Professor David Gushee argues that a liberal outlook that does not give importance to people's attachment to their country and/or religion is perhaps resulting in a backlash. The signs of this backlash are Trump, Brexit and various type of religious fundamentalisms.
One of the most important developments in global politics and religion is the triumph of “thick” over “thin.” By that I mean the triumph of politicians and religious leaders who offer strong rather than weak national identity platforms, passionate rather than becalmed articulations of loyalty, particularist rather than universalist policy visions.
He contends that it is difficult for universalism and liberalism (thin) to inspire people as much as nationalism and religion (thick) and this has been deomntrated by the events happening around the world. President Putin, President Erdogan and now President-elect are the proofs:
One of the most striking things Donald Trump regularly said during the election campaign was that without border enforcement, “you don’t have a country.”
Perhaps what he meant to apply to one policy issue has broader application, wider resonance. People want to “have a country” that still means something, so they choose country over Europe, country over global trade deals, country over international norms, country over inclusivity ethics. It’s a thick, local, particularist identity and loyalty.
And in religion, “you don’t have a religion” without doctrinal borders, without behavioral expectations, without clear identity demarcations over against those of other religions and no religion.
Professor Gushee's recipe for avoiding future Trumps and religious fundamentalisms is coming up with a different type of religion and nationalism, not liberalism. He is following his own advice:
These days as I prepare to preach weekly sermons in a post-Southern Baptist church outside Atlanta, I am trying to offer a non-fundamentalist but still thick account of Christian theology and practice. Here, I am seeking to say, we teach a religion with substance, a religion worth devoting your life to, a religion with biblical rooting, doctrinal solidity, and ethical-communal expectations. So far, so good.
The same thing will need to happen at the national political level. If we don’t like Donald Trump’s version of thick American nationalism and national loyalty, we must offer an equally thick but more compelling alternative. We must articulate and demonstrate why our understanding of what it means to be American, of the core values of American democracy, and of best public policies, are superior to the alternative on display — within the terms of a thick American identity and loyalty.
Because thick beats thin every time.
Is Professor Gushee's argument valid? Maybe religion and nationalism are so potent (thick) because we socialise and indoctrinate every child with religion and nationalism. If we teach liberalism and universalism from age four, then maybe liberalism also becomes thick?