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Atheist Nationalism? No Such Thing

Christopher Carrion

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A question I've been pondering on quite alot recently was inspired by a comment made on this board a few months back concerning the evident proliferation and unparalleled political and socio-cultural influence of religious extremism in the ol' U.S as opposed to arguably comparable cultures such as Britain. Why is it that American culture/society seems so conducive to ideological extremism?


One reason may be historical. America is a new land; it is one of the youngest states in recent history, and due to the fragmented nature of its original composition (involving a hap-hazard mish-mash of various different settlers from a wide and somewhat incompatible variety of cultural backdrops) lacks the entrenched and concerted ideological structures by which other, older cultures maintain their sense of self-definition, and collective psychological stability. This in turn gives rise to a fervent and somewhat neurotic lack of personal subjectivity on both a national, and individual level. Examine for a moment America's recent history in terms of both its internal policies and international activities. What you will discover (unless you happen to be entrenched in the eminenetly defensive Nationalism I broached earlier) is a litany of paranoid political and moral extremism that has only recently found a foil in the ever expanding "liberal" movements.


Or has it? Does the adherence to an external or prescribed "liberalist" ideology function any differently in a psychological sense than if one were to adhere to any other form of pre-established "template" of perspectives or behaviour. The devil is in the details, as they say, but for the purpose of this essay, I will be considering exclusively the psychological ramifications of such an adherence, as opposed to the individual details of the ideology itself. In answer to the above question, no. The adherence to any prescribed or pre-determined ideology, be it moral, religious, political or otherwise in nature serves only one basic and extremely selfish purpose; it lends the adherent a means of defining themselves; a source of external subjectivity for want of an internal one. Of course, this is not to say that there is such a thing as a fundamental or "pure" sense of self that exists outside of the conditions of culture and society; the raw evolutionary FACT of the matter is that without certain ideological impositions, we would revert to our instincitual imperatives to survive regardless of what it takes. Morality, politics, religious beliefs; none of these things are fundamental. All are contrived, imposed, and LEARNED. The acknowledgement of such a concept thereby allows us as inherently analytical (and therefore critical) entities allows us to question the perspectives we promote both internally and externally as law, and therefore also the primary means by which we define ourselves.


This leads me quite neatly onto the point of Nationalism. Nationalism might be broadly defined as an extreme adherence and promotion of a particular "State" or culture. Typical Nationalists tend to lack the capability or willingness to regard with a critical eye the actions and attitudes of the culture/society in question, and will condemn quite rigorously those who do so. For Nationalists, the State is God. Psychologically speaking, Nationalism is symptomatic of the same basic intellectual terror that fuels religious or moral extremism; the individual subject comes to define themselves internally by their promotion of and inclusion within "the state". They therefore automatically interpret any challenge to the state itself (both direct and inadvertant) as an intensely personal threat. Similarly, religious extremists define themselves by the behavioural, perceptual and psychological templates provided by their faith, and find the concept of anyone functioning outside of this self-reflexive bubble terrifying in the extreme.


There are religious and political extremists in almost all cultures. In Britain, we have the British National Party, a thankfully small and largely reviled group of right-wing religious and political Nazi-sympathisers, who would like to see every gay, atheist, none-white face obliterated from Britain's shores. Thankfully, they are regarded by society at large as ridiculous cranks, to be reviled, ridiculed and tolerated only to a very finite degree before being forced back into the swamp with all the other ameobas. Their equivalent in America would be the Republican party. The only palpable difference between the way in which the two comport themselves is the openness with which they promote their perspectives on a public or national level.


So, can there really be such a thing as an Atheist Nationalist? Psychologically speaking, no. The state becomes a replacement for God, and the dictates of culture become a replacement for the tenets of religion. This really was something just written on the fly, and I'm aware it's a little ad hoc, but I'd be very interested to hear the perspectives of others on this issue.

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