Apocalyptic Climate Migration and our Testimonial Life
January 28, 2022 § 6 Comments
This is an awfully long post. I’m sorry. But I couldn’t figure a way to break it up.
I believe the next couple of decades—the next generation—will see an existential challenge to our Quaker peace testimony and to the relevance of the whole Quaker movement. Millions, maybe tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of Spanish and Portuguese speaking, brown-skinned people will surge north to escape the deadly heat of the tropics and subtropics that global warming will bring in the not-so-distant future.
In a few decades, it will be literally impossible for humans to go outdoors in much of the tropics without literally dying from the heat and humidity alone. Before that, farming will collapse, infrastructures will break down, especially energy grids, and states will fail. All of this is happening already in some places.
The people in the tropics and northern subtropics will migrate north, as they do already. (I imagine the people in the southern subtropics might head for Argentina and Chile.) We’re talking about millions of people fleeing certain death.
Donald Trump and his racist, xenophobic, white Christian nationalist allies are right about this: a wave of human migration of unimaginable size is headed toward us (at some point) and it threatens to change our world, our country, and our lives in really profound ways. And it’s not just the numbers. Most of these people won’t speak English and they will come deeply traumatized, often unprepared for participation in a knowledge economy, and already very needy.
The pressure to build Trump’s wall—and to fortify it and militarize it—will become impossible to wave off as simply racist fear-mongering. The case for cultural survival of “the American way of life” will seem rational, even to some of the most liberal among us, even though the argument will be morally flawed and it aims at saving something that was already under extreme stress and never even really existed in the first place, except as an idea, if a powerful one.
The mounting suffering on the Mexican side of that wall will become its own source of trauma, exceeding by orders of magnitude the pain of watching videos of children in cages under mylar blankets. We will just stop looking. But we won’t stop shooting.
Part of your mind wants to deny that this is true. But it is true. Part of our optimistic Quaker worldview wants to seek peaceful resolution of looming problems. But there won’t be one. We will finish Trump’s wall. We will militarize it. At some point, the vast majority of Americans will believe that we have no choice. Some of us will even agree.
The only questions are, when do we reach that point, and what do we do to prepare in the meantime. That meantime is NOW.
We must right now begin to think much more creatively about our testimonial life. What do simplicity, equality, earthcare, integrity, justice, and above all, peace and nonviolence mean in the face of this inevitable future?
More importantly, where do the Light within us and the Guide whose wisdom we seek in our corporate discernment processes lead us? What would Jesus have us do? We must right now pray and worship as we never have before, for guidance, strength, clarity, wisdom, and a prophetic voice and call to action that will make sense to our fellow Americans.
That must start with integrity. We must be honest with ourselves, and with our society, about what we face: this threat is real and inevitable; only its timeline is unknown. And we must be willing to make the sacrifices commensurate with our prophetic challenge.
I invoke Jesus because I believe he offers an alternative to denial, to the violent reaction that the self-proclaimed protectors of the American Way of Life will demand, and to helpless, incoherent hand-wringing and the approval of some minutes of conscience, which is the utterly predictable Quaker response. That alternative is love. Love as Jesus taught it, not as something one feels, but as something one DOES.
Love for the migrants swarming over our borders. Love for the landowners and the communities on the border, both here and in Mexico. Love for the white Christian nationalists. Love for the moderate majority of Americans who will reluctantly agree to extreme measures, who will feel forced to act in violation of their own moral compasses. Love for all the victims, which will be everyone.
I have a thing for apocalyptic popular fiction. I am an avid fan of The Walking Dead, for instance. That show is all about moral injury: how do you recover from having done the unthinkable, which you did because you thought you had to. It’s about all the ways in which humans deal with catastrophic collapse, and all the ways humans deal with the ways that the communities around them deal with catastrophic collapse, because the real danger is our fellow humans. It’s about what Walter Wink calls the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that violence can save you from violence. The zombies in that show are just the mythic carriers of our fear, our fear of losing what we have.
My take-away from this kind of apocalyptic fiction is the Quaker message: when things get really bad, you can only stand firm in the Light within you, sink down in the Seed, and act from Truth with love. Jesus is again the model here: it matters more how you live, how you suffer, and even how you die, than whether you live or die. For we’re all going to suffer and die.
I harp on Jesus because liberal, neoplatonic theology about that of God in everyone will not speak to the white Christian nationalists who will dominate the public reaction to the coming tide of migrants, and who may very well control the official state reactions, both locally in the border states and nationally in our immigration policy. It will not speak to most of the Americans who will feel caught in the middle, either. But Jesus might speak to them. Jesus will at least give them radical cognitive and moral dissonance.
More to the point, the spirit of the Christ is a real power in this world, and in their world. It can be denied. It can be suppressed. And it can fail to break through in this struggle. It’s failing right now, and we’re nowhere near the catastrophic collapse that is coming. In fact, I fully expect the failure of love and the spirit of the Christ to stop this disaster. I expect another crucifixion.
But the spirit of the Christ cannot be killed. By the spirit of the Christ, I mean the Spirit that anointed Jesus into his ministry, that gave him his charismatic power and the power of his love; the Spirit that has inspired, strengthened, and gathered the faithful for the two millennia since. The Spirit that gathered the first Quakers, the Spirit that still gathers our meetings for worship, if only now and then.
That Spirit is not all powerful. It did not give us a holy church after Jesus; we got a violent and imperialist church instead. It did not give us a “city on a hill”, as the Pilgrims hoped; we got the genocide of Turtle Island’s First Nations instead. But it did give us Mary Magdalene, Hildegard of Bingen, Jacob Boehme, George Fox and John Woolman, post-war food kitchens for starving Germans, and the many saints of our own time.
No wall can hold all these desperate people back. And trying to hold it back will morally injure this nation. It will shred our national ideals, leaving us with nothing to work with as a nation when the wall finally falls, however and whenever that happens.
But we might be able to build a new future on the faithful few who stood in the Light as best they could throughout the suffering, who insisted on steadfast lovingkindness in the face of it all. Assuming that our changing climate does not wipe us all out—which sometimes looks pretty likely to me—there will be some kind of resurrection, and we could carry its Seed.
I know this sounds extreme. It is. You would like to think it’s unlikely. But I urge you to look at your denial. I urge you to read the articles I link below, and the many others like it. And then I urge you to sink down in the Seed.
Let us begin now a public ministry of the message of love at the center of Jesus’ message. Let us preach—and live—in the spirit of the Christ, the gathering spirit of Presence and Love. Let there be at least this one candle in the house and let us take off the bushel that hides it.