Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some thoughts on patriotism and religion

There's an Australian Aborigine (Mohammed Junaid Thorne) who has converted to Islam and who is now supporting ISIS. In one of his messages he criticised patriotism because it is a term that was not given authority by Allah:
The 25-year-old also went on to mock 'The ones who spew the nonsense of "patriotism", "Australian Muslims", "deradicalization", and other terms for which Allah has sent down no authority.'

I'm not someone who supports blind patriotism or patriotism in any circumstance. But at its best patriotism is a profound love for a people and a tradition you are closely connected to. It can be one of those transcendent loves, through which we recognise a good that goes beyond our own self-interest, and which draws out our loyalty and our willingness to serve. It can be, in other words, an expression of caritas (of "charity" in the Christian sense).

Now, there are certainly references in the Bible to the existence of nations and peoples, and there is a clear message that this is part of God's plan for humankind. But there is not (as far as I know) a commandment that we are to be patriotic. But it seems to me that we would be turning religion into a dead letter if we took this absence to mean that patriotism is therefore never a spiritual good.

The following aphorisms by Don Colacho could be applied, I think, to the kind of love I am referring to:
The particular creature we love is never God’s rival. What ends in apostasy is the worship of man, the cult of humanity.

To love is to understand the reason God had for creating what we love.

Nothing surpasses the beauty of loyal love, of the love that is not loyalty with love, but the loyalty of love itself.

2 comments:

  1. Professor John Hartung; Love Thy Neighbor, The evolution of ingroup morality:

    If we want to know who Moses thought his god meant by neighbor, the law must be put into context, and the minimum context that makes sense is the biblical verse from which the love law is so frequently extracted. Here are four translations of Leviticus 19:18:

    Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. - First Jewish Publication Society translation (JPS '17) and the King James Version (KJV).

    You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. - Revised Standard Version (RSV).

    You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself. - TANAKH (JPS '85).

    In context, neighbor meant "the children of thy people," "the sons of your own people," "your countrymen" - in other words, fellow in-group members.

    Specific laws which follow from the love law can be better understood by keeping the ingroup definition of neighbor in mind. Consider the proto-legal portion of The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:17-21; JPS '17 & KJV):

    Thou shalt not kill.
    Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
    Neither shalt thou steal.
    Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour
    Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife and you shall not desire your neighbor's
    house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that
    is your neighbor's.

    And add the realization that the scrolls from which these words were translated have no periods, no commas, and no first-word capitalization. Decisions about where sentences and paragraphs begin and end are courtesy of the translator. Accordingly, instead of being written as five separate paragraphs of one sentence each, without changing any of the words, Deuteronomy 5:17-21 could be translated:

    Thou shalt not kill, neither shalt thou commit adultery, neither shalt thou steal, neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

    Here the question, "Thou shalt not kill who?" is answered "Thou shalt not kill thy neighbor - the children of thy people, your countrymen" , your fellow in-group member.

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    1. Valkea, interesting. I have to say, that I have no objection to the idea that charity doesn't stop at home; only to the idea that the closer, particular relationships we are made for (e.g. family, nation) are somehow to be neglected in favour of abstractly universal ones.

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