In Europe and America people are divided. Very divided. The vote last night for Britain to leave the EU is the latest in a series of elections where people in Europe are trending towards nationalism. The New York Times ran a good summary piece on what they are calling “right-wing” political parties rising to power in Europe. I don’t agree with the label. I think a more appropriate label would be nationalist. But that’s for another debate.
Regardless, we’re talking about multiple nations that are experiencing an upsurge in nationalist tendencies. We’re talking Austria, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Poland, and others. That’s not just a little blip on the screen. That’s a continental trend.
The commonality among these parties are the slogans and the fears. “_______ first!” Fill in the blank with your country’s name. All of these parties are nationalist – putting one’s country ahead of any larger organization or people or other country for that matter. One’s tribe or nation becomes most important, and don’t you dare mess with it. We want to keep it pure don’t you know. You who are different than us because of your skin color, language, physical features, or religion – you know who you are – go back to your home! That’s the line of reasoning.
Along with nationalism comes anti-immigration – the fear of people not like yourself coming to your country. They will change the country. We’ll need to take it back. As the Times points out, many of these anti-immigrant stands in the nationalist parties started from white supremacy groups or with former Nazis. That’s not an exaggeration or hyperbole or heated rhetoric, that’s actual history.
Here in the US, we see a similar trend with the rise of Trump and his campaign to “Make America Great Again.” It is fair to say that a good portion of his campaign is based on a platform that is anti-immigrant. He has openly talked about building a wall between the US and Mexico, kicking out Muslims, etc. And of course he and his supporters have no problem chanting “America first!”
Nationalism. Tribalism. These are ideas that have been around for a good long time. They often lead to violence and war too. I read a paper from 2012 that discussed the link between nationalism and violence and war. There are several factors that make the possibility of violence and war increase with nationalism. They are:
The first is the group’s statehood status – has the nationalist group concerned achieved statehood?
The second is a nationalist group’s stance towards the legitimacy and sovereignty of other states, particularly those bordering such a group’s territory or state borders;
If a nationalist group is influenced by a diaspora (the dispersion of an ethnic or national group outside of a state or national border), the efforts to reincorporate those of the same nationality back into what is perceived as the ancestral territory may make a nationalist group more inclined to use force to achieve such an aim.
Finally, if a state suppresses an internal minority nationalist group (be it an ethnic or cultural national group), the likelihood of internal violence, such as civil war, is increased due to the increased friction between such suppressed groups and the central state
These might seem pretty cut and dry, but really when you think about them, there’s a great deal more to it than a simple answer to any of these criteria.
In addition to this, I have read responses from people who supported Britain staying in the EU. Many were labeling and scapegoating supporters of Britain’s exit. That isn’t helpful either.
So, where does this leave us? Good question. I know this much. We are in the midst of great change. I don’t mean great as in good. I mean great as in a whole crap load of change. We are very divided. We are scapegoating and labeling our opponents. We use fear and are fearful. There is anger. These are not the signs of a healthy community or world. These are symptoms of a disease eating away at the life of people.
I wonder if people turning away from established religion in Europe has had an impact. People need to believe in something. When they shift away from God, do they shift towards politics and national or tribal identity? I have no idea.
Or is it something like here in the US where certain Christians of a particular bent so closely wrap their religious beliefs with the flag that the two are inseparable? Again, I have no idea.
Or maybe it’s something else. Or most likely, it’s a combination of things.
I know this much, if we continue on the path we are heading, there will be violence. There’s a good chance there will be war. The question will be who will fire the first shot or shoot the first missle. Where will the war happen? And how many countries will get involved? And how many will die all for the sake of politics and tribal and national identities? War is good for economies after all – you have to produce lots of stuff so you can kill your enemies and destroy their stuff. To do that, you need lots of labor. And as military people are killed, you need more people to go and fight. Wars blind people. Wars unite people in a constant struggle of us vs. them. They are evil, that is why we can kill them.
Nationalism demands faith in a country and it’s nationalist leaders as the saviors of the nation. Only this salvation comes through military might and national purity and universal belief in the nation and the propaganda the leaders spout out – it’s religious doctrine at it’s worst. It’s a deadly mix that saves no one in the end. Instead of making a nation great, it destroys the nation. But the destruction doesn’t start with war. It starts long before that. It starts with the belief in supremacy. It starts with the belief in exceptionalism. It starts with the belief in us vs. them. It starts with scapegoating. It starts with the belief that a political leader is a savior. It starts when the nation and its leaders are seen as a religion or god – and all those who won’t worship these things are considered heretics who have to be dealt with.
Here are some closing questions for those of you that are Christian and nationalist in belief – where do you place your faith primarily? Is it in nation and party and a leader? If you are Christian, how do you rationalize this belief with a faith in Christianity which says our loyalty is to Christ first? How do you define greatness for a nation? Does it include military greatness? Is that the primary means to greatness? How does that fit into a Christian belief system? Should we believe that a political leader can save a nation? Or does that conflict with Christ being the savior of the world? How do you match nationalism with Galations 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Ultimately, where does your loyalty lie?