Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness is a conservative pushback against Christian Nationalism. Miller is a professor at Georgetown, was on staff for the National Security Council, served in the Army, and has background in a number of related topics. He’s written for The Gospel Coalition, The Washington Post, and others.
Miller’s perspective is valuable because he’s a sympathetic reader. He clearly understands and has read the material related to Christian nationalism, but as a conservative he doesn’t just remain unconvinced, but rather clearly believes that Christian nationalism is fatally flawed on a number of levels.
Chapters in the book explore cases for and against Christian nationalism, look into the Bible and nationalism, and even explore more current events like the Trump phenomenon. Miller’s views on things like identity politics reflect his more conservative starting point, which may make him more sympathetic to readers already starting on the right end of the political spectrum. Yet even for readers of a more liberal bent, this book serves up a number of excellent analyses and insights into Christian nationalism that will provide them with discussion points that may resonate with those with whom they disagree.
There are numerous excellent insights found throughout the book. For example, Miller notes repeatedly that one issue with nationalism is that it tends to define nation states by shared cultural heritage, but this does not reflect the actual composition of nations that exist. That means that Christian nationalism must either advocate for a kind of voluntary or force dividing of people along preconceived cultural lineages or modify its proposals related to nationalism (see, for example, page 33ff). Some readers may wish Miller would drill down into that argument further–after all, the Christian nationalist definition of nations seems to almost demand a kind of ethnocentric division of humanity and, combining that with its belief that Christian culture would be some kind of inherent feature of some nations, would inevitably yield ethnic hierarchy–but Miller’s argument is more focused than that, and, as noted above, is directed in such a way as to convince some who might not listen to those arguments from implication. Miller does, however, note many of the difficulties inherent in such definitions, such as the existence of people who cannot be placed neatly within any of the broad cultural categories nationalists use. Of course, on this latter point, one again may wish for some kind of note that nationalists then almost have to be forced to a kind of kin-ism, in which only people from certain ethno-cultural groups should interact or, at the least, have children together. But what Miller does is place the arguments of nationalists on the table, where the implications can be drawn out. He nails them down with words from their own writings, and notes the problems even from within their own perspectives. Miller’s analysis thus avoids the head on [and, in my opinion, accurate] accusations of racism and related problems that may drive off some readers while still showing the implications are there.
Another excellent section is Miller’s chapter on the Bible and nationalism. Here, for example, he analyzes the claims of nationalists related to the nation of Israel, often seen as a kind of model for what Christian nationalism ought to be. The Bible itself vitiates against Christian nationalism, for it undercuts the very definitions nationalists attempt to use in order to construct their perspectives. Israel, the Bible teaches us, was a mixed multitude from the time it emerged from Egypt (121). This directly contradicts nationalist tendencies to demand shared cultural background for the formation of nation states and identity. Going on, Israel intermingled languages (Hebrew and Aramaic, among others), mixed familial bonds, and more. The thing that set it apart was merely its relationship to its God; not any kind of shared cultural background (121-122). Insights like this can be found throughout the chapter, and, indeed, the book.
The Religion of American Greatness is a needed response to Nationalism from a background that at least some people within that movement will listen to. It’s the kind of book well-worth reading for people of any background, and certainly could be recommended or bought and given to people who are interested in the topic. I recommend those interested in the topic have a copy on their shelf for reference or lending whenever possible.
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