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Patriotism and the Christian Faith


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#1 Thom Wade

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:49 AM

I am pitching this out. It always seems like God and Country does not gel all that well with a philosphy that says there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, etc in Christ. There seem many instances of the Bible suggesting that following God means forsaking other allegienges and pledging to no others.

So, and I am curious on both sides of the coin...what are people's thoughts on this topic? Agree? Disagree? Can one pledge allegence to Country without being guilty of trying to serve two masters?

#2 opus

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 12:05 PM

So, and I am curious on both sides of the coin...what are people's thoughts on this topic? Agree? Disagree? Can one pledge allegence to Country without being guilty of trying to serve two masters?

Can one pledge fidelity and faithfulness -- i.e., pledge allegiance -- to their spouse, friends, etc., without compromising their allegiance to God? Of course, they can. Different loyalties are not inherently at odds with each other simply because they're directed at different objects or persons. Of course, it's incredibly more complicated with countries as opposed to spouses and friends because of the power that countries wield: countries exert an incredible amount of power and control -- rightly or wrongly -- over their citizens, and that power and control spreads outward to their spheres of influence. In other words, loyalty to a spouse or friend may be fairly simple and straightforward (relatively speaking), whereas loyalty to a country becomes trickier because a country simply has so much more going on than any one individual might.

All that being said, over the last year or two, I've become increasingly aware that my ultimate citizenship lies not with any kingdom of this world. Participating in Gregory Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation was influential in this regard. I don't agree with everything Boyd wrote in the book -- I have issues with his views on pacifism, for instance -- but I found a good deal of it very thought-provoking and certainly relevant to this issue.

Edited by opus, 06 May 2011 - 12:09 PM.


#3 SDG

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 12:33 PM

Christianity qualifies love of country but does not abolish it.

On the contrary, the fourth commandment obligation to honor father and mother is understood in Catholic thought to imply a like obligation of filial or civil piety toward our forebears generally, and to the authorities present and past -- teachers, civil leaders, etc. -- to whom in some measure we owe, as we do in greater measure to our parents, our lives and the circumstances in which we live. For e.g. Americans this includes the Founding Fathers. In some way it can be metaphorically understood to imply one's "fatherland" or "mother country."

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.

#4 morgan1098

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 01:04 PM

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.


I thought about this yesterday while watching a crowd sing "God Bless America." For years I've recoiled at that song because I felt it promoted an inappropriate form of nationalism (and it still does bug me for many reasons). But then it occurred to me yesterday, isn't it appropriate for me to spend more time asking God to bless my own family than it is asking Him to bless the family next door? It's not that my family is better than the other family, it's that it's my family.

#5 Thom Wade

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 01:52 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful replies (I hope to see more). I am ambivelent on this issue, seeing logic to both sides, but I was hoping for some good varied responses...I saw hints of the discussion in the Bin Laden thread, but I wanted to avoid potentially derailing that threat and let the topic be it's own focus. I think it is definitely worth contemplating. :)

#6 mrmando

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 05:29 PM

Well, here's a tangent ... maybe it deserves its own thread, maybe not.

In the OBL thread, Persiflage brought up Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a discussion of Just War theory. Now it's been eons since I read The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, but I did just see a performance of The Beams Are Creaking, Douglas Anderson's play about Bonhoeffer, and it got me to thinking. I see two potential objections to the idea of Bonhoeffer as a poster boy for Just War. One, he was trying to bring down the government in his own country, not that of another country. (He actually obtained a position with a government agency, the Abwehr, in order to accomplish this ... one thing I didn't know before seeing the play.) So it's not clear that Bonhoeffer's actions were "war" at all, be they just or otherwise. Two, his principal concern seems to have been that the Reich was essentially taking over the Lutheran Church, and so he acted more as a defender of the faith than as a patriot. While there may be good reasons to exclude Bonhoeffer from the pacifist camp, that doesn't mean we can automatically co-opt him into the Just War camp.

Edited by mrmando, 06 May 2011 - 05:39 PM.


