I’m a universal patriot… my country is the world. – Charlotte Bronté
Do you know the difference between nationalism and patriotism? The American journalist and author Sydney J. Harris contrasted them this way:
The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.
Excessive, narrow nationalism, as we’ve all witnessed during the past century, has already come pretty close to destroying the world as we know it. Rabid nationalistic fervor led to the arms race that started World War I, and resulted in the pointless murder of millions. Then the unresolved issues of the First World War and the blatant nationalism of Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan brought about World War II. The absolute lowest points in human history—with nearly a hundred million people killed—those two wars proved to the world that nationalism could no longer meet our needs in the international age.
From a Baha’i perspective, nationalism has become one of the three idols we humans have constructed and then worshipped, to our great detriment and shame. Nationalism, because it seeks to exalt one nation over all others, can only lead to death and destruction. The other two idols of our own construction, racism and communism, sought to exalt one dominant race or one dominant class over all others. The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, reserved his harshest critique for those who revere and foster nationalism, racism and communism:
God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted. The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind are none other than the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism, at whose altars governments and peoples, whether democratic or totalitarian, at peace or at war, of the East or of the West, Christian or Islamic, are, in various forms and in different degrees, now worshiping. Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations outworn shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved, the maimed, and the homeless.
The theories and policies, so unsound, so pernicious, which deify the state and exalt the nation above mankind, which seek to subordinate the sister races of the world to one single race, which discriminate between the black and the white, and which tolerate the dominance of one privileged class over all others—these are the dark, the false, and crooked doctrines for which any man or people who believes in them, or acts upon them, must, sooner or later, incur the wrath and chastisement of God. – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, pp. 113-114.
How, then, do the Baha’i teachings suggest combatting these three dark, destructive idols?
First, Baha’u’llah taught, we can each humbly work to develop a new consciousness as global citizens, as members of one human family, refusing to exalt ourselves over anyone else:
Every one can live in any spot on the terrestrial globe. Therefore all the world is man’s birthplace… Every limited area which we call our native country we regard as our motherland, whereas the terrestrial globe is the motherland of all, and not any restricted area. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 300.
Then, as we’re engaged in the process of destroying those false idols of nationalism, racism and communism in our hearts and our collective human consciousness; we can begin to envision and work towards attaining the organic oneness of humanity, religion and the world:
A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of Capital and Labor definitely recognized; in which the clamor of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law—the product of the considered judgment of the world’s federated representatives—shall have as its sanction the instant and coercive intervention of the combined forces of the federated units; and finally a world community in which the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship—such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Baha’u’llah, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 40.