Saturday, November 17, 2018

On religious nationalism

[Previous: The Idolatry of Nationalism]

The centennial event that had just passed was that of Armistice Day. On November 11, 1918, the European powers signed an armistice which effectively ended World War I. World War I was the bloodiest war in history, until World War II happened. It was also a rather religious war, as the European powers invoked God on their side, and the devastation of the war devastated religious faith in Europe as well.

In the aftermath of World War I, and even more so after World War II, the elites of society rejected nationalism as a failed project, in favor of internationalism, with the birth of the United Nations. The problem, so they thought, was that local concerns divided peoples and resulted in hatred and bigotry and needless wars and suffering. The focus ought to be on international law, as all the countries of the world come together as a community of nations and work together for the good of all countries. This at least was the theory. There is a problem: Wars and strife between nations. There is a diagnosis: Nationalism. And then there is a solution: Internationalism.

Now, in this equation, the solution is only as good as the diagnosis. But is the diagnosis correct? No doubt there is some version of nationalism that results in wars and strife between nations, but is any version of nationalism the cause? Have we actually learned the right lesson of World War I? For even the rather obvious cause of countries entering into alliances of mutual defense was not rejected after World War I (NATO being one obvious example of a mutual defense pact). So what is the problem(s) that had resulted in World War I?

One major problem is nationalism, but not any kind of nationalism, but religious nationalism. The State is deified as like a god, and all citizens must obey her. Furthermore, under this religious nationalism, the focus of the citizens is to further the goals and glory of the Nation. All of these we can see in World War I. Instead of the country serving her people, the people serve the country, slavishly giving their lives for her good. Thus, the new gods are cruel slave owners, utilizing their human resources for their own pursuit of glory, for the people are truly treated as human resources, to be used and discarded at will.

This religious nationalism is one product of humanism in society. The older humanism was not anti-religious, but rather it redirects the emphasis from God to man. One can be religious, and even should be religious, but the focus of human life is no more about God at the center but about man and the idea of progress. All of these stem from the Enlightenment, which was not necessarily anti-religious, but it was certainly humanistic. The shift from God to man elevates Man to the center, and thus in pursuit of their own glory the nation states asserted their rights. With each nation more interested in themselves than in obeying God, it was only a time before war came, as each nation asserted its right over against the other.

The shift from nationalism to internationalism however does not address this problem. Instead of seeing human autonomy as the problem, they believe that nations prioritizing their own concerns is the problem. Thus, the shift from nationalism to internationalism just shifts the problem of human autonomy from nations to trans-national entities. For why should trans-national entities like the United Nations be any less sinful than nation states? Why should trans-national entities be more likely to care about what is right and just than individual nations? The fact that the UN General Assembly is consistently voting against Israel on issues that have nothing to do with actual wrongs show that trans- and supra-national entities are no better when it comes to nations in seeking their own rights and privileges. The only difference is that it has a veneer of being representative of "the world," as if a bunch of unelected bureaucrats actually represent anyone but themselves on any issue.

On the centennial of Armistice Day, the world has failed to learn the main lesson of World War I. Changing from nationalism to internationalism is a mere rearrangement of the furniture in the ship named "human autonomy." When nations continue living without God, the problems of history will repeat themselves over and over again, causing death, destruction and hardship to the people of the earth.