#7 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 08:48 PM

I am pitching this out. It always seems like God and Country does not gel all that well with a philosphy that says there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, etc in Christ. There seem many instances of the Bible suggesting that following God means forsaking other allegienges and pledging to no others.

So, and I am curious on both sides of the coin...what are people's thoughts on this topic? Agree? Disagree? Can one pledge allegence to Country without being guilty of trying to serve two masters?

There are no Biblical proscriptions against loving your country. This doesn't mean you do not still have an obligation as a Christian to love others outside your own country. Pledging allegiance to your country does not mean blind loyalty to back your country right or wrong. Patriotism and love of country can refer to the people, the landscape and countryside, the history, and the principles that your country stands for. And one of the reasons I love my country is that America does stand for particular principles - a stand not taken by other countries. Educating your children to love their country ought to include educating them to what it means to be an American. And being an American does mean something - something more than simple attachment to the place you were born. In fact, being American is not necessarily tied to your being born here. Unlike other countries, you can arrive in America from anywhere in the world and become an American.

Allan Bloom commented on old education towards patriotism in The Closing of the American Mind -

pg. 27 - This called for something very different from the kinds of attachment required for traditional communities where myth and passion as well as severe discipline, authority, and the extended family produced an instinctive, unqualified, even fanatic patriotism, unlike the reflected, rational, calm, even self-interested loyalty - not so much to the country but to the form of government and its rational principles - required in the United States ...

There used to be a common understanding of "what it means to be an American."

pg. 27 - The old view was that, by recognizing and accepting man's natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which give men common interests and make them truly brothers. The immigrant had to put behind him the claims of the Old World in favor of a new and easily acquired education. This did not necessarily mean abandoning old daily habits or religions, but it did mean subordinating them to new principles.

But this isn't to say that each country doesn't have its own unique virtues. The point is, if your country is worth loving at all, it is worth loving because of it's virtues - because of the ideas that it represents. G.K. Chesterton wrote that Patriotism is a good and healthy thing, but there is a Christian view of patriotism that is different from other views -

... On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word 'love' means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word 'love' is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. '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.'

... 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. There is no harm in the box of tin soldiers; we do not expect children to be equally delighted with a beautiful box of tin philanthropists. But there is great harm in the fact that the subtler and more civilized honour of England is not presented so as to keep pace with the expanding mind. A French boy is taught the glory of Moliere as well as that of Turenne; a German boy is taught his own great national philosophy before he learns the philosophy of antiquity. The result is that, though French patriotism is often crazy and boastful, though German patriotism is often isolated and pedantic, they are neither of them merely dull, common, and brutal, as is so often the strange fate of the nation of Bacon and Locke. It is natural enough, and even righteous enough, under the circumstances. An Englishman must love England for something; consequently, he tends to exalt commerce or prize-fighting, just as a German might tend to exalt music, or a Flamand to exalt painting, because he really believes it is the chief merit of his fatherland. It would not be in the least extraordinary if a claim of eating up provinces and pulling down princes were the chief boast of a Zulu. The extraordinary thing is, that it is the chief boast of a people who have Shakespeare, Newton, Burke, and Darwin to boast of.

In the OBL thread, Persiflage brought up Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a discussion of Just War theory. Now it's been eons since I read The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, but I did just see a performance of The Beams Are Creaking, Douglas Anderson's play about Bonhoeffer, and it got me to thinking. I see two potential objections to the idea of Bonhoeffer as a poster boy for Just War. One, he was trying to bring down the government in his own country, not that of another country. (He actually obtained a position with a government agency, the Abwehr, in order to accomplish this ... one thing I didn't know before seeing the play.) So it's not clear that Bonhoeffer's actions were "war" at all, be they just or otherwise. Two, his principal concern seems to have been that the Reich was essentially taking over the Lutheran Church, and so he acted more as a defender of the faith than as a patriot. While there may be good reasons to exclude Bonhoeffer from the pacifist camp, that doesn't mean we can automatically co-opt him into the Just War camp.

