A Nation for the Nations: On Soteriological Cosmopolitanism

[This was written in response to a salutary provocation by a Facebook friend in the course of a discussion on the use of the word “nationalism” in political discourse. My friend argued that the word accurately describes the political theology of the Old Covenant, especially given that a “quasi-isolationism,” my friend claimed, was required of Israel by God. I think nationalism an irredeemable word for political discourse. I think it inherently dangerous, inextricable from a catastrophic history of ideological terror. Inextricable from National Socialism. Inextricable from the pretensions of the modern nation-state to fill the horizon of human possibility. Inextricable from secularism and militarism and statism. Inextricable from the contraction and degradation of the human spirit into the savageries of tribalism.]

“Isolationism” was the pharisaical misinterpretation of God’s purposes and promises for Israel. Every action of God in history has aimed at one thing: the salvation of the entire human race.

This goes, above all, for the mystery of election.

Abraham, the Hebrews, the Jews: Israel was chosen out of the world so as to draw the entire world towards the true God.

There was to be no fortress. There was to be the purity of depending on God alone, of living by radical faith, and living that out visibly and temporally in a polity unique among the nations. Certainly that meant no commerce with the false gods of the nations. But that was for the universalization of the true religion.

Instead, as Israel is the epitome of humanity, the chosen people kept falling from the radical demands of faith. We keep doing that as humans, and certainly Christians do.

The prophets had to decry over and over again presumption based on election, as well as relapse into depending on worldly calculation, including the exploitation of the powerless internally and great-powers calculations externally—the idolatry of our will to power.

The Kingdom of Israel, the whole Davidic covenant, was to have served the Christic mystery as an instrument to bring about the convergence of spiritual and temporal order in a universal city. That service had to retreat into the spiritual register alone because humanity just cannot get this right without the sacramental grace of Christ.

And even with that grace, we seem incapable as a Christian community of living up to the demands of standing by faith and serving as pure instruments of saving universality. We fail over and over again to live out love radically enough to attract the world. Those who still take the true religion seriously tend to make the pharisaical mistake of thinking that our election is for our benefit, when it is, in fact, for everyone else's.

Catholicism is just what Israel has always been about: a soteriological cosmopolitanism. Any backing away from this dynamism entails not only a profound, sub-Abrahamic retrogression into the secularism of worldly calculation--it is profoundly anti-catholic.