I’m suggesting that [Nationalism] constitutes a liturgy because it is a material ritual of ultimate concern: through a multisensory display, the ritual both powerfully and subtly moves us, and in so doing implants within us a certain reverence and awe, a learned deference to an ideal that might one day call for our “sacrifice”…. Over time, these rituals have a cumulative, albeit covert, effect on our imaginary. And together, I’m arguing, these constitute liturgies of ultimate concern: the ideal of national unity and commitment to it’s ideals is willing to make room for additional loyalties, but it is not willing to entertain trumping loyalties. (Just try to remain seated at the next playing of the national anthem.) The fact that there seems to be little tension between Christianity and American Nationalism is not a function of the generosity (let alone “Christianness”) of the America ideal but rather a sign of a Christianity they has accommodated itself to these military ideals of battle, military sacrifice (which is very different from the Christian ideal of martyrdom), individual (negative) freedom, and prosperity through property.
Implicit in the liturgies of American nationalism is a particular vision of human flourishing as material prosperity and ownership, as well as a particular take on intersubjectivity, beginning from a negative notion of liberty and thus fostering a generally libertarian view of human relationships that stresses noninterference. Related to this is a sense that competition and even violence is basically inscribed into the nature of the world, which thus valorizes competition and even violence, seeing war as the most intense opportunity to demonstrate these ideals. The vision of a kingdom implicit in this liturgy is antithetical to the vision of the kingdom implicit in Christian worship. I think the liturgical take on American nationalism can help us to see why so few Christians experience a tension here; it can also help to diagnose the cause of the church’s complacency and complicity: many Christians experience no tension between the gospel according to America and the gospel of Jesus Christ because, subtly and unwittingly, the liturgies of American nationalism have so significantly shaped our imagination that they have, in many ways, trumped other litutgies. Thus we now see and hear and read the gospel through the liturgical lenses of the “American Gospel”….
The republic claims to have an identity and unity about it, and even claims to have acieved the goal of shalom–to already be a nation “with” liberty and justice for all…. No hint of eschatological deferral; no sense of “not yet” failure to measure up; but a confident claim of justice here and now, secured by the republic….
And as I’ve tried to sketch above, I think there are good reasons to worry that the ideals of the republic are antithetical to some of the defining ideals of the people of God, called to imitate a suffering Savior, who was executed at the hands of military power. What’s explicit in the [Christian] Creed, if we tease it out, is in significant tension with what’s explicit in the Pledge [of Allegiance].
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