The idea, as I understand it, is that arguments for the rightness or duty to rebel against tyrannical governments, arguments for "Just War," and arguments for why pacifism is wrong for a Christian are all based on the same propositions. There is a cogent argument (although it is rarely heard in modern times) for the idea that there is a Biblical form of government. Before and during the American Revolution (heck, even before and during the English Civil War) pastors preached from their pulpits that Christians had a duty to rebel and fight against tyrannical governments that denied the fundamentals of natural law. They argued that the Biblical form of government (in a fallen world) was self-government. In Exodus 18:13-26 we see the form of the temporal government of Israel being created. Those captains over thousands, hundreds and tens were elected by the people. Moses chose the captains that the people chose (Deuteronomy 1:9-18). In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Moses gave guidelines to the people on how to choose the king - they were to choose the king that God wanted. When the people of Israel decided that they wanted a king just like God said they would, first God chose Saul to be the king (I Samuel 9:15-17). Second, the people chose Saul to be their king (I Samuel 10:23-25). Then later, God chose David to be the king (I Samuel 16:1-13). Second, the people of Judah chose David to be their king (II Samuel 2:4) and the people of Israel chose David to be their king (II Samuel 5:1-4). Self-government is when the people make the law or choose the people who make the law.

Expounding on the Biblical idea of self-government, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote -

A king who is unfaithful to his duty forfeits his claims to obedience. It is not rebellion to depose him, for he is himself a rebel whom the nation has a right to put down. But it is better to abridge his power that he may be unable to abuse it. For this purpose, the whole nation ought to have a share in governing itself; the Constitution ought to combine a limited and elective monarchy, with an aristocracy of merit, and such an admixture of democracy as shall admit all classes to office, by popular election. No government has a right to levy taxes beyond the limit determined by the people. All political authority is derived from popular suffrage, and all laws must be made by the people for their representatives. There is no security for us as long as we depend on the will of another man.

Thus, you have pastors like Elisha Williams and Samuel West preaching that a proper interpretation of Romans 13 results in the conclusion we have the duty to rid ourselves of tyrannical government and evil pretended powers that target and oppress the innocent and the weak.

If it is true that every human being is endowed with certain natural inalienable rights, then the reasons a people ought to, if necessary, war against their own government, are the same reasons that one people can engage in a war to liberate another people from a tyrant. The reasoning is the same. And, when it comes down to it, this is why I love my country. I don't believe America is a Christian nation, but I do believe we have taken a stand on the right sort of government that every human being is entitled to. Everyone wants to be free. Everyone is born free. Everyone has a right to be free. Therefore, fighting a war to protect the freedoms of the oppressed against evil is a good and noble thing. This is why I love my country, because of the principles that I believe formed my country's existence in the first place.

There is a Biblical basis for patriotism. There's just a right kind and a wrong kind of patriotism.

Edited by Persiflage, 06 May 2011 - 08:50 PM.


#8 mrmando

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 09:38 PM

When the people of Israel decided that they wanted a king just like God said they would, first God chose Saul to be the king (I Samuel 9:15-17). Second, the people chose Saul to be their king (I Samuel 10:23-25). Then later, God chose David to be the king (I Samuel 16:1-13). Second, the people of Judah chose David to be their king (II Samuel 2:4) and the people of Israel chose David to be their king (II Samuel 5:1-4). Self-government is when the people make the law or choose the people who make the law.

What about all the kings who came after them -- who gained the throne by means other than election? Is a kingship established via filial succession, or by bumping off the previous king, not compatible with a "Biblical" form of govt. even though it's in the Bible?

Thus, you have pastors like Elisha Williams and Samuel West preaching that a proper interpretation of Romans 13 results in the conclusion we have the duty to rid ourselves of tyrannical government and evil pretended powers that target and oppress the innocent and the weak.

That is an interpretation of Rom. 13 I can get behind. But there's still a leap in logic from that idea to the idea that it's also incumbent on Christians to go forth and rid other nations of their tyrannical governments.

Edited by mrmando, 06 May 2011 - 09:42 PM.


#9 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 01:35 AM

That is an interpretation of Rom. 13 I can get behind. But there's still a leap in logic from that idea to the idea that it's also incumbent on Christians to go forth and rid other nations of their tyrannical governments.

