September 29, 2019

Prophets of Nuance and Other Oxymorons

This morning I read a (not atypical) Bishop Flores tweet (he of Mexican heritage whose diocese is close to the border) denouncing an uncaring attitude towards immigrants (presumably illegal, a modifier now illegal itself, probably because pro-immigrant folks want the conflation).  It all seems reflexively a tribal thing: he stereotypically ignores the prudential question while I stereotypically forget to pray for illegal immigrants and consider the immediate need. 

One could say that to even think in those terms (i.e. I am white and he’s of Mexican heritage) is to view it racially, but then how can one do otherwise in this age of identity politics? Perception being reality I guess. It’s like saying, “don’t think about the pink elephant” when every day there’s a pink elephant on TV, radio, news. “Don’t think about your whiteness,” we’re told, when every day we’re told things like "whites are inherently racist”.

Immigration is an explicitly political act (given that states control borders, not individuals) so a political argument will naturally follow. The opposing side’s argument is either not presented (the Pope Francis treatment, i.e. “no comment”) or framed (so unlike Aquinas!) as malignant.

For example, there is no pity left over, for example, for the poor left in countries where only the most courageous or intelligent leave.

So part of the “indifference” Flores ascribes is, I think, due to bad faith political arguments. That doesn’t make it right but it helps explain it.

And of course the reading from Amos this Sunday surely supports the bishop's attitude. The prophet’s job is not nuance or prudential judgements - his task is to castigate and irritate. (We’re all prophets now, laugh out loud?) And the truth of the prophecy is irrespective of the source: the Civil Rights Movement was no less true that it was mainly inspired and begun in earnest by a black man (Martin Luther King). Ideally the prophet would lack self-interest, but King was both prophet and beneficiary, although tragically he didn’t live to see the benefits. And no one is in a position to know injustice more than those treated so.

The OT prophets were famously not approved of in their own time, to put it mildly, but only later added to the canon. It’s easier to rake previous generations for their sins than our own in our time.  Distance in time provides perspective and a different point of view. (Certainly not necessarily the right point of view - Margaret Sanger is looked upon as a prophetess and revered in our time only because in our corrupt age her views on contraception are mainstream.)

Aquinas wrote that “we distinguish in order to unite.” How very far from our modern sensibility! It’s so foreign as to feel like an inherent contradiction.  We think distinguishing is “non-pastoral” (as in the case of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics) or else we distinguish very crudely in order to divide or vanquish (i.e. if you’re for a wall, you’re not Christian).

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