God Means Going ‘Off Grid’
There are Christians in America who cluster the flag, the Bible, and the handgun, together. I can’t imagine what ‘Christian nationalism’ could be, given that the Church is a ‘pilgrim Church’; given that every one of us is peregrinus in terra aliena, with our patria in heaven. But while all that theology may be Catholic, and those American Christians may often be Evangelicals, there are American Catholics, too, promulgating this strange parallax of views. We are ‘pilgrims in an alien land’, and our ‘homeland’ is in heaven, but not, primarily, in the places we are leaving behind us whether we wish to depart them, or not.
Even without the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church, Christians ought to agree on that. There is a sense in which ‘we are all God’s children’ (as St Paul said) because all of us come, as the whole creation comes, from God; it is not only the baptised, but the world, which is God’s. After that, there is only the question of how deeply and how consciously we allow our relationship to the Creator to build. Every creature would not exist at all but for God’s sustaining care: hope exists for all creatures. It is with the consciousness of faith that the perspectives begin to shift.
Jesus Christ, once known, cannot be unknown. He can be rejected, but the experience cannot be deleted. You cannot live the pre-Christian life twice. It only becomes ‘the pre-Christian life’, in fact, once the Christian life has begun: until then, it just ‘life’. The change is rather like that of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. For those who do not recognise a new Testament, the Hebrew Bible remains the Bible, and not an old Testament. The centre of a triangle, once you extend that triangle, has a different significance in the larger shape. But it made another kind of sense before, and it had the same base.
Every reasonable perspective has its own integrity, but without bad faith you cannot go back, once you have changed your mind, and your outlook. I can grasp what animates nationalists if they have never considered the Christian teaching — that we are all in one Adam; I cannot really appreciate ‘Christian nationalism’, trying to frame the Christian discovery according to the passing lineaments of some limited place — which seems to me like a disguised version of seeking greatness in the world. Internationalism at least has the virtue of involving a commitment to humanity, and true humanity is in Christ; but national borders are not.
You cannot go back, and equally, you have to keep going. Not a few Christians slip into making the Church as it is now, and not heaven, their fatherland. When the Church is moving as the Mystical Body of Christ, it spreads the Gospel in deeds and in words, and changes the lives of those who make up the members of that body still more than those whom they help. When the Church is a routine and an identity, it falls back into being a temporal institution. There is no transfiguration in a Church that is concerned with itself in the world. There are Christians who want to stay at home rather than be pilgrims, despite the fact that this passing home is not our real patria: that it is only where He has pitched His tent. Christians like that can only be gazing at a glorification of themselves, and of what is familiar to them.
Alternatively, there is the movement into God. Christians are asked to become like the Word and the Word is pros Theou in John’s prologue: it is a preposition implying dynamics. God, being infinite, will be constantly surprising. Good and holy people whom I have met have not been much concerned with the trappings of religion, nor with ostentatious shows of unconcern about the trappings. Those are the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of falling back into ways of the world. The rungs of a ladder are for stepping over, not fussing over. The end (purpose) of religion is God, so, God is the end (finishing) of religion. God means going off-grid.