I sometimes wonder about the term “alien.” Growing up when I did, that word brings up images of “little green men,” or “War of the Worlds,” or Sigourney Weaver in a space ship, or something else that would scare me if I think about it too much. I can’t count the number of times I was sure that I saw a flying saucer when I was a kid, and many of my stress-induced nightmares have involved the aliens that I could imagine had broken into my house and come for me. I still pull the shades at night, just in case they’re out there, in the dark, watching.
Oddly, there are a lot of other people in my country who seem to get a similar feeling of terror whenever they hear the word “alien.” Where I have images of shadowy figures coming for me in the dark, they have images of darker-skinned people who also speak a strange language; with motives that they don’t understand; listening to strange music; eating unknown foods; influencing our children and culture; and living off our tax dollars. My fear of aliens held me tightly in its grip for a very long time, until the night that I realized that I imagined these kinds of things because I was under a lot of stress, and it was my brain’s way of expressing the fear that was buried deep in my subconscious. Other people seem to have that same fear about people that we call “aliens” who live amongst us, and I can’t help but wonder if their fear proceeds from several of the same reasons that mine used to.
I can’t speak for other people, but when I am feeling afraid I am able to take great comfort in my personal faith. It’s not just that it lifts me up and sometimes gives me a sense of well-being — in fact, there are many times when it does the opposite — but it often puts me in touch with a heritage that I cherish and helps me make a lot of sense in a world that often defies sense. How strange it seems, then, when people who claim a faith that is similar to mine do so while justifying such fears, rather than alleviating them and making sense of what it happening in the world. A faith in a man who was noted for his concern for the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized — to the point that he was put to death for being so disruptive to the established order — is now being used to justify such behavior now, rather than confronting it. I’m really not sure how people get there, and I have to admit that I don’t see a lot of people providing their faith as an outright justification for hating and fearing aliens, but I can’t help but wonder how people of faith can tolerate such a thing.
And here’s where faith lends itself to some interesting interpretations. I know that most world religions tend to divide along the lines of their more progressive and fundamentalist elements. It goes with the territory. What’s strange to me, though, is that fundamentalists tend to distinguish themselves by insisting on extremely literal readings of their scriptures. Thus, when I read from a scripture that both the Christian and Jewish traditions hold as sacred that: You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 24:22); or “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice.”(Dt. 24:17); or “When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” (Dt. 24:20-21); or “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21); or a host of other things that clearly instruct us to protect the “aliens” who live among us, I have to wonder where all our fundamentalists, who are otherwise so insistent on the direct interpretation of other scriptures, have gone.
I remain concerned that there seem to be so many people who, when push has come to shove, have chosen to listen to the voices of their fears; of expediency; of political pundits; of their greed; or of something else other than the clear voice of our scriptures and our heritage. I can’t easily comprehend how people who claim to follow such scriptures and celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus can fail to feel compelled to both speak out and act out on behalf of the aliens who live among us. As I read the scriptures and in my experiences as a Christian minister, I don’t see that I have a lot of choice as to who I am going to love; to whom I am going to deny justice and dignity; and to whom will I deny the chance to have the things that I have.
So when I think about faith and immigration, I have a lot more questions than I have answers, but mostly because I don’t believe that I have much “wiggle room.” I remember watching some pundits on television a few years back, commenting on the “problem” of all these “aliens.” At some point in their conversation, one of them spoke out about how all those Christians out there, following their conscience, rather than the laws as they are written, are making the “problem” worse, since they provide care and compassion for people who would otherwise “get the message” that “they’re not wanted here.” Every time this subject comes up, my thoughts go back to that political hack’s complaint.
Will there ever be a time that some hatemongering pundit comes on the air and denounces me as being too “Christian?” What will I have to do – what stand do I need to take – in order to be seen as having a faith that leads to “obstructing” someone who wants to oppress another? Christianity is a religion that cut its teeth on being persecuted for not going along with the state cult. Have we now reached a time when we can, once again, show what we’re made of and reclaim that heritage? Or are we just going to let our fear provide us with new nightmares about the aliens who are coming?