How to Love America

Noah Millman proposes this (while meditating on G. K. Chesterton):

People feel an attachment, and a willingness to fight to protect, their homes, and their communities. That can take noble and ignoble forms — sometimes fighting to defend your community means committing injustice (as, for example, if you band together with your neighbors to prevent someone from a disfavored ethnic group from moving to the neighborhood). But the feeling is rooted in a direct experience, not an abstract attachment.

For any political community larger than a city, though, that attachment necessarily becomes abstract. So you need to teach your children why they should care about that larger community, be proud of it, and treat it as constituent of their identity.

Chesterton famously quipped that the sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” is like the sentiment, “my mother, drunk or sober.” But the thing about the latter is that she is your mother whether she’s drunk or sober — it’s just that your obligations change based on her condition. If she’s drunk, you won’t let her drive — instead, you’ll make sure she gets home safely.

The question, then, is how you teach your children to see their country as, in some sense, like a mother when their relationship is necessarily abstract rather than directly felt. A love of country based on the lie that your mother is never drunk will be too brittle to survive any kind of honest encounter with reality. But it seems to me equally problematic to say that you should love your country because it is on-balance a good one. Does anyone say about their mother that they love them because on-balance they are sober?

While Millman stresses the particular (a people, a place, a way of life — think baseball), Kevin DeYoung goes abstract and is thankful for the “idea” of America:

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity–whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them–no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree–by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

Oh, by the way, if all humans have these rights irrespective of government, then how is that the basis for founding a nation? Didn’t this way of thinking lead in France to Napoleon’s wars to teach Europe liberty good and hard?

The thing is, if you stress ideas you wind up with a creedal nation, one that you tend to treat like a church, with people divided into the camps of orthodox and heretics, saints and pagans. Protestants suffer from this affliction and it shows in the recent anti-liberalism of Peter Leithart and Jake Meador.

Leithart took Matt Tuininga to task for turning Calvin into a liberal. Leithart added an objection to liberalism that fits with the nation-as-idea mentality:

Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her or hir own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith. Tuininga never confronts that line of analysis.

Since the U.S. is a liberal nation, it’s its liberal order becomes its an orthodoxy. But I thought the liberalism of the founders was not to form a society. They already had one — a people, a place, and a way of life. What they wanted was a liberal government, one that would not take sides in religion and other matters. If the U.S began to replace a liberal government with a liberal society, you could blame the centralizing and bureaucratizing effects of a national government that needed to organize the economy, schools, and industry to fight world wars, even cold ones. It really helps when the churches jump on the bandwagon and tell American officials the government is making the nation great.

Jake Meador thinks that the current spate of intolerance that liberals direct toward Christians is a function of liberalism itself:

If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Meador should likely include Protestantism as the soil out of which liberal progressivism grew. Protestants were intolerant of Roman Catholics and other outsiders. Remember the threat that parochial schools posed to public ones and the way that American governments insisted no parochial school receive a whiff of public funding (still in the balance in SCOTUS’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision). He has a point about “common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts.” I wish he had included baseball and drip coffee makers. But why these way-of-life matters are at odds with liberalism baffles me.

A truly liberal government, like the one the founders hoped for, was one with a fairly small footprint within the broader American society. Government, in other words, is not society. Communities and people groups have existed within the terms set by the founders for better or worse for the better part of two centuries.

The challenge for the U.S. on this holiday of independence is to figure out how to separate the nation from the government, so that officials do somethings, people and communities do other, and we have a national identity that does not revolve around an idea like liberty and justice for all, and the military campaigns that justify such abstract convictions.

To paraphrase Meador, Americanism or the liberal international order that the U.S. has maintained in its capacity as leader of the free world is not the way forward, at least for building attachments to the nation. We still need less national government, more attachments to people, places, and the ways of life that emerge from them.

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The United States of Fear

I think I have the way to form a more perfect union in this place we call the USA. It is to recognize that all Americans share a sense of fear. Anxiety is what unites us in the U.S. Consider the following.

Andrew Sullivan writes respectfully about reactionary conservatism and even grants its plausibility:

Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.

If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge. Globally, social trust is highest in the homogeneous Nordic countries, and in America, Pew has found it higher in rural areas than cities. The political scientist Robert Putnam has found that “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Not very encouraging about human nature — but something we can’t wish away, either. In fact, the American elite’s dismissal of these truths, its reduction of all resistance to cultural and demographic change as crude “racism” or “xenophobia,” only deepens the sense of siege many other Americans feel.

