“every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and is already in the world at this time.” -1 John 4:3
“To such a change, whenever it takes place, the immediate impulse will probably be given by some pretense of danger from without,” said John Keble in his 1833 sermon “National Apostasy,” “Pretenses will never be hard to find ; but, in reality, the movement will always be traceable to the same decay or want of faith, the same deficiency in Christian resignation and thankfulness, which leads so many, as individuals, to disdain and forfeit the blessings of the Gospel.” Keble spoke these words in regard to what he saw as the intrusion of the state into religious affairs, but they pertain no less strongly to our current political situation. If apostasy could result from intrusion from the state, what ought to be said of those who use the name of Christ in opposition to Christ? It seems clear to me that such behavior is nothing less than the spirit of Anti-Christ. This great sin is most fully manifest in the person and candidacy of Donald J. Trump. It is not the purpose of this essay to enumerate his many sins and blasphemies, such a project would be both enormous and for our purposes largely pointless. What I do intend to focus on is the rationale that seems to under gird the Trump candidacy and its appeal, and the basic godlessness that it entails.
The term Anti-Christ appear in but one place in the Bible, the letter of 1 John. It would appear that the occasion of this letter was at least in part to respond to some form of Proto-Gnostic heresy. John is concerned that his flock be able to discern between the spirit of Christ and Anti-Christ, so he lays down a rule, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:3). The spirit of Anti-Christ attempts to unChrist Christ in His own name. It is a false vision of spirituality that compromises our very understanding of who Jesus is. This attack on the center of the faith in this context represented the denial of the true humanity of Christ, yet the same spirit is inescapable in any sort of Nationalist ideology. Nationalism by its very nature places the very center of human life in loyalty and devotion to the nation and by proxy the state. It is of the very definition of God to be sovereign over His creation, but nationalism would rob Christ of His rights and replace the rule of Christ with the rule of man. Every fascist leader, whether explicitly or implicitly, places himself in the place of Christ for the nation. When civic loyalty is the crux of human civilization we are left with no room for any ideology which would compromise our national sovereignty. Pride therefore must characterize this arrangement, and pride being contempt of God is the origin of all sin. This false nationalistic pride is characterized by Trump in his promises to put “America First,” to “Make America Great Again,” and to help us triumph over our enemies. Indeed, as Trump continues his campaign grows both more vulgar and more Fascist as exemplified in riotous demonstrations, unfounded fear of outsiders, a burning desire for a lost national greatness, all solved through the personal prowess of one man. This pride masquerades under the false veneer of claims to be “the best representative of the Christians,” and promises to force people to say Merry Christmas. Such rhetoric is not just harmless buffoonery, it represents the spirit of Anti-Christ. It is an attempt to unChrist Christ and replace him with the nation.
The Sin of Nationalism
Nationalism represents a corporate apostasy, it is the sin of a secular idolatry and in so far as it disallows Christians from keeping brotherhood with other Christians beyond the confines of the nation, a blasphemous attempt at rending the seamless mantle of Christ. It is the refusal to be carried up into heaven, it is the choice instead to drag heaven down to earth. When we accept the Nationalist fervor, we refuse to accept that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. We demand a secular Messiah and a Jerusalem that rules the Gentiles. It therefore must be that in Nationalism the choice is made to value one kind of humanity over another. In this regard the criteria one uses hardly matters, even the vehement rejection that American nationalism is white nationalism matters little in so far as it still implies the valuing of one type of human life less than another. Nationalism tells the Christian the lie that he can bear loyalty to more than one master, that he can serve as a slave to the kingdoms of this world and to Christ at the same time. Christ, however, demands all our loyalty. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Jesus releases his community from the political and legal order, from the national form of the people of Israel, and makes it into what it truly is, namely, the community of the faithful that is not bound by political or national ties.” The church transcends and destroys the false distinctions and alleged securities of secular humanity. In Nationalism we put the Nation State in the place of God, and we trust in it to provide for us, to make us great again and to give us the power to conquer our enemies. It is no accident that Benito Mussolini said that “Fascism is a religion.” Christ demands love for our enemies, that we repay their evil with good. Nationalism by demanding greatness above all other peoples demonstrates contempt for them, and when this lusted for greatness does not manifest, it transforms itself into what scorned contempt must always become, a servile hatred. Nationalism must, however, believe in the greatness of the nation lest it find itself a nation not of gods but of mere human beings. Nationalism must believe in its inherent ability to save itself because it is by nature proud, to again quote Mussolini “It is not programs that are wanting for the salvation of Italy but men and will power.” It must, so it searches for those to blame for its inevitable failure. These are almost always the poor, the minorities, the immigrants. Blinded by the haze of imaged slight we no longer see the Christ in our brother. The poor stranger that we reject we reject both as Christ and even as neighbor, and instead in their destitution they become the “not us,” that thing by which we can finally show our greatness through our contempt of it. Our loyalty to Christ is abolished through our national pride, humanity is cheapened, and Christ is crucified in our midst once again.
