Nationalism Trumps Catholicism

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of
mankind.” – Albert Einstein

Having been born and raised Catholic in India, a spiritual yet secular
and pluralistic society, I am appalled at how often the Catholic Church
in America tends to confound spirituality with nationalism.

The latest case in point (reference our discussion about the Stars and
Stripes being placed on the high altar, next to the tabernacle, for the
Latin Mass in St. Boniface), happened yesterday at St. Paul Cathedral. I
went to daily Mass (the 12.05) as is my wont, fully cognizant that it
was the 4th of July, and as such the homily would be around that theme.
And my expectations were not belied… the celebrant inter alia spoke
about heroes like JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, and Sandra Day O’Connor.

What I did not expect, and what thoroughly upset me, was that the
celebrant (not one of the Cathedral residents), after the homily, lead
the congregation in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. I almost
walked out of the church in disgust.

And then, less unexpected, but more ironic, bordering on the ridiculous,
the celebrant leads off the congregation with not a recessional hymn,
but a patriotic song, sung to the tune of “God Save the
King!”. On the day that commemorates American independence from the
British, the British national anthem is being sung, albeit with
different words!

I left St. Paul’s unsure whether to chuckle or rant. And if this is the
situation in the conservative seat of a conservative diocese, I shudder
to think what the situation must be like in other “more
liberal” parts of the country. “Auld Lang Syne” at
funeral masses? The picture of George W. Bush on the altar?

If the clergy themselves reduce catholic Catholic spirituality to the
level of petty nationalism, what hope is there for the poor sheep and
the Church as a whole?

Comments 25

  1. theomorph wrote:

    Ideally, we should hold our Catholic beliefs *much higher* than our patriotism.

    Which is precisely what worries some people when Catholics get involved in politics as Catholics instead of as citizens.

    Posted 09 Jul 2005 at 3:33 am
  2. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    A system of citizenship is not beneficial in itself (i.e., to advance a collective interest), but when (and only when) everybody antes up for a system of citizenship, the system benefits them. Thus, individuals have a direct personal benefit to practicing their citizenship, and it has nothing to do with collectivist ideology.

    Yeah, yeah, no one doubts that the system benefits them, you, me, they… some of the time… most of the time. But it is a bald, and unsupportable I think, act of faith to suggest that the system always benefits them. What is this, in fact, but “collectivist ideology”? The system is set up precisely to preserve itself. The contract attempts to ensure that the contract itself stands as the highest law, the medium in which “lesser” differences may be “worked out”… if, in fact, they can be worked out at all (which is quite naturally becoming all the more uncertain). This rule, that you may believe as you want, do as you want, save for when doing so conflicts with this social contract, is, of necessity, the highest law.

    Do you honestly propose here that Locke was not looking out for the “good” or “betterment” of society, but only individuals? Capitalism, communism, pluralism, statism, nationalism, facism, socialism, and virtually every other competing -ism of the past 200 years is a straightforward extension of the collectivism of the social contract theory. I’m not painting anything… and your attempt to preempt the point, while valiant, doesn’t ring true. Do you honestly believe that the “good” of society cannot possibly conflict with “good” for you? If so, you are the true believer, not me.


    Posted 11 Jul 2005 at 10:01 pm
  3. sibert wrote:

    Another, in my opinion more interesting, question:

    Should our loyalty to Christ and His Bride come before our loyalty to denomination? This is acknowledging that the two are not always one and the same. Discuss.

    Posted 08 Jul 2005 at 11:24 pm
  4. YuHu wrote:

    Are you saying that you can’t be both a good Catholic and a loyal American?

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 5:56 pm
  5. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    But what worries me most of all is when politicians get involved in politics as politicians!!

    Posted 10 Jul 2005 at 6:20 am
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    Citizenship (or patriotism) for its own sake seems pointless to me. Ultimately, we are all citizens as we are – Catholic, Protestant, Jew, pagan, atheist, etc. Why should we lose or subjugate our identities when we enter public service? Our moral and ethical foundations can and should guide us.

    Posted 09 Jul 2005 at 4:45 am
  7. theomorph wrote:

    Hey, you’re the one that keeps bringing in this “contract” terminology. Did I say it was a “social contract”? Nope. The so-called “social contract” is a metaphor, and a bad one, in my opinion. I don’t think people generally perceive their relationships as individuals to the community or larger society as a contractual one. Contracts are rational agreements entered by choice. People don’t choose to live in society; people are born into society. Why does society persist? Because everybody is going around thinking about how it benefits them, or because people believe they’re in a “social contract”? No! Society persists for the same reason a whirlpool forms when you punch a hole in the bottom of your bucket and let the water out: because human societies arise of necessity as a result of the fundamentally social nature of the human organism. They arise in different shapes and forms, some of them more adaptive than others, but societies are not formed rationally; the rationalization comes later, and it never seems convincing, because it’s not how things actually transpire.

