Thoughts on Patriotism
Many of us worship Mars, but call him God. In other words, the god we want may not be the God we have.
War is the most satisfying way for a nation to demonstrate its superiority. It is the ultimate team sport. Robert E. Lee said: “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
Lee might also have observed, “The natural inclination of men is to kill, destroy and dominate. If we can convince ourselves of God’s approval when we do it, so much the better!”
Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, said: “In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.”
When people say “Freedom isn’t Free,” what they’re actually saying is: “Freedom isn’t free - it requires killing and dying, human sacrifice, as if to the gods of old. It is not a gift from God. Gifts are free. Grace is a gift. Freedom, on the other hand, is earned. And because freedom is earned, we deserve it. We bought it (and continue to pay for it) with our blood, fair and square. We need thank no one but ourselves. Our perseverance and superiority over others have given us a reward worthy of a great people.”
Is freedom a gift from God or is it a right that we seize for ourselves, if we must kill people to obtain it and maintain it? The assertion that it’s a gift implies that God said to us, “I have a gift that I’d love to give you but there are people standing in the way of your receiving it, about which I can do nothing. In order for you to receive my gift you must earn it by killing them.” Does that make sense? And did Jesus provide us an exemption from loving such enemies? Or did he reject the “gift” of freedom by not leading an uprising against the Roman occupiers as a patriot?
If those who are not willing to fight (kill) to be free don't deserve to be free, then Jesus didn't deserve to be free.
Jesus offers us freedom from sin and fear. His response to tyranny is found in Luke 18:7-8. Peter’s is found in 1 Peter 2:18-19.
Exodus demonstrates God’s ability to liberate a people without them firing a shot. They called out to Him and waited patiently. As slaves, they were much less free than American colonists, who denied freedom to their own slaves as they killed to gain more freedom for themselves.
Given the opportunity, would Paul have killed any guards to gain his freedom? His joy was not dependent upon freedom (except that which is provided by Christ).
Imagine Paul closing his letter to Philemon: “Oh, and by the way, if you don't free your slave Onesimus he has our permission to kill you.”
If your enemy takes away your freedoms, pray for wisdom to present a positive Christian witness to him that you both may glorify God. (1 Peter 2:12)
It is quite true that “freedom isn’t (truly) free.” Many think of freedom like an on/off switch. Either you have it or you don’t. But it’s actually a relative term expressing a continuum, with Anarchy (absolute freedom) at one end and Slavery (absolute control) at the other. The United States, like most countries, falls somewhere between the two. Our concept of freedom is a compromise that is constantly changing as new laws are added to the books. Indeed, the very purpose of government is to restrict freedoms to keep us from abusing one another. The Ten Commandments restrict our freedoms. Satan is the god that encourages us to be free to do whatever we want - to engage in the pursuit of happiness, rather than God (if the two were synonymous we could effortlessly resist temptation and there would be no sin). When we say we’re free we’re actually comparing ourselves with some other nation we believe to be closer to the Slavery end than ours. We are not truly free - that would be anarchy.
So-called Judeo-Christian principles include only those principles from the Hebrew Bible that have been assimilated into Christianity. They do not include new principles established by Christ (Christian principles) in the New Testament. A worldview embracing the justice of the Old Testament combined with the “easy” salvation of the New (and nothing more) is attractive to many, as it ignores the higher standards set by Christ.
In contrast to patriotism, love does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
An individual can be Christian but can a country?
If America was founded by God to be a special Christian Nation, then Southerners must acknowledge that secession was rebellion against God.
Patriotism is the means by which the State secures its blessings from the Church.
The very nature of patriotism is competition – us vs. them. Christianity is all about cooperation (without compromising obedience to Christ).
The American way of life (our national glory) is a god for which we’ll kill. Veterans’ memorials, with their flag-topped Asherah poles, are its shrines. I’m committed to the Kingdom way of life (God’s glory), for which I’ll die.
On August 1, 1914 the kaiser declared war on Russia, and appealing to cheering German crowds, bellowed: "Let your hearts beat for God and your fists on the enemy." In other words, love God, hate your enemy. Regarding the latter, Jesus’ response is found in Matthew 5:43-44.
“The kingdom of God – a king and a kingdom, but no state or land requiring violence to defend.”
There are Christians residing in the US who think of the world’s population in terms of ‘Americans’ and ‘non-Americans.’ If, as an American Christian, you would not have felt the same sorrow had the 9/11 attacks occurred in Mexico City, you should carefully consider your citizenship in the worldwide kingdom of God.
“Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.”—George Jean Nathan
Assuming you're an American, by whom would you rather be killed?
(A) an American
(B) a non-American
(C) no preference
If you chose answer (A) you are more likely to support the invasion of foreign countries as a method of reducing your risks of premature death. A cost/benefit analysis of this method would likely produce a much higher cost than other risk-minimizing strategies for prolonging your life (such as re-establishing a national speed limit). We aren’t terribly upset by Americans killing Americans. But when Americans die in a terrorist attack we’re outraged that they were killed by non-Americans because our national pride is wounded.
Regarding Romans 13, there is a difference between submitting to the government and condoning its actions. It’s the difference between avoiding rebellion and being an advocate of government policies. The German Church had to wrestle with this distinction in the 30’s and early 40’s. The State does not bind itself to the commands of Christ but the Christian is bound by them (e.g., Matt 5:38-39, Luke 6:27-28) and cannot use the excuse of government service to avoid them, thereby placing the State above Christ. Romans 13 was not a recruiting pitch by Paul to join the State (which was pagan at the time of his writing). On the contrary, he said: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” and “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”
When Christians replaced pagans as the Authorities did they gain exemption from the command to love their enemies and thus inherit the right to rule like pagans? (If you can ignore that command you can ignore all Christ's commands.)
Patriots believe that peace is the absence of opposition to our will.
The efforts Christians put into making their transitory country greater should instead be invested in expanding the kingdom of God.
“Civil religion is neither bona fide religion nor ordinary patriotism, but a new alloy formed by blending religion with nationalism. If civil religions were bona fide religions then one would expect to find a soft side to them, teaching love of neighbor and upholding peace and compassion. But this is not the case.” —Stjepan Mestrovic
Another reason Christians should not be bound to their nation’s agenda: “While reviewing the cables, Tamm says, he first spotted reports that referred to the rendition of terror suspects to countries like Egypt and Morocco, where aggressive interrogation practices banned by American law were used. It appeared to Tamm that CIA officers knew “what was going to happen to [the suspects]”—that the government was indirectly participating in abusive interrogations that would be banned under U.S. law.” (Newsweek magazine)
John McCain proclaims the United States to be “the greatest force for good in the world today.” No, John, that honor goes to the kingdom of God.
Another expression of America-worship, this one from Newt Gingrich: “America is still the last, best hope of mankind on earth.” I thought Jesus was the last, best hope of mankind.
Mitt Romney (10/22/12): "This nation is the hope of the earth…I'd like to be the next president of the United States to support and help this great nation and to make sure that we all together [no mention of the King or His Kingdom here either] remain America as the hope of the earth."
Ronald Reagan (10/27/64) on the urgency of electing Barry Goldwater: "We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness."
Abraham Lincoln (12/1/1862): "We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth."
(Does God have any say in the future of His creation? If you're a non-American reader these quotes should give you a sense of how Americans see themselves.)
Rick Santorum (9/15/12): "The basic premise of America and American values will always be sustained through two institutions -- the church and the family." I hope you're wrong, Rick. The church should be sustaining kingdom of God values.
America is not the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God does not depend upon the survival of any kingdom of the world.
Former vice president Dick Cheney said on 2/4/09 that protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” Then I guess this isn’t a Christian nation.
As a citizen of the kingdom of God I am not emotionally invested in this kingdom of the world in which I live. My focus must be on God and my neighbor.
Would Jesus fly the flag of a kingdom of the world? Why should His Church?
If you’re having trouble letting go of your national flag it is an idol, for it does not represent God.
Nations are temporary. The kingdom of God is eternal.
If our armed forces were abolished most Christians would be terrified by the prospect of trusting in God alone. If He has a continuing purpose for America as we know it, the God of The Flood can prevent its demise at the hands of its enemies.
Many Christians in America have never seen an American war they didn’t like, one they thought was not God’s will. Even if there was a Christian justification for killing to preserve our freedoms, nearly all of the wars in which we’ve engaged since the Revolution were not a response to a legitimate threat to our liberties. It can even be argued that wars beyond our borders cost many more lives than merely assuming a vigilant defensive posture (the major enabler of 9/11 was the failure, after the many hijackings of the 1970's, to prudently install locking armored cockpit doors in airliners). Yet we perpetuate the myth that those who have fallen “died (and killed) to protect our freedoms.” We must acknowledge that such thinking reflects the reality that we place a higher value upon our lifestyle than upon our loved ones who are sacrificed to preserve it.
