Thursday, February 27, 2014

More thoughts on immigration


An Ethical Musings' reader, Mary Mainwaring, sent me these thoughts on immigration after reading my previous post, offering provocative personal testimony as well as highlighting some of the reasons the immigration system needs overhauling:

As a double immigrant (I emigrated from Britain to Canada, then from Canada to the US), I have thought about this topic for many years. Both Canada and the USA were built by immigrants, literally. The architects, engineers, and laborers were all immigrants. Some were welcome to stay on; some (like Chinese laborers) were not so welcome.

Both countries had mixed feelings about immigration. Whenever there was a substantial group of immigrants from somewhere, they tended to live together and continue to use their own language and customs. Sometimes this caused tension with others in the area. In the US, slaves were deliberately mixed with others so that they did not share a common language. Ghettos were made in cities out of areas where Jewish and other immigrants lived.

American theory became the ‘melting pot’. All were welcome as long as they would become ‘American’. School (in English) became compulsory and the myths about early American history, American freedom, and American enterprise were taught there. Independent men strode out to forge their own future in this story, making good out of nothing.

So in cities like New York, there were areas of the city that housed the poor recent immigrant community; the story was that these changed hands because the old group assimilated and ‘made good’. Once they had found the American way of life, they themselves or their children born here became real Americans.

In Canada, the situation was different because of the large group of French speaking Canadians (the origin of the name is French) who were there before most of the English-speaking immigrants. So there were two languages and two cultures in Canada from its founding. Latterly, the presence of Inuit and other First Nations people, particularly in the North, have been recognized. Canadians used the image of the ‘mosaic’.

Now that the US has a large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants so that parts of the country operate in Spanish, there is a different situation from the past experience of immigration. California and other areas in the West are now supporting Spanish populations. (Ironic, since many of the areas now doing so used to be part of Mexico). This means that the language of everyday life in these areas is no longer English. To some minds, ‘they’ have ‘taken over’.

The fear this brings to the English speakers is obvious in some of the rhetoric, often played out in the ideas about immigration being ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’. Unfortunately, the use of shorthand labels for the people involved such as illegal immigrant or undocumented immigrant devalue the person and make it easier to express extreme prejudice against them. They are taking ‘our’ jobs, for example. An experiment in employing non-Mexican farmworkers showed that the poor in America couldn't do the work even if they try. Most of the farmworkers in the US are not unskilled workers, but people with agricultural knowledge and skills. It’s not just surviving hard physical work in the summer heat out in the fields, but also knowing how to plant, care for, and harvest crops. (The same thing applies to the slave labor we once used; knowing about rice or indigo growing was what the ‘owners’ looked for in slave labor).

Since we brought in the strange notions about blocking people from entering our various countries because we wanted to protect those already here from upheavals and cultural changes, the American system of choosing those it approves to enter is badly flawed. The process is long, complicated, annoying, expensive, and makes life difficult for all involved. I talked to the judge in Charlotte when I signed in and she told me that she couldn't do the part of her job that involves supervising the rest of the staff because there was such a huge backlog that she did nothing but interview people every day. Some of these interviews are a waste of time because the person has already shown ability; for example, I had to take a primitive ‘test’ of English skills (easily copied from the person beside me if I had not known the answers) even though I had been teaching in English for many years in the US. Also, she told me that there were supposed to be more people working in the Charlotte office, but these positions were not funded as budgets were cut. Since the budget cutting has continued since then, it must be worse now. Nobody is going to protest about cuts to the staff in immigration offices.

The forms to fill in are byzantine, and the oath, which one has to take, like some of the questions, are archaic or sometimes laughable. (“Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” “Do you intend to overthrow the government of the United States?”) Once we were without permission to live here because the process was supposed to take a few months, but it took years. So our permission to live and work here ran out. We were told that as long as we were ‘in the process’ it didn’t matter. But we had no documents to get back into the country should we need to leave for some reason. These frustrations mean that many people are going to drop out of the system through no fault of their own, and then become ‘illegal’. Before attaining US citizenship, one may be deported at any time with no hearing and no need for explanation. This happens much more often to Mexicans and other Spanish speakers than it does to English speaking ‘desirables’. During all this time, we could not vote and taking part in the political process or speaking out might mean deportation.

