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Thoughts on Patriotism…

We all love the flags, the rah-rah’s, the warm feelings, the deep respect, and the gratitude we have for the gift of our country. Counter-balancing that, however, is a current and recurring reality that, in the minds of some, patriotism and chauvinism have become confused. The word chauvinism comes from Nicholas Chauvin, a soldier in Napoleon’s army who was blindly loyal to him. Chauvinism is zealous and aggressive patriotism, a conviction that we are better because we are chosen. It expresses itself in excessive enthusiasm for military glory and holds no room for difference of opinion. It believes that “God is on our side” and puts blind uncritical faith in one’s leaders. Chauvinist beliefs continue to have prominence in our society. The reality, I think, is better summarized by these few thoughts:
  1. 1)  Patriotism should not be based on the mistaken premise that America was founded as a Christian nation. A thorough researching of the historical documents reflects the spirit of the founding fathers as people who were fearful of religious interference in the rule of law. Those who think otherwise reflect the spirit of Cotton Mather & later thinkers who believed that Americans were people of chosenness and destiny. In reality, the founding fathers were rationalists and deists.
  2. 2)  Patriotism holds America to the ideals on which it was founded. Our founding documents charge our government with the responsibility to serve the common good. They emphasize that all people are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. Especially important for these days is the constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state. Although the vision of America enshrined in our founding documents is consistent with the biblical vision of peace and wholeness, it does not advocate a theocracy (a country ruled by God, or the people who say they speak for God) in America.
  3. 3)  Patriotism is based on compassion rather than hatred. Compassion is the foundation on which we build the just society envisioned by our country’s founders. Currently, our country is divided into the haves and the have-nots. True patriots will strive to pay the price so that the underclass and all those who are denied access to the American dream of liberty and justice for all will share in it.
  4. 4)  Patriotism affirms unity in our diversity. One of our greatest gifts is that diverse peoples are striving to live together in a reconciled way, all adding different gifts to the strengthening of our country. We all share in a common underlying humanity and underlying dream. Sadly, this vision of a diverse yet unified America is not always reflected in reality. One measure of patriotism is a commitment to support the inclusion of all Americans in the promise of the American dream.
  5. 5)  Finally, a true patriot has the courage to call our leaders to accountability. Patriotism keeps the focus on our historical vision. When that vision is defiled, patriots are willing to stand in opposition to policies that are unjust, do not reflect the high ideals on which this country was founded, and are destructive of the common good. Patriots address the devastating realities of our times by such actions as becoming informed about the founding vision of our country, working to elect wise and compassionate leaders, being prepared to sacrifice so that others might share in America’s promise, and if necessary, being willing to die for a cause that is just and honorable.

Happy Patriot’s Day – July 4, 2014!