I was thinking the other day when I read that Nidal Hasan had told colleagues that he was “Muslim first, American second,” that Hasan had that exactly right. If any Jew or Christian would put his national identity over his religious identity, he is an idolater and should repent. I pray that I will in all times and at every opportunity choose fidelity to God over fidelity to nation. The thing is, as a Christian, one has pretty much never had to make that choice. I do not worry, and indeed honor, the Muslim soldier who places God above country — but only as long as there is no serious conflict between serving both. If he believes that serving God precludes him from serving his country in the military, that is a very, very big problem.
If we ever get to the place where serious Christians have to choose between serving God and serving the nation — as German Christians had to choose in the Nazi years — America is over … unless, of course, the church becomes co-opted by nationalism, as the Nazis managed to do in their day. I don’t think it would be all that difficult to do today, I’m sorry to say. But give it time. The country may well be changing in ways that will make it harder and harder for even halfway serious Christians to identify with the regime. What then for Christians in America? And: is this “diversity is our strength” mantra really a tacit admission that diversity — insofar as it implies that what divides us should be more important than what unites us — is feared as our weakness?
I know, these are separate questions. Mostly.
I was thinking about this yesterday, and it occurred to me that there have probably been cases in the past in which American Orthodox Christians serving in the military were either training for a possible conventional and nuclear war that would annihilate the better part of the world’s Orthodox population or were deployed as part of a mission to bomb an Orthodox country (i.e., Serbia). Would these Christians have been in the right to turn on their comrades? Absolutely not. Even though the attack on Serbia was completely unjustifiable and morally wrong, Orthodox Christians pledged to U.S. and NATO military service would have been obliged at the very least to remain loyal to their governments. If there were a severe conflict between their obligations to their fellow Christians and their duty, they would either have to resign or at least refuse to engage in hostilities. In practice, as regrettable as the conflicts themselves were, Orthodox Christians have warred against each other for centuries dating back to the middle Byzantine period. That in itself is not a good thing, but no one on either side in these conflicts believed his religious obligations compelled him to betray his natural and political loyalties. There were Orthodox soldiers on both sides in the Russo-Japanese war, and the bishops in both countries prayed on behalf of the armed forces of their respective nations.
Treason and mutiny, which are the actual crimes that Hasan committed in addition to murder, are not justified by one’s political views of what is being done to one’s co-religionists by the government. As I understand it, only if the government demanded apostasy and the abandonment of the faith would Christians be required to resist or disobey a legitimate government. Hasan seems to have believed that he had a religious duty to make a violent political and policy protest on behalf of other Muslims. To the extent that Islamism blurs or even erases the lines between religious and political obligations, or makes loyalty to the ‘umma greater than loyalty to one’s own government, the distinctions I mention above would be extremely difficult to maintain. There are going to be times when there will be serious conflicts between duties to God and country, but for the most part that is not what compels treason of this kind. Men commit treason to achieve a political objective or to make a political statement. Their politics may be infused with or closely identified with religious ideas, but it cannot be pinned squarely on their religious convictions when most of their co-religionists do not reach the same conclusions and do not share those politics.
I would add one more thing. Americanists who want to continue bludgeoning and bombing other countries cannot expect the immigrant populations they so happily welcome to remain indifferent to what is being done to their home countries or co-religionists. To the extent that the Americanism to which they expect immigrants to assimilate involves unnecessary and aggressive wars against other nations, it is the hawkish Americanists who are contributing to the erosion of national unity even as they squawk about the need for assimilation and it is they who are putting the loyalties of new Americans to the test.
Razib Khan at Secular Right:
Rod Dreher & Daniel Larison discuss the intersection of religion and patriotism. The issue of course isn’t adherence to a higher law vs. the nation-state; even those without explicitly religious motivations can reject loyalty to a state whose actions they feel to be illegitimate. Rather, the bigger issue are multiple loyalties. Religion is an incredible ideological and institutional system for transcending boundaries of nationality, but the inverse of that is that religious minorities have long been under suspicion. During the Persian-Byzantine wars of the early 7th century Jews notably sided with Persians and exacted revenge for 6th century persecutions in the Levant upon the previously dominant Christians. This was a rational act by a religious minority who aligned with the power which had a history of greater tolerance toward their faith, the Zoroastrian Sassanians.
But the relevance of multiple loyalties varies from group to group. There is for example one majority-Jewish nation. And there are only two majority-Hindu nations. There is only one Cuba. By contrast, there are ~1.5 billion Muslims scattered across the World Island. One reason Islam has bloody borders with other civilizations likely has to do with the fact that it has many borders, period. This means that Muslim populations are likely to be faced with a test of loyalty far more often than Hindu populations, or Sikh populations.
Maggie Gallagher at The Corner:
It sounds like there is a lot of evidence that Major Hasan had Islamicist-extremist tendencies. But these words are not good evidence.
There is a reason the Pledge of Allegiance asks us to pledge to our country ”under God.” The best American tradition has never required people to surrender their first allegiance as a condition of citizenship.
My sympathies to Muslim fellow-citizens on the coverage of that particular quote.
I remain, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Julian Sanchez on Gallagher:
Well… that’s a fair guess, I suppose. In reality, the Knights of Columbus lobbied to have the phrase added in the 50s—after the pledge sans “under God” had been around for 30 years already—as a way of stressing how different we were from those godless Soviets.