November First Thursday, 3.11.16
Poppies and patriotism were in the news: FIFA’s ban on “political and religious” symbols at international football matches. But is the poppy a “political” or “religious” symbol? Perhaps not if it is simply a remembrance of the suffering and deaths war causes, and a way of supporting the injured (not just in the World Wars, but also in more recent conflicts).
To say “we owe our freedom to those who died” (and even compare that with Christ’s sacrifice) still does not sound ‘political’ because most of us are familiar with those words. But if we are more realistic about war, and recognise that we owe our freedom not to those who died, but to those who successfully killed the enemies who threatened our freedoms, that begins to sound much more political, not to mention less “Christlike”.
Some of us (not all) feared that Remembrance can be used today to promote an aggressive patriotic nationalism, which we wanted to reject. Our readings were of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue which the Jews refused to worship (Daniel chapter 3) and the resistance of at least some Christian congregations to the self-glorification of the Roman Empire (Revelation chapter 3). But 300 years after Christ Constantine enlisted the support of the Church to rebuild his crumbling Roman Empire, which led to patriotism becoming confused with faith. Being a “Christian” became a test of loyalty, with people of other faiths (and “heretical” Christians) seen as traitors. Echoes of this still persist today.
There is a “good patriotism”- valuing your family, people and country, with its inheritance and history, being confident about your own identity. But imposing that on others, who have their own history and values to be proud of, is where it can go badly wrong. (We were told of a Romanian congregation in London who had experienced a great increase in racial abuse since the June EU Referendum). It is when we feel under threat that we retreat into “tribal” identities: “we were here first”.
These feelings of insecurity become mixed up with economics. Housing shortages can be blamed on immigration, whereas in fact immigrants’ spending (from their wages or savings) adds to the purchasing power that enables the provision of more housing. We forget that the way the housing market operates itself produces shortages: if enough is provided for everyone the price drops because there is no competition (this is known as “over-supplying the market”). So housing providers cut back to restore competition and the profits they need to survive. Housing for everyone is only achieved through some form of public subsidy.
The feeling of being under threat must be recognised and never suppressed, but also must be dealt with rationally, and if necessary challenged. It is not easy to define what we mean by our “identity”, in order that we feel confident enough to welcome others who have a different sense of identity from ours. Perhaps it is more important to know what we regard as our “home”- and who we are confident enough to share that home with.