Cheap Grace, Easy Virtue: for John Beckett

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins….Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1937)

In a recent Patheos post John Beckett proudly informed the world “You Can Take Your Anti-Muslim Garbage Somewhere Else”  and declared:

If you can look at refugees and see “Muslims” and not human beings in great need, there is something wrong with your conscience. Have you seen the pictures from Syria? Have you read the reports? Have you heard the first-hand accounts of people fleeing these war zones?

What would you do if you were in that situation? You’d do what these people are doing – you’d evacuate or you’d die.

It amazes me that some people will rant about Daesh and the horrors of their laws and how they enforce them (which is a worthy rant – I’ve done it myself) and at the same time show zero compassion for people trying to get away from these same evil terrorists.

It’s a bold statement of principles, a declaration that Beckett is one of the Good Guys and not like those evil benighted racists and Islamophobes. He even includes a picture of a chubby-cheeked brown-eyed toddler atop his father’s shoulders to remind us “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!?!?!” But amidst all the indignation and tugging at heartstrings we find precious little awareness of the underlying issues.

The Syrian Civil War has largely been portrayed as a battle of dueling ideologies, of freedom-loving “moderate Islamic militants” against the brutal Assad regime.  The truth is more complex and less savory. A 2008 US Army-funded report by the RAND Corporation talks about the strategic importance of the oil and gas-rich Middle East and suggests:

Divide and Rule focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts. This strategy relies heavily on covert action, information operations (IO), unconventional warfare, and support to indigenous security forces… the United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO campaigns to discredit the transnational jihadists in the eyes of the local populace… US leaders could also choose to capitalize on the ‘Sustained Shia-Sunni Conflict’ trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world…. possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran.

The Assad regime is sympathetic with and supported by Iran. Like his father, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is an Alawite — a sect which follows a mystical interpretation of the Q’uran. The mullahs of Iran recognize the Alawites as a branch of the “Twelver Shi’ites” who venerate the twelve Caliphs who ruled after Muhammad’s death and who await the coming of the Madhi (hidden 13th Caliph).  Sunni Muslims consider the Alawite traditions heretical and the Alawites have for centuries been persecuted and slaughtered by Sunni rulers.  Under the Assads Syrian Christians have been protected from harassment and Muslims are allowed to convert to Christianity without being killed for apostasy.

This is not to sugarcoat the Assad regime: both Syrian government forces and rebels have engaged in numerous human rights violations and perpetrated many atrocities. But it helps clarify the real issue at hand here: Syria has become a pawn in the “Great Game” which once pitted the British Empire against the Tsars and which today has become a conflict by proxy between America and Putin’s Russia. To that end the United States has armed Sunni rebels like they armed the Taliban resistance when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  And as happened in Afghanistan, many of our “moderate rebels” have wound up working for violent Islamic terrorist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and, yes, Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS.

The Syrian people have done me no personal harm; I would not wish to be caught in the midst of a civil war; neither would I want my family to be uprooted from our native land and cast into a strange and hostile country. I am honestly moved by their plight and I want to help them — not by opening our borders but by making their homes livable once again. Doing that would be far simpler and cheaper than any airlift or boatlift: all we need do is withdraw from the conflict which we are causing and their troubles will soon end. Assad may be an SOB but he is the Syrian’s SOB and I trust they can handle him or live with them without my assistance. (Especially seeing that all our “help” to date has only worsened the problem).

The people supporting open borders and refugee resettlement seem incapable of grasping that the Syrian problem was largely created by American intervention and could be solved by unilateral American withdrawal from a place where our presence was neither requested nor desired. When I have made these statements in debates I have generally been greeted with stony silence: it is if I had suddenly begun speaking in Urdu or Albanian. For some time this confused me. Then I realized my opponents weren’t acting out of concern for the Syrian people.  As James Bartholomew, who first coined the phrase “virtue signalling,” describes it:

By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or [the UK Independence Party], they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.

Beckett talks about “our human obligation to help those in great need.” So far as we can tell, his help to those in great need consists of writing a sympathetic post and refusing a friend request from somebody who expressed Islamophobic sentiments.  He is notably silent on the issue of why this conflict started. He chastises those who say bad things about Muslims but does not urge us to contact our Congressfolk and press for an American withdrawal from the Syrian conflict.

Neither does Beckett address the many complexities of this situation. He is quick to condemn “Islamophobia” yet has nothing to say about the Cologne raliekfb3pe gangs who sexually assaulted over 1,000 women on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 or the plight of homosexuals in the Islamic world, . He claims “If Muslim immigrants are welcomed and allowed to be a part of America, their version of Islam will look very American” yet ignores the spate of Islamic terrorist violence in France, the rise of immigrant crime in Sweden and the 1,400 children sexually exploited by Muslim immigrants in Rotherham, England. He would rather offload those risks onto other people and sweep these incidents under the rug than be seen as one of those bad Muslim-haters.

It is certainly fitting to feel pity for people forced from their homes by civil war and to seek means by which we can alleviate their suffering. Using them as tools for your self-aggrandizement is another matter altogether.  Like far too much of the rhetoric concerning the Syrian refugees, Beckett’s post is long on posturing and short on solutions: it favors looking good over doing good.

2 thoughts on “Cheap Grace, Easy Virtue: for John Beckett

  1. Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    Kenaz Filan has written an excellent piece addressing John Beckett’s latest at patheos. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was disgusted with Beckett’s blatant virtue signaling. Never trust a “bridge builder” in the end, they’ve no loyalty to anything but their own self-promotion. Given how strongly he purports to feel about Syrian refugees, I wonder how many he’s taking into his own home?


  2. This is probably the best discourse on this subject that I’ve seen that didn’t resort to that self-aggrandizing behavior and rhetoric. I’ll be sure to cite this the next time I end up in one of these discussions.

    That being said, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the current administrations methods of handling things either- but then I’m an anarchist and I really don’t have much interest in partisan politics to begin with. I’d rather stand in the middle and be a voice of advocacy.


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