The Good Samaritan
The Bible is filled with anti-Nationalist teaching (to such an extent that it is surprising that any Christian could fall prey to this particular vice), however, one such example will have to suffice. The duties one owes to one’s neighbors could legitimately be framed in the terms of tribal identity. A neighbor is one of the tribe, a friend and more than that, one to whom one shares a common cultural experience. My valuation of him naturally tends to incline over those who I have little contact with or knowledge of. Jesus, however, in a flash of what would undoubtedly in twenty first century American Alt-Right politics be termed “liberal America hating amnesty,” expands the definition of neighbor to the “hated Samaritans.” This expansion toward Samaritans is instructive because of the objections that would have been floating around to it in a first century Jewish mind. First, the Samaritans were cultural and religious outsiders. The Samaritans had their own version of the Torah which, among other things, mandated worship on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem. Secondly, they were racially impure. Jews assumed that Samaritans had been brought into the region of Samaria by the Assyrians from Kutha and only later adopted the veneer of Jewish ceremony. In short, they were not of the favored race. Thirdly, and perhaps most important for our present purposes, they were seen as illegal immigrants. During the exile, it was assumed by the Jews, the Samaritans had come in and taken their land for themselves. They were invaders of the nation, a slight to Israel’s greatness. Yet in the parable the Samaritan binds the injured Jew’s wounds, places him on his own donkey, and pays for him at the inn from us own pocket. That Jesus tells, nay, commands us to go and do likewise could not be more clear. With Christ national differences are moot. Go and be neighbors. We are called to exhibit the virtue of hospitality. Full stop.
What, then, is the Christian virtue of hospitality? I submit that it is simply the tendency to give as much as we possibly can to help others. It is the realization that the good of human beings transcends any other consideration we can place on our material goods. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Hospitality mandates that we welcome strangers fleeing from danger, that we must realize that to whom God gives much he requires much, lest we end as did the Rich Fool. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Can any of us truly imagine ejecting Christ from this country on the grounds that his papers weren’t in order, or killing the infant Christ because one of his family members was a terrorist? Such a policy is Anti-Christ in that the alignment is totally foreign both in regards to the teachings of Christ and the witness of His church. It is Anti-Christ in that it masquerades as Christ while persecuting Him in the form of our neighbors, while setting itself up as a false god to which we cling to for support and safety to the neglect of the crosses that Christ has bid us carry.
The Patriotic Virtue
Where then are we left, is love for one’s country forbidden the Christian? By no means. Proper, well ordered love of country is a very fine thing. Like all things, however, it must be in proper moderation. Patriotism, defined as the mean between self hatred and nationalism, is a virtue. C.S. Lewis put it well when he spoke of proper Patriotism, saying that it “is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our home; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like these; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells.” This love is good and natural, it can even be the basis for greater love that looks beyond national boundaries and recognizes humanity in other places and peoples, but it must not be allowed to turn into a twisted nationalism. As Lewis continues “All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service.” This is the fundamental issue with Trump. Beyond his stupidity, lack of basic human decency and total ineptitude lies an even more dangerous ideology. One that twists Patriotism and forms not a higher spiritual love, but a base hatred. A hatred that would replace God with nation and Christ with Anti-Christ.