Americans regularly told me to break the law and get a job when I was still unable to do that, not having a green card. It was evident that they had no idea what the rules were about emigration and thought that everyone elsewhere in the world would come to the US if they could. And that once you were here, of course you could work and build a life for yourselves. But that was when the rules applied to us, their neighbor. The story changed when it applied to poor immigrants who do farm work.

Like many other departments of the US government, the civil servants that do the work of sorting through immigration papers and getting people through to green card status or citizenship are undervalued and understaffed. The system is badly flawed and in need of overhaul, but, until it is properly staffed, nothing will improve.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Musings about immigration


Some thoughts about immigration:

  • 2 million illegal immigrants have been deported since Obama became President, more than under any previous president and nine times the rate of nine years ago
  • Technological changes are making low-skill, manual labor jobs less remunerative and less attractive. Consequently, many Americans decline to seek these positions, preferring to collect unemployment compensation while seeking a new job rather than to accept what our society widely perceives to be a dead-end job. Employers can continue to pay low wages for these jobs because immigrants, some of them in the country illegally, find the jobs offer better lifestyle if not employment prospects than they had before immigrating to the U.S.
  • Foreign-born individuals earn half all PhDs in science and technology awarded by U.S. schools and are co-authors of four-fifths of the drug patents, i.e., foreign-born individuals, regardless of immigration status, contribute to U.S. technological progress and economic productivity. In other words, current immigration policies arguably harm rather than benefit the nation.
  • Most U.S. citizens are immigrants or the descendant of immigrants.
  • National borders are an attempt by nation states to define themselves in terms of geography and citizens. In the absence of strong border controls, numerous people relocate to improve their economic or social prospects, e.g., in the European Union (EU) with its relatively open borders citizens of less prosperous countries in Eastern Europe often grab an opportunity to relocate to a wealthier Western European country. Anecdotally, when I spent a week in London last autumn, eating in restaurants and staying in a hotel, I think only one of the service people spoke with a UK accent.
  • God is no respecter of persons, i.e., God makes no distinctions in how God treats people based on their national identity or origin and desires that we similarly treat all people with equal respect.
  • Entirely eliminating border controls would result in substantial numbers of people moving to the United States. Some would contribute greatly to our national ethos, bringing their entrepreneurial spirits, industry, ambition, skills, and native abilities. A few would come seeing an opportunity for criminal activity and a few would come seeking welfare benefits. These few collectively represent a distinct minority. Most people, regardless of where they live, are neither criminal nor constitutionally lazy.
  • History suggests that the risky policy of allowing open immigration pays dividends in terms of social and economic benefits, e.g., the history of North America from the sixteenth through the imposition of immigration controls in the nineteenth century. If the U.S. opened its borders, would it spend less on additional policing and welfare benefits than it now spends in vain attempts to control its borders? (Notwithstanding the huge number of deportees, current border control efforts are largely in vain, given the presence of millions of illegal immigrants.)
  • The best prevention of illegal immigration may be to promote human rights, liberal democracy, and economic prosperity abroad. Tellingly, a depressed U.S. economy causes fewer Mexicans to attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. Canadians, who enjoy their own prosperous liberal democratic nation, rarely try to immigrate illegally to the U.S. or elsewhere.

More specifically, the current U.S. approach to immigration benefits few:

  • Deportation is an expensive, time-consuming process.
  • Illegal immigrants brought by their parents to the U.S. as children (i.e., these illegal immigrants had no choice in their immigration status) may know no other language, culture, or identity. Sending such individuals back to their nominal country helps nobody and carries significant costs for society, e.g., an illegal immigrant recently was the runner-up in the election of the University of North Carolina's student body president and obviously a talented young man with much to contribute.
  • Sending parents home while allowing a child born in this country to remain because the child is a citizen and the parents are illegal immigrants hurts everyone. Parents with sufficient initiative to come to want to be in the U.S. illegally so that their newborn will be a citizen have genes from which this nation can benefit.

I don't anticipate that the U.S. will eliminate its border controls in the near future. I'm admittedly uncertain about the full ramifications of such a radical change. EU member nations have struggled with their open borders, although many of the difficulties may be transitional rather than permanent if those relating from poor to wealthy nations bring disproportionate amounts of industry, ambition, and talent.

