Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hate, immigration and the NYT

I would normally put up the piece below on my IMMIGRATION WATCH blog but I think the story here is the NYT rather than immigration. It is of course zero suprise that an NYT article would make Dr. Goebbels proud but the article would seem to require some reply nonetheless. That reply has been provided by Jerry Kammer of CIS, one of the organizations smeared by the NYT. I put up a slightly abridged version of that reply below.

The main point to note is that Jason DeParle, the NYT journalist concerned, could find so little to pin on the anti-illegal crowd that he concentrated his spleen on just one man -- a Greenie! Greenies don't like people of any kind much and John Tanton appears to have been no exception. So he did make some fairly contentious utterances in his latter years.

It is of course true that Tanton was influential in founding several anti-immigration groups but he is now elderly, ill and not giving interviews so he is quite irrelevant to the present-day anti-illegal movement.

Jerry Kammer picks up the story, pointing out that there are many "Tantons" (unbalanced voices) on the other side of the debate too -- and that the other side is where the hate is to be found in the immigration debate of today:


The take-home message is that the three major organizations that seek to reduce immigration--the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies--are tainted by their association with nativist John Tanton.

DeParle describes Tanton's mounting frustration with the failure of 1986 immigration reform legislation. Congressional sponsors had touted the Immigration Reform and Control Act as a compromise that would impose order on the immigration chaos by combining amnesty for illegal immigrants with firm measures to stop future waves. It made the hiring of unauthorized workers a crime.

But, as DeParle notes, "the penalties proved ineffective and the amnesty was marred by fraud."

His story spills pools of ink detailing Tanton statements--most of them decades old--that demonstrate a shrill and tone-deaf dismay at the effects of uninterrupted mass immigration. Some are unfortunate. Some are disgraceful.

DeParle quotes a CIS report that criticized Tanton's "tin ear for the sensitivities of immigration." The report's next sentence, which DeParle does not quote, laments Tanton's "tendency to be unnecessarily provocative, a tendency that some have seized upon to change the topic from immigration to Tanton himself."

Therein lies the fundamental, journalistically fatal flaw of DeParle's story. His focus is so constricted that he produces a lopsided examination of extremism in the immigration debate.

It is one thing for DeParle to highlight Tanton's politically poisonous indiscretions. Tanton, who did more than anyone else to establish the modern movement to restrict immigration, has indeed done more than anyone else to undermine that movement.

But it is quite another thing for DeParle to fail to broaden his field of vision to observe the politically poisonous evolution on the other side of the immigration policy divide. DeParle's story is willfully blind.

Over the past several years, advocates of illegal immigration and ethnic organizations like the National Council of La Raza have taken as their battle cry the Southern Poverty Law Center's kangaroo-court, made-to-order 2007 designation of FAIR as a "hate group."

We at CIS issued a report that exposed the SPLC's multi-layered fraud and the "stop the hate" campaign it spawned. It is a vehement campaign of smear and character assassination directed against FAIR, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies.

As our report noted, the campaign sought to have all three organizations "shunned by the press, civil society, and elected officials. It is an effort to destroy the reputations of its targets. It also seeks to intimidate and coerce others into silence. It undermines basic principles of civil society and democratic discussion."

But who is DeParle's go-to guy for his only quote about the campaign? It's the campaign's principal spokesman, Frank Sharry.

Sharry's organization, America's Voice, is funded with millions of dollars from the Carnegie Corporation, the liberal, New York-based philanthropic foundation that righteously--and in this case ironically--touts its mission to "promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding."

During DeParle's visit to the CIS office, I provided him with our report. We spoke about it at length. It describes the Carnegie network and its own brand of extremism, which grew out of frustration at the 2007 collapse of "comprehensive" reform legislation.

In addition to America's Voice, the Carnegie funded participants include the Center for American Progress, Center for New Community, Center for Community Change, and the National Council of La Raza.

Last Saturday, in an email notifying me that the story was about to run, DeParle wrote this: "I used the Carnegie stuff, but it got cut. Maybe I can come back to it."

I think I can expect to see the Times' report on the Carnegie network about the time I see Porky Pig flying down Pennsylvania Avenue.

No reporter should allow his byline to sit atop a 2,900 word story about a highly controversial topic if that story has no room for an essential element of balance. Not when the void results in a story that is egregiously one-sided and indifferent to ongoing excesses. Not when those excesses are at least as poisonous to the national immigration debate as 20-year-old quotes from a 77-year-old man who has Parkinson's disease and is quietly fading from the scene.

Here are three more criticisms of the Times' story:

1) Shabby treatment of Roy Beck

DeParle feigns fair treatment by giving Beck the chance to deny that he's racist. He should have gone to the ample record that establishes his integrity. For example, in 1996 Francis Fukuyama observed that Beck had presented his restrictionist case "in a way that fosters serious debate rather than name-calling." He also wrote that Beck's arguments "are presented carefully and dispassionately and deserve serious answers." Fukuyama wrote that for the New York Times. I can't imagine that a Times staffer would dare such heresy.

