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Thom Wade

Patriotism and the Christian Faith

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Chesterton:

Cosmopolitanism gives us one country, and it is good; nationalism gives us a hundred countries, and every one of them is the best. Cosmopolitanism offers a positive, patriotism a chorus of superlatives.

No. That's not a chorus. It's a cacophony of discordant voices, each one trying to outshout the other.

You only see the dark side; Chesterton celebrates the light side. A village in which every man thinks his wife is the most beautiful is not necessarily a cacaphony of voices trying to outshout the other. Chesterton has no interest in outshouting anyone.

And that's why I think the context and the time in which Chesterton wrote is important. I'm not sure how one can look at the history of the past 100 years and celebrate the "light side" of patriotism. Maybe The Producers and "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" was fun and frivolous, but that's about it. It's misplaced faith, in my opinion, to believe that humankind will somehow remain on the light side of that demonic line of demarcation.

Ideologies are powerful things, and they tend to get people killed, and turn them into killers. If a nation can simultaneously believe in and celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of itself while recognizing the goodness and uniqueness of other nations, then maybe Chesterton's ideas are viable. But it hasn't seemed to work that way since the Garden of Eden.

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The three paragraphs you didn't reply to, especially the last, are my reply.

Also, patriotism ≠ ideology. Far from it.

Edited by SDG

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The three paragraphs you didn't reply to, especially the last, are my reply.

Also, patriotism ≠ ideology. Far from it.

This may be a terminology issue, then. "Patriotism" is pretty much a swear word for me. I've seen it twisted by the Church, particularly the Evangelical Church, to mean a certain way of thinking, voting, etc. that I think has little to no relationship with Christianity. I've never seen it used in any way other than to define "in" and "out" groups. That's not the kind of Christianity I want to believe in or attempt to live.

I think it matters how we define our identity, and while I think it's theoretically possible to define "patriotism" in the way you (and perhaps Chesterton, although I'm not entirely convinced) want to define it, I'm not sure I want to go there. The word itself is too loaded. It simply promotes a view that "we" (whoever "we" happen to be) are better/more important than "you." And people don't get razzed in that context, as if this was all a bunch of inconsequantial joshing about favorite sports teams. They get bombed. They get murdered. That's what "patriotism" means to me.

My citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven always has to take precedence over any other allegiance. Always. And I simply can't reconcile how "my neighborhood/city/state/country is the best" fits in with that primary allegiance. The vision is far too small. I'm not saying I always do this well, or even do it at all, but that at least seems to be where I should derive my identity. I don't care a fig about the flags and anthems and ideologies, and I don't know how you separate that from patriotism.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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This may be a terminology issue, then. "Patriotism" is pretty much a swear word for me.

Yeah, I thought so. And I sympathize with the experiences you cite.

I've seen it twisted by the Church, particularly the Evangelical Church, to mean a certain way of thinking, voting, etc. that I think has little to no relationship with Christianity. I've never seen it used in any way other than to define "in" and "out" groups. That's not the kind of Christianity I want to believe in or attempt to live.

I think it matters how we define our identity, and while I think it's theoretically possible to define "patriotism" in the way you (and perhaps Chesterton, although I'm not entirely convinced) want to define it, I'm not sure I want to go there. The word itself is too loaded. It simply promotes a view that "we" (whoever "we" happen to be) are better/more important than "you." And people don't get razzed in that context, as if this was all a bunch of inconsequantial joshing about favorite sports teams. They get bombed. They get murdered. That's what "patriotism" means to me.

Well, per the Stanley Cup riot example, among others, people can get hurt and in some cases even killed from sports fanaticism too. And I don't know how much of a sports guy you are or how many you know, but the razzing I had in mind doesn't necessarily stay at the level of inconsequential joshing. Emotions ride high and tempers flare. Even when people aren't hurt, too often there is genuinely bad blood in some of those famous sports rivalries. How many people actually feel such animosity toward the Yankees that they actually see Yankee fans, in some real sense, as enemies or bad people, people on the wrong side?

But there is an old principle much beloved in Catholic philosophy, abusus non tollit usam (the abuse does not abolish the use).

My citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven always has to take precedence over any other allegiance. Always. And I simply can't reconcile how "my neighborhood/city/state/country is the best" fits in with that primary allegiance. The vision is far too small. I'm not saying I always do this well, or even do it at all, but that at least seems to be where I should derive my identity. I don't care a fig about the flags and anthems and ideologies, and I don't know how you separate that from patriotism.

