Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

They Said It:

We have been reputed a Colluvies of wild Opinionists, swarmed into a remote wilderness to find elbow-room for our fanatic doctrines and practices.  I trust our diligence past, and constant sedulity against such persons and courses, will plead better things for us.  I dare take upon me to be the herald of New England so far as to proclaim to the world in the name of our colony, that all Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other enthusiasts, shall have free liberty to keep away from us, and such as will come to be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better . . . . 

Nathanial Ward, Simple Coblerf of Aggawam, 1647.



The Catechism of the Catholic Church supports the free movement of people throughout the world.  That is to say that the Church supports men and women and their God-given “right” to move from village to village, town to town, province to province, and even country to country in search of a better life for themselves and their families.  Moreover, the Church commands the people and governments of the lands to which migrants move to be as accommodating and as welcoming as possible.  In short, the Catholic Church unquestionably champions the cause of migrants.

What the Church does not do, however, is offer this support unreservedly.  In August 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops penned a letter/issue brief on the question of immigration reform.  And in so doing, the bishops acknowledged that the Church OFFICIALLY takes a decidedly even-handed approach to the question of immigration (emphasis added):

The Catholic Catechism instructs the faithful that good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored.  The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person.  Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.  Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.”

The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good.  Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.  Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”

We mention this today because we worry that some people in this great nation of ours – and in other nations as well – and especially some people who are closely associated with the Catholic Church, may actually not know this, or, at the very least, may have forgotten it as they have pursued their personal missions.  This week especially, as Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States and as the migrant crises throughout the West continue to worsen, we thought it might be valuable to revisit the question of immigration and especially its impact on and relationship to that part of the world that is the traditional demographic, cultural, and philosophical home of Christianity.

In the United States, it is clear that some otherwise well-meaning people are determined to assure that this “nation of immigrants” is unable to protect its borders, to enforce its laws, or to maintain the culture that made it the world’s lone hyper-power.  Consider, for example, the case of Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, who is certain that his opinions on immigration place him among the righteous.  The only catch is that the pesky Catholic Catechism suggests that he is only half right – or half-righteous, if you prefer.  Last week, the Chicago Tribune profiled Bishop Cupich and his desire to advance his mission as follows:

It is no coincidence that Pope Francis is launching his North American pilgrimage in Cuba, said Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.  The pope wants this trip to serve as a reminder of America’s immigrant history and a challenge to this nation, Cupich said.

“Refugees come to this country as they have from the very beginning,” Cupich said, during an exclusive interview with the Tribune.  By retracing the journey of many Cuban immigrants, the pope is challenging Americans “to recall our own heritage.”

“I would think, whatever he says, that symbolic action will say a great deal,” Cupich said.

Cupich and Francis, two churchmen both relatively new to their leadership roles, have proclaimed similar missions of welcoming the stranger.  Since the day Cupich first met his Chicago flock, he called for changes to the nation’s current immigration policy — making it clear it would be his No. 1 civic priority.

Cupich is seizing the opportunity of the pope’s presence on American soil to emphasize this mission. . . .

On the second day [of his trip], Francis will perform another papal first by addressing a joint session of Congress.  That speech, as well as his talk on the White House lawn, will be two of four addresses he will deliver in English.  In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and the impasse on Capitol Hill regarding immigration reform, the pope is expected to hammer home the importance of welcoming immigrants.

Cupich and his Washington allies hope the pope’s words won’t fall on deaf ears but will propel lawmakers to take action. . . .

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, said because Francis is always addressing the universal church, he won’t tailor his message too much but will be mindful of his American audience.

“He’s almost certainly going to call on American ideals, the idea of America as a nation of immigrants,” she said.  “This is in our national story.  He’s going to challenge Americans to live up to those ideals in reality when it comes to issues of immigration.” . . .

In terms of history and policy, this is mostly unmitigated BS.  The United States has never had the wild and undisciplined immigration policies most activists believe.  In the colonial period, in fact, many of the immigrants to this country were forced laborers, brought here either as slaves or through indentured servitude.   The United States has had state and federal immigration laws – restricting immigration – since at least the Civil War.  Nevertheless, since the 1960s, the U.S. has been among the fairest and most liberal hosts of immigrants in the world, banning quotas of citizens from certain parts of the world and welcoming nearly all newcomers.

Today, this nation absorbs some 1 million new immigrants every year – by far the most in the world.  Critics claim that this number, while large, actually reflects poorly on the nation, since it is but a pittance per capita, given the size of the population.  And while that may be true, the “1 million immigrants” figure is also misleading in that it represents only LEGAL immigrants.  And as any schoolboy knows, the United States not only welcomes more LEGAL immigrants than any other nation, it also welcomes more ILLEGAL immigrants every year than most of the rest of the nations of the world combined.

