Monday, October 6, 2014

Christian Or Indian? (Is My Religion More Important Than My Nationality?)

             Which is of a greater importance – a person’s nationality or his religious identity? Some may wonder if this is even a topic worth discussing, because superficially, a tension between nationality and religious identity seems ludicrous. But situations could arise where a choice would have to be made between the two, or when the one would suffer more than the other.

            The nationality-religious identity tension from the perspective of religious oppression is a good case in point for a situation where religious identity suffers more than nationality. In some countries there is a quantitative asymmetry between religions. When a particular religion commands an 80%++ majority the other religions are relegated to a measly minority status.

            In such religious asymmetry, the majority religious group stands poised to extract maximum mileage of this dynamic, at times, at the cost of minority religious group(s). Non-existence of Christian church in some countries is a good example of religious oppression.  

            In these situations, the nationality-religious identity tension raises its ugly hood, where a citizen remains utterly impoverished to exercise his freedom of religious identity. In other words, when a nation subjugates its citizen’s religious freedom, the nationality-religious identity tension reveals itself to be alive and unmistakably real.  

            The much acclaimed movie, Chariots of Fire, divulged another facet of this nationality-religious identity tension. In this instance, the individual should choose either his sense of nationality or his religious identity. In Chariots of Fire, the devout Christian, Eric Liddell, refuses to represent his country at the 1924 Olympics on a Sunday. His Christian convictions motivated his decision to not run on Sunday. Eric Liddell chose to be a Christian than being Scottish. Variations of this facet are found in real life, so it is not limited to movies.

            Of course, there are other dynamics to the nationality-religious identity theme. For instance, Judaism is considered to be a religion, nationality and a culture. Even within this context, it is Judaism the religion that binds the Jews as a nation and forms the crux of Jewish culture. Therefore, religion assumes preeminence in this context.  

            Therefore the question ‘is my religion more important than my nationality?’ remains pertinent and worthy of discussion.

            Some claim that nationality is always of a greater importance than one’s religion. To refute this line of reasoning, we need to exhibit valid instances where nationality assumes lower priority to anything other than religion. If such a valid instance is showcased, then the claim that nationality should always gain preeminence over religion cannot be absolutely sustained.

            Take sports for example; at the recently concluded FIBA basketball world cup or the Asian Games, some superstars were missing. The superstars were missing [not because of injures] but because they obviously had something better to do than represent their country at these games. So the pride and joy of playing for their nation was a mere second to that which motivated them to miss out on representing their country at these games.

            Then there are the NRI’s (Non Resident Indians) - those who pursue their vocation outside their nation’s shores. Within the NRI community, there are those who [mostly] invest and spend their money in their motherland and there are those who have nothing to do with their motherland. The latter group, by virtue of their total disconnect with their motherland, abandon their nationality to a greener pasture.

            So there are unmistakable precedents where people abandon their national pride to that which is either more lucrative or critical. More importantly, we should never lose cognizance of the fact that these people groups (elite-athletes and NRI’s), who abandon their nationality to something else are those that are normatively glorified.

            So we infer that people do abandon their nationality to a more competitive, or vital aspect of life, other than religion. Therefore, the line of reasoning that nationality should always gain preeminence over one’s religion is futile and unsustainable.

            Theists believe that God created them and that their nationality, by virtue of their creation, is not a random occurrence, but ordained by God. If the omniscient God has ordained each of us to our respective nations, then our nationality, by default, remains subordinate to divine providence. Therefore, religion should dominate one’s nationality, and not the other way around.

            But the buck does not stop here. The nature of religious dominance should at least be superficially scrutinized.

            The sovereign God determines nations (Genesis 35: 11; 2 Chronicles 7: 14; Psalm 33: 12; Isaiah 60: 12; Amos 6: 14; Zephaniah 3: 8). Because the sovereign God determines nations, HIS people should be rightfully aligned with their respective nations and not, in any way, be detrimental to their nation.

            A person who claims to be rightfully aligned with God should be a constructive agent in his nation. This then is the most appropriate application of an individual’s worship of the sovereign God.

            There could be situations where nations may rebel against God. Once again let me invoke religious oppression into this context.

            An individual should never be constrained to not worship his maker. But if the nation plays this unholy card of preventing its citizens from worshipping their maker, then man does posses an innate and a divine right to pursue his worship. If and when the nation rebels against God, man’s utmost loyalty should be with God.

            Daniel is a classic case in point in this context. Please read Daniel 6: 6-13, “Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king replied, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day…”” (NASB, Emphasis Mine).

            In such situations, when man chooses to be loyal to God, there could be adverse repercussions. But these adversities cannot deter man from his loyalty to God.

            God would deliver HIS people from adversities but in other situations God would allow HIS people to be martyred. Whatever be the case, man should speak the same words as that was spoken by three young worshippers of the living God thousands of years ago when they chose to be loyal to their God than the ruler of the nation, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up…” (Daniel 3: 16-18, NASB, Emphasis Mine).

            Therefore the answer to the question ‘is my religion more important than my nationality?’ is a very simple YES. It is God who creates man and places him in a particular nation.  It is the sovereign God who determines and rules over all nations. Therefore, God is over and above man and nations.

            Hence, it is only mandatory that man professes his allegiance to God than the nation. But a man who worships God would not act in a manner detrimental towards his nation, unless the nation rebels against God, forcing the man to choose God over his nation. Amen. 

No comments: