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Patriotism and the Christian Faith


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#101 Ryan H.

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Posted 19 May 2011 - 07:22 PM

John F. Hobbins wrote:
: But this cannot be the route of a theology which treasures the heritage of the Reformation. It is not the route that the Catholic Church has taken either.

Well, I'm Eastern Orthodox now, so I don't know where that leaves me.

Well, it most likely leaves you as being not part of the discussion. As Hobbins points out, this contemporary discussion about inerrancy is primarily a discussion within Protestant boundaries.

Perhaps. I'm a little suspicious of abundant praise, though. Which, yes, makes it interesting that I attend a church where the services frequently refer to the "holy" this and the "holy" that. But sometimes abundant praise gets taken seriously, even literally, and I'd like to avoid those sorts of problems wherever possible.

But I don't see those problems as being so particularly awful. So, yeah, I'm not overly concerned about that possibility.

If "inerrancy" has enjoyed as long a history as most (or even all) of those other theological categories, then someone older than the Reformation is going to have to be quoted to make that point.

Your wish is my command, good sir.

Justin Martyr:

"And Trypho said, 'Being shaken by so many Scriptures, I know not what to say about the Scripture which Isaiah writes, in which God says that He gives not His glory to another, speaking thus 'I am the Lord God; this is my name; my glory will I not give to another, nor my virtues.'And I answered, 'If you spoke these words, Trypho, and then kept silence in simplicity and with no ill intent, neither repeating what goes before nor adding what comes after, you must be forgiven; but if[you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext[for saying] that it is contrary[to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself."

Hippolytus of Rome:

"Therefore they [the followers of Artemon's heresy] have laid their hands boldly upon the Divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them...But how daring this offense is, it is not likely that they themselves are ignorant. For either they do not believe that the Divine Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit, and thus are unbelievers, or else they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and in that case what else are they than demoniacs?"

Jerome:

"I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord's words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired."


A few Augustine quotes from his letters:

"On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason."

"For it cannot be remotely possible that the authority of the Scriptures should be fallacious at any point."

And then there's Gregory of Nanzianzus:


"I remembered the days of old, and, recurring to one of the ancient histories, drew counsel for myself therefrom as to my present conduct; for let us not suppose these events to have been recorded without a purpose, nor that they are a mere assemblage of words and deeds gathered together for the pastime of those who listen to them, as a kind of bait for the ears, for the sole purpose of giving pleasure. Let us leave such jesting to the legends and the Greeks, who think but little of the truth, and enchant ear and mind by the charm of their fictions and the daintiness of their style.

We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation."



#102 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 19 May 2011 - 07:30 PM

I've been meaning to just start a separate thread on the Doctrine of Inerrancy. I'll try to when I get the chance.

#103 CrimsonLine

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Posted 20 May 2011 - 06:11 AM

Pardon me, but the phrase "human responsibility for sin" could give the appearance of being carefully worded to avoid any cosmic implications. As an inerrantist, do you deny the cosmic implications of human sin?

In cosmic-space terms, if God's universe is analogized to a Matisse painting, and the entire earth is defaced by human sin (which it is not, yet, but let's exaggerate for the sake of the analogy), an "outside" observer of the painting would not be able to detect the effects of human sin even with an electron-microscopic examination of the canvas. And this analogy entirely neglects cosmic-time, on which scale man's life-span as a species is not even as long as one beat-cycle of an "outside" hummingbird's wings.

I'm not trying to avoid anything. I do believe that human sin has cosmic implications. All of creation has been subjected to futility by its rulers, humanity. Futility - inability to reach its purpose. Death entered the world through human sin, but neither Genesis nor Romans requires that this mean animal or plant death, or that it cover all entropy throughout space and time. I don't claim to understand all of the ways that human sin defaced creation and subjected it to futility. But what "outside observer" would you postulate who would be unable to detect the impact of human sin? All of Christian theology - whether you're inerrantist or not - declares that the only "outside observer" who matters not only detected the impact of human sin, but indeed made the ultimate sacrifice in order to rectify it.

Edited by CrimsonLine, 20 May 2011 - 06:12 AM.


#104 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 01:25 PM

Ryan H. wrote:

: : But sometimes abundant praise gets taken seriously, even literally, and I'd like to avoid those sorts of problems wherever possible.
:
: But I don't see those problems as being so particularly awful. So, yeah, I'm not overly concerned about that possibility.

Well... I can think of at least one example that, according to some, led to a major church split, but anyhoo.

