonstrating that one may find a frugal bliss here on earth by accepting both sun and rain and not anguishing over raises or promotions. The utopian overlord, in offering the false bliss of affluence (which, as we have noted, must also be a false offer, for purely logistical reasons), is at least consistent with his vision of Christ: the “good man” who couldn’t rise from the dead and never intended to, but could prolong corporeal life thanks to abstruse curative powers. For this life, to such a minister, is the only one there will ever be–and Christ was its iconic benefactor, and now he has assumed the mantle of that great good man.
Vanity has always been the most subtle of the deadly sins–and the most deadly, spreading its rot through the intelligence of men while other sins tickle the senses or spur surges of unconsidered impulse. To suppose that doing God’s will in this world licenses one to play God–to be His descending hand of vengeance, His bellowing mouthpiece, or His crusading tax collector–is the pinnacle of vanity. Clerics and politicians imbibe especial deep draughts of this heady brew, either of them often trespassing upon the other’s turf as both drunkenly salute their long shadow. Doting media-magnifiers can nowadays make that flapping figment span the nation like a Colossus.
Ironically, few true Christians would disagree that the United States wears its wealth tastelessly. These simple people are shocked at what we export to the world by way of entertainment, they frown silently upon the lifestyle that entrusts parenting to video games as the household’s adults chase an additional hundred thousand of income, and they have never in their lives refused charity to anyone who applied for it in honest need. Far from matching the caricature of coarse, hypocritical middle-class America projected by Family Guy and South Park, they are in fact implicit proof that the supercilious Hollywood caricaturists are crafting a subconsciousself-portrait; for it is upwardly mobile, soccer-mom suburbia which produces both the sanctimonious poseurs of Desperate Housewives and their sexually-active-and-confused children majoring in journalism at Columbia and Princeton. The American bourgeoisie, in its worship of the almighty dollar and the kind of thunder dollars purchase, is far too secularized. Nobody knows this better than the humble Christians of America’s hinterland–and nobody has carried forward the bourgeois banner of vulgar materialism more zealously than the politicos, reporters, and now clergymen who hope to buy back their lost conscience with other people’s sweat.
Mexico needs help: no doubt about it. People of good will around the world–and especially here in the neighboring United States–should cast about for ways to pitch in. Shoveling money across the border into a miserably corrupt political and judicial system is not one of those ways; neither is allowing the vast human run-off from that nation’s epic dysfunction to spill over our borders and corrupt our own system. We have, or could soon develop, the technology to desalinate sea water and channel rain water so that Mexico’s bone-dry Chihuahuan Desert may become the fruit bowl of the world–and so that the same region may pioneer the collection and storing of solar energy for North America. All of this is in addition to oil. Mexico is golden with opportunity. Spiritual leaders concerned about sowing the seeds of virtue in the here-and-now should be lobbying for governments on both sides of the border to pursue these opportunities. Instead, our “conscience-stricken” clergy is merely encouraging the special interests that rule us to gorge a little fatter by trying to secure for them an unlimited supply of slave labor. This, one might well say, is unconscionable.
Finally, the position of those ministers and priests who hope that politically enfranchising millions of Mexicans–a socially conservative tribe if ever there was one–will precipitate the outlawing of abortion is also fatally flawed. These spiritual leaders need to ask themselves soberly if an analphabetic roofer or gardener is likely to ignore promises of bountiful handouts just to give the anti-abortionists another vote. For the choice will be that stark: the party of abortion is also the party of shameless pandering to political ingénues. The strategy is doomed to backfire. Then men and women of the cloth will be well served for attempting to play by Machiavellian rules. To dine with the Devil, you need a long spoon. ~ An Seachánaí