Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Republican Debate Last Night: We Can (And Should) Do Better

I won't recap it for you; you can watch or read at your convenience. What deeply concerns me is the lack of a coherent ethical framework through which we examine problems. In that sense, though many or all of the people on the stage could be people of good will, they will find themselves reacting, instead of deliberating.

The most overriding Christian principle, the one that animates every facet of human knowledge, both natural and supernatural, is the dignity of the human person. We start and end here, precisely because humankind's destiny lies with God, whose very image man is. In light of that reality, this foreign policy debate was a shambles. Certain actions would be out of bounds by their very nature. Indiscriminate bombing of whole cities, with a near-certainty of large civilian casualties, cannot be done. And the mere suggestion that the deliberate killing of non-combatants might be acceptable is abhorrent. I take the time to put it in Christian terms, because so many of the aspirants claim to be followers of Christ. I'll be direct: A Christian, given the choice of death or slavery, or winning a war by gravely immoral means, should always choose the former. As much as I love this country, that  needs to be said. In fact, America has been greatest when she remembers this. If the sole moral criterion of any action is that our enemy is more evil than we are, we will find that our pretended superiority is just that.

In terms of refugees, all manner of healthy debate as to exactly how best to assist people in trouble while maintaining a reasonable level of safety can be expected, and even encouraged. One thing the fundamental dignity of the human person requires, however, is that we do not remain neutral. No persons, regardless of religion or nation of origin, become non-persons by those very facts. So, even if large numbers of immigrants and refugees cannot be safely accommodated here, we can assist diplomatically, economically, and even militarily if necessary, so that human beings may simply live. This is not ethical rocket science.

We seem also rather hung up on exactly how many practitioners of Islam are radically violent or anti-Western, and the sensible notion that most Muslims are peaceful, as if merely stating that plain fact renders one naive and politically correct. I rebut such foolishness by simply pointing out that we are not being invaded by armies, (though you may well be correct to say we are at war) so, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. What the West has endured are highly visible attacks on innocents by small groups of people, surely calculated for attention, and terrorizing non-combatants, hence the term. Indeed, these jihadists have shown a willingness to attack other Muslims with nearly as much ferocity. That's all the proof we need as to the question of whether we are at war with Islam. Of course not. This is a form of Islam. I have neither the knowledge, nor authority to tell you what "true" Islam should be, but its own lack of authority strongly suggests that perhaps there is no good answer. In any case, peace-loving free people everywhere do have the moral authority to decide, in a pluralistic society, which forms of Islam with which they can co-exist. We are surely joined in that effort by countless Muslims themselves. If it is naive and "liberal" to say all this, so be it. I would personally note that professed Christians cowering in fear before a religion they believe to be man-made, and incomplete at the very best, is unbecoming. Nor is it Christian in any sense to believe that the solution to this inhuman specter is mainly in human power. It is possible I have misread the Scriptures, but I think not.

I'm not going to vote for the one who talks the toughest. You don't need to promise to keep me safe, because you can't do that. I don't need you to tell me who I should be afraid of, because man cannot take the peace that comes from God. I want to know that you respect me enough not to pander to me as some selfish, paranoid xenophobe. Though the second world war didn't morally vindicate every aspect of American conduct, I do know that Americans gave their lives for those they did not know, most of whom they would never meet, because they believed that hatred, death, and slavery should never be the lot for any person. Liberty claimed but not shared is no liberty at all.

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