However, current U.S. immigration policies and laws are broken and inconsistent with God's equal love for all. Incremental changes may represent the preferred answer, especially given Washington's polarized politics and widespread though biblically and historically unwarranted xenophobia.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bending the arc of history toward peace


Jesus is the Prince of Peace who, in the Sermon on the Mount said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Yet we Christians generally act as if working for peace is like tilting at windmills or that peace will arrive with no action required on our part. Both responses betray our identity as Jesus' followers. Consequently, we live in a more heavily armed and militaristic world than is morally or spiritually justifiable.

We best fulfill our vocation as peacemakers when we identify concrete steps that will move us closer to peace and then join with others to turn those steps from dreams into reality. Pushing the United States toward partial nuclear disarmament is one such step, once a seemingly impossible dream that now seems increasingly possible.

During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union were in a protracted nuclear standoff, neither nation willing to attack the other, both having subscribed to a policy of mutually assured destruction, convinced of the utter folly of a nuclear attack against the other, an event certain to trigger a war that would result in an uninhabitable planet.

The United States, for its part, invested heavily in a nuclear triad of land-based, submarine launched, and bomber launched nuclear warheads. The military justification for this triad was that it assured deterrence of a Soviet attack. A Soviet first strike might destroy one or two legs of the triad but could not destroy all three legs.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. No hostile nuclear-armed adversary now confronts the United States with a threat of similar magnitude. Furthermore, although the number of nuclear-armed nations has slowly risen, only Russia, which possesses significantly less military power than did the former Soviet Union, could seriously threaten, if it chose, the United States in a nuclear war. China critically lacks the systems (missiles, etc.) capable of delivering nuclear weapons to targets in much of the United States.

The diminished capacity of any potential foe to initiate a nuclear attack requires less of a nuclear deterrent. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush ended the 24/7 ready alert status of U.S. strategic bombers and many land-based missiles, effectively dismantling one and a half legs of the nuclear triad. Post-9/11, no subsequent president has reversed that order.

The threat of a terror group using a nuclear weapon against the United States is greatly overblown. Nations – think North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran – need years, spend billions of dollars, and utilize the efforts of thousands of people, some very highly educated, to develop a nuclear weapon. No terror group has similar resources. A terror group might conceivably steal a weapon, but would still face the daunting double challenge of getting the weapon to a target and then detonating the weapon. No terror group has even stolen a nuclear weapon. Any nation that has developed nuclear weapons values those weapons too highly to permit the theft of one.

Realistically, the only type of nuclear weapon that a terror group could either acquire or build is a dirty bomb, a conventional weapon that, when exploded, scatters a heap of collected radioactive material. A dirty bomb poses little actual threat. A conventional explosion would scatter, even in a stiff wind, radioactive material over a VERY limited area, probably a few acres and almost assuredly less than one square mile. The most easily obtained radioactive material (e.g., waste from medical and dental offices) emits relatively low levels of radiation that, when dissipated across an open area, is unlikely to cause significant harm. Authorities by moving quickly to control access to the contaminated area, decontaminate exposed individuals, and clean up radioactive material would limit direct harm. A dirty bomb's greatest cost would be from any public fear and panic that the attack caused, effects similar to what happened post-9/11.

Terror groups, unlike nations, do not have assets (the military forces and bases, industrial complexes, transportation hubs, etc.) that offer suitable targets for nuclear retaliation. The U.S. nuclear triad – regardless of whatever risk of nuclear attack that a terror group might pose – represents neither a deterrent nor a possible means of retaliation against non-state terror groups.

In the absence of any arguably valid national defense requirement, the United States continues to fund, maintain, and operate its nuclear triad. Doing so makes the world less safe, directly harms the United States, and keeps the earth and us from moving closer to the peace that God intends.

Quite simply, the world is less safe because nuclear weapons are dangerous. In general, the fewer nuclear weapons that exist, the safer the world is (e.g., terrorists cannot steal non-existent weapons). Entrusting nuclear weapons to military personnel who engage in the types of personal and professional misconduct recently disclosed in the media – behaviors symptomatic of widespread low morale, high levels of stress, and a dead-end career field – seems especially unwise. From my service as a military chaplain, I know that these problems are indicative of a broken system and not isolated cases of individual miscreants.

