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Global Community

While we sadly spend the early days of 2017 battling an effort by our new national leadership to put America First and close off our society, we should be reminded that global community is nothing new (nor is the reaction against it). Reading today in The Birth of the Modern by Paul Johnson, the British historian who is also a conservative, I encountered this description of the world in the early 19th century, which description arose out of a discussion of Western European trade relations with China:

Such cultural confrontations were inevitable as trade spread across the world and increasingly rapid and reliable forms of transport annihilated distance.  Perhaps the most important single aspect of modernity was the way in which, almost imperceptibly, mankind was transforming itself into a single global community, in which different races and civilizations, now touching at all points, simply had to come to terms with each other.  These frictions were usually solved by debate and agreement, with both sides recognizing the mutual advantage of peaceful conduct.

He does go on to point out that war did erupt and an unfortunate East-West divide was created which persists.

But I'm drawn to this idea of the global community as "the most important single aspect of modernity." Should we then conclude that Trump is an anti-modernist?  A reversion to a more primitive pre-modern worldview?

Republican Fausts

Conservative columnist David Brooks has opposed Trump and the Trump allies throughout his rise to power. His latest column is the harshest yet, focusing his attention on the Republicans who have sold their souls to the devil (thus the Faust analogy).  He details what is wrong with the Trump administration, including that it is a "a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done" and "it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty."  At the close he concludes: 

With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.

Putin's influence

A new essay in the Atlantic discusses Putin's growing geopolitical influence as a defender of Christian civilization and traditional values.  An important read.  And another reason why we Americans must recover the moral langu.age and spiritual practices that gave birth to liberal democracy, which is my priority project at the moment.  Pluralism is deeply wedded to traditional Christian principles, as Amy Kittelstrom demonstrates in The Religion of Democracy, which book only gains in importance it seems.

Why is the refugee and immigrant executive order morally evil?

Another night of post-election insomnia has compelled me to articulate the sins and vices which I believe Trump's executive order commits.  Please give me feedback.  Where am I wrong?  Where I have omitted something?

Why is the executive order morally evil? 

These are the vices and sins the order exhibits.

  1. Lacking in intellectual integrity in that no evidence exists to justify taking this particular action at this particular time. Which suggests the decision is irrational, likely based upon an irrational fear.
  2. The Bible repeatedly cautions us to not be afraid. Fear can empower our worst impulses.  And as I preached in my November 2015 sermon condemning Trump’s anti-refugee statements when they first appeared, the Bible warns against fear because a decision based in fear is one that does not trust in the sovereignty of God.  Therefore, the decision is unfaithful.
  3. The unwillingness to listen to and respond properly to criticism and outrage exhibits closemindedness and inflexibility, a lack of both intellectual and moral humility.
  4. The ban violates the most ancient of moral teachings on providing hospitality to the stranger in need (what the Torah calls “the stranger in the land”). In all ancient moralities inhospitality is considered one of the chief sins and can call down the swift judgment of God (a theme that dominates the Book of Judges, for instance).
  5. The ban also violates the basic principles of international human rights law as they have developed over the last two centuries, rooted in the moral principle of respect for the autonomy of the individual and the categorical moral imperative of all humans to do what they can to aid one another. So, it disrespects persons.
  6. And it violates human rights. The order specifically violates articles 13 and 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, America led in the writing and adoption of this document which is as binding upon as our own Constitution.
  7. Furthermore, it is disloyal, breaking faith with our allies and international commitments that we have made to welcome refugees.
  8. It is particularly crass at this current time when there are 65 million refugees in the world, the most in world history, when we should be expanding the number we relocate.
  9. It is niggardly, in that we are the world’s richest and most powerful nation, facing no existential threat, and therefore ought to be doing more than any other nation in carrying this human burden.
  10. It is covenant-breaking, promise-breaking, oath-breaking, in that the order included green card holders and permanent residents to whom we had an existing commitment. Both the Bible and secular moral theories (such as Kantian deontology) view promise-keeping as the essential social moral principle.
  11. In implementation it was particularly cruel, as it stranded people in transit, separating families, and in at least one instance a person died because they did not make it to the medical care that they were traveling to receive, so it is also
  12. Murderous, with the president now bearing the moral guilt for that death, which he will be responsible for before God.
  13. That the order treats Muslims from the seven nations differently than Christians from those nations, it is discriminatory. And the particular kind of discrimination is religious bias, in this case Islamophobia. The moral equivalent of anti-Semitism.
  14. And the order takes on further moral weight when taken within historical context. America turned away Jewish refugees from Europe before and during the Second World War, leading to many of them dying.  Our nation, and the rest of the world, made moral commitments after the war never to repeat that particular atrocity.  Implementing a similar policy, especially within living memory of our moral commitment to never do so, is particularly egregious.  At best the decision exhibits ignorance and disregard for history; at worst it demonstrates a knowing and willing refusal of history’s lessons.  I’m left to assume the latter, precisely because the family of the president’s son-in-law were Jewish refugees.
  15. Further, when you have embraced a slogan of the anti-Semitic, and at times pro-Nazi, movement of the 1940’s (America First) and engaged in a political campaign that flirted with any number of racist tropes, both the immediate and broad historical context reek of odious connections and similarities.
  16. Quite simply the order violates the core moral teachings of the Hebrew Bible—to love your neighbor as yourself and to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
  17. And it violates the fundamental moral teaching of Jesus from Matthew 25—“whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
  18. Finally, and maybe most importantly, it is


Eliot Cohen, who served in the second Bush administration, has been a conservative critic of Trump. In a piece this week for The Atlantic he wrote about what we must continue to do in order to defy Trump.  Reading Cohen's essay actually encouraged me, the most encouraged I'd been after a week of unmitigated horror coming from the White House.  

I read the essay in the context of the widespread denunciation and protests against the refugee ban.  The American people are not going to sit idly by and let the new administration destroy what is most valuable about our nation and its high ideals.  I believe that.  And we will learn, as conservatives are often ones to remind us, how limited is the power of the government in the face of other social institutions such as the church, business, the media, non-profits, families, etc.  

Maybe we will even have a renewal of the social fabric and participatory democracy--in other words, citizenship--in the wake of this catastrophe, as people across the ideological spectrum are drawing together in their opposition?

Here are the encouraging final paragraphs of Cohen's essay, which come after the warning that things will get worse than the first week, so we must be prepared for that:

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.

I Wonder

An oft-heard or oft-read response to the election in November was that Trump's opponents had taken him literally but not seriously and Trump's voters took him seriously, but not literally.

In recent months, as recent even as an NPR interview I heard last week, Trump supporters were saying things like, "The wall was simply a metaphor for taking control of immigration."

What are those folks thinking now?