    Why do you think group organization strategies are collectivist by virtue of their being group organization strategies? Simply having a group that’s organized does not mean you are espousing a collectivist philosophy. Do ants espouse collectivist philosophy? Lion prides? Schools of fish? There are loads of group organization strategies in nature. So why do human strategies have to get weighted down with allegations of ideology?

    Collectivist ideology comes when people try to control a particular social organization (be it a family, a village, or a nation) from the top down, when they try to define it, steer it, make it do what they want it to do. It’s a power play. Get somebody stuck in a definition of your own design and then you can proceed to push them around.

    Unfortunately, reified narratives are never more than imagined metaphors, and thus always subject to dispute. But what’s the point of arguing over reified categories that only exist in your imagination? There are no “societies” as entities in themselves; there are only collections of symptoms that emerge from the agency of individuals and form a recognizable coherency, if not a static, well-defined shape.

    Posted 13 Jul 2005 at 7:04 am
  8. theomorph wrote:

    I don’t believe in putting collective/social/national interests ahead of individuals, either. Do that and you get Marxism, socialism, fascism, etc. But I don’t think there’s much abstraction in recognizing that having and following rules is beneficial for everybody, especially me.

    A system of citizenship is not beneficial in itself (i.e., to advance a collective interest), but when (and only when) everybody antes up for a system of citizenship, the system benefits them. Thus, individuals have a direct personal benefit to practicing their citizenship, and it has nothing to do with collectivist ideology. As Stephen Pinker put it, “There is no good reason for people to drive on the right side of the road as opposed to the left side, or vice versa, but there is every reason for people to drive on the same side.”

    All those religions you mention, on the other hand, are nothing but collectivist ideology. More importantly, they’re all mutually exclusive collectivist ideologies. The last thing they want is another collectivist ideology to compete with. So if religious people can paint citizenship or liberal government as just another competing collectivist ideology, they bring it down to their level and pummel it (just like they try to paint irreligion as just another religion so they can pummel that as such).

    Posted 11 Jul 2005 at 4:52 pm
  9. Tom Smith wrote:

    I just lost a long comment. Maybe later tonight I’ll redo it.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 11:10 pm
  10. Tom Smith wrote:

    I think the tune you mention is commonly known by its first line: “My country tis of thee”

    My country tis of thee,
    Sweet land of liberty,
    Of thee I sing.
    Land where my fathers died!
    Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
    From every mountain side,
    Let freedom ring!

    It’s a well-known patriotic tune, but I always thought it was stupid too.

    And the Pledge of Allegiance has absolutely no place in church. I’m not a fan of it anyway, because it’s silly and has a rather ugly history. But at Mass? What was this guy thinking? Stick to the Missal; don’t customize.

    This gets back to the whole gripe I had a few weeks back when I whined about the seeming fact that Catholics have to be good, democracy-loving America-worshippers, which is clearly BS, particularly in light of the Church’s somewhat rocky history with democracy.

    I think the whole thing is a holdover from the days when Catholics were absolutely desparate to fit in with American society. Now that Catholics are pretty mainstream, I see no need to continue the silliness, which really wasn’t necessary in the first place.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 6:04 pm
  11. Funky Dung wrote:

    I understand where you’re coming from, Powerball, but there are appropriate times and places to show patriotism and mass isn’t one of them. The most that should have been done is some sort of intention offered during the prayers of the faithful. Also, if a patriotic song is going to be sung at mass, why not “God Bless America”? At least that has an element of worship.

    Acknowledging the role of God’s laws in man’s laws is one thing; assuming that God has given His seal of approval to our nation (or any other) is another.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 7:22 pm
  12. theomorph wrote:

    I’ve replied here.

    Posted 14 Jul 2005 at 10:51 pm
  13. Ken Eiler wrote:

    If My country tis of thee is going to be sung at mass or any other religious service, the last verse should always be included:

    Our fathers’ God, to thee,
    Author of liberty,
    To thee we sing;
    Long may our land be bright
    With freedom’s holy light;
    Protect us by thy might,
    Great God, our King.

    so that it ends with a prayer and acknowledges God as King over us.

    Ken Eiler

    Posted 08 Jul 2005 at 3:50 pm
  14. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    No matter how you slice it Theo, what you’re asking (viz., citizenship as mere citizens, naked if you will) is that in some (perhaps limited) sphere of existence the values/goals/needs of the diverse community must trump those of “identifying” community or individual. It is as though we’ve made a deal (a “social contract”) to live and let live, do what we want within these negotiated boundaries, or whatever, and that “deal”, whatever it is, whatever we called it, trumps all.

