Black Lives Matter and Evangelicals Together

H. L. Mencken explains the wonder-working power of morality:

Moralists, I respectfully submit, are not shrinking violets. They do not go “quietly about their business.” They are not avoiders of controversy. On the contrary, their eager seeking of controversy is one of their salient characters, and their gross abuse of opponents is another. The Lord’s Day Alliance and the Anti-Saloon League devote themselves almost exclusively to excoriation. Their one permanent theme is the villainy of their antagonists. And the vice crusade, for all its pious pretenses, puts nine-tenths of its faith in the policeman’s club. Its patron saints are Anthony Comstock and Tomas de Torquemada. Its central doctrine is that all men who question the efficacy of its moral bile means—for example, Brand Whitlock and Havelock Ellis–are heretics, atheists, voluptuaries and scoundrels.

So You Want Christian Law but Not Shari’a?

Don’t forge that Christians can be as threatening to non-Christians as Muslims to Christians (and we’re barely talking about Old Testament law):

So with all other great movements in malignant morals. For example, that of the Lord’s Day Alliance. There are plenty of members of the alliance, I venture to opine, who devote at least a part of Sunday to recreation–perhaps automobiling, or piano-playing, or gastronomy, or novel-reading, or the beating of children. But that doesn’t take anything from their noble passion to destroy and prohibit the recreations of the common people. That doesn’t detract from their gallant effort to make the average man’s Sunday a day of tedium and horror, of sullenness and gloom. That doesn’t make the less laudable their vicious and violent attack upon the poor fellows who go to Back River on their one day of rest to sit under the trees and drink a few bottles of beer and hear a happy song or two and get a breath of fresh air.

The Anti-Cigarette League follows the examples of these elder lodges of chemical purity. It does not ask its members to stop smoking themselves; it merely asks them to advocate laws putting heavy penalties upon smoking by others. Its funds will be divided fairly into two parts. One part I shall keep myself, as a modest recompense for my laborious shaking down of the pious. The other part will be devoted to the propaganda. Rabble-rousers will be supplied to Sunday-schools and Chautauquas. Horrible examples will be exhibited to trembling children. Eminent cigarette manufacturers will be denounced by name. Candidates for public office will be browbeaten into line. Literature will be distributed showing that the cigarette is the mother and father of crime, that every cigarette smoker is a potential pirate and murderer, that all the sorrows of the world are caused by the abhorrent coffin-nail.

Mencken, the Prophet

On the eve of that “Great” War, H. L. Mencken saw where vice crusaders were headed:

In the midst of all our torquernadan crusading, how is it that no moralist has dedicated himself to the extinction of the cigarette, that coffin nail, that debauchery, that father of crime? Elsewhere in this fair land it has been dealt staggering licks by the chemically pure. In Kansas, Iowa and Missouri the children in the public schools are taught to fear and abominate it; in Nebraska, Michigan and Alabama there are hot campaigns against it; in Indiana its sale is forbidden by law. But here in Baltimore not a single voice in raised against it. Our moralists are the most virulent in Christendom–their ardor, indeed, is often far more Mohammedan than Christian–and yet I have not heard a word from them about the licentious and diabolical cigarette.

Certainly this cannot be due to ignorance of its deadliness. It is a matter of common knowledge, indeed, that the cigarette is one of the most insidious of all agents of sin. The boy who inhales its noxious fumes today will be a drunkard tomorrow and a murderer next week. The woman who smokes cigarettes is sinister and unspeakable–a dangerous companion for the young. The man who pursues the corrupting vice is a shifty, blear-eyed rascal, with the complexion of a bilious jonquil and a liver that plots treasons. All criminals smoke cigarettes. So do all paranoics. It is the unanimous pet and comfort of felons condemned to be hanged.

