I’m not going to get into the habit of defending Tony Abbott, but why are his critics so damn trivial? You could blame him for allowing Peta Credlin to terrorize the ministry – or, alternatively, you could blame thirty grown men and women for allowing themselves to be terrorized by Peta Credlin. You could say, as his detractors do, that resurrecting knighthoods was the waste of a day, but there’s no need to waste the next three months saying it. And if God didn’t want us to eat an onion, he wouldn’t have put it there.
Now we have The Guardian dragging out an infamous Abbott quote from Q&A a few years back, which goes: ‘Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.’ In response, Josh Bornstein writes, ‘If Christianity helps us understand the federal government, then it is a particularly aggressive and intolerant strain.’ While we’re rightly loathe to dignify Mr. Bornstein’s flogging of a dead monk by acknowledging his doing so, this habit of some to justify open borders with half-baked theology is really quite dangerous.
Mr. Abbott’s wording was, admittedly, clumsy. But you’d have to go rather out of your way to believe he meant that Jesus doesn’t want boat people to land on the shores of the Northern Territory. He meant that Christ was comfortable with the idea that there are nations, and that those nations have an integrity beyond a mere reference to a location. That is to say, ‘Australia’ must mean more than ‘at the end of the street’ or ‘the third parking spot from the left’.
Mr. Bornstein’s error is the same made by all of history’s great cosmopolitans: they want to be a Citizen of the World without first being a citizen of a country. Their passport, they declare wistfully, is issued by the Republic of Man; their nation compasses the human race. But we can only wonder whence they get their idea of a universal nationhood when they disbelieve so passionately in nations.
Put it another way. Christians believe all men are a universal brotherhood under God the Father. But we can only understand the idea of a ‘universal brotherhood’ if we first understand what ‘brotherhood’ is. If you tell me I should care for all of mankind the way I care for my siblings, I know exactly what you mean. But if you then add that I shouldn’t feel any special regard for my siblings, you’ll have lost me.
So Christianity must have ‘nations’ in some way more profound than a means of collecting income taxes, just as it must have ‘families’ in some way more profound than a means of calculating income taxes. We can’t broaden our loyalties by abolishing them. We have to take those ingrained sentiments, like nationhood and family (however inadequate they might be), and broaden them.
‘I don’t see how that changes anything,’ Mr. Bornstein retorts. ‘Surely we can make a place in Australia for those fleeing poverty and war.’ Ah, yes, Mr. Bornstein – now you’ve got it! The Australian people can make a place for the indigent stranger, just as we might set a place at our table for the hungry traveler. But that place wasn’t there to begin with.
My suspicion is that Jesus didn’t intend for us to do away with statelessness by abolishing states any more than he intended for us to do away with homelessness by abolishing homes. It would be noble for a family to offer a homeless man their spare bedroom, but it would be dashed ignorant to say his place was in their spare bedroom. His place is in his own home; if he hasn’t got one, the most charitable thing to do would be to help him secure one. So, too, the Syrian refugee’s place is in a free and prosperous Syria; if he hasn’t got one, the most charitable thing to do would be to help him get one.
Indeed, I’m sure the Syrian refugee will be the very last person to say his place is in Australia. If given the choice between Sydney and a habitable Damascus, we shouldn’t be surprised if he chose the latter without giving it a second thought. We shouldn’t be surprised either if he finds the very question to be offensive. ‘Do you think, Mr. Najar, that Jesus thought your place was to come to Australia – that He intended for your house to be blown up by the Assad government and your family butchered by the Islamic State?’ ‘No,’ I should imagine his reply would be; ‘I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended at all.’