Yes, if you see Rom 13 as a mandate to go forth and slay nations in the service of this. However, it is a different case if a nation is overtly hostile to one's nation and/or the treatied friends of one's nation. Another possibility would be that of a tyrannical nation wreaking havoc on weaker nations on and near its borders. Would it not be an act of compassion to counter and/or destroy the source of this hegemony on behalf of weaker, surrounding nations? Not by a desire for conquest, but a desire to foster peace in a region and harmony among free nations?

#10 mrmando

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 02:17 AM

Would it not be an act of compassion to counter and/or destroy the source of this hegemony on behalf of weaker, surrounding nations? Not by a desire for conquest, but a desire to foster peace in a region and harmony among free nations?

It sounds nice in theory, but rarely works out that way in practice, eh? Can't recall where I read it now, but around the time the Iraq invasion got going, someone published a historical evaluation of U.S. attempts at nation-building, in which the failure rate was something like 14 out of 15. Could possibly be 16 out of 17 in a few more years.

Jesus' mandate was to make disciples, not democracies. A missionary might suggest a strategy of first converting people in other nations to Christianity and then letting those people worry about setting up a Biblical form of government once their numbers are sufficient.

#11 Greg P

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 07:49 AM

There is a Biblical basis for patriotism. There's just a right kind and a wrong kind of patriotism.

I've always been intrigued by the passage in Revelation that refers to the nations coming into the City of God and bringing their own glory and honor into it (v.26)

I've never heard an exposition on this specific passage, and I know one must be careful when interpreting the symbolic language of this prophetic book, but it's hard not read this and think that the very distinctive histories and unique collective identities of each nation will contribute in some way to the beauty of the future world. If this is so-- and if that national identity is somehow important in the next life-- then it figures that there is something praiseworthy and worth celebrating in this life too.

#12 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 09:36 AM

It sounds nice in theory, but rarely works out that way in practice, eh? Can't recall where I read it now, but around the time the Iraq invasion got going, someone published a historical evaluation of U.S. attempts at nation-building, in which the failure rate was something like 14 out of 15. Could possibly be 16 out of 17 in a few more years.


Not sure I like that statistic. It leaves out Germany, Japan, or both. Seriously, those nations are nothing like what they were and governed absolutely differently today. But fine. Let's say you are right. But we ARE by necessity (no one has the wealth, we use a small fraction of ours for this) the world's policeman, at least on the open seas and to some extent in the air. It guarantees trade and personal communication among the free nations. And yet I remember a dear friend's pleas about the plight of women in Afghanistan before 9/11. She was aghast that I did not share with friends personally and at what was A&F at the time that we should DO SOMETHING!!!. She meant that the world should scold the Taliban, as if that would work. Scolding never works on the true believer. But she was a true believer herself in something different. It would have been useless to suggest that the only solution would be to drive the Taliban out. Same with Darfur, Uganda in the '90's, Uganda in the '70's, and on and on. I don't know what to do with the outraged protest against genocide and tyrannical slaughter except to accept it, or try to iradicate it. As an individual christian.

Jesus' mandate was to make disciples, not democracies. A missionary might suggest a strategy of first converting people in other nations to Christianity and then letting those people worry about setting up a Biblical form of government once their numbers are sufficient.

I wasn't aware that the U.S. was christian, or even had a specifically christian mandate as a nation. I thought it had some sort of common grace responsibility to protect and justly adjudicate the disputes of its people.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 07 May 2011 - 09:38 AM.


#13 SDG

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 10:44 AM

There is a Biblical basis for patriotism. There's just a right kind and a wrong kind of patriotism.

I've always been intrigued by the passage in Revelation that refers to the nations coming into the City of God and bringing their own glory and honor into it (v.26)

I've never heard an exposition on this specific passage, and I know one must be careful when interpreting the symbolic language of this prophetic book, but it's hard not read this and think that the very distinctive histories and unique collective identities of each nation will contribute in some way to the beauty of the future world. If this is so-- and if that national identity is somehow important in the next life-- then it figures that there is something praiseworthy and worth celebrating in this life too.

Nicely observed.