: : If "inerrancy" has enjoyed as long a history as most (or even all) of those other theological categories, then someone older than the Reformation is going to have to be quoted to make that point.
:
: Your wish is my command, good sir.

Heh. Well, I've already said I'm not a "patristic fundamentalist". And hey, all but one of your examples were based in the Latin West! :)

: Justin Martyr:
:
: "And Trypho said, 'Being shaken by so many Scriptures, I know not what to say about the Scripture which Isaiah writes, in which God says that He gives not His glory to another, speaking thus 'I am the Lord God; this is my name; my glory will I not give to another, nor my virtues.'And I answered, 'If you spoke these words, Trypho, and then kept silence in simplicity and with no ill intent, neither repeating what goes before nor adding what comes after, you must be forgiven; but if[you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext[for saying] that it is contrary[to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself."

While I think it's a matter of plain simple fact that some scriptures DO contradict each other (not necessarily in any important ways, but still), I have to say it's not obvious to me just what kind of "contradiction" Justin Martyr has in mind here -- especially if he is responding to Trypho's use of that one passage from Isaiah. It sounds to me more like a difference in nuance, or context, or something.

: Hippolytus of Rome:
:
: "Therefore they [the followers of Artemon's heresy] have laid their hands boldly upon the Divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them...But how daring this offense is, it is not likely that they themselves are ignorant. For either they do not believe that the Divine Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit, and thus are unbelievers, or else they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and in that case what else are they than demoniacs?"

Again, I don't know who these Artemon people are, so I don't know what would have constituted a "correction" of the scriptures to them. (I can think of one or two passages in the canonical scriptures, incidentally, that could be construed as "corrections" of one sort or another.)

: Jerome:
:
: "I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord's words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired."

By "Lord's words", is he referring to the scriptures or to what we might call the "red letter" sections of the Bible? (Note, too, that Jerome played a key role in sowing doubt within the West about the canonicity of the so-called Apocrypha.)

: And then there's Gregory of Nanzianzus:
:
: " . . . We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation."

Just wondering: Who here really wants to defend the accuracy of every "merest stroke and tittle" in the scriptures as we have them? Who would even want to defend them in the original manuscripts? (Are we seriously ruling out the possibility that the authors of the original manuscripts might not have, e.g., written something down and crossed it out before continuing with their writing?)

#105 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 01:40 PM

I've been meaning to just start a separate thread on the Doctrine of Inerrancy. I'll try to when I get the chance.

Here's the separate thread, since I'm afraid Nezpop's original (and interesting) topic of discussion has been completely ignored for a couple pages now.

I'd suggest hitting "Reply" to comments here, cutting and pasting the comment you intend to respond to, and then moving it over. Biblical Inerrancy is a big enough subject to get its own thread anyhow.

Edited by Persiflage, 21 May 2011 - 01:41 PM.


#106 SDG

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 11:40 AM

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

The man who loves his own children is much more universal, is much more fully in the general order, than the man who dandles the infant hippopotamus or puts the young crocodile in a perambulator. For in loving his own children he is doing something which is (if I may use the phrase) far more essentially hippopotamic than dandling hippopotami; he is doing as they do. It is the same with patriotism. A man who loves humanity and ignores patriotism is ignoring humanity. The man who loves his country may not happen to pay extravagant verbal compliments to humanity, but he is paying to it the greatest of compliments - imitation.

The fundamental spiritual advantage of patriotism and such sentiments is this: that by means of it all things are loved adequately, because all things are loved individually. 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. Patriotism begins the praise of the world at the nearest thing, instead of beginning it at the most distant, and thus it insures what is, perhaps, the most essential of all earthly considerations, that nothing upon earth shall go without its due appreciation. Wherever there is a strangely-shaped mountain upon some lonely island, wherever there is a nameless kind of fruit growing in some obscure forest, patriotism insures that this shall not go into darkness without being remembered in a song.



#107 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 09:54 AM

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

The man who loves his own children is much more universal, is much more fully in the general order, than the man who dandles the infant hippopotamus or puts the young crocodile in a perambulator. For in loving his own children he is doing something which is (if I may use the phrase) far more essentially hippopotamic than dandling hippopotami; he is doing as they do. It is the same with patriotism. A man who loves humanity and ignores patriotism is ignoring humanity. The man who loves his country may not happen to pay extravagant verbal compliments to humanity, but he is paying to it the greatest of compliments - imitation.

