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“But still — may the cup of crisis pass from us, and soon.”

Written by: on March 22, 2018

Ross Douthat, a Catholic convert at 17, writes the compelling text Bad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics (heretics defined as a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted) in which he challenges the reader to feel safe and empowered to be political without being partisan.  Much like author James Hunter, Douthat decries Christians who are so stuck in their morality and partisanship that they are unwilling to question or stand up for a belief that is contrary to their chosen political party.  As an example, he points to a democrat like John F. Kennedy who was prolife (which was acceptable at the time but would now be considered blasphemous.)  “His comfort with complexity, and with those who disagree with him—along with his somewhat unconventional upbringing, his unorthodox ideas on abortion law, and his embrace of both popular culture and highbrow literature—make him a surprising conservative writer. More surprising than most of his Timesreaders would ever know, and compelling in ways his fellow conservatives may not like to admit.”[1]  While Hunter encouraged Christians to completely step away from politics, and move into faithful presence, Douthat encourages involvement, as long as Christians find moments where there are sides of contradiction – “here is an issue in which it’s clear that my highest loyalty is to the New Testament rather than the Republican Party platform.” Douthat sees political polarization as detrimental to our culture and faith. “The party system has split along racial, cultural, and religious lines, creating a kind of tribal system where each party’s supports regard the other side with incomprehension and loathing.”[2]

Even with his conservative positioning, I appreciate and value Douthat’s commonsense (and biblical) approach to discernment.  He is willing to step aside from the Republican agenda if it makes sense – and is biblical.  He speaks eloquently regarding the conservative stance on homosexuality and abortion as he states Christians should “be more wholistic with moral outrage” and include wealth, prosperity preaching, pornography, divorce, etc. as “equally” sinful.  If they are not regarded as equal, conservatives should step away from the debate.  Regarding politics, and as a perfect lead-in to Douthat’s views on refugees resettling in the United States, he makes the following brilliant assertions in his Breakpoint podcast:[3]

  • “Politics is downstream from culture.”
  • “It should be ok to contradict belief and politics.”
  • “What is my own side getting wrong and what can I do about it?”
  • “There’s an awful lot of ways to fall down.”
  • “Christianity has always depended on unexpected resurrection.” and
  • “The most important battle has already been won.”[4]

According to Douthat, There are “two ways to think about the potential dangers involved in admitting large numbers of refugees from the Middle East’s present chaos” into Western countries, and both of them have rather different implications for Europe than for the United States. “But cultural change is a complicated thing, built on narratives and symbols and intuitive leaps.”[5]

Douthat points out that European countries are more at risk when accepting refugees because of their proximity to the Middle East and the Schengen Area. “Dangers are much more clear and present for Europe than for the United States. The first problem, of easy terrorist movement, is worse on the continent not only because of Europe’s sheer proximity to the Middle East, but also because of the way the continent’s Schengen Area works: If your passport (forged or real) gets you into one Schengen country, then you can enter all the rest (well, or at least until recently you could) without facing any kind of border check at all. That effectively means that Greece and Italy and Spain are doing the work of border control and refugee screening for France and Germany and Sweden, which is rather like if New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama bore the primary responsibility for screening refugees to the reset of the U.S.A., with only ad hoc support from the federal government.”[6]

But Duthout profoundly acknowledges (even as a conservative) that border security operates differently here in the U.S. It’s centralized and federalized, as is refugee resettlement, and “while it’s obviously subject to various forms of incompetence it isn’t in the hands of local officials whose incentives (and cultures and languages and bureaucratic effectiveness) differ radically from the governments of their wealthier neighbors, as it presently is in Europe.”[7] The United States also has the advantage of the Atlantic Ocean – almost all our refugees arrive by plane.  The Atlantic Ocean is a mechanism of “pre-screening for us; boats full of Syrian (or “Syrian”) migrants are not regularly washing up on the Outer Banks or Nantucket.” So, essentially, we are far ahead of our European counterparts with our systems and processes in resettling refugees.

Believe it or not, the U.S. has a far better track record than Europe when it comes to assimilating Muslim immigrants and preventing extremism from taking root.[8]  So aside from the question of moral responsibility — “where I think you can make a case that the U.S. bears more responsibility for the miserable fate of people in the broad zone of our Iraq intervention than do the nations of “Old Europe” that opposed that intervention in the first place”[9] — it appears that the American governors trying to keep refugees out of their states, and the “Republican politicians making hay over the issue”, are not accurately understanding and assessing the actual risk of refugee resettlement.

Douthat believes that questioning how we’re handling refugee policy is reasonable…but unless the United States is planning to never take asylum seekers from the Middle East again “it’s hard to see a good case for a sustained moratorium on admitting any refugees from a regional nightmare that our own policies, across two administrations, have helped create and worsen.”  If the U.S. thinks we shouldn’t take any refugees because we can’t feel one hundred percent secure about the vetting process, then we should probably stop issuing student visas and tourist visas to Middle Easterners (and not only them) as well. “But if we think, as we should think, that perfect security is a fantasy, then the differences between our position and Europe’s seem sufficient to make a moral and prudential case for going ahead with the refugee numbers that the Obama White House had in mind, or even the higher numbers (50,000? 60,000?) floated by the Democrats; the likely risks are simply not high enough to justify a halt.”[10]

According to Douthat, what we’re debating right now is really more about American feelings (our sense of security versus our sense of righteousness) than it is about macro-level solutions to the refugee crisis. “What that macro-level solution might be I don’t pretend to know.”[11] It probably needs to involve helping refugees where they are at the moment (in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey), rather than encouraging the idea that the only truly moral solution involves assimilating them all into Europe. For the concerned citizens in the U.S. we need to do our part to aid humanitarian efforts; and our government needs to determine what they can do both home and abroad.

“For reasons of prudence, millions of Syrians (and Iraqis, and Libyans, and …) shouldn’t end up in Greece and Hungary and Germany. For reasons of prudence and logistics and democratic politics, they won’t end up in America. So they need to be helped, and soon, close to where they are right now.”[12]

“But still — may the cup of crisis pass from us, and soon.”[13]

[1] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/01/ross-douthat-new-york-times-conservatism/

[2] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/fear-and-loathing-in-american-politics/

[3] https://player.fm/series/the-breakpoint-podcast/ross-douthat-bad-religion

[4] https://player.fm/series/the-breakpoint-podcast/ross-douthat-bad-religion

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-obama-era-brought-to-you-by-the-iraq-war.html

[6] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[7] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[8] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[9] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[10] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[11] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[12] https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/europes-refugee-problem-and-ours/

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/opinion/sunday/are-we-unraveling.html

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Jean Ollis