That verse comes in the midst of a number of references to the "nations" and "glory":

By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it,
and its gates shall never be shut by day -- and there shall be no night there;
they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.


I suppose the Greek word for "nations" stands in for "goyim," i.e., Gentiles. The repeated references to the "glory" of the nations coming into the holy city could be interpreted minimalistically, i.e., the Gentiles in all their pagan glory will be subject to the kingdom of God. But it could also be given a more positive reading, I think.

#14 mrmando

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 09:07 PM

Not sure I like that statistic. It leaves out Germany, Japan, or both.

Possibly Germany was left out because of the way it was partitioned. But even allowing for Germany, 13 failures out of 15 is not especially good.

I wasn't aware that the U.S. was christian, or even had a specifically christian mandate as a nation.

Well, you said it. That is, essentially, what is under debate here: In what areas do our mandates as Christians conflict with our mandates as citizens, and how do we resolve the conflict?

A Christian who believes he or she has a mandate to serve other nations can choose to do it as a missionary or aid worker. He/she doesn't have to go as a soldier. Even if we conclude that, in fact, it is necessary and/or desirable for a democratic nation to spread democracy to other nations by means of force, it doesn't follow that Christians are required to participate.

One of the problematic things about the Sgt. York clip is the fallacy that York has not fully "rendered unto Caesar" until he decides to accept a combat role, i.e., that a Christian serving in the military as a conscientious objector is somehow not giving Caesar his full due ... ergo, he's deficient not only as a citizen but as a Christian. I'm not buying it.

Edited by mrmando, 07 May 2011 - 09:13 PM.


#15 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 09:25 PM

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.

Nicely said. A "familial" view of patriotism and patriotic obligation is perhaps the ideal starting point for Christian thought about the relationship between an individual and their country.

#16 SDG

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 05:18 AM

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.

Nicely said. A "familial" view of patriotism and patriotic obligation is perhaps the ideal starting point for Christian thought about the relationship between an individual and their country.

Not my idea. :) It's the traditional Catholic approach to the subject.

#17 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 06:03 AM

A Christian who believes he or she has a mandate to serve other nations can choose to do it as a missionary or aid worker. He/she doesn't have to go as a soldier. Even if we conclude that, in fact, it is necessary and/or desirable for a democratic nation to spread democracy to other nations by means of force, it doesn't follow that Christians are required to participate.


THere is nothing there about spreading democracy by force. What I am suggesting is the relieving of suffering, the relieving of starvation, genocide, and mass slaughter short of genocide of political enemies and outsiders by the only means that will relieve any of that, force. One uses force of a sort with one's children. One relies on ultimately the force of the local government when an obstinate neighbor puts his trash in your back yard. There are few nations in the world today that can run a tyranny off. Missionaries can't do that. Missionaries get caught up in the violence and slaughter precisely because of what they are doing, whether saving souls, helping the weak, or both.

Bullying is the hot topic these days. What does it profit to go up against a bully, but step back at some quick point on the way to countering and stopping her? You are either in or out it seems in such an operation. Walking away before stopping it only encourages them. It frustrates me that many christians not only see themselves as out in such instances, but indict those who are attempting to eradicate tyranny by the only means that might eradicate it.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 08 May 2011 - 06:03 AM.


#18 Ryan H.

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 10:24 AM

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.

Nicely said. A "familial" view of patriotism and patriotic obligation is perhaps the ideal starting point for Christian thought about the relationship between an individual and their country.

Not my idea. :) It's the traditional Catholic approach to the subject.

Certainly. But I wish that idea had more play in the religious traditions which I have been raised and currently participate.

#19 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 11:04 AM

What about all the kings who came after them -- who gained the throne by means other than election? Is a kingship established via filial succession, or by bumping off the previous king, not compatible with a "Biblical" form of govt. even though it's in the Bible?

Those would be the kings warned against by Samuel in I Samuel 8:10-22, and who did not meet the qualifications listed in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Kingship established by filial succession alone, or by murder, is not self-government; neither is it likely that such kings would be punishing wrong and commending right (I Peter 2:13-17).