The fundamental spiritual advantage of patriotism and such sentiments is this: that by means of it all things are loved adequately, because all things are loved individually. 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. Patriotism begins the praise of the world at the nearest thing, instead of beginning it at the most distant, and thus it insures what is, perhaps, the most essential of all earthly considerations, that nothing upon earth shall go without its due appreciation. Wherever there is a strangely-shaped mountain upon some lonely island, wherever there is a nameless kind of fruit growing in some obscure forest, patriotism insures that this shall not go into darkness without being remembered in a song.

I know we're past the Fourth of July, and I relish freedom and fireworks as much as the next guy, but I still find this a curious and naive piece of writing.

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.

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. I love Chesterton, but I most assuredly don't love that quote. I think it's completely wrongheaded.

#108 SDG

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 10:21 AM

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.

I suspect he might feel obliged to supplement it, but I don't think he would feel obliged to unsay anything.

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.

I don't think anybody has ever fought wars for love of fruit or mountains motive, and I don't think Chesterton was saying otherwise. He wasn't talking about war. He was talking about love of one's homeland.

Fighting a war because we covet oil is not a patriotic motive, nor do we think we deserve the other country's oil because of our fruit or mountains.

"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. I love Chesterton, but I most assuredly don't love that quote. I think it's completely wrongheaded.

Patriotism can be distorted and subverted, yes. Just as the man who thinks his children are the smartest and his wife the most beautiful may be an insufferable boor, and may raise his children to be arrogant monsters. But he may also be a perfectly healthy, doting family man raising well-loved children. Upholding the inherent worth and dignity of everyone, yes, certainly, of course. But there is still a legitimate special love for one's own kith and kin, one's own people, one's own neighborhood and milieu, one's own land.

No man should be made to feel uncomfortable for praising his wife and children superlatively and preferring them to all others. No one should feel that the only healthy thing to do is go around saying all the time that other people's children are just as good as his own. That might be a necessary corrective under some circumstances, but it is medicine, not food.

Edited by SDG, 08 July 2011 - 10:22 AM.


#109 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 10:40 AM

Let me put it this way, Steven.

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.

I don't object to anyone loving where they live, cherishing its unique qualities, relishing the idiosyncratic delights of the 'hood, the city, the state, or the country. But why must we invoke "best" language to do this? God doesn't see "best" when it comes to neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries. He sees equally loved people. I'm not sure the planet can survive another round of "my country is the best." The winners will be chortling over a piece of charred rock.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 08 July 2011 - 10:50 AM.


#110 SDG

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 11:14 AM

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.

I don't object to anyone loving where they live, cherishing its unique qualities, relishing the idiosyncratic delights of the 'hood, the city, the state, or the country. But why must we invoke "best" language to do this? God doesn't see "best" when it comes to neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries. He sees equally loved people. I'm not sure the planet can survive another round of "my country is the best." The winners will be chortling over a piece of charred rock.

Who wants to live in a world in which sports fans in each city aren't allowed to celebrate their team as the best? Who even wants to live in a world without rivalries, in which Dodgers and Giants fans don't razz each other? There is nothing inherently objectionable or un-Christian about this.

Obviously sports fandom can take ugly forms, e.g., Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot. But the ideal solution is not no sports fandom, but healthy sports fandom. Because the organ can become diseased is no reason to pronounce the organ itself a threat, or to insist on having it out whether it is doing harm or not.

You can argue that there will always be unhealthy patriotism, so my utopia of healthy patriotism will never exist. I reply that there will always be patriotism, period, so your cosmopolitan utopia will never exist either. I would rather put what energy and influence I have into channeling and correcting what I see as a normal, natural human impulse than try to suppress and destroy it on the grounds that it may do harm. Anything good may do harm, and probably has.

Edited by SDG, 08 July 2011 - 11:19 AM.


#111 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 11:53 AM

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.

#112 SDG

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 12:03 PM

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

Also, patriotism ≠ ideology. Far from it.

Edited by SDG, 08 July 2011 - 12:04 PM.


#113 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 01:02 PM

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, 08 July 2011 - 01:07 PM.


#114 SDG

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 02:15 PM

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.

#115 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 02:49 PM

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.

#116 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 03:18 PM

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, 08 July 2011 - 03:23 PM.


#117 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 05:46 PM

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.

#118 SDG

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 08:43 PM

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!”



#119 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 02:33 PM

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.

#120 Andy Whitman

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 12:30 PM

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, 10 July 2011 - 12:35 PM.