Preserving its nuclear triad directly harms the United States because the triad is costly. A nuclear submarine, for example, costs $4.9 billion to build – real money by anyone's reckoning. Personnel and operating costs for Strategic Command (the military command responsible for the nuclear triad) are tens of billions of dollars annually. Eliminating one or two legs of the triad, or dramatically scaling back all three legs, would substantially cut defense spending, freeing those funds for education, healthcare, infrastructure repair, other needed programs, or deficit reduction. As President Eisenhower publicly remarked, spending one more dollar on national defense than is essential hurts the nation, depriving it of the good that spending the money in another way would achieve. I, for one, find it impossible to believe that the U.S., to be secure, must spend more on national defense than the next twenty nations combined spend.

Throughout the Bible, the word peace denotes not just the absence of armed conflict but also the fullness of well-being and prosperity. Whether one is a Christian pacifist or believes that in our present brokenness nations, particularly free and democratic nations, have a right to self-defense, spending money to develop, procure, maintain, and operate weapons not needed for defense is immoral. Christian peacemakers – and that should include all Christians – can faithfully unite in lobbying our government to eliminate nuclear weapons and delivery systems that no longer contribute to national defense.

Opposition to any reduction is strong. President Eisenhower warned of an emerging military-industrial complex. Today, the nation is in the firm grip of the political-military-industrial complex. Defense industries that build and maintain nuclear weapons wield much political influence. They give large sums to political candidates and employ people at facilities in a majority of congressional districts. Trimming the nuclear triad will eliminate jobs in defense industries, the military, and the civil service. Some defense hawks unfortunately object to any reduction in defense spending, ignoring the fiscal imperative to shape today's Department of Defense to counter today's threat, the moral imperative to care for the most vulnerable, and the spiritual imperative to work for peace.

Conversely, peace advocates wield relatively little political influence. In part, this is because peacemakers contribute relatively little to political campaigns. More importantly, peacemakers exert little political influence because they have not mobilized successfully.

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, through its local chapters and national organization, offers people who have heard Jesus' call to be peacemakers and who want to obey opportunities to join with likeminded individuals in working for peace. Together, we can accomplish far more than the sum of our individual efforts. The arc of history is swinging toward peace and we, with God's help, can accelerate the pace at which it is bending.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Moral injury


"To violate your conscience is to commit moral suicide."

That provocative idea comes from an acquaintance of mine, Herman Keizer, a retired army (Colonel) Chaplain with forty years of military experience, whom the authors, Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini of Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War quote.

Keizer has overstated his point. There is no recovery from suicide, but a person can recover from a moral injury. Hyperbole aside, Keizer is on target when he recognizes that violating one's conscience causes moral injury.

Moral injury is distinct from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress). PTSD is an emotional injury for which mental health professionals, sometimes assisted by clergy and others, provide treatment that may appropriately include prescription medicines. Moral injury effects one's conscience, spirit, or soul (take your choice, depending upon your view of anthropology). Healing for moral injury occurs through telling one's story, knowing that one is heard, rebuilding trust, reconnecting with people, and eventually experiencing forgiveness, self-forgiveness, and healing.

Explicit recognition of moral injury is relatively new, although authors going back at least to Homer (cf. The Iliad, the story of the warrior Homer's return from the Trojan war). Like PTSD and unlike wounds for which American soldiers receive the Purple Heart, moral injury is not a visible injury. However, that does not make the wound any less real or diminish the need for healing.

Although work on moral injury centers on warfighting, I believe that moral injury can occur in any situation in which a person violates her or his conscience. Not attempting to intervene to stop something a person recognizes as evil, afraid of the personal consequences of acting, seems likely to result in moral injury.

If you are interested in learning more about moral injury, I commend Brock and Lettini's book, Soul Repair, Jonathan Shay's book, Odysseus in America.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Supply and demand in the PhD labor market


PBS recently featured a story about poorly paid adjunct faculty who comprise a large (about 40%) and growing part of college and university professors but who are poorly paid and work without benefits (Arik Greenberg, "How one professor's American dream – teaching – turned into the American nightmare," February 5, 2014).

Briefly, schools of higher education have discovered that they can hire most of the faculty they need at a relative pittance (about $3000 per course). Tenure track faculty – the permanent employees who receive benefits, unlike adjuncts – cost a school upwards of $50,000 per year, depending upon the professor's rank, field, experience, publications, etc. Some full professors now earn upwards of $500,000 per year, making adjunct faculty a real bargain!

