Friday, November 20, 2015

My Grandfather Didn't Flee the Potato Famine for America to See This Country Overrun by Refugees

John Scalzi's got another post up about the refugee question, this one titled "Frightened, Ignorant and Cowardly Is No Way to Go Through Life, Son."  (I don't know about that: it seems to work for a lot of people.)  One commenter especially amused me, by saying that "Refugees are less likely, statistically, to commit mass murder than white people are." I love the assumption embedded there, that refugees aren't white; it's similar to the popular assumption, now being challenged, that terrorists aren't white.  (Or that "Hispanics" or Mexicans aren't white.)  It's not even clear that Syrians aren't "white," but then such words mean what we choose them to mean.

Along the same lines, a meme I saw today features Ron Paul saying "Here is the solution to the refugee problem: stop meddling in the the affairs of other countries."  Once again Paul shows his great knowledge, wisdom, and compassion.  Leave aside that the issue right now is what to do with the refugees we and others have already created.  Refugees can be generated simply by oppressive government action within a country. An obvious example: Nazi Germany created many refugees. The US created internal refugees by its treatment of Indians and people of African descent. So yes, not interfering in other countries' affairs is a good idea, though it's not always easy to determine what is interference and what is wise interaction. But it won't solve "the refugee problem."

But back to Scalzi.  He wrote that, "as many have noted, there is irony in the freakout about Syrian refugees coming into a season which celebrates a notable middle eastern family who famously were refugees at one point in their history, according to some tales."  This trope has been popular among liberals on social media lately, but it has problems.

Scalzi presumably was referring to Joseph and Mary, who indeed could be viewed as refugees at one point in their lives.  That would be when King Herod, alerted by the Three Wise Men that his replacement had been born in Bethlehem, ordered the killing of all male children two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matthew 2:16).  An angel warned Joseph and Mary of the coming trouble, and they decamped to Egypt, where they remained until Herod died.  One might ask why Yahweh couldn't have somehow prevented the Slaughter of the Innocents altogether, perhaps by giving Herod an embolism; killing turbulent kings is certainly in his repertoire.  The answer is that the killing was Yahweh's plan and will, in order to fulfill a prophecy of Jeremiah's (Matthew 2:17-18).  Otherwise prophecy would not be fulfilled, which would undermine God's credibility.  When Herod died, an angel let Joseph know it was safe for the Holy Family to go back home.

On this analogy, we should suppose that ISIS is an instrument of the Lord, carrying out his murky and mysterious intentions.  Who knows?  If Babylon was doing his work by conquering Jerusalem, destroying Solomon's temple, and carrying the children of Israel into exile, then perhaps ISIS is doing the same.

But as the meme I posted above shows, the Flight into Egypt isn't what these folks have in mind.  When I've seen Joseph and Mary referred to as refugees (or, sometimes, "homeless"), it has always been in connection with the Nativity as told by the gospel of Luke, which depicts Mary depositing the baby Jesus in a manger, "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:16).  Luke, who doesn't seem to know about the Slaughter of the Innocents or the Flight into Egypt, isn't depicting Joseph and Mary as refugees.  According to him, they were in Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had ordered a census of the Empire, which required that "all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) ..." (2:3-4).  So he wasn't in Bethlehem to seek refuge from state violence, nor was he homeless; he had a home in Nazareth.

It seems odd that Joseph had no relatives to stay with in Bethlehem, but according to Luke he had to go there because he was remotely descended from King David.  Also, Yahweh couldn't arrange housing for his only begotten son, though he could send vast heavenly choirs to announce the blessed event and send shepherds to pay homage.  None of this makes any sense, and there is no evidence either of a Roman census at the time Jesus was probably born, nor that men had to uproot their households and travel to the hometowns of their distant ancestors to be counted.  Luke's Nativity story is almost certainly a fiction he invented, as is Matthew's.  Matthew, by the way, has the baby Jesus and his parents staying in a house in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11).  Why they moved to Nazareth when they returned from Egypt is not explained, unless it's to fulfill a bogus prophecy that Teh Christ would be a "Nazarene."  (I say "bogus" because there's no such prophecy in the Hebrew Bible.)

Still, both Matthew and Luke probably intended to move their audiences with the pathos of the Messiah, the Son of God, passing his infancy in humble, even difficult circumstances, just as Scalzi and other people today want to move us with the plight of Syrian and other refugees.  And of course it's hypocritical of American right-wing Christians to try to gin up panic about people who are refugees as a direct result of US policy and aggression in the Middle East.  If you're going to mock their ignorance and distortion of the Bible, though, you need to be more scrupulous in your own account than they are in theirs.  After all, there are plenty of other Biblical passages that could be used, on the theme "Do not oppress or mistreat a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21; compare Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:34) This fine sentiment was honored by Israel more in the breach than in the observance, like most of the Torah's ethical teachings; especially when you consider that Israel occupied its land by massacring and enslaving its inhabitants rather than coexisting with them.  And besides, Christians are free from the restrictive Old Testament law.

It's fun to throw Christians' hypocrisy in their faces, as long as they're the right Christians.  (Liberals aren't hypocrites by definition.)  As Christmas approaches we're going to see more convenient distortions of biblical material by all and sundry; I figure it's not too early to start the corrections.