Friday, August 27, 2010

God and country

Every now and then the issue of how national identity and Christian identity intersect comes up. This ranges along a continuum.

At one end of the continuum is blind allegiance, where there is no distinction between personal identity and national identity. My-country-right-or-wrong. Kamikaze fidelity to king and country.

That’s a totally this-worldly type of self-identity. And it’s obviously at odds with the transnational and transcendent dimensions of Christian identity. Our ultimate allegiance to God. Our citizenship in heaven.

At the other end of the continuum is a Gnostic, otherworldly spirituality, where our historical conditionality means nothing. We’re pure souls whose self-identity is wholly uncontaminated by the concrete circumstances of our embodiment. This sounds very pious, but it’s mock piety.

Is Christian identity compatible with patriotism? With love of country?

That’s not a simple question to answer, for national identity is such a variegated thing. What is a nation? There are so many different things that constitute a nation:

History, geography, climate, political system, economic system, ethnicity, urbanization, life-expectancy, religion, language, education, transportation, GDP, sports, popular media, &c.

Human identity is a combination of nature and nature. At one level we all have generic human traits which make us human. At another level we also have distinctive physical and psychological features which make us unique individuals. This “hardwired” aspect of human identity and personal identity is the stabilizing principle.

Yet there is also the formative influence of our socialization and acculturation. If I were born at a different time, or place, or both, I’d turn out somewhat differently. But once the concrete has set, this, too, is fairly permanent.

I am who I am in part because of who my parents were–and other friends and relatives. Siblings. Grandparents. Of where I was born. Where I was raised. My playmates. Classmates. Exposure to the popular media. My urban or rural environment. The largely subliminal osmosis of my physical and social surroundings.

Some features of national identity are more central to our personal identity than others. As Christians we need to take a step back and evaluate our conditioning. Make adjustments where necessary. Disassociate ourselves from the ungodly features of national identity in a fallen world.

However, some of these formative experiences are unrepeatable and irreversible. And God uses these factors to shape us. In a nation like the United States, national identity includes elements of common grace and special grace as well as sin and evil.

As embodied, time-conditioned creatures, we are partly defined by our space and by our history. And, in purified form, that is something we’ll take with us to heaven. That is something we will bring back with us to earth–in the palingenesis. It’s integrated into who we are, at conscious and subconscious levels. In our dreams and memories. In our shared understanding. Our shared recognition.

Memory is a basic feature of personal identity. And our memories are memories of people and things situated in specific times and places.

When Christians from different cultures and subcultures come together, they don’t shed their differences but invite one another into the gallery of each other’s God-given experience. And that gives us an opportunity to take the best of each culture and make it our own.

1 comment:

  1. That was nice. I appreciate those words very much.

    Have a restful and Christ-focused Lord's day.