One day, my father said to me, “In an age in which we possess pictures of the world from space, we know that actual national borders do not exist. We decided where they are. So I do not see how one group of people has the right to tell another group of people where they can and cannot live based on borders that are imaginary.” I think about this a lot. His insight implicated to me the fundamentals of culture and the nation-state. By reflecting on my father’s statement, I hope to show that patriotism cannot coexist with resolute Christian faith.
Nation-states are comprised of people. They rely on social contracts. In these contracts, people decide which cultural groups will make up the nation-state. After the borders of the nation-state are drawn, people from within those borders erect a system of rules under which everyone within those borders must abide by. If these rules are not followed, the people who created the system, or their inheritors, will coerce the people to abide by them. This coercion may be a police force or an army. Of course, this means there must be some level of agreement on what must be punished and what must be accepted. People then decide whether on what is allowed. Whatever is decided makes up the code for identifying the nation-state. A nation-state is the laws enforced upon people within certain (imaginary) boundaries.
Who creates these boundaries? A person of meager living with few possessions and little influence will have both little need of creating boundaries and little power to do so. Only those who have much will require the safety net of a nation-state and the security it promises. Not only that, those with substantial means are the only ones viable to provide the resources necessary to build a system of government. Thus, all governments develop by the elite and for the elite. Patriotism becomes the way into maintaining the wealthy and their power.
By convincing people to believe that the legal code within the imaginary boundaries that encapsulate their living space is the most supreme and just legal code, the wealthy elite who created the nation-state grasp the loyalty of all those within the imaginary borders. Hence, those who have little need of the nation-state become its most loyal subjects. Why? Because if they resist the new order, if they say no to the financially powerful, they will be coerced into complicity, for the ones at the top of the heap rely on those at the bottom to give popular support to the nation-state’s system of protection. The truth of all this became painfully obvious in the First World War. In it, almost an entire generation of men in Europe died in a massive attempt to maintain the sovereignty of people over the imaginary borders they ruled.
The nation-state serves to protect the interests of those who possess the resources to govern it. Its make-up derives from pretend borders decided by those strong enough to enforce such borders. How then is patriotism incompatible with patriotism or nationalism?
Christianity affirms G-d as the ruler of the entire earth. Moreover, Jesus, the ruler of this earth, suffered a disgraceful death and a triumphant resurrection. This is the good news: G-d presides and no one else. Borders, therefore, have no meaning. G-d’s king did not establish national boundaries but obliterated them (Acts 10). Paul understood this quite well, and he became notorious for preaching it unabashedly. If G-d’s presiding authority extends beyond imaginary boundaries (since they do not in fact exist upon the earth), those who live under the presidency of Jesus cannot, in good conscience, claim loyalty to something as pretend as nation-state borders. Furthermore, Christians do not believe that Jesus presides over those who have faith in him; Jesus presides over everything whether they like it or not. We all are residents in G-d’s nation-state; some just want to believe they belong to a different one. If we begin to affirm this, we will understand a little better Jesus’ call to love our enemies. How could we kill another citizen? What needs to begin in Christianity is an abandonment of any type of ethnocentrism and the promulgation of true globalization (see this link http://www.newleftreview.org/A2368). Perhaps then we will finally see what peace, reconciliation, and the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2) is all about.