Many of the great Christian thinkers throughout our history have seen that goodness, by its very nature, is diffusive of itself. That is, goodness is such that it pours itself out. To the degree to which I am good, I share that goodness with others to the same degree. The doctrine of creation is often seen in this light. God’s goodness is perfect and as such it is poured out naturally and freely to God’s creation. Goodness, in a word, is generous.
While thinking about immigration, I began to ask myself what this feature of goodness implies. How does the fact that goodness is diffusive of itself relate to my treatment of others, and especially to my treatment of those who, through no fault of their own, simply lack some of the basic goods that I have in abundance? Well, the answer seemed fairly obvious. My basic disposition toward my things and even myself must be one of generosity. Now we can argue over the fine points regarding this or that governmental policy, but we must recognize what we have and cultivate a deep desire to share it with others. Sharing our wealth, our food, our clothing is, I think, merely the first step towards becoming generous.
Just as God in creation shared of God’s self in creating us in God’s image, so I too must learn to share of myself in relation to others. In other words, I need to learn how to be generous with my stuff and with myself. This does not mean that I should give everything away. The virtues, as Aristotle points out, are destroyed by deficiency and excess. But it does mean that I must learn to find pleasure and joy in giving and sharing. And, to be honest, I sometimes do, and I sometimes don’t. This worries me considerably. I’m worried that many of my reasons for opposing this or that policy on immigration reform has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with selfishness.
Knowing that I am a master at self-justification, I had better take that knowledge into account when considering policies that directly and immediately affect the well being of others, especially strangers. So, the idea that goodness is diffusive of itself, led me to start thinking about the nature of generosity, which led me to start thinking about my own attitude towards giving of my stuff and myself. Realizing that in order to be generous I need to do generous things then led me to think about my attitudes towards immigrants. Is my default position, so to speak, one of giving or one of holding, one of sharing or one of hoarding?
After a bit of reflection, I came to see that loving my own life really does imply that I want to share it with others. I want you to know me, not because I am super special and you just have to know someone as awesome as me. No, I want you to know me, because I love you, and love, like goodness, gives of itself. I want to share my life with others, and, of course, others include friend, foe, family, and foreigner. This desire to share the goodness of my life with others should, I think, be mirrored at the ecclesial and national levels. The church and the state have different fundamental functions. But having different fundamental functions in no way implies that they will not share in all sorts of activities and pursuits. One of those activities, I have come to believe, is the sharing of distinct forms of goodness. The church must shares its distinct form of goodness and the state must share it as well. Just as I want to be a welcoming individual and have a welcoming home, so too I want to be a member of a welcoming body of Christ and a citizen of a welcoming nation. None of this entails much about the exact details of governmental policy and regulation. But it does, and has forced me to open at least some of the locks I place on my heart, home, church, and nation.
David Alexander is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of the Forester Lecture Series at Huntington University in Indiana.