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Cosmopolitanism and Christianity


by Philip L. Quinn

Near the beginning of her splendidly provocative "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism," Martha Nussbaum asks: Should students "be taught that they are above all citizens of the United States, or should they instead be taught that they are above all citizens of a world of human beings, and that, while they themselves happen to be situated in the United States, they have to share this world of human beings with the citizens of other countries?" If forced to choose between these two alternatives, I would opt for the second. But since the question presupposes a false dichotomy, there are other alternatives to consider. I favor teaching students that they are above all citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus taught that the greatest and first commandment is this: "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). This commanded love of God defines a Christian's first allegiance; any other ultimate allegiance is a form of idolatry. To cherish a nation or state above all is to worship a small idol. To transfer one's first allegiance to humanity as a whole is simply to relocate oneself before a larger idol.

Christianity is a world religion, and so a Christian church can provide a focus of loyalty that transcends nations and states. Yet Christian churches always need to be reformed, and at their best they are always reforming themselves. So even Christian students should not be taught that they are above all members of the institutional churches to which they now happen to belong.

The Great Commandment of Jesus has, of course, a second part. Jesus also taught that the second commandment is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Love of God and love of neighbor are connected. Christians are to love their neighbors as God loves them. Why does God love them? Christians, who share the Hebrew Bible with Jews and Muslims, can also share with them the answer that it is because the neighbor, being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), participates in God's perfect goodness. But since all humans are equally images and likenesses of God, absolutely anyone one encounters is a neighbor whom one is commanded to love, as Kierkegaard emphasized in Works of Love. So Christian love of neighbor cannot stop short of being cosmopolitan, even though a Christian's first allegiance is to love of God. But a Christian's love of neighbor need be no less ardent merely because the neighbor is not loved above all but as a fellow citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Christianity is, no doubt, shot through with historical particularities, and all too often its particularities have given birth to vicious exclusions. Despite its miserable historical record, however, it has also provided the imaginative and emotional resources to sustain a great many people, from all walks of life, in the project of living lives suffused with love of their neighbors. It is doubtful that appeals to the universality of reason and moral capacity in humanity can furnish such sustenance to more than a few intellectuals. It may well be, then, that the enterprise of cosmopolitan education will fail unless religious traditions such as Christianity can be recruited to serve as its willing allies. If that is the case, it will turn out to be a pity that the peculiarities of American constitutional law and the hostility of American secular culture to religion combine to make such an alliance extremely unlikely.



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