One of the mistakes of nationalism is the belief that nationhood takes precedence over God. We think of Henry VIII’s establishment of a national church and the spilling of the blood of the martyrs on its altars. We are reminded, in this context, of St. Thomas More’s insistence that he was the king’s good servant but God’s first. The saint had his priorities right and paid for it with his blood; the king had his priorities wrong and paid for it with his (eternal) life. The saint is in heaven; the king is heaven knows where!
Continuing our examination of nationalism’s war on faith, we think of the secular fundamentalism of the French Revolution and its idolization of the nation and desecration of the nation’s churches. We recall the nationalism of the Nazis and the patriotism of the Soviet Union. It is easy to see what happens when men worship the tribe and not the god of the tribe; and although it is true that many tribes have worshipped false gods, it is equally true that even false gods tend to be less destructive than man’s idolization of himself or his own people. More people have been killed by the guillotines and gas chambers of secular fundamentalism than by all the so-called wars of religion, the latter of which were usually motivated by secular ambition masquerading as faith.
These cautionary truths need to be remembered in any consideration of American faith and culture. The United States defines itself in its pledge of allegiance as one nation under God. As such, all Americans must put their nation underGod in their list of priorities. Echoing the saintly Englishman, all good Americans must be Uncle Sam’s good servant but God’s first. Anyone who suggests otherwise, anyone who suggests that America must come first, above all else, is not merely wrong — he is quite literally an infidel. He has abandoned faith at the altar of his American idol. Not only will such an infidel commit horrific crimes in the nation’s name, if called to do so as part of his “patriotic duty,” he will be betraying his nation even in the act of serving it. He will be helping to transform his nation into something unworthy of his or anyone’s respect.
G. K. Chesterton summed up this patriotic problem when he quipped that saying “my country, right or wrong” is like saying “my mother, drunk or sober.” Of course we should continue to love our country, even when she’s drunk, but we are not truly loving her if we encourage her drunkenness by becoming drunk with her. If we find our nation intoxicated with bad ideas, or addicted to bad habits, it is our duty to sober her up!
Read more at National Catholic Register