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Let Catholics cast cold eye on city on hill.

Catholics live in tension in the United States. One feels it when the native (or adopted) land kills Somalis by the craterful because of a political argument with their leader/oppressors. Or because abortion is legal. Or becuase the authorities don't put a stop to sex and violence in television and the movies.

The love of patria conflicts with the commands of faith when the government or fellow citizens don't act according to the believer's understanding of what God wills. The problem is not with individual sin but with a social and legal climate that seems to condone or encourage sinning.

What's true for Catholics is, of course, true for any religious person in a secular state. These days all states are secular or insufferable. So there is tension between what one is and what one professes, even for the least devout.

There are there ranges of response to the tension.

The first is to deny the tension exists and to hold that the United States is the City of God -- becuase God is an American. He is (to be precise) as Mid-western Republican with a Mercury in his driveway, a subscription to Reader's Digest, a Bible on the table and a gun hanging on the wall. After all, just look at the middle three letters of JerUSAlem.

In this response, God blesses America with things to buy. For propaganda purposes, our public philosopohy is capitalism. But the faith in our bones is consumerism. "Shop 'til you drop" is a counsel of perfection. Buy the cross in 24-carat gold.

Ronald Reagan, who mastered this response, borrowed the phrase "a city on a hill" from his Puritan nonancestors to encapsulate the good life. You can find these beliefs implicit and sometimes explicit in evangelical literature.

But a more introspective actor would have wondered how liberals, politicians, bureaucrats and welfare queens snuck into the city and whether they were among the elect.

Low-level introspection produces a second range of responses. This would be the City of God if -- if it were not for (some or all of) the following: blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gays, Rockefellers, Kennedys, Easterners, Southerners, Californians, liberals, capitalists, journalists, politicians, bluenoses, professors, the FBI, the IRS, the CIA, Norman Lear or Rush Limbaugh.

The logic of that case leads to the Franciso Franco solution: Neutralize the foreign elements in the body politic by death, exile or marginalization. At the beginning of this novel, Z, Vassilis Vassilikos has his government officials drawing the metaphor between downy mildew, which attacks grapevines, and communism, which attacks the state. What works for one ("spraying must occur frequently") works for the other.

All nationalisms begin by attacking the downy mildew within. Even though internationalism was part of socialist ideology, it begin in Russia with attacks on generals, kulaks and the old stand-by Jews.

Communism sought to hang on to legitimacy by identifying with the motherland in the war against German nationalism run amok. It did so because nationalism is a universal temptation and because (John Lukacas is right) it "remains the most potent force in the world." When the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations urged Arabs and Jews to "settle their differences like Christian gentlemen," he was not holding up bibilical Christity for emulation. He was holding up himself.

Like nationalists, religious fundamentalists offer themselves as the one, true and only model of how to live. Religious fundamentalism flourishes where the sense of nastionhood is weak. If an Algerian isn't sure whether he is Turk, French or Algerian -- whatever that might become -- he can be at least certain he is Muslim.

Nationalism and religious fundamentalism are dead ends, even in their most benign forms. The spark is opportunism. The most fervent adherents reason that when the downy mildew is extirpated, its positions, businesses, incomes and wealth will open up to others. And who better to inherit them than the opportunist?

The opportunists draw fuel from a large number of persons who feel the tension between their faith and their society and go along in hopes of achieving a country more like their pressed ideals.

But no matter how many Te Deuns are ordered sung, such nationalism/fundamentalism doesn't build the City of God. For one thing, the fuel of enthusiasm burns quickly. Then either new downy mildew must be found, publicized and extirpated, or the original impositions must be relaxed. Hitler wound up in combat with generals and conservatives, hardly downy mildew in the original Nazi ideology. Fidel Castro early on sought the Canadian tourist dollar and then had to go after the yanqui dollar.

If the body politic can't be purged in blood and mind, then the thing to do -- the third response -- is to seek the kingdom where Christ told us we would find it, realize we are on a journey (and travel light) and invite others to join us. The separation of sheep and goats is reserved for God and the final judgment.
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Title Annotation:nationalism
Author:Blackburn, Thomas E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 22, 1993
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