Friday, June 16, 2023

The Problem Is The Suffix

 I love my children; but that doesn’t mean I always approved of what they did when they were younger. On the contrary, parental love includes a concern for right behavior and learned morality. In the same way, I love my country; but that doesn’t mean I have to salute at every flag it flies. Rather, I have an obligation as a grateful citizen to question, even object, should the country betray our values.

Webster defines “nationalism” as: “identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Why, in love of country, is it necessary to “exclude” or be “detrimental” to other countries?

The problem is the suffix “ism.” Just as in socialism or capitalism, when you add the “ism” to the word nation, you divide yourself from the rest of the countries in the world, and “take sides” with your own nation. The same can be said for “individualism.” It doesn’t include! It excludes! It doesn’t invite! It builds a wall! Or look at “racism.” Add “ism” to the word race, and you have schools excluding certain subjects and history. Or how about excluding immigrants based on their race; or promoting a certain “replacement” theory to frighten white folks!

When I read about children placing flags at more than 400,000 headstones, scattered over 624 acres in Arlington National Cemetery this Memorial Day, it makes me sorrowful. Those deaths are the work of nationalism, in our country and elsewhere. We suffered for our nationalism (and racism; remember the “gooks”), with more than 50,000 of our military killed in Vietnam (not to mention the more than 3,000,000 Vietnamese, civilians and soldiers who died). Hitlers nationalism was also allied with racism, and our country laid more than 400,000 military personnel in the ground from that conflict.  

We don’t seem to learn! Nationalism looms large in the war in Ukraine these days. Increasingly, the innocent civilians seem to suffer the most and any unseen or unanticipated event could be the fuse for a nuclear holocaust.

We can love our country and work on its behalf, without being exclusive, taking sides; being a nationalist. We can cooperate with others, for the betterment of all. That would seem to be the Christian way, given the admonition to “love the neighbor.”

It’s why I have an increasing argument with those who are claiming Christian Nationalism. For me, it’s a misnomer. There is no such thing. A Christian cannot be a nationalist! Perhaps an internationalist, although there could be problems of allegiance there as well.

At one time, Christians looked to Jesus as their authority. What he said and did was of utmost importance in determining their own behavior. It was evident that Jesus didn’t allow questions of national or racial identity to cloud his response to anyone. He functioned outside a social and economic system that stratified people on the basis of wealth and power. He renounced the claims of empire and emperors. He couldn’t be recruited into hate clubs or foreign legions. He started a school of self-giving love.

Then, maybe as early as Constantine and the third century, Christianity became the religion of empire. Christians began to look to the national church, now allied with the nation state, as their authority; a body that tied them to wealth and power. Instead of looking to Jesus, being free from the nation and able to call it to its best values, the church chose wealth and power for itself. In the U.S., that problem of national allegiance continues among many to the present day, including most Evangelical Christians, who support Christian Nationalism. They would deliberately install their tradition as the national religion of the United States. In the meantime, they forget about Jesus, his life, sacrifice and teachings!

It seems ironic! Most Christian Nationalists in this country would be critical of Iran, with an authoritarian, Islamic government. They would decry the support of Putins Russia by the Orthodox Bishop of Moscow. They might object to a Hindu Nationalist tendency in India or a Jewish Nationalist government in Israel. For them, to make the U.S. an officially Christian nation would put us in a better position to compete. They don’t see the contradiction! After all, their faith, is the one true faith.


I’m afraid Christian Nationalists have no comprehension of how three of our traditions have a common forefather in Abraham, that makes us extended family, not adversaries. And I’d ask them as residents in a competitive culture and country, to ponder the life of Jesus; who was a security risk in the Empire where he lived; because he refused to bow down to false Gods, like a nation state.

Carl Kline

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