The supply of PhDs (the Doctor of Philosophy degree that most college and university faculty hold, which is often the required credential for teaching in a college or university) and demand for faculty are poorly balanced. That obvious conclusion illustrates both potential problems inherent in relying on a free market to adjust supply and demand and a pervasive lack of free markets.

Let's begin with the latter, the lack of free markets. In a free market, anyone who wanted to earn a PhD could apply, and if possessed of the necessary academic qualifications, intellectual abilities, and financial resources would presumably find a program that would admit him/her. Over time, PhD programs would expand to accommodate the demand. This expansion would begin with existing programs raising their tuition and fees until the supply of fully qualified applicants all had slots. Other schools, seeing the excess profits (for a non-profit educational institution profit connotes the surplus of PhD revenues over the cost of those programs), would then enter the market, establishing or expanding their PhD programs. This expansion, in time, would result in PhD programs chasing applicants, driving down tuition and fees, as schools competed for students.

Little of this dynamic has occurred. The number of PhD programs has expanded. Schools compete for top applicants. But few if any schools accept all qualified applicants. In fact, some schools (usually deemed the best preparation for the job market) deny admission to many highly qualified applicants, limiting the number accepted to the number of full scholarships that the school has available. In other words, PhD programs are not a market that generates revenue, but a heavily subsidized activity. PhD students frequently assist faculty in conducting research and afford faculty opportunities to teach higher-level courses, both of which are beneficial for faculty. In the sciences, the cost of building and operating labs often sets a high barrier to entry that works against the creation of new PhD programs.

Students who embark on the long and arduous path to earning a PhD (typically at least three years and more often five to seven years) generally expect to find employment as a college or university faculty member. This expectation seems reasonable given the highly controlled admission process to PhD programs and the limited number of jobs, part from college and university teaching, for which the PhD provides the requisite credential.

If PhD programs were truly a free market in which qualified buyers (potential students) and sellers (PhD programs) competed, then I would have little sympathy with the plight of adjunct faculty (low pay, no job security, no benefits).

That said, my sympathy for adjunct faculty is rather limited. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been an adjunct faculty member, teaching courses for a couple of different colleges while in parish ministry prior to my service in the Navy. Earning a PhD, even from a fourth or fifth rate school, requires a fair amount of intelligence. The employment conditions of adjunct faculty are no secret. The trend toward fewer tenure track positions and more reliance on adjunct faculty has been happening for over a decade. No new PhD student or recent graduate should find poor employment prospects surprising.

Some people find teaching highly rewarding, if not for monetary reasons for other reasons, e.g., being able to spend one's days engaged in study and reflection or the lifestyle that not having formal responsibilities during the summer affords. Nobody has to work as an adjunct faculty member. The educational debt of many PhDs is more attributable to their undergraduate studies than to a postgraduate PhD program. In other words, adjunct faculty choose low pay over alternative employment.

What I do find morally troubling is that colleges and universities openly exploit their teaching staff, paying them far less than a living wage and less than many (all, in some cases) of their staff in traditionally low paying positions (custodial, housekeeping, food service, and clerical).

Most colleges and universities are non-profits. Reasonable terms of employment set an appropriate moral minimum for their operations. (Sadly, a great many religious institutions have historically paid, continuing into the present, many of their non-professional staff equally poorly.)

What I find philosophically troubling is that PhD programs emphasize career options for graduates rather than the pursuit of knowledge. Why not offer – at cost or more – an opportunity to earn advanced degrees to people who already have a career, perhaps even to retirees? Learning, cultivating critical thinking skills, and contributing to the advancement of human knowledge are three important benefits that earning a PhD degree might confer, if the programs emphasized learning and advancing knowledge rather than being primarily a hurdle that those desirous of teaching must successfully cross. Charging market rates for PhD programs (and private schools using endowment income and public schools supplementing their scant endowments with existing taxpayer subsidies to fund scholarships based on need) would move the system closer to a free market, increase the social benefits of non-profits that offer PhDs, and create realistic expectations among PhD students.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reworking history - in defense of freedom


A reader of Ethical Musings asked me for my thoughts on the Los Angeles County Supervisors voting to restore a cross to the county seal for "historical correctness." (For more details on this vote, cf. "Why is L.A. County picking a fight over a cross on its seal?" in the Los Angeles Times of February 7, 2014.)