And, of course, it’s this last group – the illegals – that constitute the bone of contention between the pro- and allegedly anti- immigration factions.  People like Archbishop Cupich believe, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that the United States is simply not immigrant-friendly enough.  They seem not only to have forgotten the bit in the catechism about countries needing to be able to enforce their laws and immigrants needing to obey them, but also seem not to know much about economics or incentives.

The presumption among those who wish to make the normalization of illegal immigration their life’s purpose is that any “amnesty” or “pathway to citizenship” can and should be a discrete event, settled and then forgotten.  But anyone who knows anything about human behavior also knows that this is so much nonsense.  Indeed, the opposite is far closer to the truth.  Not to belabor that poor schoolboy, but again, even he knows that if you incentivize certain behavior you will encourage MORE of that behavior.

In the article about Archbishop Cupich, the Tribune quotes a Catholic immigration activist who plans on walking from Philadelphia to Washington to see the Pope and to protest deportations:  “We’re reminding ourselves there are people who walk through the desert for a better life,’ said [Reyna] Wences, who crossed the border from Mexico 15 years ago crammed ‘like a sardine’ lying in the bed of a truck. ‘We hope the pope will pay attention and intervene.  It’s all about dignity as human beings.’”

That’s a nice thought, we guess, but in reality, the normalization of illegal immigration will do nothing except to encourage more illegal immigration, more human trafficking, more packing of immigrants like sardines in truck beds, and more people dying in the desert trying to attain something under a veil of unlawfulness.  That’s not exactly a recipe for “human dignity,” if you ask us.  And people really think that the pope should intervene for that?

Unfortunately, the bigger problem here is that most people – regardless of their political affiliation or position on immigration – know absolutely nothing about the conditions in the Western world that make it the destination of nearly all of the world’s immigrants.  Worse than that, we include Pope Francis himself in this list, which means that there may well be serious problems ahead for the West and for its one heretofore interminable rock of stability.

The aforementioned Tribune story quotes yet another immigration activist, this one a Chicago-area priest, who attempts to explain why America is such a wonderful place.  To wit:

The Rev. Marco Mercado, a Chicago priest, also will travel to Washington.  He will be one of several Illinois nuns and clergy seated in the gallery of the Capitol to hear the pope’s address to Congress.  Mercado is trying to keep his expectations in check.

“The only way you can change the hearts and minds of politicians is through the vote,” he said.  Still, he hopes Francis awakens lawmakers to what has made America such a superpower.

“We have to be the country that has made America so great . . . a merciful, open, welcoming, hardworking country and not a country of fear . . .  so we build walls and distrust people,” Mercado said.  “We know what we want and we fight for it and we trust.  In God we trust.”

Again, this is a sweet sentiment.  But it’s also just that – sentiment – and nothing more.  It is emotional pap removed from reality.  Fr. Mercado, bless his heart, has confused causes with effects.  The United States may be a better place because of its rich immigration history.  We certainly wouldn’t deny that for a second.  But that immigration history isn’t the cause of American greatness.  Rather, it’s the result of American greatness, which is to say that the United States became the global beacon of liberty and natural rights first and that’s what drew the massive immigrant population.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve noted that there is an exacerbating factor in the immigration debate, one that has greatly worsened the crisis in Europe in particular.  The West – by which we mean here Europe, the United States, and Canada – has lost its cultural confidence.  The Western intellectual and political classes have spent the last century or so “deconstructing” their civilization.  And they have come to the collective conclusion that the West is no better and probably a great deal worse than most cultures throughout the world.  As a consequence, Westerners have been loath to integrate new immigrants into their cultures.  The result has been a bifurcated society largely unknown previously, with immigrants occupying the social low ground but the presumed moral high ground.  As the incomparable Michael Barone put in his column last week, “American elites today are less certain of the worthiness of our national culture and have retarded assimilation of immigrants.  European elites are worse. . . .”

This is a problem, of course, but we’d argue that it is not the greatest problem associated with or derived from the lack Western cultural confidence.  The bigger problem, we think, is that this cultural weakness is both, in part, the product of ignorance and the cause of even greater ignorance.

Since the Enlightenment, the intellectuals of the West have been pushing slowly, but ever so surely away from the beliefs that made the West a unique civilization in world history.  The journey has been slow, sporadic, and uneven, with some occasional movement in the opposite direction.  But it has also been relentless.  And today, most of the world’s so-called leaders have no idea why the West is or ever was so special.