Yeah. I think I understand. Can I say that this seems to me as if it may be a rather, so to speak, Protestant way of thinking? (Not to generalize about all Protestants, of course.) At least, to me it seems like saying that what matters most matters so much that lesser things are not allowed to matter at all. The Best is the enemy of the good, or rather what other good can there be? God, Heaven, is the great Rival, not just potentially and in principle, but actually and in practice. Thus, e.g., the glory and worship of God is pitted against veneration of the saints, or the obedience due to the bishop or the pope, so that to honor or pray to the saints or to submit oneself to the pope is to take away from God.

Catholics tend to think hierarchically and analogously. What I owe absolutely and infinitely to my Heavenly Father is, in some dim, derivative way, echoed or reflected in what I owe to my father, my priest, my bishop, my pope. God's claim, of course, is absolute and has precedence, so that if it came down to my father, my priest, my bishop or my pope commanding me to go against God's will, or my last best judgment of what God's will is, then I should have to set my face against human authority and obey God rather than men. I must be prepared to "hate" even father or mother for the sake of the kingdom. But "hatred" of this sort presupposes a prior love and loyalty. A man who does not love his father and mother cannot "hate" them in the sense Christ intended.

Thomas More said it very well when he went to his death after years of defying the king's will, declaring, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." That is how I reconcile my allegiance to America and my allegiance to Heaven. I am perfectly prepared to defy my country if necessary. Patriotism doesn't make me blind to my nation's faults -- if anything, it makes me more aware of them, makes them more grievous to me. It hurts much more if your father is a drunk than if a stranger is a drunk. It hurts more because you love more.

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SDG wrote:

: Also, patriotism ≠ ideology. Far from it.

FWIW, this reminds me of the line in White Nights where Baryshnikov's character says he's Russian but not Soviet.

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Yeah. I think I understand. Can I say that this seems to me as if it may be a rather, so to speak, Protestant way of thinking? (Not to generalize about all Protestants, of course.) At least, to me it seems like saying that what matters most matters so much that lesser things are not allowed to matter at all. The Best is the enemy of the good, or rather what other good can there be? God, Heaven, is the great Rival, not just potentially and in principle, but actually and in practice. Thus, e.g., the glory and worship of God is pitted against veneration of the saints, or the obedience due to the bishop or the pope, so that to honor or pray to the saints or to submit oneself to the pope is to take away from God.

Catholics tend to think hierarchically and analogously. What I owe absolutely and infinitely to my Heavenly Father is, in some dim, derivative way, echoed or reflected in what I owe to my father, my priest, my bishop, my pope. God's claim, of course, is absolute and has precedence, so that if it came down to my father, my priest, my bishop or my pope commanding me to go against God's will, or my last best judgment of what God's will is, then I should have to set my face against human authority and obey God rather than men. I must be prepared to "hate" even father or mother for the sake of the kingdom. But "hatred" of this sort presupposes a prior love and loyalty. A man who does not love his father and mother cannot "hate" them in the sense Christ intended.

Thomas More said it very well when he went to his death after years of defying the king's will, declaring, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." That is how I reconcile my allegiance to America and my allegiance to Heaven. I am perfectly prepared to defy my country if necessary. Patriotism doesn't make me blind to my nation's faults -- if anything, it makes me more aware of them, makes them more grievous to me. It hurts much more if your father is a drunk than if a stranger is a drunk. It hurts more because you love more.

I appreciate your points here, Steven. But it seems to me that the hierarchical/analogical argument only works if the subordinate allegiance is roughly in alignment with the primary allegiance. It obviously doesn't apply if the subordinate allegiance conflicts with or contradicts the primary allegiance. So let me ask you this: If, as individuals, we are called to live humbly, serving one another, considering one another as more important than ourselves, etc., then at what point are we justified in doing the chest-thumping, prideful "my country is the best" dance?

It is this implied comparison and judgment that I find distasteful, and frankly, I'm not sure how else to read Chesterton's words:

Cosmopolitanism gives us one country, and it is good; nationalism gives us a hundred countries, and every one of them is the best. Cosmopolitanism offers a positive, patriotism a chorus of superlatives.

The fact is that nationalism does NOT give us a hundred countries. It's never worked that way. It gives us OUR country, which is, by definition, the best, and your country, which you only think is the best, and then we get to duke it out to find out who's right. It is only within a Christian framework that one could possibly entertain the notion that OUR country, which is a good one, is no better than any other country in God's eyes because the world -- the world, mind you -- has been lived in, bled for, died for, and redeemed by one who is no respecter of borders and ideologies. If nations could actually maintain that attitude, then there might actually be hope. But they cannot.

The closest we can come to the notion of nationalism in any meaningful Christian sense is the Church, the people of God. By definition that citizenship has nothing to do with political borders or ideologies. And here is where your hierarchical/analogical argument breaks down for me. Allegiance to God implies love, service, and humility toward all. Nationalism and patriotism means that there are tribes where we can pick and choose. But we can't. We have not been given that option. Patriotism implies "us" and "them." Christianity implies "us" and those we desire to welcome as our brothers and sisters. That's it.

