Here is my last contribution to the CEEBC.
PATRIOTISM AND NATIONALISM
God created a harmonious world thriving in diversity. In contrast, the biblical story of Babel relates how human beings attempted to oppose God’s intentions in a defiant display of uniformity. Thus, according to Genesis, languages, nations, and tribes were associated with an ignoble beginning, fraught with separation, comparison, competition, and violence. Thousands of years later, at Pentecost, came the spiritual reversal of the fragmentation of human solidarity, as people of different cultural backgrounds were able to understand the message of the apostles with no language barriers. What is more, in the book of Revelation, tribes, nations and languages will remain till the end of time, for they are no longer seen as a curse but as a means of enrichment for God’s glory.
Most people are naturally inclined to cherish their family and community, place of birth, mother tongue and particular culture, nation and country. We call this patriotism and there is nothing unbiblical about it, even though, like everything else in creation, it is affected by sin and must be subject to God’s authority. The word “patriot” does not occur in the Bible but we see the notion exemplified, for instance in Paul’s willingness to lose his salvation for the sake of his own people, the Jews (Rom 9:1-3).
God cares for all creation and all people. Even when he chose one nation, his purpose was to make it a blessing for all nations (Gen 12:3). When the Israelites acted as though they were the exclusive beneficiaries of divine blessing and failed to fulfil their calling, God raised a new people through faith in Christ (Eph 2:11-22), the church, in which “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” (Gal 3:28).
However, patriotism is radically different from nationalism (another term we do not find in Scripture, since it is a relatively recently coined word). It derives from the modern concept of a nation defined as a community of blood and land with a common language, culture, territory and economic life. A phenomenon which accompanies nationalism was defined by Hans Kohn, one of the founding fathers of the academic study of nationalism, as “a state of mind in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state.” This explains the quasi- religious dimension of nationalism.
It is thus easy to understand why nationalism is incompatible with a Christian view of the world, since the Christian’s supreme allegiance should be to God, not to a national flag. This makes the current concept of “Christian nationalism” a contradiction in terms. Even a nonreligious thinker such as Albert Einstein perceived nationalism as an “infantile disease” which characteristically manifests itself in the supposed superiority of one nation to others. We might say that nationalism is an ideological pathology of patriotism, a modern form of tribalism, as tragically illustrated in violent ethnic conflicts in the Balkans after 1989 and ethnocentric attempts to redefine national identity in our region.
How are Christians to respond to this skewed view of nations in our world? Humanity is created in the image of God to pursue the ideal of unity in diversity, one which excludes both hierarchy and uniformity. From this perspective, all nations, tribes, and families have equal value in the eyes of God.
Each culture reveals a unique aspect of the beauty of Christ and makes possible a specific understanding of the gospel. However, because of the reality of the fall, nations also display various manifestations of sinfulness and rebellion against God. Yet, when we look at this through the work of the cross and the life-giving presence of the Spirit, we are able to grasp God’s plan of redemption at work in the lives of all people and nations. The cultural diversity of the nations, when purged of all inequity, brings beauty and meaning to the world and brings glory to God, as we see in the beautiful eschatological image in Revelation 21:24, when every nation will bring its unique gifts as a spiritual sacrifice and act of worship before the throne of God.