"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ethno-Phyletism and Nationalism

Nationalism and ethno-phyletism are, of course, besetting sins among Eastern Christians of all traditions. (For a very useful recent theological analysis, see Peter Galadza's article, "The Structure of the Eastern Churches: Bonded with Human Blood or Baptismal Water" in Pro Ecclesia 17 [2008]: 373-86.) But for all Christians the question is raised as to how we are to regard our earthly loyalties in view of the fact that, as St. Paul says, we have here no lasting city. Can a Christian be patriotic at all? Is patriotism different from nationalism?

The great Catholic moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre began some time ago to explore these questions not in theological terms but in philosophical ones in his "Is Patriotism a Virtue?" in: R. Beiner, ed., Theorizing Citizenship (State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 209-228; and in his really crucial article "Poetry as Political Philosophy: Notes on Burke and Yeats" in Verene Bell and Laurence Lerner, eds., On Modern Poetry: Essays Presented to Donald Davie (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt U Press, 1088) where we read this very acid comment:

The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf… [I]it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
Now we have a number of new books out that are attempting to ask and answer some of these questions theologically:

Dorian Llywelyn, Toward a Catholic Theology of Nationality (Lexington, 2010), 342pp.

Next year in Logos, we will feature reviews of Llywelyn and the Barker volume below by Andrew Bennett, an Eastern Catholic scholar whose doctoral dissertation several years ago examined different nationalist movements, of two new publications treating various aspects of nationalism.

Philip W. Barker, Religious Nationalism in Modern Europe: If God Be For Us (Routledge, 2008), 210pp. 

The Barker volume looks at nationalism primarily in Western Europe, but does have a chapter on nationalism in Orthodox Greece that deserves attention.

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