Nationalism and Religion

Tom, at Epiphenom, reviews a study exposing the link between religious homogeneity (RH) & nationalism (N).  The study concludes that countries where there is greater religious homogeneity, there appears to be greater nationalism.  But as we all know, correlation does not equal causation. So below I have sketched four (of many) possible causality diagrams to match this correlation.  I think the answer is probably something like number IV.  What do you think?

Below the diagram, I offer some personal reflections (which I use the diagram to explain).

The study is very interesting and makes me wonder about “F”.  Is “F” the utility of group bonding?  And it makes me wonder about the function of big group (nation) vs. small group (family) bonding.  All this made me reflect on a recent personal story:

My son is 11 years-old.  It is only recently that I have we have discussed the nefarious sides of the USA.  It was very disillusioning for him.  He asked me, “Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”  I said, “I didn’t want to take away all your good hopes and lofty feelings.”  To which, he smiled.

You see, he has strongly not believed in God since he was very young.  But with God, he could test right away that what people told he was not true — both empirically and logically.  But that testing was harder with the nation.  Recently we have watched some foreign films, a few documentaries and discussed the news (Libya).  These have made him question the shining nationalism he learns in school and I have offered other ways to view nation states and politics.  I could see the hope fade from his eyes.  It was sort of sad.  But he is also more excited about learning and forming stronger opinions of late.  It is fun to watch this evolve.

It is clear to me how Nationalism is taught and how Religion can be taught.  It is also clear about the naive hope both of these can offer — a feeling of righteousness and belonging all mixed together.  The trick for my son is to discover healthy substitutes for these the cheap temptations of religion and nationalism.  To do this, he must explore “F” which springs from parts of the mind that are not as easily observed.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

19 responses to “Nationalism and Religion

  1. makes me wonder about religions that reject nationalism, like the mennonites, amish, and Moravians. the more i read of the gospel the less nationalistic i get. esp. with the two wars and our general attitude towards other countries. the Libya thing is a little more complicated.

    sad to watch the hope drain out of him, i’m sure. it is my hope that his hope will be restored with something much stronger and longer lasting, whatever that may be.

  2. I agree, number 4.

    I think both nationalism and religion can sometimes be a positive vehicle for bonding people together, but all too often, it can go to the extreme. Though, as Libya shows by the vey tribal nature of the current conflict, other factors can outshine nationality or religion.

  3. Hey Ghost:
    Those who reject nationalism, build up a very strong community to substitute for Large-group-Belongingness. I guess there are several ways to do that. Join the nation or form you own sub-nation.

    Yeah, he was a little disappointed with the tooth fairy too, until he learned he could still play along and get cash !

    Yoo Kyle:

  4. It’s kind of a bizarre study. Religion and nationalism were the same thing for much of European history. Most religious schisms were political schisms at core. So they take a region of the world that has the longest history of dividing over religious lines, and act surprised that that’s correlated with nationalism?

  5. @ JS Allen
    But they adjusted for all sorts of factors: “age, sex, education, income, religious denomination, living in a post-communist nation, and living in a poor country”. But they were looking at homogeneity — so that is the isolated correlation. They aren’t looking at religion but contrasting countries where diversity of religion exists.

    Am I misunderstanding you?

  6. Right, they could have also controlled for “whether the last name begins with A-N or M-Z”, or “male/female ratio”, or “number of horses per household” but it wouldn’t have made the correlation between religion and nationalism in Europe any less obvious or uninteresting. They constrained the study to the one region of the earth that has used contrived religious distinction as a tool of national unity for centuries. The fact that they then find a correlation between nationalism and religiosity, in that region, seems hardly worth remarking. It’s like saying In schools with top 10 football teams, knowledge of marching band fight songs was highly correlated with team spirit. In schools where the sports teams have been disbanded 30 years or more ago, there is no such correlation”.

    I’m not sure if Tom is just spinning things for dramatic effect, but the way he presents the study is misleading, as well. He asks, “Is religion really the cause of conflict, or is it just an innocent bystander?”, as if those are the only two reasons for potential correlation, and as if that is the question the study is trying to answer. Of course, neither is true, and the study is looking at something else entirely. The study is asking whether or not people turn to to religion for political reasons, and answers in the affirmative. Religion is neither the cause of nationalism, nor is it an innocent bystander. Religion is Europe’s favorite tool of nationalism. We could have confirmed this fact by reading any European history book. A “study” was hardly necessary.

