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Minister's Message

Reverend Schwartz's message in the November newsletter is unusually lengthy. Worth the read, of course, but painful. His words remind us of what we would rather not think about and forces us not only to be aware and to care but to figure out what we can do to end this nightmare he so aptly describes. David's references are listed in the actual article; click on CONTACT to see them.
From the Minister
"Our nation runs internment camps for children where seven and eight year-olds sleep on concrete floors without soap, or toothpaste, or recreation, in windowless buildings where the lights remain on 24 hours a day. We inter children and adults in conditions that violate the Geneva convention for war prisoners. We treat migrating unaccompanied children worse than we would treat enemy soldier captured while actively trying to murder Americans. These internment camps may have no medical personnel or showers. People are housed a week at a time in standing-room-only cells. Our government has declared it will not provide flu vaccines; lice is rampant. When food is low, adults are fed a bologna sandwich for every meal.

To be clear, these are not prisons: the people inside them have not been convicted of a crime and are held there indefinitely. There is another name for this, and it is concentration camps.

Concentration camp is an uncomfortable word, and it is an inescapable word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a concentration camp as: "A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group which the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable." To call these concen-tration camps is not polemic or political: it is descriptive.

Why do we run concentration camps for immigrants?
For hard-headed, straightforward, pragmatic reasons! We are told that if security is tighter, fewer people will attempt to enter the country. If parents know they might be separated from their kids, fewer will enter the country. If asylum rules permit asylum-seekers in, fewer will enter the country.

Those justification—repeated by politicians and talking heads, by columnists, by friends, by family—take the form of a thoughtful, considered reasoning. But they are actually an attack on your core person; they are a method of deactivating your moral sensibilities.

Moral disengagement is the name for how we convince ourselves that ethical standards don’t ap-ply. Moral disengagement is an attempt to deactivate and disengage your internal moral controls that takes the form of a logical, reasoned argument. There is a part of you, a still small voice within you that says, hearing the conditions of the concentration camps: this is clearly absurd and inhumane.

And it’s terribly simple: you just disconnect your moral reaction from the immoral thing you’re seeing. You re-frame the behavior in a way that makes it acceptable without changing either the behavior, or your moral standard.1 We’re still good people, we still believe in being good to kids and in welcoming refugees—of course children shouldn’t be separated from their parents, every-one knows that. It’s just that those don’t apply to this situation.

You regularly encounter three big strategies for moral disengagement:

(1) “Moral justification involves reconstructing problematic behavior as acceptable because it ultimately achieves a noble or desirable goal.”
Or, as our president has said, “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”
Attorney general Jeff sessions: “If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally.”
That’s moral justification. Maybe these things aren’t great, but we have a bigger goal and we’ve got to keep our eye on the big picture. It’s too bad people are unhappy, but we can’t let ourselves get distracted from “the immigrant problem” by talking about conditions.
(2) “Euphemistic labeling entails using strategic linguistic devices to disguise or conceal reprehensible behaviors, thus making them sound innocuous or less harmful and despicable. For in-stance, civilian casualties of war are referred to as ‘collateral damage’, spin doctors who distort the facts engage in ‘strategic misrepresentation’, and military reports may state that a ‘threat has been neutralized’ rather than detail the pursuit and gruesome assassination of enemy combatants.”
Not providing toothpaste or soap to children was, said the Vice President, “all a part of the appropriations process.” And of course, people are held in “detention centers,” not concentration camps.
(3) “Finally, advantageous comparison involves making undesirable behavior seem comparatively benign by contrasting it with more flagrant alternatives.”
One think tank policy director says we have to detain immigrants this way because: “It’s wrong to have a policy that entices people to come here illegally with their children on a long and dangerous journey in the hands of criminal smugglers, and having to release them into the country has been a burden for the communities where they have settled.”
That’s advantageous comparison: having concentrations camps is such a better option than not having them: think of the burden to our communities and all those criminals on the street!
Or, as Representative Liz Cheney says, “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous.” That’s advantageous comparison: think of how much better concentration camps are than death camps!

Each of these are strategies to turn off your moral brain under the guise of reason. They say: your ordinary way of thinking about the morality of concentration camps doesn’t apply to these concentration camps. Each of these strategies presents reasons, justifications, explanations.
But more than that, moral disengagement presents itself as if it is reasonable and wants a rational answer back. The moral disengagement of border concentration camps tries to turn off your values and trap you into a policy argument. We argue over concentration camp policy, and the pros and cons and deterrence instead of saying simply: This. Is. Wrong.

We are a people of reason in the service of compassion, and never without conscience. Keep them close.
In Hope,
Rev. David

Buddhist Meditation

Reverend Marcia Curtis invites you to participate in Buddhism-based meditation in a group setting. Join us Sundays at 7:30pm in the church sanctuary. Newcomers welcome. Meditation and Dharma talks are very week.

Religious Education

       

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