Friday, March 03, 2017

Immigration and Natural Law.

At the Aquinas group last night, reading ST II-II, Q. 26 on the Order of Charity, I was surprised to find that Aquinas completely accepted the notion that finite creatures may properly order their charity to those with whom they have the closest ties. This seems like such a difference from modern notions of charity that want charity to be chemically pure from any accusation of personal interest. But Aquinas's philosophy was a human philosophy and therefore based on common sense.

I taunted one of the group's attendees to turn out an essay on the subject, and he obliged. Here it is.


It is my view that there is a lot of muddle-headed thinking about Christian obligations to illegal immigrants in the United States.  This is due to a confused reading of Old Testament laws regarding the "stranger" or "foreigner."  This confused thinking also fails to take into consideration New Testament teaching about family obligations and Christian theological insights about natural law.

The Problem

As I see it, the problem is that some Christians insist that American citizens have a moral obligation to provide welfare benefits, health services, schooling and an array of other services to illegal immigrants who slip across our borders and make their way into our communities.  For these Christians this is a moral imperative or an "ought" based on Scripture or Christian tradition.

Firstly, however, if it is a moral imperative to supply these benefits to illegal immigrants then A) it is a sin (or unjust) to fail to do so, and B) there is no limit to this obligation; hence, these benefits are logically due to the millions upon millions of people that could illegally enter the United States.  Obviously, this could be a crushing moral responsibility placed upon struggling middle class Christians that would impede their ability to care for their own families.  Does God require Christians to provide welfare benefits and services to illegal immigrants?

Old Testament Laws Regarding the Resident Foreigner

Because the Israelites had been foreigners in Egypt, God stipulated divine laws regarding their treatment.  Often the reasoning behind providing welfare benefits to illegals is based on these laws.  But, what do they tell us?

First, Israelites were not to take advantage of or mistreat foreigners (Exodus 22:21 and 23:9).  On the other hand, foreigners residing in Israel were to obey and follow the theocratic laws of the land just like Israelites.  Read this.

Numbers 9:14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’

In other words, resident foreigners did not get a "free pass" from the law.  Therefore, we can conclude that an ancient foreigner who broke the law had to suffer the penalties and consequences of those laws he/she violated.  It seems unlikely that a law-breaking foreigner would have been treated the same as a destitute, law-abiding foreigner.  Leviticus 25:35 does indicate that Israelites were to assist fellow countrymen and resident foreigners who fell on hard times.  However, this presupposes the foreigner had legal residence.

Priorities of Care

What is often overlooked by the Christians who make an "ought" out of providing benefits for illegals is that the New Testament lays out a strict order for the care others.  In this regard, family and fellow Christians come first.

Read these verses and notice the descending order of obligations.

1 Timothy 5:4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The order goes as follows:  first, children and grandchildren are to care for their parents (and grandparents); second, Christians are to care for those in their own household; third, Christians are to do good to fellow Christians; lastly, they are to do good to others as they "have opportunity."  In other words, there is distinct priority of love and care that begins with one's family and gradually extends to those who are strangers to us.  Usurping this priority--in Paul's view--is to deny the Christian Faith.

But let's take this a step further and read what Aquinas has to say about our Christian obligation to love our family and those who we are not tied to us by family relations.  He uses Exodus 20:12 to indicate that Christians must love their family members first and foremost.  Then he adds the following.

[II-II, Q. 26, Art. 8] Accordingly we must say that friendship among blood relations is based upon their connection by natural origin, the friendship of fellow-citizens on their civic fellowship, and the friendship of those who are fighting side by side on the comradeship of battle. Wherefore in matters pertaining to nature we should love our kindred most, in matters concerning relations between citizens, we should prefer our fellow-citizens, and on the battlefield our fellow-soldiers. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 2) that "it is our duty to render to each class of people such respect as is natural and appropriate.

The Christian's Obligation to Fellow Citizens

I quoted Aquinas' words because he extrapolated outwardly from a biblical principle about the priority of our love for family members to then include our fellow citizens.  He clearly shows that Christians are to love and care for their fellow citizens in preference over non-citizens.  Just as it would be wrong for us to neglect the real needs of a family member in order to care for other people; likewise the Christian has a higher obligation to his/her fellow-citizen than to an illegal non-citizen.  So, if welfare benefits, hospital emergency rooms, schools and the like are overburdened and driving up public debt, they must be triaged in favor of citizens.  From a Christian perspective, it is morally wrong to neglect the care of fellow citizens in favor of non-citizens.  It is also wrong to give preference to non-citizens over citizens.  This is commonsensical because--as Aquinas notes--it is rooted in "natural origin" (God's created order).//


Anonymous said...

" It is also wrong to give preference to non-citizens over citizens. This is commonsensical because--as Aquinas notes--it is rooted in "natural origin" (God's created order)."

I'm confused. Is the position that it is wrong to give to a non-citizen (illegal or not) if any citizen has a similar need unfilled? Such would be a sin?

Anonymous said...

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all . . . "

I think it is silly to apply this "distinct priority of love and care" to the situation of illegal immigrants in the United States. Their status amongst us has nothing to do with their place in this hierarchy of love you have described, They are here because as society we have allowed them to be here, mostly to take on jobs we have determined are bebeath us - working in the fields, cleaning toilets, slaughtering and butchering our farm animals, mowing our lawns. Like it or not, the society at large has allowed this to happen openly or through conscious neglect. After making use of human beings in a such a manner, an obligation has been created to treat them as more than criminals and wretches. We have been complicit in creating this obligation through our own actions and inactions. Exactly to what level that obligation rises is certainly open to discussion and debate, but it has nothing to do with the issues raised in Timothy or Galatians or by Aquinas. This obligation has everything to do with the moral obligations created by our own actions towards these people who as a result of such actions certainly are not "strangers."

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