Secularism, Nationalism and the Ultimate Heresy
The dictionary defines secularism, first recorded in 1846, as 'the doctrine that morality should be based solely on the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state'. In other words, secularism is opposed to any sort of religious and spiritual value, being the belief that only this world and this life count, because nothing exists outside or beyond them. Thus, it can be said that secularism denies the existence and presence of God, promoting instead attachment to this world. Spiritually, secularism is therefore a lack of love for God and the justification for that lack of love.
Since nationalism is by definition the attachment to a nation of this world, it is also a form of secularism. Nationalism is something of which Orthodox Christians are often accused. Without at all denying that nominal Orthodox are frequently very nationalistic, we would point out that nationalism has always been the bane of all religions, without exception, for the simple reason that any attachment to this world is the enemy of any authentic religion. Giving priority to a thisworldly value, such as nationalism, is, as we have said, a lack of love for God, Who comes, at best, in second place in any nationalist reckoning.
The classic case of such a nationalist lack of love for God is surely that of the Old Testament Jews, who stoned the prophets and crucified the Son of God. This was represented by the racism and ethnic exclusivity of the Pharisees, condemned by the Saviour. However, as we can see below, Judaism has no monopoly on nationalism.
Islam and Non-Christian Nationalism
For example, today, we are informed that the greatest threat to world peace is the threat of terrorism, emanating from Islamic fanatics. True, the threat and reality of such terrorism have been magnified by Western politicians in their desire to justify themselves and their nationalist moral imperialism of recent years. Although they choose to blame their errors on their 'Intelligence Services', in reality their own lack of intelligence is to blame and not the intelligence of their Intelligence Services. Notwithstanding this, there is no doubt that many walk in fear of Islamic terrorism and with justification. Any who have lost dear ones in terrorist outrages or in the recent wars will fear such barbaric terrorism. However, is the threat really from Islam, or simply from terrorists operating in the name of Islam?
True, we have no doubt that the god of Islam is a very different god from the Christian God. Firstly, Christians believe that we can only know God the Father through the Son – Whom Muslims, like Jews, reject. Their god is therefore not the Christian God. Secondly, the god of Islam is, according to the Koran, the creator of good and evil. Finally, the Koran preaches jihad, religious war. (In comparison, the Christian God is the God of good and although ‘Christian’ States have managed to justify crusades and other insane acts of violence and wars - Mr Bush appears to have invaded Iraq because God ‘told him to’ - in reality the Christian Gospel tells us to love our enemies. Christ never killed anyone; he was killed by others). Nevertheless, are any of today’s conflicts with Islam actually about the Islamic religion?
It seems to us that the real cause of Islamic violence is generally a brutal nationalism, which merely masquerades as religion. (It has been argued that the Koran is, in general, the book of Arab nationalism, rather as many Jews have reduced the Old Testament to the book of Jewish nationalism). Thus, when twentieth century Turkey massacred its Armenians in the genocide (which it still denies), the real cause was nationalism, promoted by the new Turkish secularism. The old Ottoman Empire did not massacre its Christians. Although it did economically oppress them, it still allowed them a certain freedom, which, conversely, many supposedly 'Christian' Empires, like the Austro-Hungarian, did not always allow. To cite another instance, in the seventeenth century, Orthodox Christianity was allowed in Istanbul, but not in London, where, in 1682, Protestant iconoclasm (and not Muslim) closed the Greek Orthodox church for ‘idolatry’!
To move up to date, it seems to us that the real cause of Islamic terrorism is not Islam, but the injustices committed against the Palestinian nation in the Holy Land over the last sixty years. As for the present war in Iraq, it is difficult to see why, if Iraq's main resource was, say, tomatoes and not oil, Western powers would have invaded it. Similarly, there is little reason why Kurds, Sunnis and Shias (all three groups highly nationalistic, the third being linked to Iranian nationalism) would be massacring one another in their daily bloodbath, if it were not for the fact that oil, and not tomatoes, are to be found mainly on Shia territory. Had Western powers merely wanted to depose a bloodthirsty tyrant, they could far more effectively have deposed even more bloodthirsty tyrants in the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Tibet etc.
Something similar can be said of the nationalism inherent in many other religions. Thus, Hinduism, with its hierarchy of gods, reflecting those of pagan Greece and Rome or the pagan Celtic and Scandinavian mythologies, is intimately linked with Indian nationalism, one of its most ancient symbols being the swastika. That is why Hinduism is strongly opposed by the Muslims of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka a bloody racial and religious civil war has been going on for decades between Buddhists and Hindus. And Sikhism is also confined to a particular ethnic group of the Indian sub-continent.
Another example of national ‘religion’ is Buddhist Shintoism, founded on Japanese nationalism (ancestor-worship being the worship of national history). Many believe that this was the ideology responsible for Japanese imperial atrocities committed during World War II. In China Confucianism and also Taoism reflect strong elements of national culture. As regards Judaism, it is in fact the identity of one race and Zionism has been condemned as a racist ideology.
However, many Christians do not have much to be proud of in this respect, for the Christian Gospel has similarly, and regularly, been nationalized. One often wonders if many Christians have behaved better than Non-Christians. In ancient times, the same sort of nationalism took place, when in the fifth century Copts, Syrians and Armenians became 'Monophysite' (probably semi-Monophysite in reality). Their dissidence had relatively little to do with the Monophysite heresy. It had much more to do with reactions to violent persecution by Greek Emperors and armies based in Constantinople and their own ethnic pride and disposition for the disincarnate religion of the Orient, as against the incarnate religion of Orthodox Christianity. Similarly, in Persia and still further east, many Christians became 'Nestorians'. In fact, they were not at all Nestorians, but simply left the Greek-dominated Church, putting their ethnic Chaldean identity above the common Faith. Their sin, like that of the Copts, Syrians and Armenians, was not a Christological heresy, but rather nationalism.