And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.

Notice too that conservatives are not the only ones who are very, very afraid. It’s also feminist philosophers. But even they can’t claim privilege for their phobia:

I want to explore a much more general issue raised by this whole affair. This has to do with concept of harm, which keeps being raised. The main charge against Tuvel is that the very existence and availability of her paper causes harm to various groups, most specifically to members of the transgender community. This is a puzzling and contentious claim that deserves serious reflection.

The editorial board statement specifically refers to “the harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication.” As the concept of harm is standardly used in legal contexts, this would be a tough claim to defend. It is certainly possible for someone to suffer material or tangible loss, injury, or damage as a consequence of a 15-page article being published in an academic journal. The article might be libelous, for example. But there is no such charge here. The only individual mentioned by name besides Rachel Dolezal is Caitlyn Jenner, and it seems implausible to say that Tuvel has harmed Jenner by “deadnaming” her (i.e., using her birth name), given how public Jenner has been about her personal history.

The authors of the editorial board statement have nothing to say about how they understand harm. This already should give pause for thought. Philosophers, whatever their methodological orientation or training, usually pride themselves on sensitivity to how words and concepts are used. This makes it odd to see no attention being paid to how they are understanding this key concept of harm, which is central to many areas in legal and moral philosophy.

But the statement does clarify what the authors believe has caused the harm: “Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation.”

And here I thought we were supposed to be afraid of Trump. Imagine the harm a POTUS can do. But in the United States of Fear, an academic paper poses a threat capable of generating the kind of fear that many endure with our incautious and vicious president.

The question is whether those with fears can recognize fear as a basis for personal identity. Can we go from the specific to the general and recognize fear is something that every American experiences? If so, then we may finally have a common point of reference for a shared existence. We are united in fear.

It’s Not Salvation, It’s Politics

Christians who look to discern religious significance in the United States have only two options. The first is to sacralize the nation:

By conflating a certain understanding of American history with scriptural revelation, proponents of “Christian America” risked idolizing the nation and succumbing to an “irresistible temptation to national self-righteousness.” They also sacrificed any ability to offer a scriptural critique of the cultural values they themselves embraced.

A second should be to secularize the nation — look at it simply as part of God’s providential care which is almost impossible to discern. But that’s not the way it goes because the search for a Christian American usually results in seeing how un-Christian America is. That leads to sacralizing anti-Americanism:

What, then, might a Christian understanding of the nation look like?

To begin with, it would reject any notion that the United States, or any other nation since the coming of Christ, occupies a unique position as God’s chosen people. It would recall that God’s people, wherever they find themselves, were to be “strangers and pilgrims”—good citizens, yes, but always remembering that their real home lies elsewhere. And Christians must also remember that they will be judged not according to what they profess, but rather according to how they act. Thus, the righteousness of any society should be judged “not merely by the religious professions that people make, but also by the extent to which Christian principles concerning personal morality and justice for the oppressed are realized in the society.”

And that leads to the demonization of Trump’s America (thanks to Chris Gerhz):

I didn’t actually want a Trump sign, but one of the volunteers had shoved it into my hands as I walked through the door earlier; “Make America Great Again!” That sign probably saved someone from getting hurt. I held the sign close to my chest as I positioned myself between the chanting protesters and the angry mob. My 11-year-old daughter was clinging to my arm, sobbing in fear.

The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, “F*#% YOU!” Repeatedly.

I calmly responded, “No thank you, I’m happily married.” Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.

I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.

This is what happens when people try to find religious significance in every nook and cranny. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. Sometimes a nation is simply a nation. But when you’re in the habit of using religious categories to justify national greatness, it’s only natural to use the same outlook to conclude national turpitude.

Localism is Great (beats pretty good) as Long as Charles Taylor is Your Neighbor

Joshua Rothman has a thoughtful piece on Charles Taylor and ends on a surprisingly hopeful note considering the recent election and how fly-over country voted:

[Taylor] is in favor of localism and “subsidiarity”—the principle, cited by Alexis de Tocqueville and originating in Catholicism, that problems should be solved by people who are nearby. Perhaps, instead of questing for political meaning on Facebook and YouTube, we could begin finding it in projects located near to us. By that means, we could get a grip on our political selves, and be less inclined toward nihilism on the national scale. (It would help if there were less gerrymandering and money in politics, too.)

