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On The Importance of Thinking Well

> on July 8, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy.Theodore Dalrymple is too kind in his assessment of the previous pope, a clever man, certainly, but one capable of thoroughly disingenuous argument, but that aside, this critique of some comments made by Francis, his successor, during the course of a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa is a must-read.

An extract:

Lampedusa is an Italian island of 8 square miles with a permanent population of 6000, which so far this year has received 7800 migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan and North Africa, that is to say more than 1000 a month. When the Pope officiated at mass on the island’s sports field, there were 10,000 in the congregation, two thirds more than the permanent population, suggesting that the migrants stay a few months at least on Lampedusa….

In effect the island has been transformed into a refugee camp, not necessarily with the approval or agreement of the original inhabitants. This was a fait accompli imposed upon them by political, historical and geographical circumstances.

Estimates suggest that about 100 migrants a month for the past twenty years have drowned during their clandestine passage across the Mediterranean towards Europe. This being the case, no one could possibly say that the migrants decided on the journey in a whimsical or light-hearted fashion. The attraction of Europe or the repulsion of their homelands, or both, must be very powerful for so many people to risk so high a chance of so pathetic a death. The Pope said that all his compassion went to the immigrants who had died at sea ‘in these boats that, instead of bringing hope of a better life, brought them to death,’ and this was right and proper. Surely someone must be lacking in both imagination and feeling not to sorrow for these poor people.

Compassionate fellow-feeling, however, can soon become self-indulgent and lead to spiritual pride. It imparts an inner glow, like a shot of whiskey on a cold day, but like whiskey it can prevent the clear-headedness which we need at least as much as we need warmth of heart. Pascal said that the beginning of morality was to think well; generosity of spirit is not enough.

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..


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Utah’s Immigration Mess

I posted last night over on the Corner on the topic of Utah’s immigration mess. Full post here, but basically the nub is well set out in this paragraph from a LA Times report:

Gov. Gary Herbert last week signed a bill that would give illegal immigrants who do not commit serious crimes and are working in Utah documents that, in the state’s eyes at least, make them legal residents. For the law to work, however, the Obama administration would have to permit Utah to make it legal to employ people who entered the United States illegally — a federal crime. Even the law’s proponents acknowledge that’s an uphill battle.

Herbert and the rest of those who supported this measure should be voted out of office at the earliest possible opportunity.

An extra twist to the story comes from what the LA Times sees as Mormon influence:

Utah has long had softer laws on illegal immigration than even states such as California. It allows illegal-immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at public universities and gives “driving privilege cards” to undocumented migrants to allow them to obtain insurance.The dynamic is partly explained by the number of people in Utah who have performed missions in other countries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are sympathetic to the plight of outsiders.

The Church’s declaration of support for the “Utah Compact” (the declaration that lies at the root of the new laws) can be found here. For the most part it is made up of the usual pulpit pap, but it concludes with some doubletalk on the rule of law:

We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders. All persons subject to a nation’s laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.

Good, but….

Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society. Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.

Real translation: the state of Utah should feel free to ignore federal immigration laws.

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When liberals pray

Opponents of Arizona’s new immigration law have been praying for its reversal in court.  The Wall Street Journal today has a photo of parishioners sitting outdoors on folding chairs at a prayer session for the demise of the law, which asks local police officers to verify the immigration status of individuals they have lawfully stopped if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is in the country illegally.  Church coalitions throughout the country have been urging God as well as politicians for help in dismantling SB 1070. 

If the federal judge now hearing challenges to SB 1070 from the federal government and various advocacy groups overturns key portions of it, all those who have been praying for judicial nullification will claim divine vindication.   How will Glenn Beck, who regularly advises his radio listeners to pray, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Newt Gingrich, and every other conservative figurehead or foot soldier who views belief in God as a central component of conservative identity and who supports stronger immigration enforcement respond?  Did God in fact answer the prayers of SB 1070 opponents?  And if so, why?  Because the opponents were more organized in sending their prayer packets to the great pollster in the sky or because God agreed with them on the merits? 

Or will the conservative believers suddenly incline towards skepticism?  Might they ask such questions as: How do we know that God influenced the judge’s ruling and that it wouldn’t have happened anyway?  Where is the control group of judges whose decisions were not prayed about–how did they rule?  And what about those other judicial rulings that have upheld Arizona’s other  immigration laws—requiring verification of citizenship status to vote, for example, or requiring employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers—why did God allow those laws to stand and not this one? 

More likely, however, religion-promoting immigration restrictionists will not allow such potential complications to cross their minds at all, and will simply go on to the next issue. 

Of course, if U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton upholds SB 1070, the conservative prayer advocates will appreciate God’s understanding of illegal immigration while the law’s religious opponents will, in theory only, face their own theological conundrums.




Separation of church and state

Church leaders in Los Angeles are calling for illegal aliens to be included in the government health insurance plan, a position echoed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  A free dialysis clinic in Atlanta whose clients are overwhelmingly illegal aliens provides a glimpse of the potential costs, which the New York Times does not fully clarify.  The clinic has been trying unsuccessfully to close for years, unable to sustain its $2 million annual losses.  Atlanta has scores of commercial dialysis centers, but its illegal patients cannot afford them and they say that they could not get comparable care in their home countries.  Perhaps rather than asking American taxpayers to foot the bill for what would be a flood of new illegals coming to take advantage of their new entitlement, the Catholic Church could help defray the costs itself  (though its resources are admittedly already rather strained).


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