On Christian Nationalism

David Carlin: American Catholics don’t have a choice of whether or not to be Christian nationalists.  We are condemned to be Christian nationalists.  Our only choice is between (a) being a good and wise Christian nationalist and (b) being a bad and foolish Christian nationalist.

I have a confession to make: I am a Christian nationalist.

Or to put this in terms I am more comfortable with: I am a patriotic American who finds theoretical justification for his patriotism in his Christianity – or to be more precise, in his preferred version of Christianity, the Catholic faith.

Being a Christian nationalist, I am, in the eyes of my “progressive” fellow Americans, guilty of a double sin.  (I’m not sure “sin” is the right word in this context, at least not if sin is understood to be an offense against God, since the average progressive either doesn’t believe in God or believes only barely.)

My first sin is the sin of nationalism.  From a progressive point of view, nationalism is always a bad thing, since the spirit of nationalism has been the cause of immense human suffering.  For it was this spirit that was the predominant cause of World War I and World War II, the two most destructive and most homicidal wars in the history of the human race.

Since the end of WWII, all wise persons – says the progressive narrative – have understood that the spirit of nationalism must be replaced by a cosmopolitan spirit.  We must learn to think of ourselves, not so much as citizens of this or that particular nation, but as citizens of the world.  In Europe, the great cockpit of almost limitless war, nations must be replaced with a United States of Europe, toward which ultimate goals, the Common Market and the European Union, have been only intermediate steps.

The trouble with this critique of nationalism is that it fails to make the classic Aristotelian distinctions among (a) a good thing and (b) its excess and (c) its deficiency.  If we were to ask Aristotle how much aspirin we should take for a headache, he would reply: “Take just the right amount, not too much and not too little.”  And if we were to ask him how nationalistic we should be, he’d answer: “If you have too little nationalism, your nation will fall apart.  If you have too much, your nation will become a bully to its neighbors.  Seek the golden mean of nationalism.”

The second sin committed by Christian nationalists, again according to the progressive perspective, is that by blending Christianity with nationalism we corrupt Christianity, the essence of which is love of one’s fellow human beings, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, etc.

This “true” spirit of Christianity bears a striking resemblance to the spirit of cosmopolitanism.  By contrast, say the critics, Christian nationalism encourages an attitude of “my country right or wrong” – a decidedly un-Christian (and un-cosmopolitan) attitude.  What’s more, in blending Christianity and nationalism, the nationalistic element of the blend will almost always overwhelm the Christian element.

Let us once again don our Aristotelian thinking caps.  In any combination of Christianity and American nationalism, there’s always the risk that the nationalistic element of the combination will be too great and the Christian element too little, and this may well produce un-Christian national policies.  Likewise, there is the risk that the Christian element will be too great and the nationalistic element too little, and this will lead to a kind of theocracy at home and a naiveté in foreign affairs.  We must seek the golden mean, the “just right” mix of Christianity and nationalism.

“However,” it will be objected, “this is hard.”  To which objection Aristotle replied long ago: “It’s hard to hit the target, very easy to miss it.”  But he didn’t think that difficulty was a good reason for not aiming at the target.  We may also remember what another philosopher, Spinoza, once said: “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”

If you are both a Christian and an American nationalist, it will be psychologically impossible not to combine the two, not to be a Christian nationalist.  Maybe you’ll be a good Christian nationalist or maybe a bad one, but in any case, it will be impossible for you to refrain from blending your religion and your nationalism.

By contrast, it’s quite possible to put your Christian convictions and feelings on the shelf while working on a mathematical problem.  When it comes to mathematics, there is no difference between a Christian mathematician and an atheistic mathematician.  But if you are trying to solve a problem in politics, there will generally be a difference – often a very big difference – between atheistic and Christian political thinkers.

In theory (or rather, in imagination) a Christian thinking about politics can put his Christian beliefs and sentiments on the shelf while attempting to solve a political problem – like a Christian mathematician.  But in practice it’s impossible – at least if the Christian in question is the least bit serious about his religion.

The same is true of atheists who think about political issues.  Many an atheistic political thinker will say, “I am not an atheistic political thinker.  I am a political thinker who just happens to be an atheist.  When I try to solve a political problem, I don’t look for an atheistic solution.  I just look for a good solution – good for all Americans regardless of their religious or philosophical persuasions.  Like a good scientist or mathematician, I try to do my thinking in a metaphysically neutral way.”

But this is self-deception.  Your metaphysical worldview, whether Christian or atheist or something else, cannot be prevented from seeping into your political thought.  The mind of a human being is not constructed that way.  It is not made of hermetically sealed compartments in which the contents of one compartment will never “bleed” into adjoining compartments.  The human mind is composed of hundreds of leaky compartments.

American Catholics don’t have a choice of whether or not to be Christian nationalists.  We are condemned to be Christian nationalists.  Our only choice is between (a) being a good and wise Christian nationalist and (b) being a bad and foolish Christian nationalist.

You may also enjoy:

David Warren The World is Falling

David G. Bonagura, Jr. ‘Christian Nationalism’ and the ‘Catholic Thing’


David Carlin

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in AmericaThree Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and most recently Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.

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