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August 04, 2009


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Hywel Rhys

Could we distinguish between nation and state in this discussion? Seems to me that God is pretty much in favour of nations & peoples. Many of the problems associated with nationalism today relate to the church sanctioned and authorised idea of state, whereby the church abrogated its kingdom mandate to the state, gaining privileges in return for blessing the secular authorities. This doctrine was interestingly called 'two-sword'.
Whilst we look to anyone outside of Christ as our Saviour then we are on sinking sand. Salvation in the OT was generally related to security of border and people. Jesus came and radically changed this perception. However, strangely, our individualistic approach has tended towards looking for a saviour other than the name given by which we shall be saved, to vouch for our freedoms and privileges, especially with regard to borders.
I have recently realised that idolatry is anything that causes me to step out of a face to face relation with him, as I should have no other god before his face.


perhaps these are not "watchful dragons" but ignorant, though well meaning, watchdogs (not to be mistaken for Watchmen)

to begin with, sincere prayer is what is required on all counts.

(but really and truly, what do i know?)

sincere blessings!

Brian Zahnd


Tell me about it. Nothing compares with the idol of nationalism. This idol requires blood. The big time false gods are always the national deities whose job it is to look out for the welfare of the state with which it is engaged in a religious social contract. Forget about nationalizing banks and healthcare; that's nothing. The empire always nationalizes God!

I have a message I have delivered numerous times at pastors conferences. I call it "My Own Reformation". In it I present my own 9.5 theses -- 9.5 isms which I have come to reject:

1. Fundamentalism
2. Fanaticism
3. Tribalism
4. Gnosticism
5. Nationalism
6. Politicism
7. Presentism
8. Privatism
9. Pragmatism
9.5 Dogmatism

And it's always Nationalism that evokes the most passionate reaction. At that point in my address, I can generally count on some pastors getting up and angrily walking out.

I think the trick is to tell it slant -- something I'm not very good at, but trying to learn.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As lightning to the Children eased
With Explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind

–Emily Dickinson

Why did Jesus speak in parables?

I think the simple answer is he didn't want to get killed in the first two weeks of his ministry.

Ultimately it was Jesus' subversive actions undermining Israel's nationalistic identity and agenda that prompted a conspiracy to murder him.

Challenging idolatrous nationalism was dangerous then and it is dangerous now.

But we must find a way forward if we hope to be a faithful church.

Grace & Peace,



Fascinating discussion, Brian, and I find myself in substantial agreement with what you are saying. My only struggle is trying to figure out how I can explore these issues in the context where I work, a small Christian school where God and country are often considered to be one and the same. I am presently using bits of Lee Camp (Mere Discipleship) but there is not question that I feel on dangerous ground most of the time. Of all the incredibly dangerous "isms", I think nationalism may be the toughest one of all. At least we can talk about materialim, consumerism, etc. Talking about nationalism in the Christian community is so highly charged with emotional energy(similiar to talking about racism in the public square) that, to do so is to almost court disaster. Greg Boyd tried and, to my knowledge, he lost 1/3 of his congregation. So the trick it seems to me is how do we "steal past watchful dragons" to have intelligent and desperately needed conversations about this with kids and their parents???

Clarion Journal

I think Weber is definitely onto something here.

But as you read him, you may also see how he exemplifies the modernist problem. He believed and thought to prove that there no standard of law and morality exists beyond the crafted 'ideals' of specific societies and political groups. In other words, all of our values are man-made and relativistic. Goodness is subjective and relativistic. Hence his strong call for a values-facts split in the classroom so that teachers are not using lecterns as pulpits.

But his premise itself is a sermon, preached by example through the supposed objectivity of teachers who, in fact, must expunge goodness, beauty and truth (because to Weber, these are subjective) from the world of study, in favor of facts and data. I would argue that such a stripping damages the point of the objects of our study, which is to demonstrate order, goodness, and the presence of God himself in our universe.

You can see here how even Weber's way of thinking (as a true modernist) is fundamentally different than that of the ancients. It's good to read Plato . . . he sees a reality called Good, Love, Beauty, which is rooted in and IS God (see John 1) that is the fountain of truth, justice and morality. This Weber cannot accept. I.e. We make it up.