That is an interpretation of Rom. 13 I can get behind. But there's still a leap in logic from that idea to the idea that it's also incumbent on Christians to go forth and rid other nations of their tyrannical governments.

Not individual Christians, no. But a government instituted by a free people could easily, given particular circumstances, find it a good, right and legitimate thing to help another people overthrown their own tyrannical and evil government. (Just ask the Cuban dissident movement.)

However, it is a different case if a nation is overtly hostile to one's nation and/or the treatied friends of one's nation. Another possibility would be that of a tyrannical nation wreaking havoc on weaker nations on and near its borders. Would it not be an act of compassion to counter and/or destroy the source of this hegemony on behalf of weaker, surrounding nations? Not by a desire for conquest, but a desire to foster peace in a region and harmony among free nations?

Another reason for patriotism in the United States is that we don't send out our armies, like the Roman Empire, for conquest. But, if you have the most powerful military in the world, then that comes with certain responsibilities. Where practical, it means protecting the weak from the strong, maintaining a balance of power to avoid war, preventing the conquering aspirations of future Kaisers, Hitlers or Stalins, and building a deterrent against tyrants who are always wondering if we will just stand by and let them murder people. Practically speaking, it is impossible to fix everything - but if we really believe the natural inalienable rights of men, and that these rights apply to every human being on the planet, and we have the might to advance this belief - then doing so does become a duty.

It sounds nice in theory, but rarely works out that way in practice, eh? Can't recall where I read it now, but around the time the Iraq invasion got going, someone published a historical evaluation of U.S. attempts at nation-building, in which the failure rate was something like 14 out of 15. Could possibly be 16 out of 17 in a few more years.

I've got to challenge you on that one. Who's the "someone"? And what are the countries we've attempted and failed at "building"? My guess is if you make the simplistic assumption that some of our Cold War interventionism constituted "attempts" at "nation-building," then it might appear like a very low success rate. But there is a difference between (1) actively guiding a country towards self-government, and (2) actively preventing the Communists from taking over a country.

Jesus' mandate was to make disciples, not democracies. A missionary might suggest a strategy of first converting people in other nations to Christianity and then letting those people worry about setting up a Biblical form of government once their numbers are sufficient.

And if following Jesus also means doing your job well, then if your job happens to be in the government, that may include protecting, fostering and encouraging democratic government (at home or abroad).

I don't know what to do with the outraged protest against genocide and tyrannical slaughter except to accept it, or try to eradicate it. As an individual christian.

As an individual Christian, it's possible you could find yourself in the position of Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda. But, if as an individual Christian, if your job happens to be in the government or the military, stopping or eradicating genocide may just fit your secular job description like the navy seals in Tears of the Sun. The fact that a country produces men trained to protect the weak and innocent like in Tears of the Sun is another decent cause for patriotism.

Well, you said it. That is, essentially, what is under debate here: In what areas do our mandates as Christians conflict with our mandates as citizens, and how do we resolve the conflict?

They don't conflict. (Unless you're raised with the religious teachings of the Birdwell family like in The Friendly Persuasion.)

A Christian who believes he or she has a mandate to serve other nations can choose to do it as a missionary or aid worker. He/she doesn't have to go as a soldier. Even if we conclude that, in fact, it is necessary and/or desirable for a democratic nation to spread democracy to other nations by means of force, it doesn't follow that Christians are required to participate.

First, it's this whole "spreading democracy by force" idea that still annoys me. What this sounds like is us forcing other people to do things our way. What it constitutes in reality, is killing or stopping the bad guys, and then simply letting people be free. When I was in Iraq, I didn't "force" any Iraqi citizen to go vote (in spite of death threats by al-Qaeda). They lined up to vote because they were free to and wanted to, and my army buddies and I were just privileged to have the honor to help protect them while they were doing this. Second, agreed, not every Christian has a duty to join the military.

One of the problematic things about the Sgt. York clip is the fallacy that York has not fully "rendered unto Caesar" until he decides to accept a combat role, i.e., that a Christian serving in the military as a conscientious objector is somehow not giving Caesar his full due ... ergo, he's deficient not only as a citizen but as a Christian. I'm not buying it.