Is this all hopelessly idealistic and naive? Of course it is. Is patriotism the result of the Fall? Of course it is. It's a necessary evil, I suppose. But don't ask me to embrace it.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I wonder if we're getting hung up on Chesterton's use of "the best" here. I love Canada but I would never in a million years say it was "the best country in the world", or disparage anyone else for loving their own country as much as I do mine.

The comparison made earlier in this thread between love-for-country and love-for-family is interesting here, as entire threads have been created here at A&F towards "bragging about our spouses" or some such thing, and I find such things kind of... distasteful. Would anyone say that we should go around saying "My wife is the best!" or "My children are the best!"? Perhaps not -- but we would still expect people to love their own families more than anyone else's, and to take a special pride in their own families (when warranted) that they would not take in anyone else's, and that no one else would take in theirs.

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Okay. So we have a couple of basic disagreements, and some points of tension that may be somewhat exaggerated.

Partly, as you say, it's a matter of definition. To you "patriotism" means chest-thumping, prideful exaltation of your country at the expense of other countries, presumably in the genuine conviction that your country really is the best and most important. I, and Chesterton, I think I can say, agree that this is evil.

The word "best" seems to lie close to the root of your concerns. It's important to note the obvious use of quintessentially Chestertonian paradox: "Every one of them is the best." Obviously Chesterton doesn't really mean that different countries are simultaneously better and worse than each other at the same time and in the same respect -- and since I don't think Chesterton arrogantly places himself above the sentiment he praises, I don't think he means to praise a patriotism in which other men believe what Chesterton himself does not believe. Nor do I think we can ascribe to Chesterton the odious sentiment you describe, according to which everyone believes that his country is really the best and so everyone is is wrong, or disparages other people for loving their country just as much, much less wants to duke it out to see "who is right."

What then does Chesterton mean by "best"? At the most basic level, I think "best" is used here an objective expression of a subjective sentiment. The "best" in this sense is the one I love the best, the one that it is mine. By "subjective" I don't mean "unreal" or "illusory," I mean "from the perspective of one who is in a position to know this one thing." I think we don't really understand anything without loving it at least a little, or at least regarding it with sympathy. A historian sets out to write a book about an ambiguous movement or figure, and, if he is a good historian, the movement or figure usually becomes in some way the hero (even if a tragic hero) of his work, because he learns to understand from the inside. A scientist who devotes his life to studying one particular species or discipline comes to regard it as the most fascinating topic in the world. A man who truly loves a woman sees her truly, and sees the glories in her that others perceive only in part. It is he, not they, who knows her best, and he is uniquely able to appreciate and praise her for what she truly is.

I don't think this sort of patriotism is nearly as utopian or unheard-of as you seem to think. I think there are lots of people in the world, and always have been, who love their own land and people best without falling into the kind of prideful chest-thumping you fear. I think many even regard other nations and people with a kind of amused condescension or dismissive rivalry that is really not all that different from the inconsequential joshing that occurs between healthy sports fans of opposing alliances (I suspect the famous English-French rivalry is often, though not always, no more than this).

I don't believe this kind of thing leads to wars. I believe that countries wage wars for political objectives, to get their own way, to secure their power, etc. Wars are not waged for patriotism. I'm not even sure wars are waged for ideology. I tend to think of ideology as a justifying narrative we tell ourselves to rationalize our objectives. Ideology may make wars practical insofar as they help persuade people to support them, but I doubt whether ideology is really the root cause of any war, and certainly I don't think that anyone wages war to "see who is right" or "who is better."

Patriotism may be useful in encouraging young men to fight for objectives, but objectives, not patriotism, are the driver. Patriotism can also induce young men to heroism in a truly just war. Patriotic fervor was part of the mix of factors that sent German troops marching into neighboring countries; it was also part of the mix of factors strengthening Allied troops to resist the Nazis.

Mark Shea, writing on July 1:

As you read this, I am up in Edmonton, Alberta at a conference dedicated to Familiaris Consortio [a papal document on the family]. It is a sort of happy coincidence that as we Yankees are busy celebrating our Independence Day and the founding of the United States, our Canadian brethren are celebrating the founding of an even more important Republic: the Family.