    And what many in the groups mentioned (Catholics, Protestants, gays, Muslims, rednecks, &c.) say is we never made that deal. We’ll live under this “social contract” as long as it suits us, but there are higher laws that trump the contract, that ultimately trump the existence of the society.

    This is the inherent weakness of enlightenment liberalism. It forces folks to surrender to some abstract notion of nationalist good, usually with economic carrots as part of the deal. But man in his natural state doesn’t do this well. Some muslims who emigrate to the West DO get liberalized, i.e., crushed by contract. But others do not. They steadfastly refuse to allow their beliefs/heritage/whatever to be emasculated by enlightenment liberalism. Only problem is enlightenment liberalism doesn’t have a coherent way of dealing with this… i.e., liberally, but instead maintains the pretense that we can really all get along, when in reality we cannot. We (that is enlightenment liberals and traditionalist Muslims) are at fundamental odds. Perhaps we can get along for a while, if we set the terms of the contract just right, and perhaps we cannot. If want to stop killing each other, we need to declare detent and separate into our figuratively walled off enclaves, and stop messing around in each others affairs. Of course that would be bad for the economies, so there’s no chance of that… Instead true believers (on both sides) go ’round killing each other. It’s bad, but there are worse things…

    In short, one absolutely should be worried when a member of Group A gets involved in politics as a Group A Member, if one disagrees with the “agenda” of Group A. But that’s just the way the game works. The social contract doesn’t have a way of dealing with people who put the transcendent above that which can be rationally and economically negotiated.

    My $0.02…

    Posted 10 Jul 2005 at 9:25 pm
  15. Tom Smith wrote:

    No, it isn’t. I don’t expect you to agree, though.

    Basically, the ecclesiology of the Apostolic Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, and Eastern non-Chalcedonian and non-Ephesian Churches) is completely different from the ecclesiology of the Reformation. The various Protestant groups hold to an ecclesiology basically connecting all those who confess Christ’s death under one big tent. The old ecclesiology is that the Church is composed of the Apostolic episcopate and presbyterate united sacramentally with the faithful. So in the old ecclesiology, the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church spoken of in the creeds of the Patristic age. There are no divisions within the Body of Christ, and hence no denominations within it. A denomination, under this model, is a schismatic body which has left the Mystical Body of Christ and may be heretical. However, simply because the body in question has left the Communion of the Church of Christ does not mean that grace does not work within it, or that salvation is impossible, although the fullness of truth and the complete means of salvation are not found outside the Church, the Christ-instituted ordinary organ of salvation.

    Posted 11 Jul 2005 at 6:41 am
  16. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Of course the so-called “social contract” is a bad metaphor… for society in general, which, Theo you rightly suggest, occurs whether we rationally plan for it or not. But mere society is not what I’m referring to by the term “social contract”. Instead I am referring specifically to the type of society that was rationally engineered and ultimately implemented in America and most of the Western world, viz. liberal democracy. Now many societies may not be formed rationally, but liberal democracy is a very different type of society in that it was rationally engineered by some of the most rational thinkers in history: Rousseau and Locke (following Hobbes and possibly Plato), both of whom wrote specifically and at length about the “social contract”. And liberal democracy is, pardon my French, “a highly ideological” form of social organization, in that its formative principle is that the state (the collective of naturally free and equal folks) respect what it supposes to be natural right to life, liberty, and property.

    This of course doesn’t make all members of social democracies ideologues. However, liberal democracy cannot survive naturally most of all because it is not a natural system at all, but rationally derived from theories (poor ones, actually that seem valid mostly for particular sets of euro-dominated, historically protestant cultures) about the nature of man and society. Thus for liberal democracy to survive it requires constant support and obeisance, a commitment from the supposedly free and equal minions to keep their differences at home, or at least to live peaceably with a stable but eternal tension between diverse, perhaps mutually exclusive, senses of transcendant good, which is what Madison and his Federalist cohorts tried to do.

    But liberal democracy works best (Theo, I think you’ll agree and even cheer) when people completely give up on particularist notions of transcendant good, which has largely happened in America over the past 200 years. In this sense, liberal democracy has been hugely successful at generating fabulous wealth, and mostly keeping people out of ideological wars or at least making sure they get fought somewhere else. For some of this I am grateful, but it has come at severe cost in my opinion: a general loss of support for transcendant goods whose value exceeds that of the preservation of liberal democracy.

    Having said all that, my points are:

    1) Liberal democracy is a collectivist ideology that will of necessity compete with other collectivist ideologies.

    2) Liberal democracy cannot stand in a stable tension with a mutually exclusive ideology. It must win out to survive, and this usually means state-sponsored and state-enforced secularism.

    3) Liberal democracy has won out in certain regions of the world, but at the cost of mostly emasculating particularist (cultural, relgious, transcendant) distinctives. I see this as a net loss to humanity. Furthermore I wonder whether there isn’t a payback looming, i.e., bigger than the threat of Islamicist terrorism that already looms large.

