Being Non-Political


July 21, 2018

To begin with: A very brief comment about today’s local holiday. Akin to our USA Fourth of July. The Belgian National Day is a public holiday celebrated on 21 July each year. In 1830, Belgium gained political independence and regained cultural independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Up until then, the Belgian area was known as the Southern Netherlands and had been governed by other countries including Spain and France.

Now on to politics but with this advisory: after Helsinki and post-Helsinki developments I will avoid touching directly on DJT.

An acquaintance, who regularly follows my posts, asked me if I would please avoid commenting about politics in the coming months. He hoped I would because in his words “theologians should stay out of politics.”

Well theologians reflect on our faith experiences and the signs of the times. Frankly one cannot really be non-political; and one can and must be politically critical as well as religiously critical.

The signs of the times beckon to all of us. My old friend, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, observed not so long ago: “There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something.”

Today I would like to say something about religion and nationalism. What agitated me this week, aside from an Helsinki headache, was the announcement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a new Israeli Basic Law which proclaims: “The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” So there we have it. Israel is now the Jewish State. Part of the contemporary religion/nationalism trend.

When I was in Moscow for a conference a year ago, a Russian professor friend reminded me that Mother Russia is Russian Orthodox. With some delight he stressed that even President Putin is strongly Orthodox and he and Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill are mutually supportive. Kirill has backed the expansion of Russian power into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. He is strongly anti-gay; and even has often stressed that “Orthodoxy must defend itself” and fight against the “heresy” of human rights, which “contradicted the Bible.” Hmm

Contemporary Poland is a curious example. There Catholic nationalism is the religion of the far right government. During the former Soviet-backed Communist rule in Poland, the church was a symbol of intellectual freedom and served as a force of resistance against the oppressive regime. Today it is part of the oppressive regime. Rafał Pankowski, co-founder of the anti-racist Never Again Association and professor at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw said that nationalists benefit from the status of religion in Poland, where 94 percent of citizens say they belong to the church. They strongly support a Polish national agenda that is anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic.

Contemporary Catholic Poland reminds me of Catholic Spain under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco.

But now just two more contemporary examples of religion and nationalism….

In Turkey fifteen years into his rule, President Erdoğan has gradually turned his country away from the secular tradition of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the modern state in 1923. Today he promotes extreme Islamic religion in public life, clamps down on opponents and the media, and moves ever more firmly away from democratic norms. Unhealthy religion and unhealthy nationalism.

Finally a brief comment about contemporary India. (At my university we have a lot of students from India.)

The Bharatiya Janata Party, currently in power, is a right-wing, nationalist group, allied with the position that India should be only a Hindu nation. Anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents are on the rise. All for one national religion….

Religion and nationalism always make a volatile mix. I have always thought separation of church and state should be considered a pro-Christian virtue. Perhaps however, one needs to be more alert these days to an underlying problem of nationalism.

Patriotism can be strong and positively humane. Nationalism too often raises red flags.

In 1945, the same year he wrote Animal Farm, George Orwell emphasized the difference between “nationalism” and “patriotism.” Nationalism, Orwell argued, is the belief that one’s own nation should dominate others. It “is inseparable from the desire for power.” A nationalist, Orwell argued, “thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige … his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.” Patriotism, by contrast, involves “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one has no wish to force on other people.”

Orwell’s explanation of patriotism is brief. But his implication is that while nationalism is about the

relationship between one’s country and other countries, patriotism is about the relationship between

one’s country and oneself. It derives from the Latin pater, meaning “father.” Just as devotion to family

requires placing its well-being above one’s own, devotion to country—patriotism—extends that principle to the nation as a whole.

Take care.

Jack

6 thoughts on “Being Non-Political

  1. Thank you, Jack, for your comments. I always feel lifted to know that I am not alone and am not a bad Catholic if I smell something very foul currently happening in my country and call it out for what it is, even when it is against the right-wing, simply because the hierarchy of my American Church clings to them for the sake of wanting abortion rights overturned. It makes me sick to think that they are willing to allow the selling out of America, to a dictator, simply to get what they want.

  2. I’m happy to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. George Orwell knew what he was talking about.

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