Independence Day is, for us Americans, the primordial celebration of our beginning as a people. It is the original celebration of American patriotism, and patriotism is a good thing. Patriotism is rooted in the same thing that Familiaris Consortio is rooted in: the conviction that the family is a natural good, instituted by God and reflective of him because we are in his image and likeness. Love of family is the origin of patriotism and patriotism is simply the love of family carried to one’s borders. It is a good thing to love and enjoy your natural family, to have the shared stories, the enjoyment of your father’s, mother’s, brother’s and sister’s, aunt’s and uncle’s, grandfather’s and grandmother’s quirky anecdotes, tales of adventures, dirges of mourning, prayers of thankgiving and tales of joy. You love your country as you love your family, not because of something they did to earn your love, but because they are yours—your family, your people. You and I owe our country a debt we can never repay just as we owe our family such a debt. Our very ability to gripe about our country is due to the fact that she gave you your native tongue, your freedom to gripe, and your critical intellect rooted in a distinctly American outlook that allows for civil disagreements without firing squads or jail to hinder us from deliberating on the common good. And that’s just the beginning of the immense bounty that has been poured out on you and me, fought for and bled for on Bunker Hill, at Gettysburg, and on the beaches at Normandy. We owe a debt to millions who surround us and millions who precede us for a birthright we can’t even measure, much less repay.

So it’s a fine thing to celebrate patriotism toward ones country, just as it is a fine thing to celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s day. It were rank ingratitude not to do so. Love of your neighbor, which is the second greatest commandement, is what patriotism is. Just so long as this second greatest commandment does not supercede the first commandment to love God, our love of neighbor—and, of course, our reverence for those who love their countries as we love ours is good, normal, and healthy.

So to my Canadian neighbors I say, “Cheers to you on your Home and Native Land!” And to my American family I say, “Happy Fourth!” And to all the families of the world I say, “God bless you! You are the image and likeness of God!”

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Pardon me for adding a bit to this.

An Independence Day meditation on patriotism from the writings of Chesterton.

I think it's worth noting that Chesterton wrote this passage in 1904, well before the outbreaks of nationalism that resulted in the first and second world wars. I wonder if he would have been so optimistic if he had written in, say, 1942.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Defendant, published in 1901. No one so far has pointed out that this essay should also be taken in context of Chesterton's strident anti-jingoism. In fact, Chesterton makes a point of distinguishing patriotism from jingoism AND he criticizes what he calls "nationalism" in England because he sees it as an inferior type of patriotism. See A Defense of Patriotism - here's a few excerpts -

'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober' ... What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land. When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly. For the first of all the marks of love is seriousness ...

It may be taken generally that a man loves his own stock and environment, and that he will find something to praise in it; but whether it is the most praiseworthy thing or no will depend upon the man's enlightenment as to the facts. If the son of Thackeray, let us say, were brought up in ignorance of his father's fame and genius, it is not improbable that he would be proud of the fact that his father was over six feet high. It seems to me that we, as a nation, are precisely in the position of this hypothetical child of Thackeray's. We fall back upon gross and frivolous things for our patriotism, for a simple reason. We are the only people in the world who are not taught in childhood our own literature and our own history ...

The peculiar lack of any generosity or delicacy in the current English nationalism appears to have no other possible origin but in this fact of our unique neglect in education of the study of the national literature. An Englishman could not be silly enough to despise other nations if he once knew how much England had done for them. Great men of letters cannot avoid being humane and universal ...

These days we don't fight wars because we value the uniqueness of the fruit of our native land, or the peculiar shape of its mountains, but because we covet the oil of somebody else's unique oilfields. "Our country is the best" thinking has been ruinous to many cultures historically, and certainly to the cultures that have come under the imperial clutches of such thinking. It also strikes me as a view that is indefensible from a Christian standpoint, which ought to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, regardless of where they live.

Saying that American fights its wars because she covets the natural resources of other countries is both misleading and unfair. The closest we've come to anything like that was the Mexican-American war during the times of Manifest Destiny. But no politician could survive today speaking in terms of Manifest Destiny. We didn't fight the world wars to prove we were better than other countries. We didn't fight our engagements during the Cold War with the Soviet Union for anyone's oil or natural resources. And, since 9/11, we are still struggling to put together the right interventionist policy around the world, one that will ultimately deter/prevent a World War III by some rogue third-country dictator or terrorist organization launching nuclear weapons. Whatever the extreme rhetoric of the modern day equivalent of jingoists happens to be, and whatever the waxing nostalgic for isolationism that Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann may encourage, the United States reasons for entering any war are extremely complicated, calculated and difficult - but also necessary. Read Henry Kissinger's Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy, Diplomacy or On China.

I'm not sure how one can look at the history of the past 100 years and celebrate the "light side" of patriotism. Maybe The Producers and "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" was fun and frivolous, but that's about it. It's misplaced faith, in my opinion, to believe that humankind will somehow remain on the light side of that demonic line of demarcation.

