One ism, communism, is dead or dying in many countries. The world watched its rapid downfall in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even Cuba's communism is showing cracks, and communism in China is maintained by sheer oppression. Communism was supposed to unite workers of all nations; it would create a workers' paradise. It failed. Nationalism survived communism. After 40 years of communism the nationalistic feelings in the Baltic States and elsewhere show that it is alive and well. In Yugoslavia the Croats and Serbs fight each other. The realm: nationalism. It is time to have a closer look at this phenomenon.
It is impossible to give an accurate definition of nationalism. Many authors are convinced that the origin of nationalism is man's basic need to belong to a group, at the same time excluding others from this group. Man is willing to fight for one's nation. One author, G.M. Taber, states that,
More blood has been shed in its name than for any other cause except religion.
Nationalism is not just a warm, strong feeling one has for one's nation. It is more than that; it is a conglomerate of emotions that cluster around landscape, ancestors, language, traditions, and cultural patterns, often including religion.
(Conor Cruise O'Brien) Nationalism is like fire; you need it to warm you, but it can destroy you if it gets out of control.
Nationalism is a permanent, deeply rooted feeling for one's nation, community, and/or religion. Often it is itself a type of religion.
Not all love for one's nation results automatically in nationalism. Many people love the nation in which they live. The flag, the national anthem, the culture, the way of life, the make-up of society, the political institutions are dear to one's heart. Christians are disappointed and sad if the people of their country stray away from God, and they are happy when the love-your-neighbour principle is practised. Christians can say that they love the country in which they may freely serve the Lord. Recent immigrants can say of their country: it is my country. In the case of Canada, to which I am a fairly recent immigrant, I hope and pray that it will remain a unity; that Quebec will not separate; that no provinces will join the U.S. This feeling which I have for this country is not absolute. From a Dutchman I became a Canadian citizen and if the Lord should call me to a different part of the world I would become a citizen of that country. Why can I do that? Because I do not believe that one particular people is God's chosen people, living in a chosen land, promised to them by God, to live in it forever. One can be a patriot without falling into the trap of nationalism.
We believe that God establishes boundaries; He lets people live together and gives them a common history, common experiences, and a common way of life. This commonness unites people and makes them willing to defend the land against enemies. Other nations must respect the historical boundaries of a nation. If that is not done, an armed conflict may be the result.
People of one country may show more patriotism than those of another. Some groups who move from their fatherland to another country maintain close ties with the old country, while others take over the way of life of the new country easily. If people of a nation are strongly patriotic, the step to becoming nationalistic may be a small one.
Nationalism is an evil ideology. It promotes the idea that only people of one's own nation are to be recognized as fellow human beings. Others can be robbed, even annihilated. In primitive communities one tribe or village was often considered by members as "their own people." Their own tribe was superior. On a larger scale, in the case of a nation, matters are similar. Tribal wars and wars between nations are often the result of nationalistic feelings.
The Bible teaches us that all people are descendants of one man, Adam, and that all people are created in God's image. Therefore, God's command to love our neighbours as ourselves does not only apply to fellow citizens in a country, but to all people. We must be neighbours to all people. One nation or people should not consider itself superior to others.
Nationalism often becomes an idolatry, because man puts his trust in the nation rather than in the only true God.
Past and Present
Modern nationalism was the product of the late eighteenth-century revolutionary era, a child of the French revolution.
Before the French revolution, religion played a stronger role in uniting people. Peoples also went to war to defend themselves against enemies whose aim it was to conquer a land or area and oppress the people.
During and after the French Revolution religion was replaced more and more by nationalism. The nation demanded man's supreme loyalty. A wave of revolutions crossed Europe in the 19th century and two World Wars in the twentieth century also were largely the result of nationalistic feelings. Love for the nation and hatred for the outsider caused much bloodshed and misery.
The much acclaimed international brotherhood of all men, socialism, could not kill nationalism. The League on Nations did not unite the nations, and also in the current United Nations the members think about their own country first, and the interest of other nations second.
It is interesting to observe nationalism and internationalism at work in Europe. Nations in Western Europe are working toward greater political and economic union. This process is slow. In the negotiations the representatives first think about their own nation and then consider the others. Nevertheless, in 1992 a closer union is expected to materialize.
At the same time nationalism is rampant in Eastern Europe, especially in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
In Africa the nationalistic unit is often not the nation, but the tribe. Many tribes have been forced to live in one nation, because that was how boundaries were drawn in the colonial era. Today, tribal interests are often still put before national interests. Cruel conflicts have resulted from animosity between "nationalistic" tribes.
In the month of November we remember those who have fallen in recent wars, including World War II. Hitler's Nazism was very nationalistic. Nationalism mixed with racism became the religion of Germany. The program of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, accepted on February 25, 1920, leaves no doubt:
4. None but members of the nation may be citizens of the State. None but those of German blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation.
8. All non-German immigration must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who entered Germany subsequent to August 2, 1914, shall be required forthwith to depart from the Reich.
"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" became the slogan. The term Volk means more than people or nation. It suggests racial purity, nationalism. The belief in the supremacy of the Aryan race led to nationalism and to the conviction that the Jews had to be annihilated. The German people needed Lebensraum (living space), to ensure the well-being and expansion of the superior Aryan race.
Neither the U.S.A., nor Canada, nor Australia, nor any other land is a holy nation. No people living in any country are God's holy people. Not even the Jews may say that they have the right to live in Israel, because it is their promised, holy land. This is religious nationalism.
God's people are all those who serve Him in truth and this people is spread over many nations. Does the Lord not say that He calls His people from many tribes and tongues and nations? As far as the Promised Land is concerned, this is still to come: The new earth.
Feelings of nationalism can be strong and permanent. Christians may love the country in which they live, but they must realize that they are citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. Their life on earth is temporary, and therefore their citizenship on earth is temporary.