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Nationalism and Orthodox Nominalism

Richard Vytniorgu ianuarie 17, 2017 Cultura, Opinie, Societate/Life
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New churches seem to rise from the ground like spring saplings in some parts of Romania. For someone who is used to hearing the regular death knell of church life in Britain, it was a strange and rather bizarre sight for my friend recently to witness the apparent thriving of Christianity in Romania.

Of course, Britain’s situation needs to be viewed in the context of a very different course of Christian history to Romania’s, whose Christian life springs from an Eastern rather than a Western source. Britain’s Church of England Protestantism, with its incipient individualism and tendency towards rationalism, has meant a different set of problems to the East’s Orthodoxy. And yet, what both countries (and arguably all Christendom) have in common is a disjointedness, between what appears to be happening superficially, and what might be happening at a deeper level.

Romania’s Orthodox Church may, it seems, be thriving. Certainly in rural areas, people seem to harbour some sort of identification with the Church: as in other Orthodox countries, rituals seem to bind people to the Church even if they rarely set foot in an actual ecclesiastical building. Icons sit in homes all over eastern Europe; the sign of the cross may often be made when passing a church; candles are lit when entering a religious edifice, and saints’ days call to remembrance friends and family who are named after them.

Yet the external rhythms of Orthodox life can become so entwined in people’s overall sense of belonging that almost inevitably they are interwoven with other forms of belonging, including a sense of national identity. It’s important here to distinguish between nationality and nationalism. The former properly denotes a recognition of civil responsibility, which may happen to coincide with one’s native country and country of origin, or it may be entirely new and adopted. The latter, however – nationalism – denotes an excessive concern with national belonging, granting the nation the status of an abstract object. No longer is the nation made up of sentient, thinking individual persons, but rather, the nation takes on ontological significance itself; it becomes abstracted and projected outwards. What’s ‘best for Russia’, or what’s ‘best for Romania’, and so on, becomes an issue fraught with emotional and almost religious energy.

At various stages in history Christians have resisted an oncoming wave of nationalism; they have sensed the threat to the dignity of the human person within nationalism and so they stand from it afar. But nominalism represents a different challenge. Nominalism concentrates the religious effort on the amenability of Christianity and Church life to augment a rather naturalistic sense of belonging. In other words, it’s precisely because nominalist Christianity serves the purposes of psychological identity formation that it merges and often becomes inseparable from other forms of psychological identity formation – namely, a sense of national belonging.

By no means am I condemning a sense of national belonging; indeed, this might be phrased in other ways as well. I think it’s important to sense or intuit the path of a particular collective at any given moment. But what I do wish to draw attention to is the frankly ubiquitous way large swathes of nominal Orthodox (and other) Christians blithely merge their nominal faith with other, often more sinister perspectives concerning the god of the Nation.

Inability or refusal to distinguish between genuine Christianity and nominal Christianity is convenient for those who are happy for other interests to be cloaked with the seemingly benign veil of a religious faith (which is ostensibly private and personal). But such inability or unwillingness to distinguish is also rather dangerous.

As Russia increases its identification of State and Church, we have before us an illustration of the ways in which unchecked nationalism and nominalism can come together and form a totalitarian ideology. By turning our attention to the various ways in which nominal Orthodoxy can engage with national interests, however, we may be better able to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak: to preserve both the nourishing and vital influences of religion alongside the valid and important identification with a broader collective, while avoiding a potential slide into political and spiritual difficulty.

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Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. smaranda spune:

    Pentru majoritatea musulmanilor nu exista notiunea de ateu (sunt chiar tari unde ateii sunt condamnati). Atacurile teroristilor islamici in Europa repozitioneaza identitatea cetatenilor vechiului continent. Si daca la intrebarea – de ce crede el teroristul ca eu sunt crestin ? – mergi mai departe si reconsideri mostenirea culturala, artistica si tot ce a venit de la bunici, strabunici straatrabunici… vei avea ocazia sa ….descoperi ceva care este in tine. Si merita sa meditezi. Nu de ce ma ataca teroristul asta…..

  2. ion spune:

    I’m worried about nationalism in UK. I can compare this with russian or german nationalism, this is a big surprise for me. There are dead peoples last year, and direct actions made by nationalists in UK. Mass media, parties, government all levels are affected. Could you explain us why?

  3. Postscript: For those who aren’t familiar with the term, nominalism refers to a superficial belief or practice, in this case, Christianity. The focus is on the externals rather than the internal.

    • Felician spune:

      Interesting article; many facts to consider:
      - Eastern Christianity was historically directly confronted with the expansion of the Islam and former Yugoslavia is a good case-study; Western Christianity had to deal with problems like segmentation, The Crusades (during which was sacked Constantinople, cradle of Eastern Church) and Inquisition
      - Eastern Christians suffered much more during communist ideology than from Islam
      (common thread for these first two facts is that the worst danger to Christianity is internal and political)
      - restauration of Church’s importance after communism is proportional to its repression (Poland vs Romania)
      - Church has offered constantly good support and guidance for people, and has few crimes (Inquisition, Crusades, pedofilia) in its 2000 years compared to the crimes of ideology and politics (wars, world wars, genocides)
      - totalitarian ideology does not need religion (most recently shown in communism); totalitarism (Hitler, Stalin) breeds in a climate of obstinate public manipulation, fraud, social injustige and misery; its hallmarks are violence (murder), oppression and injustice
      -”Love your nighbour as yourself” may be the best civic advice ever (not killing your neighbour helps a lot but often is a very big step for mankind)

      • Lucian spune:

        Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch, saw Classical Antiquity, so long considered a ‘dark’ age for its lack of Christianity, in the ‘light’ of its cultural achievements, while Petrarch’s own time, allegedly lacking such cultural achievements, was seen as the age of darkness.
        Before Christianity, society was organized in concentric circles, with the circle at the center containing the highest value people, and the people in the outside circles having little-to-no value. At the center was the freeborn, adult male, and other persons were valued depending on how similar they were to the freeborn, adult male. Such was the lot of foreigners, slaves, women…and children.