Do military chaplains ever tell their troops: “Have nothing to do with this war - it does not meet Just War criteria.”? Do they ever contemplate whether they’re placing the State above God? (disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of Just War theory)
Do eulogies at military funerals ever include Jesus’ admonition: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”? (Had I been killed in Desert Storm it would have been an appropriate lesson at my funeral.)
When Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” I don't think he meant “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man get killed killing his friends’ enemies.” (When you engage your friends' enemies, they become your enemies, whom you must love. Killing them is not among your options. One option consistent with Jesus' words would be to place your body between your friend/loved one and their enemy.)
While patriotism may be comforting to the non-Christian, for the Christian it is an unnecessary liability - one that, like power, is seductive and addicting, sometimes intoxicating. As a justification to succumb to worldly inclinations (such as the lust for glory), its ultimate purpose is to motivate the populace for war and to console us when our loved ones come home in coffins from war.
Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism? The Founding Fathers are our ultimate examples of patriots. They were willing to kill, and did kill, to get what they wanted. What makes them better, from a Christian perspective, than nationalists?
War results from a lack of patience with God and a lack of trust. Had it not been for the American Revolution, we might today be as oppressed as the Canadians or Australians. There probably wouldn’t have been an American Civil War, as slavery had been abolished in the British Empire earlier in the century.
According to the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” According to Romans 13 governments are instituted by God, deriving their just powers from God. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible sacred text. It is an impressive political manifesto designed to justify armed rebellion, but without Christian justification.
So what gave us the authority to violate Romans 13:1-2 and rebel against a government that acknowledged the sovereignty of Christ? The scripture makes no exceptions, even for pagan dictatorships like the Roman Empire. In the Old Testament, did God ever tell the people of Israel or Judah to rebel against their wicked king? “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are alienable rights granted by government because government can take them away, based upon one's behavior. Which truly inalienable rights should be recognized by government, regardless of behavior? I would include among these the right to not be tortured.
Democracy had existed prior to Christ in the Greek city-states and elsewhere but nowhere is it endorsed in the Bible. Had the Israelites demanded self-rule rather than a king it is unlikely God would have been any more pleased with them, as it is no closer to the rule of God than monarchy. Its defense rests on the belief that God’s will is manifested through the desires of the masses. There is no Christian justification for killing people to obtain or maintain it.
Having first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864, “In God We Trust” has consistently appeared on all our coinage only since 1938. Ironically, many of us (including many Christians) don’t trust in God - if you have a fear of death, for example, you don’t trust in God. More truthful mottoes might include “In Our Political Party We Trust” or “In Our Military We Trust”. And if we were to express our highest ideal on a coin it would read: "Keeping Americans Safe from Non-Americans", the unstated part being: "at any cost to both groups". Instead of being the "Home of the Brave", this might be the "Home of the Fearful".
“Liberty,” however, has been on our coinage consistently since it’s beginning (even personified, as if it were a goddess). We have a colossus of Liberty but no comparable monument to God. In political discourse we lavish far more praise and attention on political Liberty/Freedom than on God. God is Love, not Freedom, and placing Freedom above Love is un-Christlike, if not idolatrous.The continuing mantra by many American Christians of "Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!" instead of "Love, Love, Love!" or "Obedience to Christ, Obedience to Christ, Obedience to Christ!" suggests a desire, dating back to the Revolution, to maintain a justification for violence on behalf of Freedom.
The Roman Republic/Empire thrived for centuries as a pagan nation but ceased to exist less than a century after officially becoming Christian. If God wanted a “Christian nation” in the sense that America is believed to be, why didn’t He enable the survival of the Christianized Roman Empire?
“Jingoism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy’. In practice, it refers to the advocation of the use of threats or actual force against other countries in order to safeguard what they perceive as their country’s national interests, and colloquially to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism.” - from Wikipedia’s article on ‘Jingoism’ (Rather than extremes, I would characterize them as typical examples.)
“National flags, national anthems, and other symbols of national identity are often considered sacred, as if they were religious rather than political symbols. Deep emotions are aroused.” - from Wikipedia’s article on ‘Nationalism’
“Some religious believers place their religion above their ‘fatherland’, often resulting in suspicion and hostility from patriots.” - from Wikipedia’s article on ‘Patriotism’ (Any threat to national glory must be silenced.)
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” - former Reichsmarshall Hermann Göering
Serving one’s country is not the same as serving God:
Serving Two Masters
Gott Mit Uns
God [is] With Us