On the medical side the evidence against it is irrefutable and overwhelming. In Dr. Osler’s great work on “The Principles and Practices of Medicine” (lib. XIV, fol. 324) there is the direct statement that the cigarette is one of the most potent causative agents in influenza, cancer, diphtheria, ophthalmia, beri-beri and senile dementia. Dr. Osler there describes an experiment with guinea pigs made by Prof. Dr. Hugo Bierfisch, of Leipzig. Two sets of guinea pigs, one of which had been trained to smoke cigarettes and the other of which had been kept pure, were exposed to virulent cultures of the bacillus typhosus. The virtuous guineas at once leaped out of the window, but the cigarette smokers, besotted by nicotine, snouted the fatal germs and at once fell into convulsions. By next morning all of them save one were dead of arterio-sclerosis, and that one was a babbling maniac. . . .

And all this medical evidence is amply supported by the statistics of our prisons and almshouses. Of the 226 murderers confined in Sing Sing prison between January 1, 1900, and December 31, 1910, no less than 207 ascribed their downfall to cigarettes. Of the 1,987 forgers imprisoned at the same place during the same time 1,562 blamed cigarettes. From Charleston Prison, near Boston, come reports that are even more impressive. Every one of the yeggmen now serving time there is a cigarette fiend. The late Dr. Clarence Richeson was another. Dr. Harvey H. Crippen, hanged in London for the murder of his wife, smoked 15 packages a day. Johann Hoch, the celebrated Chicago murderer, went to the gallows with a cigarette in his mouth and a glass of fake Plisener in his hand.

Social Justice Warriors Then

Mencken explains how to pursue social reform without eschatology or sanctity:

I do not hold, with the suffragettes, that the extension of the suffrage would bring the millennium, that the will to power would become the will to kiss, that sin would perish from the earth. Far from it. But I do hold that the dear girls could do no worse with the vote than men have done, that the present discrimination against them is unjust and absurd, that they ought to have their equal chance to inject their favorite antitoxins into the body politic and perform their pet mazurkas.

The common theory that women would not vote as intelligently as men is one that doesn’t appeal to me. I see no evidence in support of it. Women, in general, are certainly not less intelligent than men. On the contrary, they are probably more intelligent. That is to say, they keep in closer contact with reality, they are less romantic, they yield less to emotion. A woman’s eye is always upon the immediate certainty, not upon the remote possibility. She is not an idealist; she seldom dreams great dreams. But in the everyday, commonplace business of living she renders inestimable services to the human race. She keeps it upon the track; she sees that it gets three meals a day; she darns its socks and bathes its fevered brow; she assiduously counts its change.

In the great business of marriage, for example, the attitude of women is far less sentimental than that of men. A man usually marries romantically: he is full of magnificent visions of incredible bliss. Many men, indeed, are so romantic that they never marry at all—the true explanation of 90 per cent. of all masculine celibacy. But women marry with an eye to the main chance. They seldom allow romance to obliterate worldly prudence. In the whole history of England, I am told, no woman has ever actually refused a Duke. And here in free America it is not often, I venture, that a sane woman ever refuses a man who is her social equal and of good repute and able to support her. She may do it if she has a free choice between two such men, but such opportunities, it must be plain, are rare, and even when they occur there is commonly a Palpable difference between the two men, and so the woman’s choice is not free. She picks the better, not the worse. Her eye is on her number.

Such instinctive sagacity, I believe, would have a good influence upon politics. The woman voter would decide public questions, not from the idealistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of bread and butter. She would regard all political wizards and windjammers with distrust and aversion, just as she regards them now. She would bring to the business of government that salubrious cynicism which she now brings to the business of ensnaring and managing her husband. In brief, she would introduce a sharp common sense into political controversy and combat—a quality now almost wholly lacking.

But the suffragettes! The suffragettes! What of them? Isn’t it a fact that their present propaganda is utterly without sense, that their panaceas are all bosh, that their arguments and claims are romantic and nonsensical? Maybe it is. But don’t make the mistake, beloved, of confusing suffragettes with women in general. The suffragettes, by the irony of fate, are the worst of all imaginable specimens of their sex—not in the sense that they are evil, but in the sense that they are untypical. They no more represent the normal habits and mental processes of women than the fantastic Ibsenites of yesterday represented old Henrik, or than the S. P. C. A. of today represents that kindly and lovable creature, the Canis familiaris.