  4. radustroe spune:

    Nationalism and Christianity are deeply related because Christianity is derived from Judaism. The fate (destiny) and the faith of a people (nation) are synonymous in Christianity only that Christianity replaces the Jews with the Christian people and the famous “what is good is what is good for Jews” with “what is good for the Christians”, for a given Christian community.

    It has been so since the early days of Christianity, when the early Christian communities within the Roman Empire set themselves apart and against the imperial state, and eventually grew and took over the state itself and became the state-religion.

    Orthodoxy preserves this original ethos and understanding of Christianity while the Western-Catholic Church has lost it, has been forced to give up to its tenets and social-political role after the Reformation and Enlightenment. Western Church has lost its meaning, its essence, and has become secularized along with the Western society as a whole.

  5. Cinicul spune:

    I am not sure how much the author understand from what is happening in Romania. He articulates some commonplace theories about Romanian nationalism and its link with Orthodoxy. Moreover he even tries to make a tenuous connection with the Russian authoritarian-nationalistic trends and its support by the Orthodox Church .
    To be able to write something of any value you need to at least live in these countries or be able to read extensively from the local media. I do not believe he has any of these experiences and skills.
    The reality is that we can have nationalism without religious (Christian, Judaic or Islamic) support and the British are not alien to this. I lived enough in Britain to see at the coal face the ugly face of the non-religious, imperial-nostalgic, nationalism. From this point of view there is very little difference between the Russian nostalgia for the Great Soviet times and the British nostalgia for the former glory of the defunct English empire.

    From the little this article is communicating we should probably try to follow the British model, sell most churches and turn them into pubs. And finally become a nation of shop keepers as so prophetically someone once characterized England.

  6. shinobi spune:

    I see…; here then: nominalism is the layer cake of the formalism/ (or?) dogmatism (!)/ I guess Michel Houellebecq has already made a step ahead, naming this kind of people “identitarians”, it goes in the same circle, i.e. nowhere; ps: I would adhere myself to the libertinists-legalists, which in my view are also identitarians, a species of agnostics/ yours

  7. Virgil Iordache Virgil Iordache spune:

    Too short, too simple. Perhaps simplistic. An ontoligical reconstruction of the religious implications in Romania is something involving more work, both empirical and theoretical.

    Best regards,

  8. Jean spune:

    E bine sa se discute (chiar pe bucatele) despre ispitele ortodoxiei românești si est-europene si e bine sa se facă asta cu bunăvoință. De obicei, ortodocșii nu accepta critica si cei care critica ortodoxia din afara sunt dușmănoși. Ar fi bine ca intelectualii ortodocși sa fie mai curajoși si sa accepte dezbaterile, cu riscul de a se alege cu ceva vânătăi. Stim cu toții ca problema ridicata de articol e reala si nu e rezolvata dacă autorul e expediat din 2 vorbe.

    • dusu spune:

      pai daca i prea scurt !

    • Josef Svejk spune:

      Cine vă oprește să lansați dezbaterea?! Iată eu nu am nici un fel de complexe vis a vis de o discuție deschisă. Problema e exact pe dos. „Progresiștii” obișnuiesc să postuleze prăpăstii și aberații, iar după aia se enervează că ele nu sunt acceptate necondiționat. N-așa?!

  9. Lucian spune:

    „When we thrive, we thrive as a Church. When we fail, we fail as humans.” is an orthodox slogan that I will remember for life. The Church is the home of God and God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
    Some Clerics nowadays try to materialize (unconscious or not) the Holy Spirit without suffering consequences from the High Priests.
    The Nominal Christianity depicted in the article is actually a narrow interpretation of a segment from the arrow of life. Even though Death may arrive at any given moment, you`ll see that the closer the people are to the life`s expectancy age, the more genuine is the Christianity they practice.
    This is why Nominal Christianity thrives here. But at least it leads to genuine Christianity at some point in time.

  10. Josef Svejk spune:

    This is utterly dumb. Thriving Christian life blended with nationalism is by no means a sign of backwardness. Not by default, at least. Let think about the US: Here the most civilized, most prosperous and most educated parts of the country are deeply Christian and nationalistic.

    The population of the suburb I live in is ~ 12000 people. Median age is 34 years. 54% of inhabitants have various college degrees (37% of the population being under 18). The house prices ranges from $300k to $2000k. I would say more than 95% percent of the families own their houses. There is very little rental, if any. There are 3 churches. All of them fly both the US flag and the State flag. For some reason, the Lutheran Church flies occasionally the US Marines flag too :P The Catholic one also flies the Vatican white-yellow flag. All of them are newly built and their parking lots are full every Sunday. There were no churches here prior to 2000, when the city’s population was under 300 people. We may say “New churches seem to rise from the ground like spring saplings” to quote from classics alive :P

    Now 25 miles away is the uptown ghetto. There are no new churches and the old ones are deserted. Most of the people there live in subsidized rentals. There are virtually no college educated people, very few children, and ~ one third of the people are currently in prison or have been in prison. There are virtually no businesses, other than some shabby shops and gas stations. There are no US flags either :P All the American slums I ever seen are basically the same: No Christian life whatsoever, no nationalism. Just poverty, squalor, desperation and hard line progressivism :D

    Any reasonable explanation?! :P



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Richard Vytniorgu


Richard Vytniorgu

Richard Vytniorgu is a doctoral candidate at De Montfort University, UK, sponsored by Midlands3Cities and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. His research interests include l... Citeste mai departe


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