One imagines what this sort of rooted, meaningful democracy might look like. A political life centered on local schools, town governments, voluntary associations, and churches; a house in the woods with the television turned off. Inside, family members aren’t glued to their phones. They talk, over dinner, about politics, history, and faith, about national movements and local ones; they feel, all the time, that they’re doing something. It’s a pastoral vision, miles away from the media-driven election we’ve just concluded. But it’s not a fantasy.

But what about Phil Robertson’s community? Not even the Gospel Allies are willing to countenance those parts of America:

That “cultural curtain” prevents Robertson from seeing the reality of the Jim Crow era, allowing him to look back in wistful fondness. Yet I think there is also a personal element that keeps the former “white trash” farmhand from seeing the segregation of his youth as it truly was.

Robertson makes it clear that he didn’t come to Christ until the late 1970s. During the 1960s he was abusing drugs and alcohol, cheating on his wife, and hiding out in the woods to prevent being arrested by the authorities. His former fellow farmworkers might look on the 1960s as an era when African Americans were gaining access to long-overdue civil rights. But for Robertson, that decade was a time of self-destruction and familial strife. Since then Robertson has turned his life over to God and become, to use his catchphrase, “Happy, happy, happy.” In his mind, godliness is equated with happiness.

That is why I believe that when Robertson looks back on his youth, what he sees is not African Americans suffering under the evil of segregation, but men and women who were godly, and thus obviously had what he has now: a happiness that transcends mortal woes. He seems to think that because they were godly, the exterior signs of happiness (singing, smiling, etc.) can be construed as a sign of their having inner peace, if not peace with the world. It’s a noble, if naïve, idealization of his neighbors.

Does that noble intent excuse his insensitive remarks about the segregated South? Not at all. Robertson is a public figure and when he gives interviews in the media, he must take responsibility for how his words are perceived. While I believe he was attempting to pay tribute to the African-American Christians who preceded him in the faith, he has inadvertently offended many of his African American brothers and sisters.

And so it looks like the Gospel Industrial Complex is a much on the side of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s one-world order as they are part of an organizational enterprise that disdains denominational attachments (is Tim Keller Presbyterian?). Can anyone imagine an evangelical academic or preaching/teaching celebrity writing what Damon Linker did about universalistic cosmopolitanism and humanitarian liberalism?

any outlook that resists or rejects humanitarianism is an atavistic throwback to less morally pristine times, with the present always superior to the past and the imagined even-more-purely humanitarian future always better still.

Concerned about immigrants disregarding the nation’s borders, defying its laws, and changing its ethnic and linguistic character? Racist!

Worried that the historically Christian and (more recently) secular character of European civilization will be altered for the worse, not to mention that its citizens will be forced to endure increasing numbers of theologically motivated acts of terrorism, if millions of refugees from Muslim regions of the world are permitted to settle in the European Union? Islamophobe!

Fed up with the way EU bureaucracies disregard and override British sovereignty on a range of issues, including migration within the Eurozone? Xenophobe!

As far as humanitarian liberals are concerned, all immigrants should be welcomed (and perhaps given access to government benefits), whether or not they entered the country illegally, no matter what language they speak or ethnicity they belong to, and without regard for their religious or political commitments. All that matters — or should matter — is that they are human. To raise any other consideration is pure bigotry and simply unacceptable.

Earlier forms of liberalism were politically wiser than this — though the wisdom came less from a clearly delineated argument than from observation of human behavior and reading of human history. “Love of one’s own” had been recognized as a potent and permanent motive force in politics all the way back to the beginning of Western civilization, when Homer and Sophocles depicted it and Plato analyzed it. It simply never occurred to liberals prior to the mid-20th century that human beings might one day overcome particularistic forms of solidarity and attachment. They took it entirely for granted that individual rights and civic duties needed to be instantiated in particulars — by this people, in this place, with this distinctive history and these specific norms, habits, and traditions.

But now liberals have undergone a complete reversal, treating something once considered a given as something that must be extricated root and branch.

If people gave up their particular attachments easily, conceding their moral illegitimacy, that might be a sign that the humanitarian ideal is justified — that human history is indeed oriented toward a universalistic goal beyond nations and other forms of local solidarity. But experience tells us something else entirely. The more that forms of political, moral, economic, and legal universalism spread around the globe, the more they inspire a reaction in the name of the opposite ideals. The Western world is living through just such a reaction right now.