Incidentally, suggestions for Ethical Musings posts are always welcome.

The action of the LA County Supervisors is incomprehensible and reprehensible to me. First, restoring the cross to the seal seems to invite, intentionally and unambiguously, a lawsuit protesting the action. As the editorial in the Los Angeles Times points out, defending the County's actions wastes tax dollars.

Second, this is not an instance of the cross having been part of the County's seal continuously. The County had already removed the cross once. Restoring the cross serves no useful purpose because the cross, contrary to the supervisors' allegations, is not original. Furthermore, LA County is no more Christian than the rest of the nation. When convenient, we appropriately move beyond the unethical use of Christian symbols for secular purposes.

I have little sympathy with individuals and groups who wish to remove all religious symbols from public buildings, seals, etc. Such an endeavor would require renaming many places (e.g., San Francisco (St. Francis), CA), rewriting history (e.g., the Pilgrims came to America primarily for the opportunity to practice their beliefs their way and not economic opportunity), and reprinting, rebuilding, and rebranding thousands of items at a cost of billions of dollars.

On the other hand, I have little sympathy with individuals and groups who wish to promote any set of religious beliefs using public monies. Changing the seal of Los Angeles County to include a cross clearly falls into this category.

To read more in Ethical Musings on this general topic, see Setting the past right and Half-truths about healthcare and U.S. founders.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Change or die - part 2


The closing of St. Paul's College (cf. part 1 of this post) prompted some musings about the relatively short life span of almost all human organizations.

I cannot think of an organization that has survived longer than the Roman Catholic Church. Other long-surviving institutions (more than a few hundred years) include a handful of monarchies and aristocracies, a few universities, and perhaps a small number of others. No U.S. organization makes the cut for a shortlist of the longest-lived institutions and organizations. As a nation of immigrants who mostly pushed aside (or did worse) to Native Americans, our institutions and organizations are understandably newer than those found in many parts of Europe and Asia.

The second tier of long-lived institutions and organizations, say those that have survived more than a hundred years, is more diverse, including some nation states, religious groups, aristocratic/wealthy families, fraternal organizations, schools, and even businesses.

My involvement with long-lived institutions is probably unusual for an American. The college and seminary I attended are now both over two hundred years old. My grammar school and two of the parishes I served are one hundred and fifty years old or older. The two institutions in which I spend most of my working life – the Episcopal Church and the U.S. Navy – are both over two hundred years old.

Humans are frequently reluctant to embrace change. We Episcopalians like to tout our dependence upon tradition as an advantageous selling point.

Life has an inherent continuity. The new invariably emerges from the old. This is true physiologically as well as in terms of institutions and organizations. Human bodies consist of reused atoms. The atoms may have belonged to humans who lived before the current user of the atom, to another life form (animal, plant, or microbe), to an inanimate object (e.g., a rock), or, most likely, to several of the above multiple times. This reusing of atoms, both in larger assemblies (i.e., molecules) and in their smaller parts (e.g., an electron), is just one reason why any concept of resurrection in which God supposedly restores a human to his or her physical body is nonsensical (cf. Ethical Musings Resurrection).

The new that emerges from the old is many times unexpected. I'm confident, without knowing for certain, that the founder of St. Paul's College anticipated that the school would survive two or more centuries. Yet the school has shut its doors and the property, the last I knew, was for sale. Whether a purchaser occupies the campus or eventually razes it to make room for new construction or to prepare the land for agricultural use, new life will appear.

Some of St. Paul's faculty and staff will find employment in another field. Some will continue their commitment to education in a paid or volunteer capacity at another institution. Again, new life will emerge from the old.

St. Paul's graduates also represent a form of new life from the old, transformed by their education and experience, into someone different from the student who initially matriculated. Like stones thrown into a pond, the effects of that change ripple outwards from St. Paul's, the new emerging from the old.

The trend of people away from religious toward spiritual but not religious, or even to atheism, which North American and European opinion surveys consistently report, is not disturbing. Old forms of religion – like all other human institutions – will wither and die. If a greater power exists – and I believe one does, whom we conveniently call God – then the perishing of religion with its doctrines, rituals, and other elements will give rise to new formulations and expressions. Self-descriptions of being spiritual but not religious signal that the dying is underway and the birth pangs just beginning, but it is too soon to discern what will emerge.