No; the suffragettes are not typical women, and so it would be absurd to charge their extravagances to the normal feminine character. On the contrary, they are untypical women, romantic women, women without womanly common sense. The thing that attracts thern to the suffrage cause is not the cause itself, but the excitement of the campaign. In brief, they are emotionalists—which is exactly what normal women are not. This explains their eager adoption of such ludicrous jehads as the vice crusade. This explains, too, their willing alliances with prima donna preachers, Chautauqua “sociologists,” Socialists, play censors and other such bogus “thinkers” and laryngeal bravos. And this explains, finally, the curious fact that many of them also belong to other windy lodges—of anti-vivisectionism, of anti-vaccinationists, of medical freedomists, of initiators and referendors, of deep breathers, of eugenists.

America is not America (part two)

Can we turn anywhere in the past for instruction about refugee and immigrant policy?

No, say the undergraduates at Princeton University:

Trump’s vision for the United States is perniciously fascist — incorporating elements of racism, xenophobia, jingoism, totalitarianism, and misogyny. Worst of all, Trump’s vision is indefinite: His actions have no bounds, and it is unclear when this nation will heal from his actions.

But this is not a departure from Americanism. There is nothing specifically un-American about Trump’s executive orders or rhetoric. The American Nightmare is an American Reality. Only when we realize that “living up to American values” is to sanction Trump may we wake up from this horrid dream.

Immigrant exclusion based on race, religion, or national origin is an American pastime. The Alien and Sedition Acts, arguably the first discriminating immigration act, were signed into law in 1798. Following this was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; in response to popular racist and xenophobic anti-Chinese sentiment, the act “required the few nonlaborers who sought entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate.” The act was extended into the 20th Century with the Geary Act, and its effects were not effectively reversed until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is only one of many governmental measures to marginalize those deemed a “threat” to white civilization. Notably, the United States is guilty of genocide against Indigenous tribes. The Trail of Tears, perhaps the most infamous atrocity committed against an Indigenous tribe, resulted from Andrew Jackson’s abuse of presidential power to seize Native lands and force thousands into what is now Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died on the journey, with hundreds of others dying upon arrival. Trump’s executive orders in support of Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline is a continuation of the United States’ regnant disregard for indigenous peoples, not an anomaly.

Cold War policy isn’t much help either:

There was another way to become a refugee, an immigrant, and eventually a U.S. citizen. According to immigration law, if a migrant was on American soil, even if one had entered illegally, one could claim asylum, arguing that the applicant had a “well founded fear” of persecution if returned home. Only two thousand or so persons won asylum annually in the 1970s. For example, the government denied asylum to most of the Haitian boat people during the 1970s and deported them. After the 1980 refugee act incorporated the new UN definition of refugee status in place of the anticommunist one, and when the civil wars in Central America escalated, the number applying for asylum skyrocketed. More than 140,000 applied in 1995, for example, and by the end of the 1990s the backlog reached several hundred thousand. Haitians came by boat, but tens of thousands of Central Americans illegally crossed the border separating the United States and Mexico. The State Department and the INS insisted they were mostly illegal immigrants who should be deported. INS officials in Florida did modify policy slightly toward Nicaraguans. An official said that he could not deny asylum to Nicaraguans when the United States insisted that the government of that country was undemocratic and that the CIA-backed contras were trying to overthrow it. Nicaraguans still had difficulty in winning asylum status, but their approval rate was more than double that of their neighbors. In 1989, for example, 5,092 Nicaraguans won asylum, compared with 102 Guatemalans and 443 Salvadorans.

Friends of these contestants for asylum insisted that a double standard was being applied: Cubans merely had to get to the United States, but Central Americans had to win their claims on an individual basis. Many undocumented immigrant Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans did adjust their status due to an amnesty for undocumented immigrants passed in 1986. As noted, the law covered those in the United States before 1982, but for others fleeing violence in Central America after that date individual asylum was required, which was even more difficult to demonstrate when the civil wars in Central America ended in the early 1990s. Fewer than 10 percent of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans were granted asylum in 1999—up slightly from the rate of the 1980s but less than half of the general approval rate. Those who came after the IRCA amnesty were left in limbo, although minor modifications in immigration policy did permit some to remain. Moreover, once these Central Americans won asylum, they were eligible to adjust their status to that of regular immigrants and could then use the family preference system to sponsor their relatives. For example, in 1996 Haitian immigrants numbered 18,386, with 8,952 of these under the family preference system and another 4,815 coming as immediate family members of U.S. citizens who were exempt from the quotas. Comparable figures for Salvadorans were 17,903; 8,959; and 5,519. Data for Hondurans and Guatemalans were similar. The United States did permit Salvadorans and Hondurans the right to stay temporarily in the United States when earthquakes and hurricanes struck in the 1990s. These temporary stays, called temporary protected status (TPS), were not asylum; when TPS ended, the undocumented aliens were expected to go home.

