As a follower of Jesus, I’m always fascinated yet troubled by the effects of nationalism on the human spirit. The deeper I dive into my faith life, the less important these things have become for me. I see myself as a citizen of the world, though I never fail to appreciate the benefits of my country when I read the horrors of world news. The question for Christians is, how far do we go and why? Scotland’s recent vote provides fodder and insight into its dangers.
Countries are necessary. They provide us with security, structure and safety. They are the umbrella under which we hope to pursue life, liberty and happiness. They are also a double-edged means by which to anchor our self-identity. We need only watch the Olympics or World Cup to see the fervor that nationalism stirs in humanity. When done with love and kindness, we see the best in humanity.
The problem arises when nationalism and self-identity become infected with egoism. Then the ugly side of humanity emerges – always in the form of needing to feel superior to others, anchored in feelings of inferiority and insecurity. These are the tools of Satan. Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan displayed this horrifically as did apartheid South Africa. The examples are legion and consequences harsh. Race often plays a factor. Xenophobia takes root: that which is foreign is to be feared…and eliminated.
In Scotland and Quebec, we have two examples of people who self-identify based on language and history. Both are living within countries that offer them security and prosperity that would be the envy of many countries. I am reminded of an old movie from the 1960s called “The Mouse That Roared” where a fictitious small country invades the United States for the express purpose of being defeated and hence amalgamated as a 51st state.
So what drives negative nationalistic fervor? I argue that it is ego. It is the human desire to make our differences larger and more important. It is the need to be special. As we surrender our lives in submission to God’s will, love becomes our most important value. When we experience constant love on the inside from the source of love, we no longer need things that enhance our sense of feeling special. That God’s loves me is all the special I need. Ironically, his love does not make me more special than anyone else. Thus, I accept that I am not special. I am neither worthy nor unworthy. I am the clay. He is the potter. (Jeremiah 18:6)
The Christian life is one of humility. Jesus is our role model. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2). I must conclude and sincerely believe that the human qualities that identify me do not make me special. That I am white, male, Canadian, Dutch, Christian, Catholic, married, father, farm boy, business leader, baby boomer and so forth are mere categories that are true of my identity but do not define me. God’s love defines me. The others, though existential, are temporary.
I appreciate and value my country. I am aware that there are other countries equally wonderful. I also accept that some peoples have real reasons to separately form their own country, such as Israel after WWII. Security and safety are paramount. Prosperity…less so. Otherwise we would dump the poverty-stricken areas of our own country – decidedly unChrist-like.
When recently defeated Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois pressed her desire to make Quebec a separate country, her reasons were hard for me to respect. It was language above all. Her government zealously pursued small businesses that dared to post something in English on a menu or on a business Facebook page. Xenophobia. When Jacques Parizeau lost the 1995 referendum on separation, he bitterly blamed the defeat on immigrants. Xenophobia. Each radiated one overwhelming quality – the desire to wear the crown of being the first ‘prime minister’ of a new country. Legacy and ego are untrustworthy and selfish allies. Fifty-five percent of Scots clearly decided that security and prosperity trumped nationalism.
Let us be proud and patriotic but never superior. As Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). Jesus reminded us of our real duty: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)
We love one another when we accept who we each are, regardless of the characteristics that identify us. We do this best when we remove the plank in our eye before we respond to the speck in the eye of our brother. It is a spiritual practice whose time has come. I call upon all Christians to take this teaching to heart so that we might live out our true identity as ecumenical followers of Jesus.
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