I think you're missing the point. York's objections went much farther than just the command "thou shalt not kill." York went to a church that shunned the outside world, politics and government as all completely being "secular" and not part of the Christian calling. The words of Christ to the Pharisees who were asking him about taxes go towards whether accepting a combat role would violate his Christianity. His superior officers appealed to both his patriotism and the idea that government was an institution ordained by God. If government is a good thing, that "does not bear the sword in vain," that God intended to be a preventive force against evil - and if the American government was doing what it was supposed to - then York would be able to fight (and even kill) for the good that his government stood for.

... There are few nations in the world today that can run a tyranny off. Missionaries can't do that. Missionaries get caught up in the violence and slaughter precisely because of what they are doing, whether saving souls, helping the weak, or both.

Bullying is the hot topic these days. What does it profit to go up against a bully, but step back at some quick point on the way to countering and stopping her? You are either in or out it seems in such an operation. Walking away before stopping it only encourages them. It frustrates me that many christians not only see themselves as out in such instances, but indict those who are attempting to eradicate tyranny by the only means that might eradicate it.

And guess what? Patriotism and love of my country makes me want my country to be one of the few nations in the world that is willing to take stands against tyranny. Real stands, that is. With force behind them. I could quote Edmund Burke here, but instead I'll just comment that your bullying example is even more aggravated when we're speaking in terms of nations instead of children. Turning the other cheek on the playground may often be the Christlike thing to do. But standing by when Hitler is invading Poland, when you have the power and ability to stop him, is particularly unChristlike - and if I may say so, weak and cowardly. Being a military superpower results in certain responsibilities. Possessing a powerful military and believing in things like natural law and natural rights, well ... that means occasionally using your powerful military. And, if you're a healthy, athletic young man ... and your family and ancestors have a history of sacrificing themselves for your country ... and your country gets into a war ... sometimes joining that military in order to do your part becomes a patriotic duty.

#20 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 11:13 AM

Christianity qualifies love of country but does not abolish it.

On the contrary, the fourth commandment obligation to honor father and mother is understood in Catholic thought to imply a like obligation of filial or civil piety toward our forebears generally, and to the authorities present and past -- teachers, civil leaders, etc. -- to whom in some measure we owe, as we do in greater measure to our parents, our lives and the circumstances in which we live. For e.g. Americans this includes the Founding Fathers. In some way it can be metaphorically understood to imply one's "fatherland" or "mother country."

We love our country not because it is the best, but because it is ours. Honoring my father and mother doesn't mean believing they are right about everything or obeying everything they say, particularly when I am grown and most particularly if they tell me to do wrong. Jesus himself taught us we may have to "hate" father and mother. Yet he also excoriated the Pharisees for neglecting precisely this commandment for the sake of their traditions.

I don't love America. I don't hate America. I am ambivalent in about 3,783 different ways about America. "America" is so different as a concept from the reality of America that it's almost impossible for me to parse the notion of patriotism in any meaningful sense, let alone one that purports to take into account the Christian notion of loving and honoring family. This is a family that takes in the Founding Fathers and Kim Kardashian, Abe Lincoln and Bernie Madoff, Martin Luther King and Howard Stern. It's all America. America is piety and crassness, freedom for all and unfathomable greed, the inherent dignity of each human life and total disregard for the most helpless lives. It's no wonder that the rest of the world is so exasperated with us. We are utterly clueless as a nation. We have no idea who we are, and we experience a total disconnect between reality and image, but we'll gladly sell that image to anyone who may or may not be interested.

I love America enough to work for justice and mercy, and to believe that God can change America by changing Americans one life at a time. God knows we all need changing. I do. But I have no idea what to do with notion of patriotism as a Christian virtue. I'm not interested in the principles upon which this country was founded. That was 235 years ago. I'm more interested in what the country is like today. And the country today is so fragmented and so utterly devoted to the pursuit of money, leisure, and happiness, to the exclusion of almost everything else, that I don't want to cloud that picture with anything related to Christianity. They should not be mixed except to the extent that doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God is always in short supply, and it's good to leaven the rest of our culture with those pursuits whenever and wherever we can.