But who cares about history? I know some evangelical historians who care but for some reason their historical perspective means moral disapproval (with a dose of self-approval).

No Legal Precedent, but Lots of Self-Righteousness

A legal scholar weighs in on local governments (think Boston) and churches that are creating sanctuaries for refugees:

While many cities have already begun to declare themselves sanctuary spaces for the undocumented, in fact there is currently no body of law or judicial precedent to which they are appealing.

“There’s really no legal definition of what sanctuary means,” explained Pham. (Even the most recent 1983 Code of Canon Law no longer refers to the practice.)

A bizarre result is that definition of the term “sanctuary” will end up coming from the executive branch.

“The President is threatening to withhold funding from sanctuary cities,” Pham said. “When he writes an executive order to do so, he’s going to have to define what it means.”

Some religious institutions might consider claiming that the declaration of sanctuary is an exercise of the rights afforded to religious organizations under the First Amendment. But that tactic will be of limited use to those seeking sanctuary, Pham said.

Such a claim, he explained, “is going to be resolved through a legal process through the courts, months later. It won’t be resolved then and there. And by that time the undocumented person may have already been arrested and deported.”

Pham also pointed out, “The housing of undocumented people is not necessarily covered under the First Amendment.”

So, the first thing to know, Pham said, is that to declare oneself a sanctuary “is mainly a symbolic statement of support.

In other words, no real help to the refugees, but lots of solace to the self seeking the superior life.

The Nation-State with the Ethic of a Church

What does it mean to be American?

“For the Catholic community, the Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ is a searing responsibility, not only in our personal lives, but also in guiding our efforts to create a just society in a world filled with suffering and turmoil,” San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy wrote in a statement about the executive orders.

“For this reason, the historic identity of the United States as a safe haven for refugees fleeing war and persecution is for American Catholics both a source of justifiable pride and an unswerving religious commitment, even as we recognize that at shameful moments in our national history prejudice, fear and ignorance have led our country to abandon that identity.”

We heard Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich state: “It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity. ‘If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.’ Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’ ” The cardinal’s statement got so many hits, the archdiocesan website crashed.

What does it mean to be Roman Catholic?

When it comes to religious affiliation, a distinctive pattern has emerged in President Donald Trump’s new administration: Most of the high-ranking appointees to military-related positions hail from a Catholic background.

That includes not only Gen. James Mattis, who was sworn in as secretary of defense in late January, but also the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly. The pattern holds with the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is also a general and grew up in an Irish-Catholic family in Rhode Island.

Other high-ranking Catholics include the Army secretary appointee, Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and major donor to Fordham University; and Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was tapped to serve as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under President Barack Obama and is viewed as likely to continue in that role.

That so many Catholics ended up in top military positions is not necessarily by design, but it is nonetheless significant, according to several military historians.

Lisa Mundey, a military historian at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, said the appointments reflect broader social trends. “I think what is interesting is how well Catholics are integrated into society [now] than they were historically,” Mundey said. A key turning point was the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, which especially paved the way for other Catholics to serve in key government posts, according to Mundey.

Another watershed moment was the end of the draft and the birth of the all-volunteer army, in 1973. Since then, more of those who serve in the military have been making their careers there, according to Mundey.

The armed forces provide an environment that is friendly to the expression of faith, according to William Leeman, a military historian at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, who formerly taught at West Point. “They seem very comfortable with their religion, in the sense that it seems to be a more conservative environment,” Leeman said.

For those in the military, their faith can help them get through the hardships they face, becoming an important part of their service, Leeman said.

The cafeteria is opening a franchise near you soon.