Fireworks, Patriotism, and the 4th. Decades ago (1945) George Orwell made a distinction between Nationalism and Patriotism. According to Orwell, nationalism is the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or an idea, and “placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
So what is a nationalist?
A nationalist is someone who cannot believe that his/her country could ever be wrong, evil, or even not best. A nationalist is someone who can listen to their favorite political commentator without ever thinking, “Really? I’m pretty sure I don’t believe that!” A nationalist is someone who would judge the ethics of a set of actions purely on the basis of “who did it.” In other words, if we do it, it’s all good.
You will probably guess that I believe — and most of you will agree — that Christians have no business being nationalists. There is a sense in which the nationalist must sacrifice the uniqueness of Christ for the uniqueness of country. Country becomes “the way, the truth, and the life.” Instead as we follow Christ, we become seekers of truth who are called to live by a standard of truth that transcends countries or boundaries. We believe in the reality of evil and acknowledge that there is a capacity for evil and deception in all cultures apart from Christ.
So what about patriotism?
Patriotism is far better than nationalism. Orwell defined patriotism as “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people.” That’s better than nationalism. A patriot is someone who could never imagine living somewhere else, but doesn’t feel the need to force everyone to live like we do. A patriot in fact might be willing to give their live so that their friends and neighbors could continue to experience that way of life. A patriot believes that their way of life is best, but not perfect.
So what about patriotic Christians? Well here are some of my thoughts, questions and ponderings.
1) It may be difficult for patriotic Christians to stop short of nationalism. Christians are called to love their neighbors, in fact love the world. If we think our culture is “best” why wouldn’t we want everyone to have what is best?
2) When Christians are at their best, the word needs no modifier. I wish we didn’t have so many modifiers. Evangelical Christian, Mainline Christian, Patriotic Christian, Charismatic Christian, American Christian, Patriotic Christian. Does that word really need a modifier? Isn’t the bond of Christ-follower greater than every modifier?
3) I love the land in which I was born, just like I love the city to which God called me. I love State College not because I think it’s the best or the only, but because God called me here and I love the people.
4) I see the fingerprints of God in every culture and I see the presence of evil in every culture.
5) Christians are not citizens of the countries in which we live. Peter calls us foreigners and exiles (I Peter 2:11-12). Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and that we are Christ’s ambassadors to this world (2 Corinthians 5:20). Imagine an American — a patriotic American — living in Haiti. He grows to love the people, but it is so difficult to think about his country, his way of life, his culture. In fact he becomes an evangelist for the way of life that his country represents. We should be that citizen.
On July 4th, I will watch the fireworks in State College. I will celebrate the birth of my country — and more importantly the birth of my daughter — and I will ask God to bless America. I will also ask God to bless Myanmar, and Rwanda, and the Dominican Republic. And in the rockets red glare, I will also take a moment to ask God to forgive us, and give us a spirit of repentance and humility, so that many Americans would become citizens of God’s kingdom.