August 2018 – Are National Borders Ethical?

August 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Are National Borders Ethical?

  Monday, August 20, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is all the world one country, and all humankind its citizens — just as our cosmonauts and astronauts behold us from distant space? Should our borders have visitor centers, not gates and walls? Or would that lead to chaos and peril? Can a nation even exist without borders to define it? Do we still need nations? Do we have no obligation to those who look, speak, and act strangely to us? Or are these the very strangers The Bible said we should welcome and “treat as a citizen among us,” if we’re truly “God’s Country,” the melting pot and beacon of hope to the world? Is the only true border on the “pale blue dot” we call home the border in our hearts?

Experiments in multi-nationalism like the European Union and NAFTA are under stress. Were they pragmatic blueprints, or utopian dreams become nightmares? If jobs are lost, must trade barriers be erected, or would that mean even more lost jobs? Can any nation absorb an endless stream of refugees and migrants? What would be the costs and who would pay them? What would be the benefits and who would receive them? If US drug use causes drug wars in Central America, aren’t we partly responsible for its asylum seekers? If NATO supported the Arab Spring and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, can we let the resulting refugees drown in the Mediterranean Sea? But is there a danger that the refugees fleeing wars will bring war with them? Should countries’ problems only be solved “in-country”?

Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Breathes there a man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land!’” Yet Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Can they both be right? Nationalism as we know it may date back only to the 18th century. So why fight wars over it? Is a nation those who speak a common language, inherit a common ethnicity, and share a common history or mythology — the mystic chords of memory cited by Lincoln in arguing against a Southern Confederacy? If a nation eludes definition, why set up borders to defend it? Or are the things which mean the most to us the hardest to describe because of their emotional power?

Can America ethically have borders? The Statue of Liberty asks to be brought the masses who are huddled, tired, poor, homeless, and wretched — but yearning to be free. Does it matter if those yearning to be free come from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia? Some say the US is a nation based on a creed of rejecting tyranny, concocted in anti-colonialism and clarified in civil war and civil rights movements. Its white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have added the Catholic, the African-American, the Native American, the Hispanic, the Asian, and refugees from wars they had a part in. If US political and economic policies create a new world order, shouldn’t those harmed be given sanctuary here? Or is this sentimentality, refusal to recognize that all countries harm others but needn’t redress their actions? Who says we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, here in God’s Country?

Are borders a moral & religious issue, not just a geographic & historical accident? Is the “Hill” on which America’s “Shining City” sits not also in truth a burial mound — the sediment of generations of conquest, resettlement, and buyout? Do we need to know who comes here and why? Is the immigrant more dangerous, or the native-born? If citizens need jobs, should illegal workers be deported? If citizens refuse the work, should these workers be welcomed back, and paid a fair wage? How much change can we take? We required decades to welcome Catholics and Jews; can’t we have more time to adjust to the next wave? When Jesus spoke of helping the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the prisoner, did He mean immigrants, too? Are borders Caesar’s business, not God’s? Or do our values, whether religious or secular, require more of us?

On Monday, August 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will see if boundaries are a good thing or a bad thing. Our reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep us all in bounds. But regardless of where you’ve come from, all will receive treats!