Later, the formation of Roman Catholicism had much to do with Frankish (Germanic) nationalism and ethnic hostility to nationalist Greeks. This nationalism was instituted by Charlemagne in the eighth century and reached a crescendo in the eleventh century, when it resulted in schism. Thus, in the eleventh century the substitution of Christ by His Germanic ‘Vicars’ in Rome was also all about nationalist self-promotion. This continued to develop thereafter. As for the later survival of Roman Catholicism after the sixteenth century ‘Reformation’, this was closely linked to the identity of Latin nations, especially France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and their colonies. Latin remained its sacred language, even though few could any longer understand it. Conversely, Protestantism was largely the expression of Germanic dissidence and so spread quickly through north-west Europe and later the colonies of those nations. England, being an island, actually formed its own national variation of the Roman Catholic/Protestant syndrome, inventing Anglicanism - in reality Protestantism with a vestigial Roman Catholic shell.
Other Christian peoples elsewhere in Europe who wished to express some sort of racial independence stood up for a religion different from their masters or neighbours. Thus, the Hungarians remained Protestant, showing independence from the dominant Germans, the Irish became fervent Catholics, for their masters, the English and the Scots, had become Protestant. After much hesitation, the Poles opted to remain Roman Catholics, given that the neighbouring Germans and Prussians had become Protestants and the neighbouring Russians were Orthodox. Similarly, Western Ukrainians refused Orthodoxy, because it was seen as Russian, but also refused Catholicism because it was seen as Polish. So they invented the unique nationalistic religion of Slav Uniatism, Roman Catholicism with a Slav Orthodox shell.
In Orthodox Christian history, there have been constant attempts to secularize the Orthodox Faith by making it an appendage of the State or part of an ethnic identity. Thus, Turkish occupiers made Greek Patriarchs into ethnarchs and Russia fell into some crude forms of nationalism with the Old Ritualists in the seventeenth century and then the Protestantization of official attitudes to the Orthodox Church after Peter I.
Later, in twentieth century Russia, the Communist regime forced Russian Orthodox bishops inside Russia to kowtow to its national political demands. This movement was called Sergianism after Metropolitan, and later Patriarch, Sergius, who fell in with Communist demands for erastian obedience. And when Communism collapsed, the old Communists turned into virulent nationalists, once more showing their secular nature, as if it had not already been apparent. Sergianism was renounced by the Russian Orthodox Church only in the year 2000. No doubt, traces of it will survive for some time yet, before the older Sovietized generation, conditioned by Sergianism, dies out.
The fate of other Local Orthodox Churches in other Communist countries after 1945 was similar to the Russian. As regards the Non-Communist Greek Orthodox, politically enfeebled, during the twentieth century they fell in with State demands for syncretism, known as new calendarism and ecumenism. Here they made a complex system of compromises of the Faith, in exchange for financial benefits and a higher profile on the world stage. In the twenty-first century these old-fashioned and spiritually empty movements of worldly conditioning have largely fallen by the wayside.
Thus, the Russian Church rejected old-fashioned ecumenism only in the year 2000. Today, it is promoted there only by the ignorant, the old and the old-fashioned. Generally speaking, the Russian Orthodox Church, by far and away the largest Orthodox Church and the only significant world player, is at last realizing that being ‘multinational’ and ‘multilingual’ are the qualities that guarantee its spiritual validity today. Those who are not working with the acceptance of a multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodoxy are doomed to nationalist, and so secularist, isolation and, ultimately, spiritual death.
In all the above examples of nationalism, we see that nationalism is in fact a form of secularism. We see how the understanding of God has been secularized or nationalized, that is, adapted to human forms, becoming ‘anthropomorphic’. In all these cases, we see how Absolute Truth has been adapted to human culture and nations, instead of human culture and nations adapting themselves to Absolute Truth. Thus, the Divine and Absolute have become human and relative. And we recall that it is a lack of love for God that led to the secularization of the human understanding of Him and the application of His commandments.
Thus, a lack of love for God has secularized the understanding of God, reducing Him to a national myth. However, the lack of love for humanity has equally led to the secularization of the understanding of humanity, notably to the denial of man’s divine origin and destiny. Darwinism and evolutionism are clear examples of the former, abortion and euthanasia clear examples of the latter. In this way, humanity has fallen victim to all manner of secularist ideologies, from imperialism to colonialism, from Communism to Fascism. Such secular ideologies, formed on the basis of a lack of love for humanity, littered the twentieth centuries with corpses.
Moreover, such secular ideologies also affect the understanding of the rest of creation. Thus, exploitative secular ideologies, lacking love for God’s creation, have only contempt and scorn for the material world. For them, creation is spiritless and Godless, and so they can set about the systematic rape and destruction of the material world. Such industrialist ideologies have led to the massive pollution of the air, water and earth, to the contemporary, apocalyptic concern of climate change.
In the early centuries the Church rejected secular understandings of God, calling them heresies. It rejected heresies because they were in fact secularizations of the reality of God, God adapted to man, God anthropomorphized. Heresies adapted God to human consciousness, so deforming His reality. However, one of the greatest forms of secularism is nationalism, because it reduces our understanding to a mere thisworldly and spiritually empty attachment, to a denial of God. Nationalism attaches man to the earth and so leads to the denial not only of creation, not only of humanity, but above all to the denial of God, the Source of all being. Thus, nationalism is a form of secularism. And secularism, the denial of God, because it expresses and justifies the lack of love for God, is the ultimate heresy, because it leads to hell.