Rising Nationalisms and the Church

We clearly live in a time of rising nationalisms. (Pat Buchanan’s column today makes much of this). My reactions are two-fold. One is to recall the turbulences of the mid-1800s in Europe, which, though quelled, re-emerged in the early 1900s to spark national self-interests that led to world conflagration in two world wars. This kind of nationalism rises above ethnic and geographical romanticisms to pledge loyalty to nation states and their governments. History teaches us that this phenomenon has a dark side, as in the 100 million who died in WWII. My second reaction is to realize that globalism has its natural limits. Try as we might, a full identity as one global people is beyond us, in spite of Marxist utopian dreams. The Bible posits that our differences and therefore our boundaries (not necessarily political boundaries) result from God’s intervention at the Tower of Babel. These “confusion of tongues” arose from the mercy of God lest find cooperation too easy and natural a thing because of where it goes – cooperation in evil disloyalty to God and the transcendent values of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Cooperation in evil can be as natural, and even more so, as cooperation in the good. Our differences are checks and balances. To seek to eradicate them is to unleash forces that will destroy us. “Peoples” are God’s way of slowing us down, placing hurdles in our way lest our dreams of unchecked power lead to acts of domination. To survive we must continually face and deal with the “other,” not eradicate the other.

The Christian vision is “One New Man in Christ.” No longer Jew and Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Only in Christ can we trust the “One New Man” idea. Socialism and Marxism have made much use of this concept, all to our suffering. In this world Christ’s One New Man has no political boundaries or earthly utopian dreams that surpass what Christ is doing in the Church and will due in the Age to Come. This One New Man thrives through service, humility and empathy that turns the other cheek and wishes no self-aggrandizement. It does not ally itself to a national destiny, though it certainly cherishes those governments that display values which may bless the Church and those peoples the Church seeks to bless.

All this to say that nationalism need not be an evil, rightly stewarded and checked by transcendent values. Our differences, well, make a difference. And that is a good thing. Celebrate them. Do not seek to eradicate them. Yet unchecked nationalism quickly morphs into the Beast of the Book of the Revelation to St. John. It becomes the enemy of Christ.

Keep your eyes open. Read and understand your Bible. Read and understand history. It has lessons plenty. Increase your sensitivity to trends. Watch the demagogues.

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