Since Great Britain voted last week to exit the European Union (BREXIT, as it is popularly known), I've pondered what Jesus might have to say about the vote if he were still among us as an itinerant rabbi. My thoughts have coalesced around two themes.
First, I think Jesus would have great concern for the people whose anger, feelings of exclusion from both economic progress and political power, and sense of being overwhelmed by uncontrollable tidal waves of immigrants motivated them to vote against remaining in the European Union. Voters with some subset (or even all) of those feelings are not unique to the United Kingdom. In the United Sates, for example, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders apparently garnered a majority of their support from voters with similar feelings.
The unprecedented numbers of immigrants across Europe and in the US are irreversibly altering community landscapes. Illustratively, some people are discomfited when they hear pedestrians, customers, business employees, government workers, and others speak a language other than the heretofore dominant language in that locale.
Walking around Honolulu today, compared to twenty years ago, I much more frequently hear people speaking Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, and occasionally Spanish or another Romance language. I enjoy hearing the diversity. The different languages evoke memories of different trips abroad. I admire the willingness of people to travel to a place in which few people speak their native tongue and value travel for its abilities to broaden one's horizons and tolerance of diversity.
However, I also understand that other persons can perceive the growing number of persons in the US and elsewhere who do not speak the dominant local language as representing a threat to a cherished but imperiled way of life. A recent poll of Americans found that 70% of them are concerned by the lack of English they hear in the US and that 80% think the US has too many recent immigrants. The shift of power away from local communities and regional governments to distant centers of power (Washington for the US and Brussels for the EU) has had the unfortunate, unintended consequence of leaving people feeling disempowered and alienated. Government, as I have repeatedly contended in Ethical Musings' posts, is becoming less and less "of, by, and for the people." Concurrently, the most important economic engines of prosperity have shifted from manufacturing to service businesses, technology, finance, healthcare, and government. Workers displaced by that shift have frequently received little useful assistance in acquiring a new set of marketable skills and consequently see little hope for regaining a lost prosperity. No wonder that plenty of voters are angry and feel left behind.
What policies or programs might Jesus recommend? Here are ideas:
- Governments and businesses have a moral obligation to develop programs and policies that effectively aid displaced workers in acquiring skills appropriate to the modern economy and then in obtaining jobs with pay comparable to their former position.
- Governments and non-profits should help people acquire the skills and knowledge to cope with the accelerating pace of change while concurrently slowing the pace of change, when practical, to reduce the number of people who feel alienated or left behind.
- Governments should decentralize the locus of power as much as possible, reengaging citizens in the work of government even if this means living, at least in the short run, with a greater diversity of laws and government policies.
Second, I think that Jesus would regard the BREXIT vote as a speedbump on an irreversible trajectory toward the emergence of a unified global community. Human history reveals an expanding circle of concern that began with the nuclear or extended family, enlarged to include clan and tribe, widened to encompass one's ethnicity or nationality, is still broadening to include states closely aligned with one's own and one's co-religionists regardless of their geographic location, and is progressing toward encompassing all people. Forces propelling us along this trajectory are globalization and an inherent human reciprocal altruism that pushes toward maximizing the circle of one's concern. This latter idea is another formulation of the ethic that exhorts us to love our neighbors as ourselves, a teaching intrinsic to all of the world's great religions.
Hitting more speedbumps seems probable. Tracing the human trajectory that appears to lead toward emergence of a global community reveals many detours, steps backward, and pauses between steps forward. Tracing that trajectory of uneven progress also tells a story of conflict and opposition, often violent.
Jesus, I think, would caution us against yielding to evil forces, which include xenophobia, narcissistic self-interest, believing the sword to be mightier than love, practicing injustice, failing to do good and to practice mercy, and not respecting the dignity and worth of every human being.
Jesus would also exhort us not to lose hope. God is at work bringing creation to the destiny God envisions. In the words of Julian of Norwich, "All will be well; all manner of things of will be well."