A friend of mine, a deeply faithful and kind man, and someone I’d call a true classical liberal, because he listens and then thinks (there is lots of “responding” from him rather than “reacting”), said he was trying to put a thought together and wanted my opinion. He wrote:

“White nationalism is a dangerous ideology. White Christian nationalism is a dangerous ideology and idolatry. White Catholic nationalism is an ideology, idolatry, and bordering on heresy. Your thoughts?”

I thought it was a pretty good breakdown and after we’d chatted he suggested I share my response. So, here, cleaned up, clarified or expanded a little:

I agree. White Nationalism is a dangerous ideology and a dread sin; dangerous because anything that has us looking at our fellow human beings as “lesser” contains a seed that can and too often does germinate into a toxic, deeply rooted plant, like a kudzu that covers everything and destroys; a dread sin because all racism is a dread sin that perversely forgets that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and tempts the stupid notion that some parts of God must not be as good as other parts.

White Christian Nationalism is the dangerous ideology placed before God, thus it introduces the additional, disoriented sin of idolatry. As I discuss in Strange Gods, idolatry is something beyond mere enthrallment — it is literally the placing of something else, like a wall or a screen — before God, obscuring or distorting our vision and training our focus away from God until we don’t even realize that we’re not actually seeing him. Put up 1,000 Flags and bibles all around yourself, and keep looking at them furls and pages all flapping energetically in the breeze; eventually you’ve forgotten what heaven is supposed to look like, or that you can no longer quite make it out.

For Catholics, White Nationalism is even worse, because it not only indulges the enthrallment unto ideology, but it aligns it with devotionals and prayers that slip the boundaries into heresy. I’ve seen rosaries where each prayer bead is a flag, rosaries made from bullet shell casings, all supposedly meant to prayerfully help “save America” and — speaking for myself, I find it horrifying. It’s the equivalent of wrapping a crucifix up in a flag — an egregious act when Christ transcends every flag and nation, and emphatically loves every person enough to Incarnate, suffer and die for each of us.

But for Catholics more than anyone, the descent into White Nationalism is scandalous (and people who know me know I am not one for being scandalized, but the word is perhaps correct here) because Catholics have the fullest theology of both suffering and healing, of sin and redemption, which should make us universal (and universally compassionate) in our outlook. Catholicism has the greatest example of marginalized, cast aside people doing heroic and holy work of God unto martyrdom, and we know they are saints who were doing the right thing, living the right way, serving Christ by serving all, in whatever capacity necessary.

White Nationalism within Catholicism dishonors all of them, and all of the fruitful examples from which we should take instruction.

Finally, Catholics have the Holy Eucharist, which is the Incarnate Word, Flesh and Blood living within our veins, no matter our race, our gender, our philosophies. The Real Presence of Jesus Christ exists within us, as often as we make our Communion with him, and this enables human nobility where it would not usually be found. Thus, Catholics should know better. We have been given everything — every means to help us keep our lives focused on Christ and what he wants of us. To fall into any delusion that what Christ wants of us, first and foremost, is to “save America” when Western Civilization has seen governments rise and fall, seen even well-intended ideologies form and then curdle as broken, faulty humanity and grandiose egos march together, is to reject what we have been given.

Patriotism has its place, but like anything else, it can become a false and strange God, especially when it becomes a prioritized Nationalism. We forget that Christ was raised and lived in an occupied land, and he wasn’t running around trying to save the motherland. He was too busy teaching mercy, compassion, fidelity to God and one another.

We don’t even have an idea of what that means, anymore — fidelity to one another, being faithful to one another. It’s a big part of why we’re in such a sorry state. I just posted two short paragraphs from Strange Gods (just before I saw this message) because I’m feeling so raw about how far we’ve stepped away from the very basic sort of human commonality that says “look out for the other guy.” It was a common phrase when I was a kid — part of being a good human being (Christian or otherwise) was having a care for everyone, paying attention to the good of the other. There is a line in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when Jefferson Smith that reflects it, declaring during his filibuster:

“. . . it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living. Getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a – a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too…That’s pretty important, all that. It’s just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that’s all.

In 2021 “Lookin’ out for the other guy” has become a warning, not a virtue, a paranoia that forms naturally from the errors of racism, of nationalism, of idolatry.

We are not supposed to be selective in whom we’re looking out for. We’re not supposed to decide whether the guy in the decent suit doesn’t need “looking out for” just as much as the guy in rags. We’re not supposed to decide that a guy who thinks it’s a treat to go to an Olive Garden restaurant is sneer-worthy, while the guy paying $20 for a glass of wine on the Upper West Side is okay. We’re not supposed to see a young man who has had suspicious eyes on him all his life simply because his skin is dark, and see none of his vulnerability but only attitude or threat. We’re supposed to be “lookin’ out for” all of them, and wanting their good. Very basic thing, and we’ve lost it — lost sight of it.

All we’re supposed to be doing on earth, really, is to be looking out for the other guy, and keeping the awe of the Lord before our eyes. Broken down to basics, that’s it. And we’re failing spectacularly. Chasing the delusions of ideology never ends well. The day I learned that I was reoriented Christward; it was the most freeing day of my life.

It’s worth remembering that when Jesus saw an earthly, material status quo that needed serious and forceful correction — the defilement of the Temple through commerce — he didn’t tell his apostles to join him in knotting cords and striking at the stronghold of the money-changers. He did that all by himself, with an authority and a purity of intent that no ordinary human could ever possess, because we are always too tempted to the enthrallment of our own ideas. He didn’t turn his apostles into soldiers; he turned them into martyrs. He said, “go and learn what this means: I desire mercy.”

It’s worth remembering, too, as Cardinal Francis George once noted, that history has marched for 2000 years past the balcony of Peter; leaders, governments, nations have been born and died as the centuries have passed. The only constant, the only remaining and unchanged institution within the world is the Church, the Bride of Christ. That alone should tell us where to put our first and foremost allegiances.

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