Paul Miller misrepresents Christian nationalism in his new book.
The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism by Paul D. Miller (InterVarsity Press, 2022), 304 pages.
June brings back pleasant memories, such as the summer concert, end of school and leisurely church picnics. Pride Month is growing in June. It is a national holiday that can’t be ignored in many areas of the country. It is honored at numerous events in schools, libraries and workplaces; media outlets devote innumerable stories of public interest to it; and woke capitalists push it into our faces through limited-time products and advertising.
The normalization of sexual identities and genders that were once marginalized and excluded, as well as a common definition of man that is hostile to his flourishing and preservation is cause for concern. This is especially true since the ideologues frequently seek to force their peers (and their children!) to accept their mistakes and adopt them. See how aggressive public schools are trying to indoctrinate their children with radical gender ideology and block parental intervention. They even penalize dissidents who “misgender” in school.
Many conservative Christians and Christians feel alarmed by the threat these political and social trends pose to the country, especially its children. Less alarmed is Paul D. Miller, according to his dustjacket a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer.” In his new book The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism, Miller is more concerned about the threat from what he calls Christian nationalists, who present what he perceives as a danger to the republic from the right.
Miller describes Christian nationalism by believing that there is something that is identifiable as an American “nation” that is distinct from all other nations. He also cites the following foundational principles: (1) Humanity is broken into different cultural units, (2) each nation should have its own state, and (3) the government should be able to control the culture of the country. Two more are added by Miller that he believes American Christian nationalism is distinct: (1) America’s culture was Anglo-Protestant, and (2) AngloProtestant culture is an essential precondition to the American experiment’s success.
His sparring partners for what he calls “a bad political theory” will be familiar to TAC readers: Pat Buchanan, Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Deneen, R.R. Reno and Yoram Hazony are just a few of his competitors. But his focus is largely on the evangelical manifestations of nationalism. Miller’s argument is immediately flawed because Dominionist nationalism looks very different from, for example, Hillsdale lecturer Michael Anton who Miller incorrectly and clumsily accuses of making “openly racist appeals
Miller is a master of misrepresentations, exaggerations, and denials of nationalism. Three examples are given below. He claims nationalists “seem to believe that love of country means overlooking past wrongdoings, that focusing on the sins of the past is somehow unpatriotic.” No, they believe it is bad for civic health for education programs like those of the “1619 Project” or the Southern Poverty Law Center to teach school children that their national origin story is preeminently one of racism and bigotry.
Miller points out that there is cultural overlap among nations and the existence minority cultures within some nations. This undermines his principle of nationality. He writes that the nationalist belief in the division of humanity into separate cultural units is absurd. There are no nation-states today. Who defines a country-state as such a totalizing term?
Nationalist political has been often imperfect, and I dare say even tolerant in its application. Henry V shows Scotsmen and Welshmen fighting bravely under the English flag. Nationalism’s ability to achieve greater goods, such as security and economic prosperity for all citizens regardless of their cultural differences is what defines its potency. Prudential judgements are used to determine how many polis members will be united around the common mythos and telos that is needed for defining and maintaining a country. The late Meatloaf might be instructive at this stage in American history: “Two of three isn’t bad.”
Finally, Miller argues that nationalists “emphasize culture over ideas, which contradicts what the founders believed about their ideas.” The Georgetown professor should familiarize himself with Federalist No. 2:
Provinces had been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general Liberty and Independence.
Or perhaps George Washington’s Farewell Address
The name of American belongs to you as a national citizen. It must exalt patriotism’s just pride more than any local distinctions. You share the same religious beliefs, customs, practices, political views, and even slight differences.
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The Framers, pace Miller, did not think an impersonal proceduralism tethered to principles of individual liberty and due process were sufficient for the health of a republic. This required certain people–and they believed they were blessed with the unimaginable luck of having such a populace. It is my hope that Americans will share enough common understandings of human nature, the common good and the political and cultural characteristics that made America great that it can have a chance at survival.
But we should not follow Miller’s prognosis which emphasizes failed ideas such as “liberal neutrality”, promoted by David French, his friend and foreword writer. Speaking of French, Miller cites the same Drag Queen Story Hour controversy that provoked Sohrab Ahmari’s now-legendary critique of him in 2019. Miller wrote: “Drag queens too are citizens, regardless of their views on sexuality. They deserve equal treatment according to law, which allows them equal access to the public resources. It would be unfair to deny them public access due to their beliefs or identities.
What Miller and French don’t understand is that legal indifferentism, and the culture it influences, cannot define men or women accurately, like Ketanji Jackson couldn’t during the recent Senate confirmation hearing. It is absurd to assume that the LGBTQ+ ideologues will be willing to accept a concession for opponents on religious or speech grounds, given their strategic plan. Miller asserts that nationalism “is arbitrary” and is dependent on coercion, exclusion and discrimination. See the alternatives.