    4) Certain regions (that presumably Theo wouldn’t mind seeing nuked) appear to be impenetrable to liberal democracy. Ironically, because such places are steadfastly (perhaps irrationally) particularist and therefore much more naturally human, people breed like wildfire in such regions. It is far from clear that such peoples will not “win” the war by sheer force of demographics. In fact, it seems likely to me that “natural man” (fecund, animist, fundamentalist) always eventually “wins”.

    I’ll not comment, Theo, on supposed “power plays” and “reified narratives” because I don’t see how these witticisms follow from either mine or your own comments.


    Posted 14 Jul 2005 at 5:06 am
  17. Funky Dung wrote:

    Put another way, Protestants denoms generally don’t consider themselves to be the one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. They have their theological differences, but with few exceptions, they see others denoms as equal members of the Church. The apostolic Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, etc) on the other hand, do see themselves as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. All other church-like bodies (i.e. denominations) are deficient in some way(s). This is basically what the document Dominus Iesus reaffirmed.

    Posted 11 Jul 2005 at 2:00 pm
  18. Tom Smith wrote:


    You ask a question that only applies to Protestants. Catholics and Orthodox believe that Christ’s bride is either the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church, depending; each of which you probably would call “denominations.”

    Posted 09 Jul 2005 at 7:44 am
  19. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Someone says:
    Ideally, we should hold our Catholic beliefs *much higher* than our patriotism.

    To which Theomorph suggests:
    Which is precisely what worries some people when Catholics get involved in politics as Catholics instead of as citizens.

    To which I can only say: yes, and exactly what worries people when Protestants get involved in politics as Protestants, and Muslims as Muslims, Jews as Jews, Gays as Gays, rednecks as rednecks, secularists as secularists, agnostics as agnostics, believers as believers, non-believers as non-believers. In short, what type of entity could one get involved in politics as and not have people get worried?


    Posted 09 Jul 2005 at 12:12 pm
  20. Powerball wrote:

    Sorry I posted to soon! As I was saying, so long as we do not worship the flag or put our country before God I think it is perfectly fine to recognise how belssed we are (by God) to live in this country.

    The Pledge of Allegiance does say “One Nation Under God”. It should be clear who get top ranking here.

    The use of song to me is showing we can take some that Britan had and make it better. That’s America!

    Americans need to acknowledge their Christian roots and Christians need to acknowledge that God put us in the country for a reason.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 7:08 pm
  21. Powerball wrote:

    That fact that this person was raised in India may be the root of viewing things differently but I have to disagree.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 7:02 pm
  22. sibert wrote:


    Catholicism is not a denomination?

    Posted 11 Jul 2005 at 12:07 am
  23. theomorph wrote:

    What is identity? If you derive your identity from your group status, what would happen if your group was destroyed? (Say, imagine you’re part of a persecuted ethnic and religious group, and then these people who think you’re the cause of all their problems come rounding you up, putting you in camps, killing you in large numbers, etc.) Or, as I recently read from some Zen master whose name I can’t remember, if your identity is in a boat and the boat is capsized, who are you? Or something like that.

    Citizenship for its own sake was the purpose of our nation from its inception. When I think about politics, or vote, or get involved at any other level, my first concern is that I am living in a society with other people and all of us have basic needs and desires. The idea of citizenship is that we find ways to meet those needs and desires without stepping on each other’s toes. That has nothing to do with the explicit content of whatever I happen to believe or not believe, or what my neighbor believes or not.

    Or, to put it another way, citizenship is more about form and structure than it is about content. For example, why would it not be difficult to find, say, a Catholic, a Jew, a Buddhist, an atheist, a homosexual, an African American, and a newly arrived immigrant, all of whom agree that people should have the rights of free speech, thought, and religious practice? Because citizenship is not about what people believe or think, but about how people manage to accommodate different beliefs and ideas among their neighbors.

    Posted 10 Jul 2005 at 8:10 pm
  24. Tom Smith wrote:


    Not to be so presumptuous as to speak for Jonathan, but I’ll speak for Jonathan. I think he’s saying that nationalistic fervor is not to be conflated with religious fervor. Ideally, we should hold our Catholic beliefs *much higher* than our patriotism.

    And I’m wondering; what do you mean by a “loyal American?” Do you have to agree with the government in power? Do you have to love your country? I certainly flunk both those tests

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 6:08 pm
  25. Funky Dung wrote:

    YuHuu, of course one can be both a good Catholic and a patriotic American. Jonathan’s point is that one need not be the latter to be the former. We are merely sojourner’s on this planet. We are primarily citizens of of God’s Kingdom. Mixing nationalism and religion can get messy and ugly.

    Posted 06 Jul 2005 at 6:08 pm

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