New Class Patriotism: a Fisking

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Some of the usual suspects, most part of what could be called the Religious Left, members in good standing of the Western Global Elite that Pope Francis appears to see his role as being the chaplain of, have had printed in Commonweal, the rag for Catholics who really hate Catholicism, an open letter decrying conservative nationalism.  Doing so in Commonweal is rather akin to attacking Puritanism in the pages of Playboy.  It is a silly attempt at global elite virtue signaling, but I will take it seriously enough to give it the fisking  it is begging for:

 

 

 

Each day more signs point to a tremendous shift in American conservatism away from the prior consensus and toward the new nationalism of Donald Trump. This is evident not only in the recent National Conservatism Conference held in July in Washington, D.C., but also in the manifesto signed by a number of Christians who appear eager to embrace nationalism as compatible with Christian faith. Without impugning specific individuals, as fellow Christian intellectuals, theologians, pastors, and educators, we respond to this rapprochement with sadness, but also with a clear and firm No. We are Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant; Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Despite our denominational and political differences, we are united by the conviction that there are certain political solidarities that are anathema to our shared Christian faith.

Whenever I hear the terms “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” I am always reminded of this old George Carlin routine:

 

The terms really aren’t different, but rather are words that tell us about whether the third party observer approves of what he is describing or disapproves.  A nice touch saying that the writers of the letter do not wish to impugn specific individuals before spending the rest of the letter impugning everyone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

In the 1930s many serious Christian thinkers in Germany believed they could manage an alliance with emergent illiberal nationalism. Prominent theologians like Paul Althaus and Friedrich Gogarten believed that the National Socialist movement offered a new opportunity to strengthen social order and cohesion around Christian identity. But some Christians immediately resisted, most visibly in the Barmen Declaration of 1934, which rejected the compromises of “German” Christianity and its heinous distortions of the Gospel.

Ah, no screed from the Left is ever complete without a reference to Hitler.  The signers of the letter lump themselves into the role of the opponents of Hitler.  One guess as to what role is assigned to their adversaries.

Our situation in 2019 is surely different, but American Christians now face a moment whose deadly violence has brought such analogies to mind. Again we watch as demagogues demonize vulnerable minorities as infesting vermin or invading forces who weaken the nation and must be removed. Again we watch as fellow Christians weigh whether to fuse their faith with nationalist and ethno-nationalist politics in order to strengthen their cultural footing. Again ethnic majorities confuse their political bloc with Christianity itself. In this chaotic time Christian leaders of all stripes must help the church discern the boundaries of legitimate political alliances. This is especially true in the face of a rising racism in America, where non-whites are the targets of abominable acts of violence like the mass shooting in El Paso.

Here we see the signers busily constructing strawmen adversaries who are racists and  in favor of deadly violence.  Instead of coming to grips with, and arguing against, what their adversaries actually believe, it is much easier to tar them with what they do not believe and do not support.

To be clear, nationalism is not the same as patriotism. Nationalism forges political belonging out of religious, ethnic, and racial identities, loyalties intended to precede and supersede law. Patriotism, by contrast, is love of the laws and loyalty to them over leader or party. Such nationalism is not only politically dangerous but reflects profound theological errors that threaten the integrity of Christian faith. It damages the love of neighbor and betrays Christ.

Now we have made up definitions of nationalism and patriotism with nationalism attacked as heresy.  I find the definition of patriotism curious in being defined as love and loyalty to the laws.  Such a definition is foreign to a country that began in rebellion to constituted authority.  It is also curious coming from a Left that has, rightly, often claimed that love of country required disobedience to unjust laws.  Whoever wrote the above paragraph must not have had their thinking cap on the day they scribbled it.

1. We reject the pretensions of nationalism to usurp our highest loyalties. National identity has no bearing on the debts of love we owe other sons and daughters of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, all human beings are our neighbors regardless of citizenship status.

Once again we see attacks on strawmen.  It is Leftism that removes God from the center of our allegiances.  It is conservatives who constantly warn against the power of the State.  It is conservatives who attack abortion precisely because the unborn are our neighbors and made in the image of a loving God.

2. We reject nationalism’s tendency to homogenize and narrow the church to a single ethnos. The church cannot be itself unless filled with disciples “from all nations” (panta ta ethné, Matthew 28:19). Cities, states, and nations have borders; the church never does. If the church is not ethnically plural, it is not the church, which requires a diversity of tongues out of obedience to the Lord.

This is creating strawmen to the nth degree.  Conservatives are certainly not proclaiming that any church should restrict its ethnic membership.  This paragraph is simply firmly detached from reality.

3. We reject the xenophobia and racism of many forms of ethno-nationalism, explicit and implicit, as grave sins against God the Creator. Violence done against the bodies of marginalized people is violence done against the body of Christ. Indifference to the suffering of orphans, refugees, and prisoners is indifference to Jesus Christ and his cross. White supremacist ideology is the work of the anti-Christ.

