No Religion Required, as you well know, prides itself on speaking out against religious bigotry and privilege of all stripes. Religious harm clearly poisons our everyday life, and it doesn’t take much effort to understand why. I don’t speak at all for No Religion Required, and I don’t pretend to, but in my mind there is clearly a strain of religion that is worse than any other, and its name is Nationalism.
Make no mistake, while it’s an ideology that masquerades as a secular one, it takes no work at all to see that adherents follow it on a supernatural level. In America, we have our own deities and they are known as the founding fathers, and we appeal to them in times of vehement disagreement as if they are on our side at all times. Like the gods of old, they had massive moral failures. They owned slaves. They raped slaves. They kept women in their place. But like the gods of old, we overlook them with the excuse of “historical context” and treat their word as gospel. And if you don’t bow to their infinite wisdom or even acknowledge their ideas as anything other than sacrosanct, then you are easily dismissed.Nationalism has its ministers, but here we call them politicians. They are able to spout off whatever they want and their adherents accept it as the gospel truth. No need for fact checking.
Nationalism has its martyrs. When a Christian is killed, Christians claim the victim as someone who died for their Christ. When a soldier in the military is killed, any redneck can claim them as their own and say they died for any right that’s convenient at the time, including the right to harm another.
Nationalism has its own hellfire. Instead of “think of your eternal soul”, though, it’s “think of the women and the children!” This can be used to justify anything. Should we go on a reactionary war that lasts decades? Should we lock up people possessing small amounts of substances and call them criminals? Should we withhold civil rights from anyone who isn’t a straight cis white male? Under the “American way of life”, these are all justified under the flimsy excuse of protection. We shouldn’t treat this country like an experiment, we should keep it as it has always been so we don’t have to risk our children’s lives.
Religions have xenophobia, but Nationalism exacerbates it. Christianity has its chosen people against the Amalekites, and Islam has its chosen people against the Jews. But in Nationalism, the chosen people are the citizens, who have divine importance over anyone else. Who is the problem? The Japanese! The Chinese! The Russians! The Syrians! The Mexicans! Theistic religions have the advantage that their racism is more subtle and a thing that can be swept under the rug, while Nationalism is blatant. This may make you think that the problems of Nationalism should become more apparent, but this is not the case. No, under Nationalism, this bigotry is embraced. And any time you question it, you are a heretic to the country.
Like other religions, Nationalism changes to suit who it fits. This allows people to decide what a “true American” is, not unlike a “true Christian”. Politicians are allowed to mold this concept over so they can address the true Americans. These dogwhistles allow the congregation to try and make the nation as close as it can to it’s true self, which occurs at the expense of anyone who falls outside that ideal. Anyone who addresses true America is “speaking their mind”, and anyone outside that follows a hidden agenda. They are agents of the deceiver, and they are working against this ultimate crusade for heaven.
This is so pernicious, that even those who find themselves on the opposite side still have to capitulate to it. Unless pacifists and revolutionaries say “god bless America” at the end of every speech, or talk about how great of a country it already is, then they might as well be destroying everything good about this nation.
And don’t even think about speaking out against it. If your country bombs someone else and you have the audacity to question it, then you hate its martyrs that we call soldiers. The same will happen if you criticize the president in times of struggle. You can’t say anything about its flag. Did you sit down in class while the rest of your class swears a loyalty oath to that symbol? Prepare to be publicly shamed and re-educated. Did you take a knee when someone sang a hymn to bombing our enemies? It doesn’t matter if you are doing it because you think the country is treating its citizens inhumanely, you are criticizing the nation and shaming the martyrs! This will not be tolerated.
Nationalism is worse than religion, because it can co-opt any religion it wants as part of its cause. Think of all the Conservative Catholics, the Conservative Baptists, the Conservative Mormons, who consider each other to be heretics, yet each is engaged in divine struggle for the Lord on high. They co-opt their faith into their politics to steer the country on their own holy mission. Think of the Islamist states in the Middle East who tie their country to the words of their holy books and the words of their Imams. Think of the crusades and every holy mission that a country has used to justify bloodshed.
Unlike religions, in America at least, nationalism has the force of law behind it. The Steven Andersons of the world can praise the death of 49 queers and allies being slaughtered, but he doesn’t get the resources and the laws to help him do that more. Meanwhile, your senator can turn your tax dollars into bombs and use it to destroy innocents. If a church tries to tell you where you’re allowed to pee, you have the freedom to avoid the building. When the church twists the governor’s arm, however, then you aren’t safe behind closed doors. When something has the word of law on its side, no matter how immoral or unethical, it can be treated as the gospel truth. Especially if it’s because “we are a Christian nation.”
Last week Nationalism won.I vow to criticize bullshit in all its forms until my dying breath. Bullshit comes in many forms, and it’s vile and pernicious in the form of religion. Religion gives a pass to evil under the false guise of morality, it gives a pass to nonsense under the mantle of faith, and it gives authority to people fucking us over for personal gain. And we’ve let it do it again.
I’m a millennial. Fascism, nationalism, and racism were a part of the history books when I was growing up. I was taught that there would still be evil people doing evil things and that I would have to deal with that, but prejudice was supposed to be a thing behind us. I suppose I was deeply mistaken. We’ve been passed the buck to try and see if it works for this generation. Think it will work this time around?
I’m not going to stop fighting. I’m never giving up hope. I just hope that global warming doesn’t solve the problem of man’s inhumanity to man first.