“The West” as we understand the term is a unique blend of traditions, all of which flourished in the Mediterranean region two to five thousand years ago.  This blend – a mix of classic Greek and Roman cultures and especially the Judeo-Christian tradition – fostered a civilization that was unlike any in the history of man, established on two bedrock principles: that all individuals are equal and important before God; and that there are commandments that transcend human traditions and conventions that apply to all individuals equally, at all times, and in all places.

These two foundational values – the irreproachable worth of the individual and the transcendence of natural law – have their seeds in the Jewish and the Greek traditions and are embodied in two celebrated quotes, the first from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Jeremiah, and the second from Sophocles’ drama “Antigone.”  They are as follows:

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  And before you were born I consecrated you.


Creon: And still you had the gall to break this law?

Antigone: Of course, I did.  It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation – not to me.  Nor did that Justice, dwelling with the gods beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.  Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions. They are alive, not just today or yesterday: they live forever, from the first of time, and no one knows when they first saw the light.  These laws – I was not about to break them, not out of fear of some man’s wounded pride.”

These traditions, plus the New Testament – the Gospels and the letters of Paul – were interpreted and clarified by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who integrated Platonic and Aristotelian concepts respectively into Christian theology, all of it forming the substance of a civilization dedicated to the notions “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This civilization – Western civilization – was summed up succinctly and poignantly by one of its last true heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., who in 1963 put it this way in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights [emphasis added] . . . Now . . . how does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?  A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.  To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  Any law that uplifts human personality is just.  Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

All of this and more – much, much more – is the inheritance of the West, the explicitly Christian West.  Aquinas begat Locke who, in turn, begat Jefferson and the political apotheosis of natural law and individual liberty.  Likewise, the Reformation begat John Calvin and the Scottish Presbyterians, who, in turn, begat David Ricardo and Adam Smith and the economic apotheosis of natural law and liberty.  There is a reason, after all, that the last Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, made the restoration of Christianity in Europe a priority for his papacy.  All that is good and powerful and unique in Western civilization is the legacy of the Hellenic-Judeo-Christian tradition.  And only by restoring the “Christian” aspect of that tradition could Pope Benedict or anyone else hope to restore the virtuous and justifiably evangelical nature of the civilization, of Christendom itself.

Almost exactly nine years ago, Pope Benedict issued a challenge, both to the West and to its Islamic adversaries.  In his famous/infamous address at Regensburg, Benedict reiterated St. Augustine’s position that God is faith and reason in perfect symbiosis.  As we have noted before in these pages, at Regensburg, Pope Benedict had two purposes.  First and foremost, he sought to convince post-modern and post-Christian Europe that faith and reason could exist together and indeed could not exist independently; he sought to remind Europe that its greatness, its glory and its dignity were derived from its religious history, its embrace of God’s plan and of “logos” God’s “divine reason.”  Second, Benedict issued a direct challenge to Islam, daring it to abandon violence in God’s name – which, he said, is incompatible with faith and reason in harmony – and to undergo the process of rectification that the Church itself had undergone in the Middle Ages and which had ignited the West’s greatest growth.

Needless to say, Islam rejected Pope Benedict’s challenge.  Unfortunately, Islam was not alone in doing so.  In a piece published March 15, 2013, London’s Telegraph reported on another of Benedict’s critics upset with his challenge to Islam:

In 2005, then Pope Benedict quoted from an obscure medieval text which declared that the Prophet Mohammed, founder of the Islamic faith, was “evil and inhuman”, enraging the Muslim population and causing attacks on churches throughout the world before an apology was issued.

Reacting within days to the statements, speaking through a spokesman to Newsweek Argentina, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio declared his “unhappiness” with the statements, made at the University of Regensburg in Germany, and encouraged many of his subordinates with the Church to do the same.

“Pope Benedict’s statement don’t (sic) reflect my own opinions”, the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires declared. “These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years”.

The Vatican reacted quickly, removing one subordinate, Joaquín Piña the Archbishop of Puerto Iguazú from his post within four days of his making similar statements to the Argentine national media, sending a clear statement to Cardinal Bergoglio that he would be next should he choose to persist.

Reacting to the threats from Rome, Cardinal Bergoglio cancelled his plans to fly to Rome, choosing to boycott the second synod that Pope Benedict had called during his tenure as pontiff.

Clearly, Cardinal Bergoglio/Pope Francis didn’t quite grasp the nature of his predecessor’s challenge then, and he doesn’t appear quite to grasp it today either.  Pope Francis has already caused considerable consternation throughout Europe with his calls for Europeans to have “mercy” and “reawaken” their consciences by offering asylum to the massive wave of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa.  This week, as he takes up the question of immigration again, here in the United States, he will undoubtedly cause even greater consternation in Europe and cause a considerable amount here in the Western hemisphere as well.