    My family used to wear Ulster Orange on St. Patrick’s day, because my ancestors were imported from Ireland to Scotland in the 1500s to create an apartheid system and subjugate the Catholics. Now, if Tom were to ask me, “Was Ulster Protestantism the cause of Irish apartheid, or an innocent bystander?” I would think he was rather daft. I would think he was rather superstitious, and far too charitable to my ancestors. He can read the history books. It’s like asking, “Are march songs the cause of football teams, or an innocent bystander?” Did Henry VIII kill all of his wives because he became convinced that Anglicanism was a better option than Catholicism, or was Anglicanism an innocent bystander? How about the Huguenots, Calvin, Arminius?

    This is underscored by the fact that the survey talks about “Christian Europe”, but surveys 31 countries. Where is the “homogeneity”? Europeans have centuries of experience creating different versions of “Christianity” that map conveniently to national borders and justify disunity.

    Now, if we wanted to control for variables that aren’t obvious, and perhaps learn something that we don’t already know from reading history books, we would control for historical patterns. The study nearly admits this by observing that the correlation doesn’t hold in post-communist countries. But in each of these countries, communism arose very recently in the context of a broader Christian culture — and the communist countries were all subjugated by various master. It’s hard to imagine any tradition of nationalism that could achieve any consistency in a vassal state alternating between masters. From my experience, the primary tradition of people in eastern bloc is cynicism, for obvious historical reasons. I expect you’ll find the same thing in much of the Muslim world, and it would be fiscally irresponsible to waste money on a study. Guess what? Religious minorities in Muslim countries are less likely to be nationalist!

    For such a study to contribute anything worthwhile, I would like to see it done in countries with longer traditions of non-religious nationalism, and with a viable nationalism. Japan would be interesting, and China would be especially interesting. I strongly suspect that you’ll find a negative correlation between religiosity and nationalism in China.

  7. @ JS Allen
    Again, the correlation was to “Religious Homogeneity” not to “Religion” or “Religiosity”. I am imagining the test is between number of Christian sects and other religions. Not sure, of course.
    But I will agree that the study is probably a waste of someone’s money.

  8. Sabio, that would lead me to ask, what sub-group have you joined?

  9. @Zero,
    The majority of the population <75% are probably followers (conservative in that they are not cultural innovators) and thus seek large-groupness for meaning and affirmation…
    But I am not of that population (for better or worse) — it ain't my temperament.
    The statistics don't say what *everyone* does, but speaks in probabilites.

  10. oh, so i’m part of that 75%?

    humans are social creatures. you’re part of something somewhere, i mean you have a big ol’ A on your site… so the probability of you being part of some sort of group is 100%. you’re a father, so at least you have that group to start with. what else are you plugged into? here’s what i know: not sports, not religion, and i’m unclear on your politics but pretty sure you’re “worse than a libertarian” to use your own words, which would lead me to believe not a nationalist.

  11. @ Zero
    I guess, I wasn’t too clear:
    Much like the OCEAN traits, I think “Desire to Fit In” is a temperament issue — simple as that. It is not a black-and-white thing, but a spectrum, of course.

  12. so you’re not agreeable or conscientiousness? not helping me understand where and how you fit in.

  13. “humans are social creatures” — with varying degrees of socialabilty. I have hated crowds since I was very young (so I dislike, shopping, sporting events, concerts, revivals, parades …)

    “You have a big ol’ A on your site”
    — yes, it use to be very detrimental (and still is highly so) to declare one’s Atheism — to say I am OK without fitting in. Click on the “A” and you will see the irony of what you pointed out.

    You are using the reductio absurdum approach to speaking with me about wanting-to-belong-to-groups. We won’t get anywhere like that.

    Yes, I am a father.
    I don’t participate in any local political groups.
    I am not a huge patriot.
    I love playing sports but not fond of team sports — well, except ultimate frizbee if I could find a loser team to join. 🙂
    I am involved with Odyssey of the Mind (but I hate the big meetings but love coaching the kids on my team).
    I prefer meeting friends 1-on-1 a hundred times more than going to parties and having floating conversations. Yuck.

    Does that help? — see my disposition.

  14. The correlation was between religiosity and nationalism, and the correlation held more strongly for places with greater religious homogeneity. It’s the second fact — the fact that the correlation between nationalism and religiosity holds strongest where there is religious homogeneity — that makes the results kind of worthless, IMO.

