08 October 2015

Redeeming Germany?

Merkel receiving her honorary doctorate. Source.
One reason I have such a visceral dislike of racism and anti-Semitism is that I grew up with that poison. My German mother believed that she was born into the master race, and that others' inferiority was obvious.

(Her special brand of racism had an unusual asterisk: having been born and raised in Japan, she freely admitted that the Japanese were, if anything, perhaps slightly superior to Germans.)

When my mother left Germany to live and study in Chicago, she did not leave behind this master-race mentality. I can tell you first-hand what it was like to grow up in this family micro-culture, in which any neighbor who didn't match her Teutonic ideal was dismissed. In this way I experienced some attenuated version of the mentality that seduced a whole modern nation into total war and premeditated mass murder on an industrial scale.

Maybe this explains why I'm so moved by German chancellor Angela Merkel's persistent and intelligent defense of her refugee policy, even as some pundits point out the political risks involved. Today the BBC quoted her telling an interviewer, "I'm proud that we are receiving refugees in a friendly and open manner. I don't want to compete to be the country which does best at scaring off refugees." I can't help wondering what my mother would say to that.

A first taste of winter
Yesterday's snow. Bulat Okudzhava monument, Arbat, Moscow.
Photo by Vladimir Filonov, The Moscow Times. Source.

What's even more remarkable to me, especially in view of the too-frequent American correlation of conservative Christianity with anti-immigrant views, is (as the BBC article points out) her associating generous refugee policies with Christian faith. In defending her policies, for example, "she claims she's simply exemplifying the Christian values of the CDU" -- referring to the political party she leads, the Christian Democratic Union.

Although her party has no religious restrictions on membership, its intellectual DNA has strong connections with both Catholic and Protestant social ethics, some of whose proponents were in the anti-Nazi resistance or in prison during Hitler's reign. Merkel herself grew up in a Christian family in a politically hostile context, communist-run and USSR-dominated East Germany, where her father was a pastor.

Almost all prominent politicians in Europe are far more reticent to emphasize faith in their public behavior than their American counterparts, and Merkel is usually no different. But refugee and immigration controversies seem to have struck a nerve with her. I found her comments at her European Parliament caucus, as reported by Politico, fascinating and inspiring ... and even redemptive. Quoting the article,
In the party meeting, Merkel was especially tough on European countries that have portrayed the acceptance of refugees as a threat to religion. "When someone says: 'This is not my Europe, I won't accept Muslims...' Then I have to say, this is not negotiable."

European leaders, she said, would lose their credibility if they distinguished between Muslim and Christian refugees. "Who are we to defend Christians around the world if we say we won't accept a Muslim or a mosque in our country. That won't do."
Given my own childhood memories, maybe you can understand the healing effect of hearing such sentiments in a German accent.

Another instance of Merkel's linkage of immigration and faith happened about a month ago in Switzerland, where she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern. Her comments on the refugee crisis were widely reported in the English-language press (example). According to McClatchy's Matthew Schofield, "During a news conference Thursday in Bern, Switzerland, Merkel said it was both an honour and a moral obligation for Germany to take in 'die Fluechtlinge,' the refugees."

However, most English-language reporters seem to have ignored her comments on Muslim immigration and Europe's Christian heritage. I found several references in Russian-language news sites. Drawing in part on a Polish source, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic diocese of Novosibirsk headed an article on Merkel's news conference in Bern by quoting her: "You don't want the Islamization of Europe? Go to church!"

She went on to explain, "I would like to see more people who dare to say 'I am a Christian,' who are brave enough to enter into dialogue," noting that she also supports the guarantee of religious liberty in Germany.

I find it refreshing (in the American context as well) to hear Christians challenged to go deeper into their own faith, and prepare for honest dialogue, rather than be corrupted by fear, identity politics, and searches for enemies. I think that is a reasonable interpretation of Merkel's words; I hope, but can't be sure, that this was the motivation for publishing her words here in Russia, where Islamophobia is also a sad reality.

Merkel, "Faith in God makes many political decisions easier."

Grevel Lindop (author of Charles Williams: The Third Inkling) describes Williams as a teacher ... and his impact on the Oxford University students who were fortunate enough to hear him lecture.

Charles King on the dangerous decline of international studies.
Given that no one can know where the next crisis will erupt, having a broadly competent reserve of experts is the price of global engagement. Yesterday’s apparent irrelevancies—the demographics of eastern Ukraine, for example, or popular attitudes toward public health in West Africa—can suddenly become matters of consequence. Acquiring competence in these sorts of topics forms the mental disposition that J. William Fulbright called "seeing the world as others see it"—an understanding that people could reasonably view their identities, interests, politics, and leaders in ways that might at first seem bizarre or wrong-headed. It also provides the essential context for distinguishing smart policy-specific questions from misguided ones.
How one evangelical activist (with Abigail Disney's help) changed his mind on gun violence.

By giving religion short shrift, video games ignore part of what makes us human.

Sow Good Seeds - Joël Fafard

Sow Good Seeds - Joël Fafard from joel fafard on Vimeo.

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