And here we have the the Left trump card of race.  Agree with us or you are nothing but a white bigot.  It used to be said that the only argument the Nazis had was the bullet.  Increasingly the only argument that Leftists have are false accusations of bigotry.

4. We reject nationalism’s claim that the stranger, refugee, and migrant are enemies of the people. Where nationalism fears the stranger as a threat to political community, the church welcomes the stranger as necessary for full communion with God. Jesus Christ identifies himself with the poor, imprisoned foreigner in need of hospitality. “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me” (Matthew 25:41-43).

Here we have a religious text used for political purposes.  Arguments about illegal immigration are to be silenced by waving a Bible about and claiming that opponents of illegal immigration are not good Christians.  Bringing the Odium Theologicum into politics is a good way to make politics a blood sport.

5. We reject the nationalist’s inclination to despair when unable to monopolize power and dominate opponents. When Christians change from majority to minority status in a given country, they should not contort their witness in order to stay in power. The church remains the church even as a political minority, even when unable to influence the government or when facing persecution.

In charity and in hope, we urge our fellow Christians to repudiate the temptations and the falsehoods of nationalism. The politics of xenophobia, even when dressed up in high-minded social critique, can only be pursued in contradiction of the Gospel. A true culture of life welcomes the stranger, embraces the orphan, and binds the wounds of all who are our neighbors—all who lie lifeless on the road, as the pious walk silently past.

So if you are good Christians, to the catacombs with you, while the political allies of the signers of the letter may well ultimately persecute your loved ones.  Let me ponder that for a moment.

No, I don’t think so.  Rather I support rational political debate and this thing called elections to determine the laws of this nation, and a government that persecutes no one, including the signers of this screed.

 

David Albertson
Associate Professor of Religion, University of Southern California

Jason Blakely
Associate Professor of Political Science, Pepperdine University

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ
Founder of Homeboy Industries

Anthea Butler 
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania

William Cavanaugh
Director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, Professor, DePaul University

Douglas E. Christie
Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University

M. Shawn Copeland
Professor Emerita, Boston College

George Demacopoulos
Fr. John Meyendorff & Patterson Family Chair of Orthodox Christian Studies, Fordham University

Gary Dorrien
Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion, Columbia University

Orlando Espin
Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Diego

Massimo Faggioli
Professor of Historical Theology, Villanova University

Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies, Princeton University

Cecilia González-Andrieu
Associate Professor of Theology and Theological Aesthetics, Loyola Marymount University

Brad S. Gregory
Dorothy G. Griffin College Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

Paul J. Griffiths

David Gushee
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

David Bentley Hart

Stanley Hauerwas
Duke Divinity School

Paul Lakeland
Aloysius P. Kelley SJ Professor of Catholic Studies, Fairfield University

Fr. Mark Massa, SJ
Director, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Professor of Theology, Boston College

Fr. Bryan Massingale
Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics, Fordham University

Brian McLaren
author / speaker / activist

Francesca Aran Murphy
Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Aristotle Papanikolaou
Professor of Theology and Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Fordham University

Frank A. Thomas
Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics, Christian Theological Seminary

Miroslav Volf
Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School

Cornel R. West
Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard Divinity School

One of the interesting features of this letter is how completely establishment almost all the signers are.  The letter sounds like a cry from a beleaguered group of martyrs to be, instead of a group of very well connected members in good standing of the powers that be in our society.  This is a rant of the haves against the have nots when it comes to power in our country.    If persecution ever comes to Christians in this fair land of freedom it takes no crystal ball to discern what the attitude of most of the signers of this letter would be.  They proclaim that Christians are neighbors to the whole world.  I doubt if they truly see the world this way, at least judging from the content of this letter.  They divide their fellow citizens into “deplorables” and “non-deplorables” and  I doubt if they view any “deplorable” as really a brother or sister in Christ, and that is what this letter really stands for, an attempted casting out from Christianity of their political opponents.

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16 Comments

  1. The depths to which the Trump-haters have fallen are well illustrated here. Had you predicted that David Bentley Hart would sign on to a screed also sponsored by lefty whackos like Cornel West and Maximum Beans a.k.a, Massimo Faggioli, I would have accused you of hallucinating. My goodness.

  2. Pay no attention to rats that would rather see liberals win than America succeed.

    We real Americans/Trump voters did not abandon American conservatism. American conservatism abandoned us. More likely, they were never with us.

    When The Rulers Fear And Loathe The Ruled, The Hubris Of The Elites – conservative and progressive.

    Government Is No More Than A Choice Among Evils.

  3. While I wish some on our side wouldn’t have dug up the word nationalism, hearing it trashed by the Religious Left, as well as the secular left (but I repeat myself) makes the term sound endearing.