Thanks for weighing in.


Kurt Johnson

Great conversation here guys. I've been thumbing through "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber.

I had never made that linkage between reformed/calvinistic doctrine and "manifest destiny" until I pick this up.

He argues that religious convictions played a heavy role in the development of western capitalism. Self-identity as "elect" as evidenced by "good works" therefore the drive toward western capitalism. (more or less)

"It’s no coincidence that capitalism and Protestantism ascended simultaneously. Jean Calvin theologically discredited the feudal system in 1541, paving the way for an upwardly mobile merchant class to replace the landed aristocracy. The genius of Calvin, observed sociologist Max Weber in 1904, was the creation of a new concept of God. Prior to this crucial paradigm shift, surplus wealth--i.e., capital--was expected to be donated to the Church.
Essentially, Calvinism was a variation of the chosen-race myth. Its key element was a spiritual "elect" whose elevated position is preordained. The only way one can know if he or she is among the Elect is by his or her level of worldly success-- in other words, if you’re rich, it’s because God loves you."
-Michael Fitzgerald

Clarion Journal

Dear Joe,

Yes, I think you are right. Nation states can become empires, which is to say, become Babylons. For America, this trajectory began very early with the Colonies' doctrine of "manifest destiny" as a divinely ordained annexation of Texas and expansion into all lands to the Pacific (including, for some, Mexico and Canada)--violently, if necessary.

Beyond the continental mainland (including purchasing Alaska), sights were then set to acquire Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, the Marian Islands, the Republic of Hawaii, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Panama Canal Zone (usually through treaties with the previous occupying empire).

Next, the Truman Doctrine, in its pledge to economically and militarily assist nations in danger of subjugation by outside forces (spec. communism), in practice became an aggressive foreign policy that led to the proliferation of American military presence (whether through 'advisor'-directed civil wars as in Central America or permanent bases as in Europe) globally.

This grew to include involvement in coups overthrowing foreign governments with communist ties. But also, in cases where American economic interests were threatened in foreign countries (e.g. nationalization of a resource where US companies had a stake), this was considered an act of aggression against the US itself. In such cases, for the sake of national security, such governments could be replaced easily enough, whether by backing dissenting nationals or by direct military intervention (e.g. Noriega, Iraq) under the banner of 'defending democracy,' which is to say, 'defending capitalism,' which is to say, 'defending corporate capital in nations that threaten to destabilize economic territory.'

This is not to demonize America in any way. It is simply to say that the USA has grown from nationhood into an imperial reality. The stubborn fact is that no nation can become an empire without engaging in the Babylonian spirit which necessarily includes military and economic expansionist policies that will benefit some (the powerful and their playmates) and do great injustice to others (those Babylon opposes and those it uses).

'Defending freedom' usually means defending OUR freedom to act in our own best interests (and isn't that the not-so-divine mandate of most governments or corporations?). But clearly, when the most powerful engage in this with a capacity to globalize, you have Babylon and you have injustice. Until this moment, I had always thought that simply accusing other people groups as 'hating our freedom' was ludicrous. But having looked at what 'our freedom' includes and entails, I think that charge may not be so far off. Imperial freedom to act without restraint inevitably creates fearful enemies and resentful serfs. What is an empire to do?

Joe Beach

Great discussion. Quite helpful. Bruce, I would say that empires don't "become" Babylon by becoming "bad." They are Babylon because they're empires (specifically, man-made empires). At least, that's how I understood Brian's post.

Clarion Journal

Dear Bruce,

Welcome to Clarion and thank you for your response to Brian Zahnd's fine piece. I am always amazed by the varied perspectives voiced here re: political and theological history. Without attempting to refute your point of view, esp. since you didn't attempt to build your case, I'd like to briefly highlight some of the surprisingly different premises you might find as you cross-reference other articles in the journal.