    I look at those results and think, “Countries that were most successful at killing, subjugating, or evicting religious minorities; have more nationalists among the religious? Well, DUH!” European history is a history of governments persecuting anyone who didn’t fit the official religion of that country, and thus driving toward religious homogeneity for nationalist purposes. Several American colonies were testament to the fact that it didn’t pay to remain in certain European countries if you weren’t prepared to submit to religious homogeneity. Countries with a longer tradition of religious diversity, or with a tradition of persecuting all religions equally (as in the case of communism), would obviously have less correlation between religion and nationalism. How could the results have been different? If the study had come to any other conclusion, I would assume they made a major mistake in methodology.

    It feels almost as if they were fishing for a result that they knew they would get, knowing full well that it would be picked up by people like Tom who have a vested interest in misrepresenting things to fit their narrative.

  15. yes that helps me see. the whole point being, without using a reductio absurdum approach, is that we’re all connected somehow, somewhere to whatever degree. to deny this is folly and an outright lie. i was searching to where you stand on things and i think i have a picture of a reluctant, independent and independent-minded person who exists in society. yet you have a blog and have a community with like minded people in one form or another to discuss things with, to ponder life, and share experiences. so the communal urge is there, just expressed in a different way. a way you can control and safety. i get that.

  16. oh… and all that may still be reductio adsurdum, but is there any other way in this medium with our time-constraints? more than likely not.

    oh, and check your facebook please.

  17. JS Allen, Your argument (which, as I understand it, is that nationalistic countries drive out minority religions) does not explain the link between personal nationalism and personal religiosity. I might be nationalistic, and live in a country that has few other religions. But why would that automatically make me more religious than a non-nationalistic person.

    The only explanation is that religion is more attractive to nationalistic individuals, and the attractiveness is greater the closer that religious and national identity is aligned.

    The link is quite a common finding – this is not a one off. People often argue that the religion of nationalists is not ‘true’ religion – that it is in fact a corruption of real religion.

    My point is that this is to misunderstand religion. Religion is a bunch of different things. The ‘love-thy-neighbour’ religion and the nationalist religion are indeed different things, even though they are both labelled ‘religion’.

    In a way, I think you are saying a similar thing. These nationalistic, religiously homogeneous countries have created something that they call ‘religion’ which is very different from what you regard as religion – and you don’t want to be tarred with the same brush. I quite agree!

  18. No, I’m saying pretty much the opposite. I’m not trying to distinguish between different types of “religion”, since I don’t think there are meaningfully different types for purposes of this discussion. And I’m not worried about being tarred with any particular brush. If the tar sticks, it sticks.

    My point is that it doesn’t really make sense to talk about “religion” and “nationalism” as being two distinct characteristics that can be correlated, like eye color and skin color. Nationalism was religion, historically. The very ending -ism should be a clue that nationalism is a belief system. Charles Taylor, in “A Secular Age” explains how utterly unique in human history the current situation in the West is:

    The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in [the dominant religion] is unchallenged, and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is considered to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.

    Today, we Westerners see religion as something we can order off of a menu, and we become blind to history. Religion was inseparable from the social order; kings were worshiped as gods. When we start separating “religion” from nationalism, we’re projecting our own historical blindness onto the past and putting the cart before the horse. There never was a distinct “religion” that arose separately from nationalism, and there isn’t one now unless we arbitrary redefine “religion” in terms of cafeteria consumption.

    That’s what I was getting at with my comment about Chinese nationalism. You simply won’t find a correlation between Chinese nationalism and “religiosity”, because the most nationalistic people in China are the party members who have a religion that we have arbitrarily decided not to call a religion. In fact, the people in China who will be the least nationalist are the people who we would arbitrarily call the most “religious” — the Falun Gong or displaced Tibetans. The fact that you would find a negative correlation in China simply shows that we’re correlating the wrong thing.

    If you up-level the discussion to try to understand what is the same between China and Europe, the answer is quite obvious. The people who are most nationalist are also the people who most strongly identify with the dominant homogeneous belief system that perpetuates nationalism. That’s practically a tautology, and suddenly it’s not very interesting.

  19. Note to readers: Zero1Ghost and I took our dialogue off line (often a productive move) where we established that Zero misheard me saying, “Big groups are bad/stupid …” and that this drove his comments (which puzzled me). We clarified that off-line with some effort. I think he understands some of my points now and understood each other in yet again new ways. (he can jump in if I am wrong)

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