A few days ago I posted a mulling on patriotism. (It is the season.) Well, it’s turned into something like an article. If I get it published I’ll post it here with it’s slightly revised beginning. If not I may publish it here angway. That, my friends, is the beauty of blogging. It concludes as follows:
The “patriotic spirit”, which so easily becomes an idol, keeps us tied-up in escalating cycles of retaliation. It’s this “patriotic spirit” that can become the worst form of nationalism-witnessed today in the rise of new-nationalism.
During the early 1990’s, Michael Ignatieff saw this new-nationalism first hand as he traveled from Serbia to Northern Ireland and elsewhere. As chronicled in his book, “Blood and Belonging”, he exposes the deep connection between violence and belonging. Ignatieff reports, “I have been to places where belonging is so strong, so intense, that I now recoil from it in fear.” There was a reason why the good Dr. Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels.
That is not to say a Christian should not have a love for her country, or take part in its political process. But her love will not be for “blood and soil”. It will be a simple love of place and relationships; and her love will not stop at a border. As well, her political involvement will be a provisional involvement. It may look more like a respectful child who sits quietly with the grown-ups after dinner, but who can’t wait to get back to playing outdoors.
It’s this kind of “play” that is at work within Jesus’ notion of the kingdom. We get the impression that Jesus loved his land, his people, but he was no patriot. His allegiance was to a “kingdom that was not of this world” (John 18), meaning, he was profoundly indifferent to our ways of founding and keeping alive nation-states through violence. He was not promoting any kind of escapist formula as though there was a disconnect between this world and the kingdom. He was instead actively inviting us to shed our categories of us and them, categories that are inherent in patriotism.
Now all of this leaves any Christian in agreement open to the charge of supreme naivetÃ©. However from the perspective of Jesus, this naivetÃ© is a kind imaginative innocence that takes no prisoners and exacts no revenge and is willing to stand in front of tanks so as to open up the possibility of human evolution.
The “way of patriotism” has no understanding of this possibility, and so sees it, as Nietzsche saw it, as ultimate weakness and folly. But the supposed sophistication of state-craft through patriotic-nationalism, because it is founded on the mechanism of expulsion, because its unity is at the expense of a violent exclusion of some other group or nation, is doomed to the same tired results. We’ve tried this, in all its variations. What too many of us Christians haven’t begun to try is Jesus’ way of creative naivetÃ©.