Just a few noteworthy examples:

1. Whereas you identify the founding principles and ideals of America as biblical, based in the Reformation, and bearing the fruit of social justice, others here (Ron Dart, for example, in the Matrix of Modernity) have identified America (from the beginning) as the embodiment of liberal values such as personal self-spun freedom and ambition eclipsing the classic ideals of greater good and commonweal. The natural fruit of this ambition of the unrestrained passions included the displacement and eradication of several hundred million (!) aboriginal people and an enormous slave trade, and extending today to a thriving abortion industry and imperial foreign policy. I know that you would condemn all of these as fervently as I would, but while you see these as a departure from initial godly values, I would make the case that this is the inevitable fruit that grew from the seed that was planted. I.e. When personal liberty trumps every other value, the inalienable rights of the strongest prevail.

2. Further, this is not merely an American problem, nor even a secular enlightenment evil. The roots are found exactly where you might have pinned your best hopes: the Reformation itself. Although the Roman Catholic Church was in desperate need of reform, when men like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli took their leave, they also set in motion the wheels of individualism in which everyone became their own pope and one split followed another and then another. Shucking off authority and doing what is right in our own eyes, even among our churches, has led to a situation where there are, for example, over 200 varieties of Baptists alone!

Remember, split upon split of increasingly independent radicals brings you to the Puritans who fragment away to start their own church, their own society, and the beginnings of what will be a new nation where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Their moralism and big buckles aside, they sow the liberal seed in this continent that cannot help but grow into a revolution, a civil war, and then an empire. My point is that nothing you fear today is inconsistent with what the Reformation set in motion.

3. Finally, our views on Bonhoeffer would clash remarkably (see my article on the Practicability of the Sermon on the Mount). Bonhoeffer's error (?) was not merely pacifism but a form of nonviolent resistance rooted firmly in the Sermon on the Mount -- proclaimed and followed consistently by Christian believers until the time of Constantine. Bonhoeffer was politically active in his call to the confessing churches, his work with the disabled (to save them from Hitler), and his proclamation of the kingdom way to overcome.

By Bonhoeffer's own admission, his shift to attempt a violent solution came when his kingdom focus made space for a compelling sense of Germany's national destiny (coming against Hitler in the same spirit and by the same means). But as Jesus said, "Satan cannot drive out Satan," and "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."

To quote Barth, Hitler is not the ultimate exception to the Sermon on the Mount. He was the ultimate test case. Active nonviolence, far from a trendy Marxism, is the incarnation of Jesus Gospel of Peace, demonstrated to the nth degree when Christ lives his message on the Cross.

These are some examples of our radically different set of givens, but transcending that, I am very thankful that you weighed in here with Brian and created a discussion of it. As NT Wright once said, 'With enemies like that, who needs friends?'

Bruce Moon

P.S. I am the "God and country zealot" Brian mentions in his letter.

There is a good article at the Acton Institute blog about Bonhoeffer, his views on the state, the church, and activism.

Bruce Moon

OK, radical brother. I surrender. You have overwhelmed me with words - too many to be able to answer and too little time to deal with every subject you bring up.

Let me suffice to say I agree that America is, or to be more exact, is becoming, Babylon. I believe it will be the Beast empire of Revelations. I have no illusions of its goodness. I think it has left its foundational principles and ideals. But I do not condemn it's foundation - the Constitution, nor its ideals. I believe they were the product of Reformation, Biblical thinking, and brought about real social justice (not the Marxian kind the trendies are now spouting and you seem to be getting influenced by). I believe, without taking it too far, that it was the product of the seed-the Word of God, the Kingdom of heaven, working like a leaven through the lumpiness of faulty humanity. Yes, there was the other side, typified by the well-known Jamestown vs. Plymouth dichotomy.

It seems you are making the same mistake that Bonhoeffer and Niemoller did in the early yars of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was a pacifist with views that seem to approximate yours. Events, and the Holy Spirit I belive changed him radically. Niemoller also repented of his lack of political activism with his famous line, "When they came for the Jew, I did nothing because I wasn't a Jew..." They are my mentors in the present rise of Babylon.

I will always appreciate and seriously consider your views and respect the holy banter.

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