It is All Saints’ Day and two days before the election. As I thought about a pre-election day post, some saint helped me flip Father Clay’s third book open to this page, and I decided to go with it. I don’t think it needs much preamble from me.
I like this piece because it transcends politics and helps frame, again, how we can show up in the world and move past ourselves to operate with love and inclusion. I know the kingdom of God is for all of us, and that it’s on us to ensure that we are creating the reign of God on earth together.
Substitutes for God?: Nationalism
We now turn to nationalism as a substitute for religion. Nationalism is good. It is the bonding together of the people of a country for the common good of the people. A group is able to accomplish things that an individual cannot by himself. We are social beings. We can flourish fully as humans only when we are in relationship with others. It is a part for being human that we cooperate with others. Of course, it is also part of being human that we accomplish things by ourselves.
As a country then, we have two purposes. One is the fostering of conditions that enable individuals to reach their individual potential. The most basic means of accomplishing this purpose is protecting individual rights. To the degree that a nation does not do this, it is failing. Since we eaily have narrow viewpoints, we must meet the challenge of extending these individual rights to people who are not like us. We need to protect the rights of people, regarless of their race, religion, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental handicaps, economic status, and others I can’t think of at this moment.
The second purpose of our country is to do things together that we could not do – or do not do – as well on our own. For example, education, health care, police, and fire protection, defense, justice system, and so on. Some of this is done better at lower levels and some is done better at higher levels.
What is the dark side of nationalism? I am not talking about the good things that we omit or do imperfectly. Whenever there is group bonding, one of the dangers is that we will confine ourselves to the good of our group. Those outside our group can easily be seen as unimportant or even enemies. It becomes them and us. In various degrees, we will dehumanize those outside our group. This means that we are inclined to neglect them or even hurt them. Groups within a nation do this; and as a nation we fall into the same trap concerning other nations.
Religion, when authentic, reminds us that under God we are all equal. There are no outsiders. When nationalism is strong, we are inclined to stop at our national borders. Nationalism then has become a substitute for religion, even though we may loudly proclaim that we are religion. Patriotism, while good, has the capacity to become terribly destructive. All of our human endeavors have a dark side.
We become “us” and “them.” This can easily degenerate into thinking we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. The others are our enemies. When people become our enemies, we dehumanize them. When they become less than human to us, we can hurt them and even kill them with no remorse. This is the dark side of religion and patriotism. This is why religion and nationalism are behind so many wars. That is we we feel so righteous and good while doing such terrible things. Religion and nationalism become substitutes for God. God is the God of all people. We humans make the divisions.
Again we don’t stop participating in church or country, but we allow ourselves to move beyond where we are.
Some final signs of surrender:
- Am I becoming a more compassionate person?
- Do I value my beliefs and, at the same time, respect and value the beliefs of those who believe differently?
- Do I value obedience and at the same time realize that love is primary?
- Do I believe that telling the truth is more important than obedience?
Am I willing to surrender all the words that I have just written and allow God to work in them and change them any way that God wants?
Smile, God Loves You.
From the series of letters “Substitutes for God?” written in 2011 and
published in Awesome Love, (c) 2013 by Father John Clay