That means, of course, that Phil Robertson’s family, neighborhood, and church might harbor expressions that other people find objectionable. But since when did we think that people will always be easy to like and say things that make us feel happy? I guess the answer is — as long as we have been rearing children who go to college and expect to find nothing more challenging to their well being than cookies and milk (aside from the frat parties). Still, I wonder if those kids were accepted at every elite university to which they applied. If they received a rejection letter, did they burn the U.S. flag?

Acting National

We live in a federal republic, or so the Federalist Papers tried to persuade those Americans on the fence about adopting the Constitution. Trying to tell the difference between a nation and a federation can be tough. In fact, the Anti-Federalists, those who opposed the slightest hint of political centralization, thought the federalists should really be called “nationalists” because the government they proposed was more national than federal. (A federation recognizes the sovereignty of member states, a nation places the state governments in some subjection to the national government.)

When President Obama issued a executive order recently about bathrooms, you could plausibly argue that the president was acting national. Acting federal might have required working with Congress (with its representatives from the states). Or perhaps the president could have called a governors’ conference.

Because of the confusion surrounding “national” and “federal,” it was heartening to see the NCAA put the national in National Collegiate Athletic Association:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday evening that it is moving seven championship events that had been scheduled to take place in North Carolina to other states. The NCAA cited North Carolina’s antigay law, which bars all local laws that protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the ban on transgender people using state organizations’ bathrooms that reflect their identities.

No ambiguity there. The national body rules what the local bodies may or may not do.

Washington D.C. still wrestles with the ambiguity. After all, it is the United States of America not United State of America (that would be redundant).

The Republication-2K Connection

One of the authors cited in Merit and Moses is Patrick Ramsey, who defended Moses in the Westminster Theological Journal and included in his defense the following point about the value of the law (third use) according to the Confession of Faith (19.6):

According to this section of the Confession, the curses (“threatenings”) of the Mosaic Law teach the regenerate what temporal afflictions they may expect when they sin while the blessings (“promises”) instruct them concerning the benefits they may expect when they obey. Saving faith “trembles” at these curses and “embraces” the blessings for “this life, and that which is to come.”

“To establish a connection between obedience and blessing and disobedience and cursing is for many—notably antinomians—to establish in some sense a covenant of works. The divines were certainly aware of this possible misunderstanding. After all, they debated this issue for years. Consequently, they made it explicitly clear that such a connection does not in any form or fashion indicate that man is under a covenant of works (Ramsey, “In Defense of Moses.” Westminster Theological Journal 66 [2004]: 14-15).

Aside from the danger of teaching a prosperity gospel (if you’re well off, you must be doing something right in God’s accounting scheme), Ramsey may have way more confidence in the Westminster Divines than he should about possible misunderstandings of obedience to the law since they lived at a time when lots of Christians regularly compared their own nation to the nation of Israel. This meant that wars were God’s judgment upon the people’s sin, and victory in war was a sign of God’s blessing. Proof of this in the case of the Assembly was their reaffirmation of the Solemn League and Covenant which more or less kicked off their deliberations of matters like covenant theology and law (and likely accounts for the confessional oddity of including an entire chapter on oaths and vows — I’d love to see a candidate for ordination pressed by a presbyter to defend Chapter 22).

Ramsey may be okay with comparing England to Israel. But I’ll take the cautions of republication about the uniqueness of the Mosaic Covenant when it comes God’s blessings and cursings upon the covenant nation. Israel was a type of the first and second Adams. England was not and still is not, no matter how much you invoke Shakespeare. And don’t get me started on the U.S. as a “Christian nation.”

For Whom Do You Root?

. . . when you’re country is out of the World Cup championship? In point of fact, I don’t really care about what the Europeans call football, though I do get a kick of comparing the footballers’ flopping to the antics of the World Wrestling Federation. And this is surely an indication of American provincialism. We are not only the greatest nation on God’s green earth but we are also the world’s superpower trapped in the body of a colonist society.

But who cares about American rooting interests? What about the pope and former pope?

Football-mad Pope Francis “might” watch the World Cup final on Sunday between his native Argentina and Germany but is unlikely to do so alongside his German predecessor Benedict XVI, contrary to media speculation, the Vatican said.