2) Fudging the Record on Barbara Jordan

DeParle notes that Beck's website includes a picture of Barbara Jordan. He identifies Jordan only as "a black civil rights leader and politician that (Beck) considered an ally." He fails to include the relevant contextual information that would illustrate the progressivism underlying Beck's concerns. In the 1990s, when Jordan directed a presidential commission on immigration policy, Jordan did not see immigration as such an undiluted blessing that only a bigoted, nativist fringe would want to restrict it. Indeed, she believed that immigration must be restricted in order to provide the civic and economic space for it to be successful. Said Jordan, "If we are to preserve our immigration tradition and our ability to say yes to so many of those who seek entry, we must also have the strength to say no where we must."

3) Fact-Free Zone

The story is stuffed with innuendo and thick with suggestions of bigotry on the part of anyone connected to any of the organizations that has ever been connected to Tanton. DeParle makes a quick pass at objectivity, acknowledging that there are "serious liberal arguments for lower immigration." Yet, he provides none of the easily available and plentiful evidence for that fact. He could easily have noted that legal immigration has steadily expanded since the 1970s, when an average of 449,000 immigrants were admitted into the country each year, to the just-completed decade, when the annual average was nearly one million.

More HERE

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Some more exegesis

Exegesis is the detailed examination of a text in its context -- usually a scriptural text. I became an exegete of a sort when I was about 13. It was then that I first read the Sermon on the Mount. I was thunderstruck to find that what Jesus taught was nothing like what Christians actually do. Where is the ambiguity in:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."

Can you get plainer than that? I can't imagine it. And I am still nearly as thunderstruck to this day about the gap between what the Bible says on the one hand and what Christians and Jews do, say and believe on the other hand. One would think that they would long ago have found a book that suited them better.

I still like Christianity as we have it today, however. I attended the Good Friday service at my old Presbyeterian church, for instance. See here. But it is a very poor reflection of the original faith.

I have continued to find exegesis fascinating, however, so I long ago started looking closely at what the rest of the scriptures actually say -- even delving into the original languages in which they were written where that seemed crucial. And over the years I have put up on this blog and on my scripture blog my findings about key doctrines -- including hellfire.

Rather to my amusement, however, I see that the NYT has just weighed in on hellfire. When the NYT is preaching the reality of hell, I feel that I should say a little more about some of the key scriptural texts involved.

Quick background: The word translated as "hell" in many Bibles is in the original Greek "hades", which simply means death or the grave. Translating it as "hell" is a theological statement, not a linguistic one. And knowing that wipes out most of the texts that are usually cited in support of the hellfire doctrine.

A couple of interesting texts remain, however, and today I thought I should look at one of Jesus's prophetic utterances in Matthew 25. An excerpt:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ...

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal"

The "everlasting fire" into which the "goats" are cast certainly does sound like a clear formulation of a hellfire doctrine but that impression is partly an effect of a poor translation. The word translated as "punishment" is in Greek "kolasin" and it simply means "cutting off". It is the word a Greek gardener might use to describe the pruning of a tree. So it would be a defensible translation to say that the goats would be cut off and thrown away like the unwanted branch of a tree

So, when properly translated, we see that Christ was, as usual, offering the alternatives of life and death, not heaven and hell -- exactly as he does in the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The sheep get eternal life and the goats get eternal death. I guess I am a goat!

But where does the "everlasting fire" come in? To see that we have to note that Jesus was speaking figuratively for most of the passage, as he often did. His parables are famous. So is he really going to sit on a throne and muster billions of people on either side of him? If so, he would need to locate himself somewhere around Iran and even then the billions of goats would be crowded for room and many could well fall into the Mediterranean (presuming the throne was facing North).

And Jesus in fact makes it clear that he is aiming at vividness rather than precision when he notes: "as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats".

So we have to decipher what is behind the figurative language. We get a clue when we note another passage where he used the same expression. Matthew 18:
"Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."

Again, however, we risk being misled by a quite mendacious translation. This is one occasion when the original Greek underlying the translation "hell" is NOT "hades". It is "Gehenna". And Gehenna was simply the municipal incinerator outside Jerusalem where the bodies of criminals were thrown.

So: Bingo! We now have it. We know what image of everlasting fire Jesus had in mind. He had in mind the continuously burning fire of Jerusalem's garbage incinerator. And, needless to say, the bodies thrown into Gehenna don't feel anything. They have simply died and been disposed of in an ignominious way. So both goats and the Devil are simply going to die -- but die in disgrace.

Jesus is however a careful teacher so makes sure we don't get him wrong by adding a plain language summary at the end of the Matthew 25 passage:
"And these shall go away into everlasting cutting off: but the righteous into everlasting life"

So the hellfire doctrine is another pagan borrowing. It is not Biblical.

A couple more points: Note that in the Matthew 25 passage Jesus speaks only of judging the "nations". There is no mention of the dead. So what about the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of them? Resurrection is the hope of an afterlife that is held out in both the Old and New Testaments but it is not mentioned there at all. That again tells us that Jesus was concerned to paint a vivid mental picture rather than make a precise doctrinal statement.

So, although the Bible is in general a very plainspoken book, we have to make sure that the translation is right and be careful not to take the figurative literally. And reading the whole passage is the usual key to that

Finally, the goats are on the LEFT! Did Jesus foresee the world today? (Just joking).

There is an interesting article here which describes some of the divisions in contemporary Christian thought about the nature of heaven and hell.

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

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1 comment:

Gary Baker said...

Your interpretation would seem a lot more plausible were it not for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. The story does not deal with a man who goes to heaven and a man who goes to the grave. The rich man goes to torment. This also fits in with the Revelation.