Matthew Loftus makes a provocative point:

If globalism and liquid modernity are the problem, then immigration restriction is cutting off one of the few sources of new citizens who might possible share your views on the priority of faith and family and the importance of religion in providing some moral undercurrent (or restraint) for the state’s actions. Both Putin and Trump appear to be happy to throw a bone to religious conservatives in order for their loyal support, but neither has any respect for human life in the eyes of the state and would happily preside over a fiefdom full of people lost in drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sex as long as they stay in power. There won’t be much civilization left to defend because modernity will continue its corrosive destruction through the institutions we love and believe in– the individualistic atomism that is hollowing out our civilization is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped by an authoritarian state and closed borders.

Refugees and immigrants overwhelmingly hail from cultures that prioritize communal values over individual expression, understand the preeminent value of marriage and family, and see religious devotion as a key process that helps to form virtuous and capable citizens. There are some legitimate differences in politics, theology, or culture, but those values tend to be more superficial when considered in light of the overwhelming overlap in social vision they have with religious conservatives.The conflicts that we might encounter in dealing with Islamic political theology and other foreign ideas might even help sharpen our particular viewpoints and force us to actually describe how we imagine religion informing politics doing rather than shrieking about Supreme Court justices ad nauseum.

He goes on to say:

Whether you want real civilization that is communal instead of individualistic or genuine ideology that governs according to principle rather than power-grabbing, immigrants and refugees are conservatives’ allies.

This is true up to a point, Lord Copper. Let me explain.

I’ve written here that I would a thousand times rather that my next-door neighbors were an observant Muslim family, which by default would mean they shared most of my socially conservative beliefs, than a secular, let-it-all-hang-out American family. It’s all about the kids, really. I could say the same about, say, an observant Catholic or Evangelical immigrant family from Mexico.

But the dynamic changes when we are talking about an entire society. It’s a useful thought experiment to play out in your head, because it forces you to think of what you value socially. I would not want to live in a society that’s majority Muslim, because despite sharing many values, there is not a majority-Muslim country in the world that I would want to live in. Visit? Yes, absolutely. But live in? No, not as an observant Christian, and not as someone who values the Western tradition.

In fact, I would not be eager to live in most countries of the world, other than my own. I fancy that I would enjoy living in the UK, Ireland, and most European countries, but that is because they are close enough to what I’m used to. The older I get, the less likely I am even to consider the possibility of doing so. Hell, I’m not quite fifty, but I’m to the point in my life where I don’t want to live outside of the American South. Austin is as far west as I want to go, and Charlottesville as far north. Don’t ask me why. I don’t owe you an explanation. I prefer what is familiar. Most people do.

Here’s the thing: I enjoy visiting different places, countries, and cultures because they are themselves. If I were Mexican, I would want Mexico to remain Mexican, not turn American. If I were Egyptian, I’d want to walk like an Egyptian, not an American. As an American, I want these people to be proud of their own countries and to keep their own traditions. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have things to learn from each other, or that our own country wouldn’t be improved by adopting this or that law or habit from another country (and vice versa). But I don’t think people should feel it necessary to apologize for wanting to be around people like themselves, and for valuing customs and peoples who are like themselves such that they wish to limit the immigration of those who, in larger numbers, undermine those values and customs.

But if one is a conservative Christian who believes that secular individualism is corrosive of the values one holds dear, shouldn’t one want to import foreigners who are more likely to share one’s values, as a way to shore up the side? It’s easy to see why the answer might be yes, but that overlooks the fact that we are never just one thing. You sometimes see in Orthodox Christian congregations a few American converts who seem to think that having adopted Orthodox Christianity compels them to start thinking of themselves as 19th-century Russian peasants. It’s comic. I am an Orthodox Christian by choice, but I am also an American, and not a Greek or a Slavic American, either. If my country were invaded by soldiers of an Orthodox Christian power, I would shoot at them and not think twice about it.

 

On the other hand, if I had to choose between my God and my country, I would hope to have the courage to choose my God.

Identity is a very complicated thing, obviously. In January 1994, I was visiting a friend in Oslo, and went to Sunday mass at the city’s Catholic cathedral. My friend, who is not religious, warned me that the church would probably be nearly empty, as most Norwegian churches are these days. It took me longer to get there than I anticipated (Southern boys don’t walk on frozen sidewalks well), and when I opened the church doors, I could barely squeeze in! It was literally packed — and maybe five percent of the congregation was white. They were black Africans, Filipinos, and Asians — all Catholic immigrants. It was a glorious sight, all those people in that church, praising God.

And yet, I can’t say that I would want Oslo to turn into Lagos, Manila, or Saigon any more than I would want Lagos, Manila, or Saigon to turn into Oslo.

Not long ago, on this blog, a reader challenged me when I said that I would rather my children grow up in a non-Western country that is recognizably Christian than in a post-Christian Western country. The reader called BS on me, and you know what? He was right to. Neither one’s culture nor one’s nationality has anything to do with whether or not you find favor in the sight of God … but it’s not negligible either. When my first child was born, we were living in New York City, a city I really loved. The thought, though, of him growing up not knowing Southern American culture really ate at me, and made me view with greater sympathy immigrant parents whose children were becoming Americanized. By immigrating, I’m sure that many, even most, of them had chosen what they believed was the greater good for their children: raising them in America, as opposed to back home, wherever home was.

I am also pretty confident that for most of those immigrant mothers and fathers, the emotional costs exacted by that choice were significant.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog a friend of mine, a Catholic Englishwoman, who with her American husband chose to settle in the US, though they could have lived in England, in part because she wanted her children to have a better chance at holding on to their faith than they would in her highly secularized home country. She told me once that she doesn’t regret the choice, but that she really misses home. I hope that I would have the same courage that she did, in those circumstances. But what if the choice were to stay in England or migrate to a Christian Third World country — that is, one significantly outside of Western culture? Latin America would be easier, for obvious reasons, but what about Africa? Or Asia?

It has been almost 23 years since I saw those Filipino, African, and Vietnamese Catholics worshiping in the Oslo cathedral. I wonder what has become of their children. Have they made Norway more Christian, or has Norway made them more secular? Do their parents regret that their kids are less like their parents, culturally?

There’s no question that the immigration tide to Europe now stands to make Europe on balance more culturally conservative, but less Christian. If I were European, there is no question that I would oppose it, in part because I would find a Muslim-dominated society more of a threat to the future of Christianity in Europe (if it has one) than a secular liberal society, and in part because to bring in more Muslim immigrants (and, to be frank, more immigrants, period) right now is to ask for trouble. But the US is not Europe. Is one immigration policy morally justifiable for American Christians, but not so for European Christians?

Tell me what you think, Christian readers. Are the similarities between immigrants from traditional cultures (Christian and otherwise) and Christians in the US so much greater than the differences as to obviate principled cultural opposition to generous immigration policies? Why or why not? I can’t settle on an answer that satisfies me.

UPDATE: You’ve got to read Alastair Roberts’s long response to Matthew Loftus on that thread.  It’s what I would have written if I were a really intelligent person and methodical thinker.