Numbers, as they say, don’t lie and nor, in this case, do they tell a particularly hopeful story.  Francis, the Latin American Pope, has been critical of American immigration policy and appears poised this week to be even more critical.  But according to numbers recently released by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, the United States is home to some 48 million immigrants, while Latin America is home to a mere 6 million.  Latin America is larger, both geographically and demographically, than the United States, and yet it houses only 1/6th of the immigrants.  Moreover, roughly 10 percent of new immigrants to the United States come from the Middle East, North Africa, or other parts of the Muslim world, while only 1 in 300 immigrants in Mexico hail from Islamic corners of the globe.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the number of migrants thought to be fleeing the Middle East and Africa for Europe is thought, in total, to be in the neighborhood of 20 million.  EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn recently warned that this number, while staggering, is only likely to become more so:

There are 20 million refugees waiting at the doorstep of Europe.  Ten to 12 million in Syria, 5 million Palestinians 2 million Ukrainians and about 1 million in southern Caucasia. . . .

Never before in history have so many people fled their homes to escape war, violence and persecution.  And given the large number of unresolved conflicts in our neighborhood, the stream of refugees seeking protection in Europe will not abate in the foreseeable future, I am afraid.

The simple fact of the matter is that Europe has been, more or less, transformed over the last few decades by the influx of Muslim immigrants and the European ruling class’s unwillingness or inability to integrate these immigrants into European society.  If you add another 20 million immigrants – the overwhelming majority of whom are young men – to the mix, then Europe will, in due time, be shockingly UNEuropean.  The mission that Pope Benedict declared was absolutely critical for the future of humanity – i.e. the revival of Christianity in Europe – will all but certainly be swamped by the tide of humanity settling in Europe and holding decidedly unEuropean beliefs.

Obviously, the situation is far less dire in the United States, where most of those who have entered the country illegally hail from Western and predominantly Catholic nations.  But that will not always be the case, given that a plurality of new immigrants to the country – legal and illegal – hail from Asia, China especially.  And in any case, the domestic Church’s apparent focus on the immigrants alone – and its concomitant disregard for that part of the catechism that argues that governments must be able to control their own borders – makes the whole immigration mess cumbersome and potentially perilous at a bare minimum.  At the very least, it is hardly the open-and-shut issue that many in the Church – including, apparently Archbishop Cupich – believe it to be.

Today, as Pope Francis starts his American journey, we and much of the world will be watching and listening to him carefully.  While he has admonished both Europe and the United States to be welcoming to immigrants, he has also acknowledged that the migrant masses hold the potential to bring terrorist groups into the heart of the West.  To say the very least, his comments this week – particularly in front of the U.S. Congress – will go a long way toward defining his position on the migrant crisis in Europe and immigration in particular.

Our worry here is that this particular pope might not be the most delicate or productive speaker on these matters.  We have long argued in these pages that an individual’s background and education have a tremendous effect on his political and social views later in life.  The myth, stories, and fables he (or she) is told as a child set the tone for his ideological attitudes.  The culture in which children are raised and in which they are immersed determines, in large part, what they think and what they do as adults.  This is one of the reasons that we so lament the ruin of the American education system.  Most American children grow up reading and hearing nothing about their country’s heritage and eminence.  And those who do hear of it are often taught a post-modern leftist version of it, in which the West’s greatness is overwhelmed by its dastardliness.  All of which is to say that we, as a country and a civilization are raising generations of children who know nothing about the importance of Western civilization and even less about the immeasurable positive impact it has had on the world.

As for Pope Francis, it is important to remember, we think, that he is the Church’s first Third World Pope, which has its benefits but also its drawbacks.  Among the latter is the fact that he was undoubtedly raised with the idea of Europe and the United States being colonial powers, determined to advance their self-interests, whatever the cost.  And though he is an educated man who understands the history and the importance of the Church in the development of Western civilization, he may not have had the opportunity to study beyond that how Christianity formed the institutions of the West.  Or to put it another way:  Pope Francis undoubtedly understands Augustine and Aquinas far better than we do, but it’s unlikely, nevertheless, that he has read Adam Smith or Max Weber and thus understands how Christianity and capitalism have evolved in harmony.

At this critical juncture in history, it is unfortunate that this is the case.  Pope Francis is undoubtedly the most compassionate and humble servant of God we have seen in a long time, and that is to his benefit and ours.  Whether or not he understands the critical nature of the West’s Christian component and the threat possibly posed to that component by mass migration, however, is a different matter.  We will see this week, obviously.  We’re just not sure we’ll like what we see.  In any case, either we or Archbishop Cupich will be disappointed.  We’re hoping for the latter.

Copyright 2015. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.