The last hundred years? Let's see. Mehdi Karroubi is has been looking more and more like an example of the right sort of patriotism in Iran (look up the Iranian Green Movement, and also Abdolali Bazargan and Musa al-Sadr). Those Burmese Buddhist monks defiance of the ruling junta in Burma about four years ago. The "Jana Andolan" in Nepal, Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, Neda Agha-Soltan, Benazir Bhutto, Chen Guangcheng, that fiery group of young people in Tiananmen Square, Hu Jia, Liu Xianbin, Jennifer Zeng, Armando Valladares, Reinaldo Arenas, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, and oh yeah, Nelson Mandella, Hans & Sophie Scholl, Alexander Dubcek, and well ... this list could go on and on and on. Patriotism, particularly by those willing to die for the good things in their country that they believe in, is one of the most constant inspiring stories that the world has the offer. It almost always involves ultimate self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

Ideologies are powerful things, and they tend to get people killed, and turn them into killers. If a nation can simultaneously believe in and celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of itself while recognizing the goodness and uniqueness of other nations, then maybe Chesterton's ideas are viable.

In the above essay, Chesterton also writes -

We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers.

This may be a terminology issue, then. "Patriotism" is pretty much a swear word for me. I've seen it twisted by the Church, particularly the Evangelical Church, to mean a certain way of thinking, voting, etc. that I think has little to no relationship with Christianity. I've never seen it used in any way other than to define "in" and "out" groups. That's not the kind of Christianity I want to believe in or attempt to live.

Let's just say that, in the first place, evangelicals should not be allowed to determine what patriotism means.

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Pardon me for adding a bit to this.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Defendant, published in 1901. No one so far has pointed out that this essay should also be taken in context of Chesterton's strident anti-jingoism. In fact, Chesterton makes a point of distinguishing patriotism from jingoism AND he criticizes what he calls "nationalism" in England because he sees it as an inferior type of patriotism. See A Defense of Patriotism - here's a few excerpts -

'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober' ... What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land. When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly. For the first of all the marks of love is seriousness ...

It may be taken generally that a man loves his own stock and environment, and that he will find something to praise in it; but whether it is the most praiseworthy thing or no will depend upon the man's enlightenment as to the facts. If the son of Thackeray, let us say, were brought up in ignorance of his father's fame and genius, it is not improbable that he would be proud of the fact that his father was over six feet high. It seems to me that we, as a nation, are precisely in the position of this hypothetical child of Thackeray's. We fall back upon gross and frivolous things for our patriotism, for a simple reason. We are the only people in the world who are not taught in childhood our own literature and our own history ...

The peculiar lack of any generosity or delicacy in the current English nationalism appears to have no other possible origin but in this fact of our unique neglect in education of the study of the national literature. An Englishman could not be silly enough to despise other nations if he once knew how much England had done for them. Great men of letters cannot avoid being humane and universal ...

Yikes. I like Chesterton; really I do. I just finished reading The Ball and the Cross, which I enjoyed a great deal, and I've read a number of his other novels and theological works.

But the more I read of his political thinking, the more I dislike it. The excerpt above is a prime example of good ol' John Bull imperialism. Those poor, benighted natives ought to be grateful for the uplifting influence of English culture and civilization. And Englishmen ought to be proud of their cultural legacy, which they have generously exported around the world.

Bah. This was a bad idea in 1901, but at least it made some sense given the cultural context. It's a horrid idea in 2011.

As far as his cultural argument goes, the country that gave us Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven also gave us Adolf Hitler. The presence of uplifting culture is no guarantee of any kind against barbarism.

These days we don't fight wars because we value the uniqueness of the fruit of our native land, or the peculiar shape of its mountains, but because we covet the oil of somebody else's unique oilfields. "Our country is the best" thinking has been ruinous to many cultures historically, and certainly to the cultures that have come under the imperial clutches of such thinking. It also strikes me as a view that is indefensible from a Christian standpoint, which ought to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, regardless of where they live.

Saying that American fights its wars because she covets the natural resources of other countries is both misleading and unfair. The closest we've come to anything like that was the Mexican-American war during the times of Manifest Destiny. But no politician could survive today speaking in terms of Manifest Destiny. We didn't fight the world wars to prove we were better than other countries. We didn't fight our engagements during the Cold War with the Soviet Union for anyone's oil or natural resources. And, since 9/11, we are still struggling to put together the right interventionist policy around the world, one that will ultimately deter/prevent a World War III by some rogue third-country dictator or terrorist organization launching nuclear weapons. Whatever the extreme rhetoric of the modern day equivalent of jingoists happens to be, and whatever the waxing nostalgic for isolationism that Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann may encourage, the United States reasons for entering any war are extremely complicated, calculated and difficult - but also necessary. Read Henry Kissinger's Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy, Diplomacy or On China.

