Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Good citizenship is not about flag-waving, metaphorically or otherwise. It's about the just practices, shared habits and practical ways of organising our public lives which enable people to belong to one another across boundaries like those created by nation states, not in subjection to them. What we need is global citizenship to frame our commitments to family, group and nation. In this sense, the government, which has found itself in a pickle over a suggestion by Lord Goldsmith that school pupils should swear allegiance to Queen and country, has got it the wrong way round. The bones of my response on behalf of Ekklesia are here: Good citizens question ‘national pride’, says Christian think tank. It will not escape people's attention, I hope, that there are profound theological questions bound up in all this. So I have written a fuller article called Which citizenship, whose kingdom? [Also on OpenDemocracy, What is 'national' pride?]


Karin said...

I thought the idea sounded rather medieval and wondered if they'd be asking us all to start doffing our caps as well. They also seem to want us to feel the prescence of the military with them all wandering around in uniform. It could get a person wondering if there is a plan behind these random and daft ideas.

Doug said...

We have had an analogous argument down under - under the previous government - flagpoles with the australian flag were required if schools were to get Federal government funding.

The Catholic Church muttered before complying, as I remember - dead silence from the other churches who were getting funding for schools. The question about worshipping Caesar got lost in the bowing down to Mammon

This piece is perhaps a particularly appropriate theme in the run up to Easter - which you note but do not highlight in your longer piece on this issue- solidarity in crucifixion and the gift of life that is not limited by the control of the state.

Hopefully you might follow this up over the next couple of weeks.

The point you are arguing though challenges the narrow imagination as to the range of what is politically possible.

ChrisC said...

Not a surprise that Goldsmith calling for an allegiance pledge turns out to be actually a strong argument for disestablishment! (By the way, I speak as a non-conformist not an Anglican).
But it seems to me that the government, yourselves and in fact Christians in this country in general get very confused between 'nation' and 'state'. Whenever a Christian starts to talk about about the nation, he very quickly actually talks about church and state, rather like when a socialst talks about society he ends up talking about the state, hence Godlsmith's rather crass suggestion. I guess what he's getting at is the monarch is the point where nation and state meet and the state could do with a bit of help in terms of legitemacy these days. You're right to notice the monrach is also where religion, the nation and state meet, in this country at any rate. The fact is the state is an expression of a nation, its culture and experience, but also its religion. The state reflects values and common affections, it does not create them. And the Bible talks a lot more about nations than it does about the state.
With that in mind I am intrigued by what exactly you mean by;
'What we need is global citizenship to frame our commitments to family, group and nation.'
Do you really mean we need a commitment to God to frame our commitments?

Simon Barrow said...

I didn't pick up the Easter theme in detail, Doug, because Jonathan Bartley has made this a focus of his upcoming Church Times article, which we'll also run on Ekklesia

I agree that people too easily conflate 'nation' and 'state', Chris. But the context of Goldsmith is, nevertheless, 'the nation state'.

In the press release I talked about 'global citizenship' because this provides a possible bridge between the Christian's commitment to the Body of Christ (see my article on 'Which citizenship, whose kingdom?') and other globally framed visions (human rights, environmental etc.) which relativize our various particularisms. Of course our commitment to God, for those of us who are believers, frames all other commitments - but in terms of the Gospel it does so incarnationally and contextually (rather than abstractly and generally) and thereby challenges us with the question 'which God?'

ChrisC said...

Between our commitment to Christ (which I agree wholeheartedly with) and our 'other globally framed visions' what space is there left in reality for our particular but 'relativised' attachments?
If there is none (which I suspect is the reality) then it is not enough to talk only of a 'global citizenship' for citizenship is a relationship between the individual and two really rather abstract things, the law and the state as it pertains to a particular territory. For global citizenship to be a reality we need a global law and a global state, or something along those lines.
I prefer the spirit of Paul in Athens, of the idea of belonging as a community calling to God.
'From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.'
As to which God, cannot God be both incarnational and abstract, both general and contextual? He is God after all.

Simon Barrow said...

Chris. (1) There is nothing wrong with particular commitments to family, community, nation. The point is that these need to be framed by wider commitments if they are not to be inward looking, exclusive or damaging - whch is one direction in which they can head. But not the only one. They can also be schools of virtue. It is the particular which shapes our wider capacities. You love your neighbour in the concrete circumstances of life and learn what wider neighbourly responsibility is about. But to do this you need to understand that neighbourliness cannot, by its nature, be restricted. (2) Of course I agree that a community founded on the unbounded love of God is central to grasping this - that is what my article 'Which citizenship, whose kingdom?' is about. Not just 'men', either! (3) The point I made about incarnation and contextuality is about how we receive the love of God, not the nature of God per se. God is not restricted, but nor can God be known in the purely general or abstract (which is the way in which many people are accustomed to speak). See also 'What difference Does God Make Today?' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/4921

ChrisC said...

Do you not think the utopianism of the 'wider commitments' compete with the wider commmitment to God and His church? I think one wider commitment, the Gospel, is enough to frame our particular commitments and any more can, indeed, I would argue,have, led to disaster, confusion and alienation.
I agree particular commitments are probably dim images of a single,future perfection, but I would disagree that they are reflections or images of realities that can be realised in this life which I think is what your argument is.
By the way, I think I'm going to print some T-Shirts with 'Don't Immanentise the Eschaton' in celebration of the 55th. anniversary of Eric Voegelin coining that apposite slogan. What's your size?

Simon Barrow said...

Chris: sometimes they compete, sometimes not. Your thinking on this (and other issues) seems to veer towards rather instant dichotomising. Intentions and actions towards a more humanly fulfilling and ecologically balanced world for all are a good thing, whatever the belief of the person(s) involved. Obviously, as Christian, I think that the worship of the true God is vital to facing the pitfalls involved in human being and becoming - though I think these are just as much a reality for believers as anyone else. Jesus's instantiation of the realm of God in his words, action, life death and resurrection had both a 'now' and 'not yet', a temporal and an eternal dimension inseparably bound together. I'd wear a T-shirt that said "don't split the eschaton", but it would lead to too many odd conversations!

After some thought, I have decided not to publish your post attacking Phil Shiner. For the record, I deplore violence and terror whoever uses it, and campaigned against the Saddam regime (and my government's arms sales to it) well before it was trendy to do so. So the attempt to suggest that highlighting the appalling wrongs committed by our forces in Iraq somehow excuses the actions of the Madhi army or anyone else is, I feel, quite mistaken and an example of more dualistic thinking. See also Savi Hensman's piece on 'Being on the side of the crucified' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6910

Good wishes, S.