“He might want to watch the final,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said of Francis, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio – a fan and card-carrying member of the San Lorenzo de Almagro club since childhood.

But a Vatican source said he “excluded categorically” the prospect of pope emeritus Benedict XVI, an academic theologian with a penchant for classical piano, sitting down in front of his television set to watch the face-off.

“It’s really not his thing, he is not a fan. It would be like inflicting an infinite penitence on him at the age of 87,” the source said, adding: “He has never been able to watch a football match from beginning to end in his life”.

It’s an arresting image, to think of Francis and Ratzinger sitting down with some chips, salsa, and adult beverages (okay, maybe bread, cheese, olives and wine) to watch the Argentina-Germany final. Who gets the remote? Is the pope Christ’s vicar?

But why would Francis or Ratzinger care about Argentina or Germany because they both reside in the country of Vatican City, a separate sovereignty with its own bank, prison, police, and postal system? If papal power matters, Francis and Ratzinger should be rooting for the Vatican’s Cricket team.

If the South Had Called a Referendum

Instead of firing on Fort Sumter, would the Confederate States have had a better chance of declaring their independence (like Jefferson did in 1776) if they had followed the lead of the Scots and simply voted. I understand that elections are not always decisive as the imbroglio between Russia and Ukraine attests. But a peaceful vote to leave a union may have worked. After all, if the Scots can do it after over three centuries of being governed by London, why couldn’t the South have departed after a mere seven decades of “more perfect” union?

I write this from Edinburgh in a postage stamp of a hotel room that is smack dab in the middle of a city that is amazingly beautiful (and even boasts a statue of Thomas Chalmers). If Scotland secedes, will Edinburgh become less beautiful? And what will happen to all the royal bits of Edinburgh? You can’t walk fifty meters (however long that is) and not see something that was opened by British royalty or land owned or granted by a prince, queen or king. I hear that if Scotland secedes, the Prince of Wales will become the King of Scotland. That sounds like a put down for the Scots, as if a mere prince among the Welsh is the equivalent of a monarch in Scotland. Then again, if it means that the Stuarts don’t return to the thrown, I am for Prince Charles.

David Robertson, a Free Church of Scotland pastor, thinks that ministers — in good 2k fashion — should not preach about secession, nor should the church adopt a stance:

. . . the Free Church does not ,and will not take a stance either for or against independence. Why? Because the Bible says nothing about it and we are here to teach the bible. In applying Gods word to our current society there is nothing in it that would tell us we should vote yes or we should vote no. Each has to be persuaded in their own mind. The Church should not make pronouncements on issues for which it has no scriptural warrant. These are my personal opinions and I hope I would never proclaim them from the pulpit as though they had the authority of Gods Word.

That’s an encouraging word from a man normally inclined to follow Tim Keller on holy urbanism. It shows how sensible 2k is. The church only says that the Bible says — and even then, you need to read the entire Bible in the entire perspective of God’s plan of redemption. So while monarchy was (not so) great for the Israelites and while emperors were honorable for (even while torturing) the apostles, the rest of Christian history leaves believers to make it up as they go.

But after jumping out with such a promising start, Pastor Robertson can’t help himself. He believes — seriously — that nationalism can be redeemed:

I am somewhat bemused by people who warn about the evils of nationalism when it is Scottish, but seem to think it is ok when it is British. As the Mangalwadi quote at the start of this article states, nationalism when yoked to the reforming power of the Bible, can become a powerful redemptive force. At the end of the day – that is what I will work for, whether in an independent Scotland or a dependent Britain.

It is hard to know where to begin or end with this opinion. But for the sake of blogging’s brevity, I’ll keep it short. First, what does Pastor Robertson make of all the nationalism in twentieth-century Europe and the wars of global proportions it unleashed? It’s one thing to be patriotic (a form of loyalty to the land of one’s fathers), but another to wrap up a people’s identity along national lines. What would become of non-Scots in an independent Scotland? That is not an impolite question given Europe’s history.

Second, why does adding the Bible or salvation to something that has such a dubious record — nationalism, urbanism, theater, mathematics (plumbing is fine) — make it better? The record of mixing religion and nationalism is a narrative of the gross excesses of civil religion. And civil religion is a betrayal of the gospel because Jesus did not rise again to save the members of the Church of England or the Church of Scotland or even the Free Church of Scotland. Churches having to negotiate national boundaries is part of the business of Christian ministry in this age. But turning national boundaries and jurisdictions into redemptive purposes is an example of every-square-inch naivete.