We could go round and round about the political reasons for why the U.S. becomes involved in wars, but my main point is to refute Chesterton's notion that patriotism is all about valuing the little idiosyncratic natural features and flora and fauna that help define the native land. There's nothing wrong with valuing those things, of course. But that's not how people define and understand patriotism. Patriotism is about OUR country, and what it stands for (in other words, a political ideology), being the best. This is how people commonly understand the term. And thus we end up with a bunch of competing bests all over the world. Some countries are small and poor and relatively powerless, and can't really do much about enforcing their views. Others are large and rich and powerful, and tend to impose their will upon others.

The question, at least within this particular forum and topic, is how a Christian ought to view such activity. And it really does come down terminology. If people want to cherish the particular details of their local existence, relish those little idiosyncratic details that make up the landscape of their daily lives, then more power to them. I'd like to think that this is part of what it means to be truly alive. But that's not patriotism. And that's all I'm saying. Chesterton is conflating the notion of thankfulness, being grateful for the specific blessings that come with being alive at any time in any place, with ideas that are necessarily political and ideological. One is a Christian virtue. The other is not, and has little or nothing to do with Christianity.

I'm not sure how one can look at the history of the past 100 years and celebrate the "light side" of patriotism. Maybe The Producers and "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" was fun and frivolous, but that's about it. It's misplaced faith, in my opinion, to believe that humankind will somehow remain on the light side of that demonic line of demarcation.

The last hundred years? Let's see. Mehdi Karroubi is has been looking more and more like an example of the right sort of patriotism in Iran (look up the Iranian Green Movement, and also Abdolali Bazargan and Musa al-Sadr). Those Burmese Buddhist monks defiance of the ruling junta in Burma about four years ago. The "Jana Andolan" in Nepal, Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, Neda Agha-Soltan, Benazir Bhutto, Chen Guangcheng, that fiery group of young people in Tiananmen Square, Hu Jia, Liu Xianbin, Jennifer Zeng, Armando Valladares, Reinaldo Arenas, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, and oh yeah, Nelson Mandella, Hans & Sophie Scholl, Alexander Dubcek, and well ... this list could go on and on and on. Patriotism, particularly by those willing to die for the good things in their country that they believe in, is one of the most constant inspiring stories that the world has the offer. It almost always involves ultimate self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

All good stuff. Compare against 15,000,000 dead in World War I, and 50,000,000 dead in World War II, countless and untold millions dead in Stalinist Russia and Mao's cultural revolution and Pol Pot's Cambodia. And every one of those tyrannical regimes was led by a self-styled patriot who was only doing what was best for the Fatherland. If you can convince me that patriotism can be separated from nationalism, from political ideologies, then I'll grant your claims. Certainly there are good people in the world who are motivated by selflessness and love of country. They are not mutually incompatible ideas. But look at the fruits of the major conflicts on earth over the past century, and how quickly and easily they have degenerated into bloodbaths that look nothing like the noble ideals you espouse. From a Christian standpoint, patriotism still looks a lot like misplaced allegiance to me. And it bears bitter fruit.

Ideologies are powerful things, and they tend to get people killed, and turn them into killers. If a nation can simultaneously believe in and celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of itself while recognizing the goodness and uniqueness of other nations, then maybe Chesterton's ideas are viable.

In the above essay, Chesterton also writes -

We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers.

This may be a terminology issue, then. "Patriotism" is pretty much a swear word for me. I've seen it twisted by the Church, particularly the Evangelical Church, to mean a certain way of thinking, voting, etc. that I think has little to no relationship with Christianity. I've never seen it used in any way other than to define "in" and "out" groups. That's not the kind of Christianity I want to believe in or attempt to live.

Let's just say that, in the first place, evangelicals should not be allowed to determine what patriotism means.

No doubt. But I'm not convinced that Chesterton is a better authority, at least on this particular issue.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I'm pretty late in joining in on this topic I realize, but it is one I'm immensely interested in.

Cornel West has been noted as saying he "loathes nationalism" that it is the "idolatry of the 20th century" (the 21st as well of course). I tend to agree with West. Love of country, I tend to think precludes love of neighbor (especially in when ones country is the greatest imperial power on the planet). The way nations operate is very similar to how corporations operate i.e. for the benefit of their constituents and without much regard for those outside. Corporations universally adhere to one basic principle: maximize profit over the shortest spans of time possible, a guiding principle which equates to the whole-sale desecration of entire land bases, the disregard for and exploitation of outside communities, an economy geared toward the powerful and elite, and a host of other things which could be politely described as not of the Kingdom of God.

As for nations, it is difficult to even separate them from corporations in our modern-day society as they have become increasingly wed to one-another. However, if we look at these two as separate entities, we will see that they share some of the same characteristics, particularly that of maximizing profit, or in the case of nations "prosperity," over the short-term with little-to-no regard for the long-term effects on the planet nor for the well-being of communities who are not members of the nation.

