Patriotism is a word in its numerous forms that invokes reactions within us ranging from love to hate. It causes men and women to lay down their own lives in the service of their countries by subjecting themselves to unbelievable acts of violence. It also has caused men to commit heinous acts in the name of their country. Some examination of what provokes the emotion of patriotism is in order.
What is it that we are expressing our allegiance to when we are chanting “USA”? A nation is made of three fundamental pillars. The first is the territory that nation occupies and the second is the people that are its subjects or citizens. The third is something more illusive – the context in which the other two exist.
Is there anything special about a territory of this planet that justifies our allegiance to it? All of us have a certain attachment to the place we came from. Also, the land can be a source of a plethora of resources that can make men wealthy and comfortable. In some parts of the world, where civilizations have been present since antiquity, the land holds the treasures that are the legacies of these perished civilizations. After all these benefits provided by our land are considered, can we say with honesty that the patch of land we live on is any better than any other patch of land in the world? If we say it is, that is probably due to a personal attachment to our home that has very little to do with the sovereign nation in which we reside.
What about the people? Isn’t there something special about the people born in our nation that merits our patriotism – our desire to stand up for them? We need to ask ourselves whether a child born in our country is any different than a child born elsewhere. When we do that we find that every child is burdened with the curse of sin with no regard to the nation in which they are born. At the same time, God grants newborn children with gifts and talents regardless of the country of their birth. We can safely say that the people in our nation are fundamentally no different than the people in other nations. However, the setting that people are brought up within invariably effects the character of that people. That brings us to the third important pillar of a nation.
This third feature of a nation can be called “culture”, but this word is so often used in this day and age to describe such a wide variety of social factors that I want to use the example of the United States to examine the word and its meaning in the context of patriotism. In the United States (at least until recent times) immediately after a child is born that child is made aware of the almost infinite potential he or she has to reach the pinnacle of their desires, whether worldly or otherwise, due to the framework of our society and culture passed down via the US Constitution. The values that have propagated and evolved due to the Constitution are what make America exceptional. Our resources are similar to other nations’, but our Constitution provides the values that allow us to create more wealth with our resources. Our people are no different than other people, but our Constitution creates an environment that allows every human being a chance to reach his or her full potential. This document is only an example of how this phenomenon works worldwide through many varied social and political customs. If one thinks about how the Constitution affects the way we think about life in so many areas it is almost staggering.
Of the three pillars on which a nation is built that are discussed above, the last is the one on which we should base our patriotism. By focusing on the first two we can potentially be led down the path of Nationalism, which was manifested in its most extreme form by the Nazis. They preyed on the loyalty of most Germans to the land and the people of Germany while discarding the Lutheran traditions that defined the real positive differences between Germany and its neighbors.
Likewise, we need to decide in America what is the true object of our patriotism. We as Americans are occasionally confronted with saying the Pledge of Allegiance in a public setting. Most of us comply, but are we thinking about what we are pledging our allegiance to? If the Constitution is set aside in favor of an alternative form of government that is immoral would we still pledge allegiance to our flag? Our country?
We Americans are living in times in which those in power desire to transform the US political system to a degree that you can’t tell the Constitution was written for the country in which we reside. I would say we should resist any transformation of this kind. I would even go so far as to say it would be unpatriotic not to resist. If our resistance would prove to be ineffectual, God commands me to be obedient to the leader he has placed over me, but I will not be patriotic.
On the other hand, if another nation were to pick up our discarded Constitution and use it as the basis for their government, I would call myself an instant patriot of that nation. Some may call me a traitor for so easily changing my allegiance, but in the end I am not attached to the territory of America. Neither am I tethered to Her people. What I will take with me to my grave is a devotion to the IDEA of America.