Nation, Race, Church

What is my primary identity? I am a white man or less crudely, a person of European descent. I am also a citizen of the U.S. And then, rounding out personal identities, I am a member of the communion known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

But if I check my wallet, the only ID card I find comes from the State of Michigan – a driver’s license (the photo on which identifies me as a white guy with receding hair). When I travel I have a passport issued by the United States (and a similarly dopey photo of a follicly challenged white man). So far, no ecclesiastical body has taken me up on my observation of the need for church passports. That way, we could when on the road, show that our papers are in order and that our membership is in good standing. We could also receive a stamp to verify to the home church authorities that we were present for church and if we partook of the Lord’s Supper.

So far, I am unaware of any documents that would certify my racial or ethnic identity. I know some fancy cats and dogs have breeding papers. The last time humans may have thought about such documentation, the effects were not pleasant. So let’s not go there.

These were some of the thoughts I had after listening to a story on NPR about Italian opposition to Cecile Kyenge, recently appointed as the first black cabinet minister within the Italian government. If Americans think that racism is bad on this side of the Atlantic, I wonder what they would do with Italians referring to Kyenge as a monkey and throwing bananas her way when speaking in public. Granted, it would not be fair to tarnish all Italians with the accusation of racism since the Northern League Party has been responsible for the ugly opposition to Kyenge, a party that accounts for 18 of Italy’s 315 Senators. Then again, can anyone imagine any political candidate winning an election in the U.S. if he were associated with this kind of racism?

So far, so nation and race. We have citizens of Italy who are of European descent (duh!) opposing an African-Italian politician. What about Christianity and church membership. Italy (another duh) is a nation whose citizens have long and deep ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, the Vatican was a major speed bump to Italy’s emergence as an independent nation, and tensions between Italian nationalism and Roman Catholicism existed down to World War II. Still, it is not inconceivable to think of Italians as having some awareness and affection for the Roman Catholic church. And that might lead us to think that Christians, like Roman Catholics, would not react in such a hostile way to politicians like Kyenge. After all, this is a church that puts “universal” in its very name. No matter how bad Christian practice is in Europe, being Catholic, you would think, would lift you out of the particularities of race and nation to identify at least with other Christians if not other humans in a universal way. But apparently Roman Catholicism has not had that affect on Italians just as evangelicalism has not lifted Protestants in the United States, despite all that mystical union with the body of Christ business, above identifying the United States with God’s redemptive purposes.

The Vatican has in the past spoken out against Italy’s racism, so it is not as if the Roman curia are unaware of the problem. Even so, this news does remind us of the older associations between Roman Catholicism and a European conservatism that opposed egalitarianism, individualism, and democracy. (Say what you will about the problems of those political sensibilities, they have been largely responsible for countering racial views that elevate one group above others.) I mention this Roman Catholic illiberalism if only because of a fascinating book by Peter D’Agostino about Roman Catholics in the United States and Italy and how the former sided with a Vatican that was opposed to the kind of political structures on which Americans usually prided themselves. (The book is just the start of D’Agostino’s fascination for me.) I have not finished the book, but here is an indication of the argument he makes:

Students of religion in the United States have ignored Fascist Italy. Studies of the interwar years rarely mention the Italy-Vatican rapprochement of the 1920s or the Lateran Pacts of 1929. Historians John McGreevy and Philip Gleason have analyzed mid-twentieth-century American liberal critiques of Catholicism as an antidemocratic, authoritarian culture with affinities to “fascism” or “totalitarianism.” In their work, “fascism (not Fascism) is a generic term for authoritarianism, and the “rise of fascism” happened in the 1930s, as if Fascist Italy did not exist in the 1920s. They tend to conflate informed anti-Fascists struggling for a democratic Italy with the bigotry of Paul Blanshard. . . . Ultimately, they sidestep the issue liberals raised: the substantial links between the American Church and Fascist Italy for two decades. . . .