To take a brief aside, I'd like to address the issue of Romans 13 which I saw mentioned a number of times throughout this thread. It states "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority which God has not been established." Two things: 1.) This passage is all too often read outside of the context of Romans 12 which ends (leading right into the passage about governing authorities) "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." When Romans 13 takes its appropriate place in the context of Romans 12 it becomes apparent that the governing authorities are in fact enemies of the early church in Rome (a fact which should come as no surprise, being that this letter was written to the church in Rome under the rule of the emperor Nero, one of the most notorious persecutors of early Christians). 2.) The passage "no authority which has not been established by God," has been I think rightly translated by John Howard Yoder to instead read "there is no authority, not restrained by God." Bearing these two things in mind, the passage is not at all a command to Christians to pledge allegiance to the governing authorities, but rather a word of warning against rising in violent opposition to those authorities, which are named here and other places in scripture as enemies ("our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, and against the world powers of this darkness").

To not ramble too long, I'd finish by saying that, though we as USAmerican Christians, or Christians living in the "free-world," are not under the same sorts of persecution that would cause Paul to name the authorities as an enemy of the early church in Rome, I think it is safe to say that the powers of our time are in fact enemies to the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom not like the ones of this world that value and seek the well-being of their members at the behest of those who do not belong. The kingdom of God instead, as nicely named by the original poster of this thread is one where there "is no Jew nor Gentile, man nor woman, slave, nor master." In essence, the Kingdom of God is one of radical inclusion, where everyone is welcome no matter who, and where dividing barriers of socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, etc. (all arbitrary constructs that lead some to wield more power than others) are completely removed. To belong to this kingdom, we must forsake our allegiances to the other kingdoms, which serve to maintain these barriers between God's people. You cannot serve two masters.

Edited by BTrailor

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BTrailor wrote:

: . . . this letter was written to the church in Rome under the rule of the emperor Nero, one of the most notorious persecutors of early Christians).

Um, well, yes, but this letter was written several years before the persecution began. It's clear from the letter that Paul wrote it at some point during his journey to Jerusalem (see Romans 15:25ff; Paul's journey to Jerusalem is also described in Acts 19-21), so most scholars have dated the letter to AD 58 or thenabouts -- and the fire in Rome that prompted Nero to persecute the Christians didn't happen until AD 64, or six years later.

None of this is to say that Christians had it easy under Nero prior to the fire; indeed, given that most Christians were Jews, and given that Jews weren't even *allowed* in Rome during the reign of Claudius (who died in AD 54), it would seem that, when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was writing primarily to people who had only recently been allowed back into the city. And of course, Jewish-Roman tensions were on the rise back in Palestine and would culminate in a war that began in AD 66 (and climaxed with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).

So, yes, Jews and Christians alike had come to expect *some* hostility from the Roman emperors. But, at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, Nero had not yet singled the Christians out for particularly murderous persecution, as far as I can tell.

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When Romans 13 takes its appropriate place in the context of Romans 12 it becomes apparent that the governing authorities are in fact enemies of the early church in Rome (a fact which should come as no surprise, being that this letter was written to the church in Rome under the rule of the emperor Nero, one of the most notorious persecutors of early Christians). 2.) The passage "no authority which has not been established by God," has been I think rightly translated by John Howard Yoder to instead read "there is no authority, not restrained by God." Bearing these two things in mind, the passage is not at all a command to Christians to pledge allegiance to the governing authorities, but rather a word of warning against rising in violent opposition to those authorities, which are named here and other places in scripture as enemies ...

"I shall now endeavour to ... plead both for the resistance against the abuse of a lawful power, and against the use and usurpation of a tyrannical power, and infer not only the lawfulness of resisting kings, when they abuse their power ... but also the expediency and necessity of the duty of resisting this tyrannical power, whenever we are, by a good providence of God, called thereunto ... Tyrants, or magistrates turning tyrants, are not God's ordinances; and there is no hazard of damnation for refusing to obey their unjust commands ...

Rom. 13:2 - So that this objection, brought from this place, as if the apostle was commanding their subjection, without resistance, to Nero and such like tyrants as he, is very impertinent ... the apostle was here vindicating Christianity from that reproach of casting off, or refusing subjection to all magistrates, as if Christian liberty had destroyed that relation, or that they were not to be subject to heathen magistrates; whereupon, to undeceive them in this point, he binds this duty of subjection to magistrates for conscience sake in general ...

