Helpful Care for Refugees And "Sentimental Humanitarianism"

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In a highly nuanced article, the British author Alistair Roberts touches on the need of the church to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged but also be cautions against kneejerk emotional judgments, sentimental humanitarianism, and the European tendency to "self-condemnation" with a result that it will readily flagelate itself by inflicting economic or security pain on itself coupled with charity by "guilt ridden people" who attempt to atone for their selfishness, as well as four suggested responses by the church.

A link to the article is here

He concludes his very helpful article with these words, which should be considered by any CRCNA congregation considering how to deal with the Syrian [and a whole lot more] refugee situation:

Few moral issues facing us in our day require such careful navigation between treacherous hidden shoals of false virtues and well-intentioned folly as that of the mass movement of refugees. Fulfilling our calling to be both wise as serpents and harmless as doves is an immense, yet never more pressing, challenge.

A few sample lines from his article include:

For the difficult tasks of patient deliberation and discriminating political wisdom, a cult of sentimental humanitarianism--Neoliberalism's good cop to its bad cop of foreign military interventionism--substitutes the self-congratulatory ease of kneejerk emotional judgments, assuming that the 'right'--what ought to be done--is immediately apparent from some instinctive apprehension of the 'good'.

In the febrile environment of social media, this cult of sentimental humanitarianism frequently manifests in virtue-signalling and policing and in immense waves of collective emotion. Declaring definitively, yet thoughtlessly, upon issues of labyrinthine complexity, it regularly appears to involve a narcissistic preoccupation with our own caring, not least relative to the supposedly inadequate caring of others. The simplistic vision that would cast fiendishly knotty social and political problems as if they were parable scenes for us to re-enact for our moral self-validation is bankrupt. As Daniel Hannan and Matthew Parris both observe, our fetishization of sentiment has an obfuscating effect, and neglects the actual task of prudence that lies before us. It leaves us ill-equipped to recognize how involved matters are, runs the risk of encouraging counterproductive responses, and can produce cynical and opportunistic political leadership. Melanie McDonagh also draws attention to the capriciousness and irresponsibility of sentimentalist politics, driven as it is by unpredictable surges of common public feeling in reaction to emotionally affecting images. The images that enflame our sentimentalism are shorn of the sort of historical and political context that might prevent them from functioning as screens upon which Europe projects the theatre of its own tortured psyche

A few questions:

  1. Can any of his descriptions be applied to the CRCNA?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. If so, specifically where might it suffer from some of the malaise of "kneejerk emotional judgments," "sentimental humanitarianism," "self-condemnation," "guilt ridden people," and self-congratulatory altruism?
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  • Muslim Ministry
  • Social Justice
  • Resource > Article

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