On occasion American Catholics did criticize Fascism. It does not follow, however, that “what appeared to Italian exiles and American liberals to be a monolithic pro-Mussolini Catholic chorus were in reality the voices of individual churchmen.” This claim ignores hierarchical structures of power and community vigilance that belie the notion that the Church was a group of atomized individuals free to articulate broadly divergent views on matters relating to the Roman Question. Attention to the timing and content of American Catholic criticism of Fascism during the Italy-Vatican rapprochemement of the 1920s reveals the collaboration of a transnational church. When the Vatican praised Fascism for outlawing Masonry, American Catholics voiced similar praise. When the Vatican protested Fascist interference in the moral development of Italian youth, so did American Catholics. When the Vatican instigated the dissolution of the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI), American Catholics agreed it was a wise policy. When the Vatican withheld commentary on the beating, imprisonment, or murder of an anti-Fascist, American Catholics also remained silent. (159-160)

So sometimes church membership does transcend nation (American Roman Catholics following Rome), and sometimes it does not (Italians today).

My point is not to find more skeletons in Rome’s closet. I do think this is another piece of Roman Catholic history that Jason and the Callers have airbrushed from their philosophical accounts of the papacy. But the fascinating point, I think, is the degree to which Christianity actually affects a person’s politics and identity. Does church membership define someone more than race and nation? Sure, we know what the ideal is. But can Christians actually escape the constraints of history like to whom and where you are born?

Love of Country

I was glad to see Matt Holst challenge modestly Rick Phillips’ patriotic post about the need for Christians to love the United States. One of the best ways to register a 2k perspective is to ask whether Christianity has a special relationship with any particular nation, or whether Christians themselves have an obligation, no matter their citizenship, to the United States. Christians in the U.S. would not like instructions to love Mexico on the fifth day of May and would likely snicker at similar exhortations about a duty to love Canada on July 1. Why American Protestants don’t recognize the problem that Christian patriotism poses for Christians who are not citizens but reside LEGALLY in the U.S. is a riddle I am still trying to solve. But Charles Hodge’s argument in the context of the Civil War that the church supporting the Federal Government was akin to singing the Star Spangled Banner at the observance of the Lord’s Supper captures the 2k dynamic nicely. So does a Dutchman asking why a congregation has a U.S. flag at the front of its church.

Holst’s objection started with an acknowledgment that he is a “furr-ner,” an outsider:

It is always an interesting time of year for a foreigner to be in America. Every Fourth of July, I jest with our church members that the Sunday morning sermon closest to the Fourth will be on Romans 13 – submission to the civil magistrate. People laugh…usually. The obvious historical reasons aside, it is even more interesting for someone from Britain to be in the States on this date because Britain is a peculiarly unpatriotic place – nothing like America in that sense. I don’t recall ever seeing Union flags displayed on people’s houses, except in peculiar circumstances such as a royal birth or sporting achievement. The view of the armed forces in the UK has been nothing like that in America; it is much more low-key and much less admired, to be quite honest. To be clear, I am not saying that such is a good thing.

Moreover, Britain is itself a nation divided into four countries and four separate identities. When asked where I am from, my answer is Wales, not the UK. Speaking to most people over here, I inevitably have to explain where Wales is located. As an aside, I was once talking to a seminary student, who commented “You’re not from around here are you?”. I replied “No I’m from Wales”. To which he replied, in all seriousness, “Ah, a good Scotsman!” The conversation ended pretty quickly after that. My point is that the UK has multiple identities, with very few Welshmen being willing to accept the moniker “Scottish” and absolutely no Welshman willing to accept the label “English”. In spite of a rich and varied history, and maybe because of it, the UK does not have the same level or expressions of patriotism regularly evidenced on this side of the Atlantic.

In other words, Christianity transcends nations and so calling for Christian love of country only begins to make sense if you create space between country and faith, with patriotism being one form of affection, membership in the church another.

But Holst bring up some other matters that deserve comment, especially his contrast between the UK and the U.S. In fact, he touches on a subject that I am not sure Brits necessarily understand any better than Yanks, that is, the nature of British identity. Sports journalists needed to wrestle with this recently when Andrew Murray won at Wimbledon. Is Murray a Scot? A Brit? An Englishman? Some conjectured that whenever Murray lost he was a Scot, but when he won he was English. Indeed, among the three kingdoms that comprise the “United” Kingdom, national identity is anything but fixed, at least as J.C.D. Clark explains:

‘British” as a term in general usage has therefore had at least two senses. One was a spontaneous or encouraged Unionist identity allegedly felt equally by Scots, Irish, Welsh and English. This may indeed have been problematic. But another usage was more prevalent: as employed by the four groups, usually when abroad, ‘British’ was an official, political euphemism for one’s sectional identity, whether English, Welsh, Irish, or Scots: it was to a considerable degree synonymous with, and not a substitute for, sectional national identities. If so, it matters less that ‘British’ in the sense of the whig defenders of 1707 had shallow foundations: ‘Britishness’ in its prevalent sense rested in large part on the ancient and massive foundations of Englishness, and the equally ancient if differently formulated identities of England’s neighbours.