The apostle here was, no doubt, speaking of lawful rulers, not tyrants; but of all such as are defined and qualified here, being powers ordained of God, terrors to evil works, ministers of God for good. Yea, but say tories and their adherents, these are only motives of subjection to all powers, not qualifications of the powers. To which I answer, they are indeed motives, but such as can be extended to none but to those powers that are so qualified ... He speaks of lawful powers indefinitely in the plural number, not specifying any kind or degree of them ... if he had meant the Roman emperor, he would have designed him in the singular number; for all the reasons of the text agree to inferior judges. Also, for they are ordained of God; they are called rulers in scripture, and God's ministers, revengers by office, who judge not for man but for the Lord. And inferior magistrates also are not to be resisted when doing their duty (1 Peter 2:13). Yet all will allow, when they go beyond their bounds, and turn little tyrants, they may be withstood."

- Stephen Case, "Defensive Arms Vindicated," 1783

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BTrailor wrote:

: . . . this letter was written to the church in Rome under the rule of the emperor Nero, one of the most notorious persecutors of early Christians).

Um, well, yes, but this letter was written several years before the persecution began. It's clear from the letter that Paul wrote it at some point during his journey to Jerusalem (see Romans 15:25ff; Paul's journey to Jerusalem is also described in Acts 19-21), so most scholars have dated the letter to AD 58 or thenabouts -- and the fire in Rome that prompted Nero to persecute the Christians didn't happen until AD 64, or six years later.

None of this is to say that Christians had it easy under Nero prior to the fire; indeed, given that most Christians were Jews, and given that Jews weren't even *allowed* in Rome during the reign of Claudius (who died in AD 54), it would seem that, when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was writing primarily to people who had only recently been allowed back into the city. And of course, Jewish-Roman tensions were on the rise back in Palestine and would culminate in a war that began in AD 66 (and climaxed with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).

So, yes, Jews and Christians alike had come to expect *some* hostility from the Roman emperors. But, at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, Nero had not yet singled the Christians out for particularly murderous persecution, as far as I can tell.

Thanks for that information Peter. It is certainly helpful to know the details of history when considering these things. I do not, however, think that this changes much in regard to the point I was making: that Rome, or more broadly speaking Empire was being named as an enemy of early Christians. The fact that persecution as intense as what the early Christians experienced living in Rome under the emperor Nero occurred in some proximity to when this letter was written only underscores the fact that there was mounting political tension at the time the letter was written. Paul's commentary was not meant to be a command to Christians living in Rome to be loyal patriots of Rome or subjects of Nero's authority. Romans 12 says "love your enemy. Do good to those who persecute you . . . in doing so you heap burning coals on their heads." From this passage, we can glean two things: 1.) that persecution was occuring to some extent at the time the letter was written regardless of if it had reached it's apex or not, and 2.) the directive to love one's enemy which in this context is the Roman state, is a bold form of political resistance "heap burning coals on their head," much like as Walter Wink points out in that when Jesus says "if a soldier asks you to carry his pack a mile, take it two," is actually a way of shaming that soldier who by Roman law was allowed to require a peasant to carry the pack 1 mile, but no more. In carrying the pack 2 miles one makes that soldier look bad.

The letter then is not about requiring "good Christians to be good Roman citizens," nor by extention to be good Americans. It is a warning against particular tactics which would have been a tempting option to Jewish Christians of that time: to meet violence with violence.

. . . Will come back and write more on this when I have more than my phone to type on : )

Edited by BTrailor

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BTrailor wrote:

: The fact that persecution as intense as what the early Christians experienced living in Rome under the emperor Nero occurred in some proximity to when this letter was written only underscores the fact that there was mounting political tension at the time the letter was written.

Well, perhaps. A lot of the persecution was coming from the non-Christian Jews, at least to hear Acts tell the story. And Acts takes great pains to establish both [a] that Paul and the other early Christians were no threat to the civic order, and that fair-minded pagan rulers recognized the fact that they posed no threat.

But there *is* some speculation that the reason the Jews were kicked out of Rome by Claudius in AD 49 had something to do with the religious tension between Christian and non-Christian Jews (Suetonius, writing about 70 years after the fact, says the Jews were expelled because of someone called "Chrestus", and there are some -- but by no means all -- historians who think that this is a garbled form of "Christos", or Christ).

So, again, the early Christians certainly faced opposition from their fellow Jews and, to an extent, from the pagan rulers who wanted them all to calm down, but I'm not sure what we can say about any sort of direct relationship between the Christians and the pagan rulers at this point.

: The letter then is not about requiring "good Christians to be good Roman citizens," . . .

Heh. Well, it's anyone's guess how many of the early Christians *were* Roman citizens to begin with. Paul was a citizen -- that's why (according to early church tradition) he had a relatively "dignified" execution (i.e. he was beheaded) -- but given what happened to many of the *other* Christians (crucifixions, being fed to wild beasts, etc.), it's doubtful that many of *them* were citizens.

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