Alternatively, the Roman Catholic Church has the truth (what it calls the deposit of faith). This explains why the Roman Catholic Church has outlasted all other human institutions and organizations. This does not explain why the number of Roman Catholics is declining in Europe and holding its own in the United States only because of immigrants.

Clinging insistently to old forms, ideas, and organizations is a losing game. The more organized matter and energy becomes, the greater potential for entropy. The same logically seems to hold true for relationships and ideas. The two essential building blocks, it seems to me, are the possibility of cultivating a relationship with God and learning to love others (this broadly construed to include the entire cosmos) as one's self.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Superbowl


A friend forwarded this link on how reporting about the Superbowl might read in another country.

In this nation that sometimes loudly laments its violent culture, professional football increasingly seems incongruous. From what little I know, brain injuries are cumulative; helmets and other padding make serious concussive injuries more likely, and yet people continue want to play and to watch. The deaths and injuries may be less visible than they were in the Roman Coliseum, but I’m not sure there is a huge difference.

A critical component of peacemaking consists in reorienting one's own life away from violence and toward peace. Why not soccer instead of American football?

Change or die - part 1


St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, VA, has closed. Unfamiliar with St. Paul's College? I'm not surprised. St. Paul's was a small, historically black, college affiliated with The Episcopal Church (TEC). It closed in the autumn of 2013, having experienced an apparently irreversible decline in enrollment and lacking the endowment funds to continue operations.

On one hand, St. Paul's demise causes me considerable unease for three reasons. First, if integration has succeeded, then why do so few non-African-Americans attend historically black schools? This is not a marketing problem on the part of a few of these schools, but a pervasive pattern even among top-flight schools such as Morehouse College and Howard University. True integration would result in a flow of non-black students to historically black schools and black students to historically white schools.

Second, as an Episcopalian, I am uneasy about the denomination not having taken more assertive and public steps to aid St. Paul's College. Denominational affiliation differs markedly from the duties inherent in ownership. TEC has also its own fiscal issues. Additionally, the other two historically black schools affiliated with TEC both have their own struggles. However, if TEC prizes these affiliated institutions – and it should, given the denomination's emphases on diversity and tradition – then what steps might TEC pro-actively take to aid St. Augustine University in Raleigh and Voorhees College in Denmark, SC? Should affiliation connote more than prayers, bishops serving on trustee boards, and the presence of an Episcopal chaplaincy? If so, what should the more be?

Third, although the great recession accelerated the demise of St. Paul's College, a decisive factor, according to Benjamin Todd Jealous, was the 2011 federal Department of Education tightening the standards for loans to parents of college students. Following the change, loans to parents of students at historically black schools dropped by 36% and revenue to the schools by almost $150 million. For a school like St. Paul's College, that change may have been the tipping point that led to its closure. An amazing 42% of students at historically black schools come from families with incomes less than $25,000. (St. Paul's College and the Future of HBCUs, Huffington Post, September 20, 2013) The ability to repay a loan is an appropriate loan approval criterion. What is wrong with a society that advocates equal opportunity and self-reliance yet does not provide full scholarships to qualified students who have no personal or family wealth and whose parents earn less than $25,000 annually? Investing in young adults who badly want an education is certainly a winning proposition for the nation (and the denomination! – perhaps funding scholarships is one way for denominational affiliation to become more meaningful). Historically black colleges and university students comprise "just 3 percent of the nation's colleges and universities, but produce 50 percent of black public-school teachers, 80 percent of black judges, and 40 percent of baccalaureate degrees awarded to black students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the STEM fields." (St. Paul's College and the Future of HBCUs, Huffington Post, September 20, 2013)

On the one hand, St. Paul's demise is at least partially attributable to progress in racial integration over the last half century. Tellingly, in 1971, St. Paul's Trustees voted to admit students and to hire teachers without regard to race. However, St. Paul's students and faculty remained predominantly African-American. A growing number of black students wonder if attending a historically black school will best prepare them for joining an increasingly integrated workforce.

More broadly, every human institution – just like every human – must change or die. Change, as I have previously discussed in Ethical Musings, is endemic, e.g., cf. Rethinking Advent. At least one of the St. Paul's College Trustees attributes the school shutting its doors to its failure to adapt to a changing environment with a new vision and purpose. Read more on this subject in my next post.