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PART IV THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS This page intentionally left blank 185 10 MONOTHEISM, NATIONALISM, VIOLENCE Twenty-­Five Theses Miroslav Volf In this essay, written in the form of twenty-­ five interlocking theses, I approach the problem of religiously motivated or legitimized violence by exploring the relation between monotheism and nationalism.1 The first is allegedly the most violent of all forms of religion, and the second one of the most violent forms of political arrangements, especially when it is cut loose from universal moral commitment and tied to some form of tribal identity (exclusive nationalism). I argue that monotheism is a universalist creed and that it is compatible only with inclusive nationalism, a nationalism that is a form of special relations framed by a universal moral code. When monotheism is aligned with exclusive nationalism—­ when it becomes a political religion aligned with exclusivist nationalism—­ monotheism betrays its universality, a feature which lies at its very core, and morphs into violence, generating and legitimizing henotheism: our god of our nation in contrast and competition to other nations with their gods. Alternatively, if monotheism keeps its universality while being associated as political religion with exclusive nationalism, it will tend to underwrite dreams of nationalist imperialism: our god and our nation as masters of the world. 1. Resurgence of Nationalism 1. Nationalisms are surging today across the globe. Only a decade ago, nationalism seemed a marginal phenomenon, mainly a reaction to the loss of local power in an increasingly globalized 186 Miroslav Volf world. But globalization processes, driven as they are by the markets, have left in their onward march a trail of suffering and melancholy, exemplified most potently by extraordinary discrepancies of wealth and power, progressive ecological devastation , and loss of a sense of personal, cultural, religious, or national identities and purposes.2 Today, nationalist sentiments have conquered the world, and in many countries nationalists have taken the levers of political power—­ in China, India, Russia, Turkey, and the United States, for instance. Nationalism has gradually emerged as the main alternative to the current, morally unacceptable, global arrangements. 2. When firmly rooted in universal moral commitments, nationalism can be a way of living out particular loyalties within the larger human—­ and therefore global—­ community. Such inclusive nationalism (sometimes called civic nationalism or patriotism ) is a form of special relations framed by universal moral commitments, of which the central one is the equal dignity of all human beings. As one loves one’s own family in the framework of a universal love of neighbor, so one loves one’s own nation in the community of all nations. But when nationalism is divorced from universal moral commitments and becomes exclusive (sometimes described, though too narrowly, as ethnic nationalism)—­ a nationalism which is based on the superiority of tribe, race, or history, and which operates on the principle of international exceptionalism—­ it is one of the most dangerous forces in the world.3 National and geopolitical upheavals in Europe and the Far East in the middle of the previous century provide frighteningly vivid examples of nationalism’s aggressive hatred for what threatens the perceived purity, greatness, and destiny of the nation and its possible world-­ destructive effects. 3. The main inspiration for most nationalisms today is not religious . The current American and Chinese nationalisms, for instance, are not religious in any significant sense. In some cases nationalism in fact posits itself as a pseudoreligion (i.e., the object of ultimate longing and the foundation of ultimate trust) while being explicitly antireligious. Depending on the circumstances, however, nationalism can take on a religious expression or, more often, make religions serviceable to its cause. Phrases like, “God and the Croats,” “heavenly Serbia,” “German Christians,” “the city set on a hill”—­ all widespread MONOTHEISM, NATIONALISM, VIOLENCE 187 slogans in the countries in which I resided over the past sixty years—­ name forms of religiously (in these cases: Christianly) inflected or legitimized exclusive nationalism. Today Indian, Russian, and Turkish nationalisms are of such kind. Religions have motivated and legitimized nationalism in the past, and they continue to do so in the present. 2. Monotheism and Negation 4. More than any other religious expression, monotheism has borne the brunt of critique for allegedly fomenting and legitimizing violence, with the blame being placed squarely on monotheism ’s exclusivism. Jan Assmann has persuasively argued that monotheism introduced the question of truth into the world of religions.4 Less convincingly, he has argued that the denial of the truth of other religions, which is...


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