  4. Dr. David Gushee was a professor from my old seminary days in my previous life. Even then he clearly bucked the conservative evangelical trends of the 90s when Dr. Al Mohler and my classmate Russ Moore were taking conservatives to the majority position at the school. He stopped short of fully embracing various doctrines of the left – like normalizing homosexuality. But over the years, he not only has embraced them, but has become the very things he condemned when I had his classes. I remember a piece of Gushee’s in which he said gay rights is the way it is, and those Christians who don’t conform? Well, they’ll get what they get; an attitude he openly condemned back in the day. So if he is on the list, I can’t help but guess there are others who are every bit as beholden to the secular left as they accuse evangelicals of being to Trump.

  5. “We real Americans/Trump voters did not abandon American conservatism. American conservatism abandoned us.”
    Ding dong T. Shaw.

    Rino is a cancer.

    What? Mark Shea is not a signatory?

  6. These are, for the most part, people who hold academic sinecures. They can be quite destructive at the institution where they work, but they have little influence on the larger society. What they fancy is of scant interest unless its decisive, and it’s only decisive if the institutions where they work are salvageable, and most of them aren’t.

    As for Commonweal, it has no more than about 10 employees. Twenty years ago, ‘ere online publication began destroying the subscription base of print periodicals, they had about 18,000 subscribers. About 1/3 of the subscriptions were institutional purchases. (First Things had 29,000 subscribers, few institutional). In the old Soviet Union, you had three types of publication: gosizdat, samizdat, and tamizdat (state, underground, and smuggled from abroad). The market for gosizdat was propped up library purchases; libraries are great cemeteries of mediocre literature. Commonweal is a library and narthex adornment, and its a reasonable wager its personal subscribers are members of the Church-o-cracy. It is gosizdat. Its primary institutional mission is to provide employment for Grant Gallicho and a half-dozen other tools. (Oh, wait, GG now works for the execrable Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago). Its secondary institutional mission is to provide emotional validation for its subscribers, commonly the people who’ve worked to make the Church in America the thriving institution it is today.

    They actually put Anthea Butler’s on this thing. The people on that list know, but will never admit, that she’s a vulgarian not capable of producing anything of value and that Penn hired her because it insists on having blacks decorating their campus and the rest is just details.

    The one surprise is David Bentley Hart, who was once a contributor to First Things. (So was Stanley Hauerwas, but he was an identified pacifist at the time). His wiki biography indicates he’s joined Michael Harrington’s old outfit, which includes The Squad among it’s members.

    Gushee is a Vichy evangelical whose shiv to his former confederates was delineated in Religion News Service some years ago. (Religion News Service is in essence a subsidiary of the Arcus Foundation nowadyas).

    Of course, the statement is subtantively worthless. Set up straw men and knock ’em down. Professors are other-directed people and some of them fancy they have to take ineffectual ‘stances’ now and again. Keeps them from thinking about a reality. They’re comfortably paid, have all too much job security, influence nothing that doesn’t cross their desk, commonly do work that lacks operational measures of competence, and are wretchedly preoccupied with petty office politics.

    /rant off.

  7. I can’t help but guess there are others who are every bit as beholden to the secular left as they accuse evangelicals of being to Trump.

    Ya notice John Fea never uses the term ‘court evangelical’ to describe Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo?

  8. I posted a comment on the James Kalb article. It is as follows:

    This reminds me of the story in the Old Testament of the Lost Tribes of Israel, where movement of populations resulted in the destruction of the cultural and religious identity of the tribes of the Northern Kingdom.
    *
    Modern globalism looks to me to be a return to a somewhat nomadic way of life. The heavy emphasis on economics that is a part of globalism makes the system rather sound like it is made up of rootless, mercenary soldiers of fortune.

    Let me add to this comment that the Old Testament gives an example of good migration in the story of Ruth. Ruth 1:16:
    *
    16 But Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God;
    *
    How often do we hear her words spoken with any conviction in the open borders debate within the Church? The globalist elites seem to only love America’s wallet.

  9. “John Zmirak goes after Hart root and branch:”
    Wow. So he does. In light of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised that DBH signed on to the Commonweal group whine. Either I wasn’t paying adequate attention to Hart’s writing in First Things, or he’s done a Mark Shea and veered left since I stopped reading FT a few years ago, when R.R. Reno fired Maureen Mullarkey.

  10. Both David Bentley Hart and Maureen Mullarkey have made recent contributions to the publication.

    I do not read it regularly anymore. It seem to me from what little browsing I’ve done is that it took some years for Reno to get his sea legs. The two editors who have supervised the publication since Fr. Neuhaus’ death each did some strange things with it.

  11. Good Fisk. I’d like to add a bit, but I am tired. I like the allusion from Ernst that prosperity breeds idiots. All those signers have so many blessings, apparently more than they can ken.

  12. “Both David Bentley Hart and Maureen Mullarkey have made recent contributions to the publication.”

    Thanks, Art, that’s good to know. Maybe I’ll give “Rusty” another chance.

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