. . . . Britain was not invented; it developed. It was not devised by a small number of cultural entrepreneurs, acting like advertising executives to package and market a new product; it grew, the often unintended result of actions by men and women in many walks of life, often, too the result of conflicts and cross-purposes.

But contrary to Holst (and I am not criticizing as much as I am working out some of my own fascination with religious affiliations and national identities), a sense of Britishness did emerge, according to Clark, very much with the aid of Protestantism:

The ancient identity of the Ecclesia Anglicana meant that the Reformation did not at once create a unitary national identity. As a religious message of universal validity, Protestantism initially implied a reaction against the national subdivision of the universal church; only subsequently were some sections of ‘Protestantism’ identified with national churches and so with national identities. One strand of the Reformation stressed a pan-European solidarity between believers in the Reformed traditions, a shared sense of a supra-national destiny. Since the English had ‘a long-standing reputation for xenophobia’ even by 1500, it did not help that Protestant theology was originally associated with German reformers; not until the reign of Mary I (I553-8) were reformers ‘given the opportunity to sail for the first time under Protestant colours.’ Anti-popery, too, could be an international phenomenon, and not until Elizabeth’s reign did an assumption become prevalent that England had a special, or even the leading, role in that drama.125 The church in England only adopted the label ‘Protestant’ for itself in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and then in order to distinguish itself from both Rome and Geneva: Anglican Protestantism did not become pan-European. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the Reformation went much further: confessional differences have been basic to the emerging ‘three kingdoms’ explanation of the dynamics of state formation in the British Isles,” and when Wales acquired a distinct confessional identity from Protestant Dissent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that principality took its place as a fourth component in the model.

So it is not the case that Americans are the exceptions who link their faith to their patriotism. They learned it from the Brits, or English, or Scots, or Welsh, or Irish. For a popular rendition of English conflation of faith and patriotism, see the third season of Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham cannot tolerate the idea that his granddaughter, who is the child of an Irish Roman Catholic — chauffeur no less, will be baptized a Roman Catholic. The English national identity was very much bound up with the Protestantism of the Church of England.

But if that little hiccup of British civil religion is so obvious to American viewers of Downton Abbey, why aren’t similar conflations of faith and nationalism obvious to Christians in the U.S.? One reason may be the very notion of love of country. Holst makes the useful point that such love is not commanded in Scripture:

. . . when I read that a Christian is to love his country, I’m left a little bit confused. What exactly am I to love? Presidents? Congressmen? Hills, valleys streams, lakes (I have no difficulty loving them)? The people? The armed forces? Government? I wonder if Rick’s advice, which I regularly find beneficial and prudent, has, on this matter, slipped into an amorphous Americanity – a more subtle form of “God and Country” which is so prevalent in certain areas of the church. Such is the kind of Christianity which has the American flag on one side of the pulpit and the Christian flag (wherever that came from?) on the other. America, like every other Western nation has had a remarkable yet chequered history – morally, economically and militarily. What are we to love, and what kind of love are we to show?

Holst may be confused because most modern citizens of nation-states are confused. A colleague tells me that the proper way to love the United States is to think of it as a people and a place. Loving the American people can be a challenge since it would mean having to love Alex Rodgriguez along with Phil Hendrie. But loving a place may be easier if we took a greater delight in the locales where we live. Certainly, though, if we identify the United States with its government (and a chief part of that government’s expenditure — the military and all those damned wars), we will have a different kind of love than the older variety of love of country.

I myself do not think it is wrong to love country as long as it is a love qualified by higher and holier affections (no, not those kind). I love my wife, for instance. The Bible tells me I have to. But I also love our surviving cat. The Bible doesn’t tell me to do that. Nor does it prohibit such love, which is one of those key points bound up with Christian liberty and two-kingdom theology. We are free to love a country (I think) and we are free not to love a country. We are not free to identify a country with the kingdom of Christ.