Hello Internet. Religion & Nationalism.

Posted: July 28, 2013 in Society
Tags: , , , ,

As a 23 year old Belgian I’ve lived my whole life in a country, community and family where nationalism and religion were either of secondary importance or completely absent. No boundaries and still plenty of fuel for passion. After all, even without religion and nationalism we are still social and moral beings. Nevertheless, the past two years I’ve been confronted with Flemish nationalism and Polish Catholicism. Neither were completely new to me, but none of them were present as an active element in my life.

It’s quite easy to be indifferent about nationalism when you’re a Belgian. I explained it to my Polish friends very short and simple: Belgium is a state, not a nation-state. We are an accident of history. Not an unwanted bastard, but neither an unexpected love child. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very interested in politics, mainly in how we organize our social security! But there is no emotional connection with this piece of ground where I live, accidentally known as the kingdom of Belgium. Split it up, make it bigger, do what you want with the borders. We aren’t in the Middle Ages anymore. Borders are socially, and therefore politically, pretty irrelevant.

Belgium nationalism is virtually non-existent in my everyday life. Unfortunately, lately half of my fellow countrymen became enough nationalistic for all of us. Although the current Flemish nationalism is of an odd kind, ultimately it’s still a commitment to a piece of land, a language and (sometimes) some cultural stereotypes they love so much. In Flanders’ nationalism, it’s the practice of jerking off on the little gnomes in the garden while looking angry in the mirror, complaining how all those Walloons are stealing our precious Vlaamsch money, while a bunch of Polish immigrants are illegally painting our jerky apartment in Blankenberge. Their frustrations frustrate me. I’m becoming one of them… Arrrgggghhh.

Until a few decades ago this small piece of land might inhabit one of the most Catholic peoples in the world. Since the generation of my parents Catholicism became merely a cultural fact, not a religious belief anymore. We still enjoy the old beautiful churches in every village (no matter how small the village is, it always a large stone church). Growing up in this environment made me vaguely acquainted with the content of Catholicism. On paper we all are member of this old organization, called the Church of Rome. Yet it never seemed to give an answer to any of the questions that I had as a kid, teenager or a young adult. They didn’t simply gave bad answers, they weren’t even aware of what the questions were. But that’s okay, nobody in Belgium expects the church to give answers. Answers imply taking a position. If a man in a dress takes a political position, it’s probably a non-heterosexual arguing in favour of gay rights. Religious dress-lovers aren’t allowed in politics. Just keep the heat on in those lovely historical buildings, please!

Only during my nine months in Cracow, I met for the first time in my life people from my age who called themselves Catholics without any sarcasm. My question was obvious, short and in fact way to complex. “Why?” Surprisingly the answer was likewise obvious, short, but not necessary complex: “Because I believe in love and God is love.” Now I wonder whether it’s enough to believe in so-called transcendental truths and moral values. Because if so, I can be a Catholic-without-sarcasm as well. But than again, what religion doesn’t have those elements? Having transcendental moral values don’t seem enough to be religious. Neither the argument of the need for a First Mover seems relevant. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see the link with on the one hand those ethical and philosophical positions and on the other hand burning candles, building high community spaces and creating a hierarchical organization.

So, my dear diary, nationalism is lame, uninteresting and shouldn’t get any more adjectives because it’s a waste of time and precious words. Jerk away, jerkers! My encounter with active Catholicism was far more interesting. I’m only wondering if there is more than the ethical and metaphysical questions. I consciously don’t invoke the sociological part of it, because we all to often end up in saying reductive and destructive things like: Religion is merely a collection of individuals looking for definite answers nobody can give them, resulting in accepting all kinds of self-made dogma’s. And yet, the question is clear. What remains in “religion” when we take out the big questions we call “ethics” and “metaphysics”? And what’s the function of rituals in all this? Or is it simply wrong to cut up religion into ethical questions, metaphysical problems and ritual practices? But if so, why? And how do all of these parts make (more) sense when you keep them together?

Post Scrotum: In a very un-nationalistic way I’m very happy to be a Belgian.

  1. Wild Juggler says:

    Ha! I kind of know what you mean by the non-existence of Belgian nationalism, even though I am not Belgian at all, I’ve just read a lot about it. I’ve often remarked to some friends that the French-speaking part of Belgium should just be given to France, and the Flemish part to the Netherlands. So much for “Belgium”.

    I am sometimes surprised this hasn’t happened, but then again I don’t know enough about Belgium, though I sometimes hear the nation state may come apart. Pardon my ignorance, I am not Belgian and have to connection to it. Whatever happens, I just hope its peaceful and mutually beneficial.

    • Philosiful says:

      Haha. But don’t get me wrong. I am actually very glad to be born in Belgium! We have a great health and education system, the avarage income is pretty high and the income gap is still quite low, … There are many reasons to like Belgium. And the fact that there isn’t something like “Belgian nationalism” is for me an extra reason to love Belgium ;). My main point was: Look how great Belgium is without religion and nationalism don’t spoil this now! :p

  2. The only time I ever saw my Dutch friends get nationalistic was over what nationality van Gogh was. They claim the Belgians keep trying to steal him. Just as well they’ve built so many museums to keep his work in!

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