Monday, November 16, 2009

nationalism: good or bad?

Nationalism as understood today may have had its roots in Europe, but its seems to have begun within the story in Genesis 11 of the Tower of Babel, people no longer united due to their different languages- hence the term babble- and spreading throughout the earth. There is much difference over the precise meaning and significance of nationalism, perhaps reflected here by two sets of definitions for the term, from two respected sources:
1. Devotion to the interests or culture of one's nation.
2. The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.
3. Aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination.

The Free Online Dictionary
1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups
2 : a nationalist movement or government

Merriam-Webster Online
From a Christian point of view we can ask the question, "Is nationalism good, or bad?" And from respected sources such as C.S. Lewis and Stanley Hauerwas (Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably being closer to Hauerwas than Lewis) you will again get varying answers. Of course all recognize that any nation-state can demand of its citizens or subjects that which only God can demand of them, and that nationalism with nationalistic settings and goals can indeed amount to idolatry.

My vantage point theologically is greatly impacted by the Anabaptists. Of course there's a wide spectrum among them as to how this is understood and played out. But by and large I am wary of a kind of devotion to one's nation that is attached with commitments to political parties, or entities, which may and inevitably I think will compromise one's commitment to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. Though I am of the persuasion that as salt and light here on earth, we in Jesus are to impact every sphere of life. The question is just how we're to do that.

This is just a preliminary sketch on a subject I'm pondering a bit, lately. An interesting link on this, here.

What do you think about this?


Diane said...

I think as Christians we must always put Jesus first. I love the United States very much and am culturally an American in a way that can never be eradicated, but "God's kingdom come, God's will be done," must be my first loyalty. Further, I don't see the two as opposed: When my country does God's will, it will prosper. But we have to remember that God is not our servant, meant to bless us and enable us no matter what we do. Instead, as a nation, we are God's servant and must do his will to prosper. That will often seems counterintuitive to nationalsim: waging forgiveness and peace--but when we do it, as we did after WWII, our nation prospers.

nannykim said...

I think there are a few good points to nationalism. My hubby is reading the true story called, "Infidel" by ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was brought up in Somalia. The problem with Samalia and also with many African nations is that there is not enough Nationalism--it is more centered in tribes and clans and because they don't have the bigger picture it leads to all kinds of in fighting. I think when tribes, clans, and various ethinic groups get a vision for a nation and for a nation of laws and checks and balances then much can be accomplished. She had come to the Netherlands and wondered why these pagons had such a safer, more respectful way of living.

I don't know her conclusions--I am just saying that as I thought about it...I think there is some good when a group of people get a national view. I think if the ethnic groups in the USA had a bigger grasp of the USA there would be less in-fighting. I am talking about non-christians and christians. I know as Christians our true unity is in Christ...but for the well being of a certain land area and the people in it then the unity has to be around something else. Not sure I am saying this correctly.

There are dangers to nationalism , but there can be advantages if it is handled well.

Ted M. Gossard said...


Thanks for your sharing your perspective on this. I think I agree on what you say about what we and the allies did after WWII.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective and thoughts on this as well.

I don't think the problem lies in being a part or citizen of a nation or living within certain boundaries or laws (provided their laws we can obey, of course).

I think the problem lies when the nation has a commitment or devotion from us given to it which belongs to God only. I can't unquestioningly commit myself to America but as a Christian must seek to speak and live out the truth and reality of the kingdom of God in Jesus. I see that kingdom at odds in so many ways with typical national interests of the United States and how our country seeks to guard those interests.

But I do appreciate your thought and it does add something for me to think about.