Recently, I kept coming across with people who have confused Patriotism with Nationalism, and I must say that this phenomenon is alarming, because while the former is a good thing, the latter is extremely dangerous! Patriotism refers to one’s love of one’s country. The expression is often constructive in nature. We all heard stories of how someone sacrificed themselves for their country, and they are true heroes. With this understanding, the first-responders to 9/11 make the top of my patriots list. On the other hand, Nationalism is an ideology that “based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests (ref. Britannica).” The key difference between the two is that for Nationalism, one’s identity is built fundamentally on the national identity, that any other of his or her identities got buried underneath. Often, the most obvious differentiation is that the Nationalist condones. Take racial suppression in America for example. Facing the existence of inequality in the context of our Constitution, the patriot does not condone. He sees the enslaving of another race as a grotesque deviation from what represents an American and what American spirit should stand for. He may protest. He may cause an uprise. But he does so not for the purpose of destroying this country. On the contrary, he does so to better this country, and he does so out of his love for this country. Therefore, Abraham Lincoln was, and forever shall remain, a patriot.
The Nationalist thinks otherwise. Don’t judge me. Don’t criticize me. If you’re not with me, then you’re against me. We live in a time when Nationalism is prominent around the world, and it is no coincidence that dictators often use it as a strategy to unify their subjects. Even in a democratic nation like the US, President Trump’s “America First” follows the Nationalist model of “us versus them”. Under the Nationalist regime, there is always an enemy. They are coming for “us”. They are going to destroy “us”. Therefore, we must get to them before they get to us. With this mindset, the Nationalist is very forgiving for some of the actions taken by their government that would otherwise be considered as immoral or unethical, for “we are at war!” The Nationalist is angry. He is angry and he is resisting the oppressor. But, more dangerously, he thinks he is righteous. This is why Nationalism produces war. Adolf Hitler was elected because of Nationalism. He was supported by a mass nationalist mindset, which justified the massacre of six millions Jews. If the world is coming for us, then they must be conspiring with them. With Russia, China, Turkey, Hungary, the Middle East and more that all hyped up on Nationalism, we are literally inching towards the third global war.
Finally, Nationalism is anti-Christian. The fact that the Nationalist builds his or her primary identity on national loyalty, his or her Christian identity no longer informs but merely receives and therefore will take shape to whatever the national loyalty dictates. This is in direct contrary to what Jesus teaches (Matt 22:21). The implication of giving to Caesar and God what belongs to them revolves around the creation story that humankind is created in the image of God. Jesus is saying give to Caesar his denarius which bears his image but give to God your whole self which bears the image of God. Therefore, our identity as followers of Christ must come before any other identities that we might bear, and that our being Christians shall inform all other identities of whatever shape or form that may result.