Nationalism is Idolatry

I received a forwarded email the other day from a prominent member of the clergy that really distressed me. You have probably received them yourself. Under the guise of patriotism they carry on about not caring if an imprisoned Arab’s copy of the Koran gets desecrated because “this is America”, and not caring if an Arab prisoner is abused because they aren’t God fearing Christians anyway, and other such nonsense – all of it under the guise of being a patriotic American and a God fearing Christian. Before you jump to the conclusion that the clergy person who forwarded this email is a fundamentalist from the southern United States, I must tell you that he is a Catholic from the Midwest.

A critical distinction is in order. Patriotism is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “love and devotion to one’s country.” That’s all well and good. Nationalism, on the other hand, is the conviction that the culture and interests of your nation are superior to those of any other nation, and that’s a huge problem – especially for Christians.

Here’s a little news flash for some of you – America is not God’s favorite country. In fact, God doesn’t have a favorite country because countries are human creations, not divine creations. What’s more, God doesn’t give the tiniest little damn about which country you live in or which system of government that country has. What God does care about, at least according to Jesus, is that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus also made clear, in the story of the Good Samaritan, that our neighbor is not limited by ethnicity or country of origin (or anything else, for that matter). Interestingly, if you recall that story, it was the priest who responded in the least neighborly fashion to the beaten man. It seems that little has changed.

Here’s another news flash – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have the same historic roots and worship the same God. Those who would characterize someone as a “Godless” Muslim are making that same accusation against all Christians and Jews – and doing it in the name of Christianity.

You see, the problem with Nationalism is that one transfers the devotion that is rightly due only to God onto one’s country – and that is called idolatry. Even worse, those who do this often claim they are doing it because God wants them to do it! If they would stop and be reflective for just a moment (something that is admittedly hard to do in the face of all that hatred) they would realize that they are confusing their ego with God.

Often these appeals close with some clap trap about honoring those who have fought, and sometimes died, to defend our freedom. I certainly do honor those folks, but this sort of nonsense dishonors them. Our military fights, ostensibly, for the freedom of this nation. Some would pervert that notion into a kind of personal license to do whatever they want to whomever they want – all of course in the name of God and Country. The problem is that if freedom doesn’t apply to everybody it doesn’t apply to anybody. If you are free to do whatever you want to someone you disagree with that is totalitarianism, not freedom.

It’s long past time for people of faith to stand up to this idiocy.

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