[pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, esp. British, pa–]
Over the Fourth of July weekend, I was reminded that while growing up I heard a lot about our allegiance needing to be to God and Country. These were based on three mostly unexamined, strongly held beliefs in the Evangelical culture that I grew up in. The first belief was that the United States was exceptional because it had been founded on a belief in God. Second, that somewhere along the way as a country we had turned our back on God and the country was on its way to ruin (probably at the same time as the apocalypse because who could imagine the world without the USA!). Third, was that we as Christians needed to change the political, moral, and spiritual climate of our country to save it.
The first belief I have already addressed somewhat in my post “Did the U.S.A. Founding Fathers Disobey Jesus’ Teachings”. The Revolutionary War wasn’t based on founding a country on God but on a refusal to pay taxes, something Jesus clearly commanded Christians to do. A lot of the revolutionary founding fathers were only nominally Christian and were often more involved in Masonry clubs, Deism, and cutting out large chunks of Scripture and creating the Jefferson Bible. While it was amazing that they defeated a superpower and created a brilliant Constitution and Bill of Rights, they did so in direct rebellion to Jesus’ words. It brings up the question, why Evangelicalism would even push patriotism.
For instance, I was always taught that respect for Icons in Catholicism and Orthodoxy was idol worship (instead of them being aids to worship that came out of necessity of a largely illiterate populous for thousands of years), however I was never taught that saying the Pledge of Allegiance or treating the flag with great respect was in any way idolatry. In fact, patriotism seemed to be taught even more in Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. For example, when I attended Christian Community School, the history and social studies curriculum that used was A Beka, which is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College, a fundamentalist Independent Baptist college. The books had extremely precise instructions on flag etiquette, including when and where to display it, how to fold it, and how to dispose of it when it was threadbare. They books often emphasized the exceptionalism of the USA as compared to all other countries. In our school, we said the pledge of allegiance every day through high school and I was surprised that my peers in public school often didn’t.
In my opinion, the source of the push of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists to teach patriotism is found in the second assumption. In order to convince people to work to change a country, the citizens need to be persuaded that the country deserves its love and loyalty. I can see why the nation’s public schools would be pushing patriotism, due to the nation’s need for willing soldiers to defend it. That’s why the government instilled school lunches (not enough children met the weight restrictions to pass an army physical) and why they added the phrase “under God” to the pledge of allegiance (to differentiate our country from those “godless communists” during the Cold War). For its survival in a violent world, a country needs to teach its citizens to love it enough to die for it.
Even as a child, I was raised to question some of the three assumptions. Because I was a child of an immigrant, I learned that the USA was not the center of the world, despite what most maps sold here display by cutting the rest of the world in half. The Netherlands (where my father was from and my mother’s heritage was) was equally important as the founding of all Western Civilization. The Netherlands first had freedom of religion, freedom of the press, conquered most of the world, and had the best artists. Most of the Protestant denominations have some of their roots in the Netherlands. The Puritans first came there to find freedom of religion and just couldn’t hack it so went off to America to make a more cozy life from themselves (in the wilds of New England). Due to my heritage, I realized that there are a lot of positives and negatives about every country. However, questioning patriotism didn’t come until my adulthood.
First, there is no reference that I can find about patriotism in the Bible. The whole “God and Country” thing isn’t in there. The Israelites of course was a theocracy for a while and when they wanted a government in the form of a king, God really didn’t recommend it (Samuel 8:10-18).In the New Testament, all the players are under a conquering nation that would just as likely commit full genocide against them as use them to get taxes. The Romans almost succeeded wiping out both Jews and Christians. The only thing that Jesus says about the government is to give them taxes if they require it and Paul tells us to obey the laws. In fact, throughout history Christians have been torn on the subject of both patriotism and military service (which will be addressed in a future post).
While there is no Scriptural basis for patriotism, I feel guilty for even suggesting that Christians have no call to be patriotic. There are a few reasons for this. The first is the argument that you need to be patriotic to support veterans. I would argue one can admire their courage, have gratitude for the freedom that they fought for, and insist that we care for veterans without tying it to patriotism. Patriotism is love and defense of the country not love and defense of our veterans as the courageous individuals that they are. I admire my dad’s courage during Vietnam. He went though awful things to protect Vietnamese citizens. However, I can also look at our country and our government during that time and objectively state that they were corrupt and treated our soldiers horribly. The second is because certain religions refuse to say the pledge and are sometimes loud and arrogant about it, causing a scene at graduations or sporting events. I would state that wasn’t behaving lovingly. Standing respectfully and silent while respecting other’s beliefs I would argue is the most loving way to deal with patriotic situations if one doesn’t agree with them. Thirdly, I would state that admiration and gratitude toward the people who carved our nation, gave us the constitution, defended it from threat and who continue to work toward bettering it is healthy. Is that patriotism or something less? According to the definition, patriotism is more extreme than simple gratitude or admiration and I would argue that love and devotion belong to God and other people, not countries or objects.