"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Patriotism

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I went to the clinic again this morning, steeling myself beforehand, should the angry phlebotomist be wielding the needle. She wasn't there. In her stead was a large Samoan woman who ushered me in and out in five minutes, without any comment regarding my campaign button. That was a relief.

But it got me thinking about civil discourse, and how difficult it is if either person identifies more strongly with an ideology (be it political or religious or other) than with our common humanity. Recently on this blog, I lost my cool when an anonymous poster (responding to my criticism of Bill O'Reilly), told me to "try and say," "just once," "I love America."

As if.

We all know patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but I should not have called the poster an "ignorant imbecile," which is redundant, for starters. Four Eyes rightly scolded me. What I should have done is invite discussion on the nature of patriotism.

Is there a "real America" and by extension, a "false America"? Are there "pro-American" parts of the country? Is America blessed by God to be "exceptional" and "a city on a hill"? Are people in small towns more patriotic than people in big towns or cities? This has been the theme of Governor Palin's speeches for many weeks (rather ironic, given hers and Todd's association with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party).

Yesterday, General Colin Powell (strong Republican) responded to this divisive rhetoric in his eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama. It's worth watching.

And today at a rally in Tampa Bay, Obama said:
There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation – we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women from Florida and all across America who serve on our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America. We have always been at our best when we’ve had leadership that called us to look past our differences and come together as one nation, as one people; leadership that rallied this entire country to a common purpose – to a higher purpose."

For those of you who are Christians, I thought this perspective worth sharing:
For the mainstream Protestant, Palin is engaging in what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “the idolatry of America.” As Niebuhr would have it, an American Christian may be patriotic and love his country, but he must also remember that his true home rests outside of these bounds fixed by geography and time and in an eternal community with Jesus Christ. The Christian’s commitment to his faith must come first, and it must transcend a commitment to the nation-state. This means that patriotism is, in the mainstream Protestant view, a fairly complicated matter. In particular, again in the Niebuhr tradition, a Christian must guard against the risk that vanity, haughtiness and hatred towards the balance of mankind enter into his heart under the guise of patriotism; he must retain a skeptical and critical attitude which recognizes the imperfection of human works. The perspective of Religious Right figures like Palin that elevates America—as their political blinders conceive her—to some sort of sacred object is therefore little short of an act of idolatry. Jesus Christ, as Charles Marsh reminds us, “comes to us from a country far from our own” and requires that believers lay their “values, traditions, and habits at the foot of the cross.” Or, as John Calvin says, “the heart is a factory of idols,” and a primitive noncritical form of patriotism can be a particularly troubling and entrenched idol.

This morning on the way to school, our 7-year old asked "What color is McCain?"

"White?" I ventured.

"No! I mean is he blue or red?"

That was a great learning moment. If there is anything Laestadianism has taught me, it is that how we view others, and how we describe them to our children, is a matter of choice and can be done with love or fear. I told her about the political color tradition (red/right and blue/left) and how it is inadequate to the task of defining our candidates or us. She understood instantly. Her "favorite color is rainbow" -- which is a pretty good motif for the founding ideals of this country: unity in plurality, and symbolic of hope.

Thanks for reading, friends.


  1. Free, I've appreciated your tolerance for viewpoints that are different from your own, as mine are. I've been meaning to say that for awhile.

    About the time you posted the "imbecile" comment, you also asked for substance. And that was a good direction for the discussion. Not just rah-rah kind of stuff, but substance.

    I hope that whoever wins, the country will benefit. We don't always get what we want or what we think is best. That's life. We continue on and think about what's really important in our own lives, and play the hand we're dealt. That's not a very activist view, but the only one I can realistically live with.

    end of thoughts for today :-) But again, thanks. It's overdue.

  2. Great topic!

    Bonus points: Compare and contrast Patriotism, Nationalism, and Christian Nationalism

  3. I appreciate that, Norah. Be well!

  4. http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081023/MULTI/81022086

    I found this interesting gizmo in The Detroit Free Press. This is what I call a blind study since I don't know anyone's personal finances. Both candidates have put forth tax PROPOSALS so it is just designed according to their proposals. Now I guess I'm really going to identifly myself (to some)by posting this but what the heck!

    And I have noticed that at least one politician has admitted or acknowledged that they "get" that they made poor or insulting comments regarding "real America".
    Progress I guess.

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