The Patriot’s Asterisk:
Why We Shouldn’t be Ashamed to be Patriots

Culture — By on April 8, 2008 at 12:13 am

Recently a number of intellectual bloggers have been debating the concept of patriotism (see here, here, here, and here.) The conflict over such a mundane and seemingly uncontroversial term highlights the fact that we Americans have conflicted feelings about the word “patriot.”
To question someone’s patriotism is considered an insult, while to praise their patriotism is a compliment (except when it isn’t). Yet strangely, the only people who refer to themselves, completely without irony or qualification, as “patriots” are old veterans, paleo-cons, and pro athletes in New England.
Of course, people who do not fit into those three categories sometimes self-identify with that label. But when they do it is inevitably accompanied by an asterisk, denoting–whether expressed or implied–that the use of the word comes with a qualifier:

*Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (George Bush, the war, etc.)
*That doesn’t mean I think America is better than other countries.
*Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.
*But I’m nothing like those Bible-thumping, flag-fetishizing, NASCAR-loving, types of “patriots.”

The need to invoke such conditionals raises the question of whether the person truly identifies with the term. A Japanese reporter once inquired of filmmaker Michael Moore, “You do not seem to like the U.S., do you?” Moore’s response sums up the sentiment behind the patriot’s asterisk: “I like America to some extent.”


Unfortunately, the asterisk isn’t completely without warrant. Just as the existence of NAMBLA has made it impossible to say one is a “lover of children” without the need to provide clarification, the co-opting of the term patriot by nativists, xenophobes, and domestic terrorists has caused some Americans to distance themselves from the label.
It is also true that patriot has to compete with other terms that we might rightfully believe take precedence. Christians, for example, not only owe allegiance to the state but also, and more importantly, to the Kingdom of God. Even when we consider ourselves loyal citizens of the U.S., we also embrace a form of cosmopolitanism in cleaving to the invisible, catholic Church.
Whatever unique and individual allegiances we might have, though, we corporately share a divided loyalty between America as our birthplace (or adopted home) and America as an ideal, a set of principles embodied in such documents as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. While our bifurcated loyalty can make patriotic sentiments complex and dissonant, it can also prevent a love of America from devolving into blind nationalism.
This tension sets America–and our identity as a nation–apart in a peculiar way. As historian Walter Berns notes,

The late Martin Diamond had this in mind when, in an American government textbook, he points out that the terms “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no counterparts in any other country or language. This is not by chance, or a matter of phonetics–Swissism? Englishization?–or mere habit. (What would a Frenchman have to do or believe in order to justify being labeled un-French?) The fact is, and it was first noted by the Englishman, G.K. Chesterton, the term “Americanism” reflects a unique phenomenon; as Diamond puts it, “It expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles.”

Most Americans have so internalized this concept of America as both a geographic place and an abstract ideal that we sometime forget how radical it must appear to the rest of the world. Many were reminded of this when presented with this ad by Absolut Vodka:
Absolut
The reason the ad sparked such controversy is because it was meant to appeal to the tiny minority of Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans) who support reconquista, the “reconquering” and return of California, New Mexico, and other parts of the Southwestern United States to Mexico. Of course, if their dream were realized it would simply make Mexico a much larger, third-world nation. You can move the border northward but without the culture, ideals, laws, and principles of America, San Diego is just another Tijuana. Presumably, the re-conquistadors would still want to take the land even though it would mean having to immigrate further eastward to find work.
The beauty and genius of our principles, though, is that there is nothing that makes them exclusively American. They are ideals that are not only available to all people but also, as political philosophers from Thomas Jefferson to Francis Fukuyama have contentiously argued, likely to eventually be adopted by all nations. To be a patriot then it to align oneself with all generations of Americans–past, present, and future–who claim that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
In his eulogy for the Kentucky politician Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln gave expression to what should be an applicable description of all American patriots:

He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.

Berns says that for Clay (and Lincoln), “country and principle were one and the same.” Perhaps in Clay we can find a useful model for ourselves; a way to be a patriot without an asterisk.


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  • ucfengr

    I’m not an “old veteran” (40-something is not old) and I am certainly not a professional athlete from Foxborough, MA, but I have never felt the need to qualify my patriotism. I don’t feel like I needed to draw a distinction between my beliefs and those of a Timothy McVeigh or a William Pierce (author of the Turner Diaries). Whatever those people call their beliefs, they are certainly not built on a love of the USA or a love of their fellow citizens. I have never based my patriotism on who the current president is; I loved the USA just as much when Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter was president as I do know. I do think the US is better than other countries and I would be proud if my son or daughter decided to take time to serve in the Armed Forces. I don’t thump my Bible very often, I prefer reading it, and I do have a flag on the front porch. I’ve never been able to get into NASCAR, but I don’t look down on people who do. I guess that makes me an “un-asterisked” patriot.

  • A patriot*
    *Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (George Bush, the war, etc.)

    *Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.

    The need to invoke such conditionals raises the question of whether the person truly identifies with the term.

    So long as the purpose of the US military is to occupy foreign countries (which seems to be the case for the foreseeable future), I would not join the military. If the military was ever needed for true defense, it might be another story. Does that mean I don’t like America? So be it.
    I don’t support the current [strike]war[/strike] “use of military force.” Does that mean I don’t like America? So be it.
    I am ashamed I voted for Bush (twice *arghhh*). Does that…

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I have never felt the need to qualify my patriotism
    The need to qualify patriotism comes from essentially a marketing failure. If one’s political opponents have managed to associate their policies with patriotism one then will feel the need to qualify their patriotism. The solution is to reassert one’s right to be patriotic without having to sign on to an agenda you disagree with.
    On the right wing side, a similiar issue emerges. Look at “Compassionate Conservatism”. Back before the Bush admin. became a joke, some right wingers chaffed at Bush’s embrace of a term that seemed to imply conservatives were not compassionate or that liberals had a monopoly on it.

  • smmtheory

    I am an American patriot (no asterisk), no ifs, no ands, and no buts.

  • JohnW

    God Bless America…and all the rest of the world too, including the brown peoples of the earth. Is that Patriotic?

  • Jeffrey_P

    “My country, right or wrong” is absolutely right, because the full quote is “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
    Patriotism is as appropriate as love for one’s mother. It is an expression not of blindness, but of gratitude, respect, commitment, and honor.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    I’m a Bible-believing Christian, church-going family man who also served in the U.S. military. I’m a patriot who flies the flag on holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and also on 9/11.
    I’m a patriot and I believe America is the greatest country in the world relative to the other countries. I also believe that America is in moral decline, and that this accelerating moral decline is largely attributable to the ascension of atheistic liberalism (aka secular humanism).
    I love America, but I love God and my family more. And it saddens me that America, as great as it is and as great as it has been, is in decline in many different spheres. And I speak as a hopeful realist.

  • ucfengr

    God Bless America…and all the rest of the world too, including the brown peoples of the earth. Is that Patriotic?
    Translation:
    I love America, but unlike the rest of you slack-jawed, knuckle dragging, gap-toothed, rednecks, I also love the noble and enlightened brown people of the world; who are our betters in every way.

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    You can move the border northward but without the culture, ideals, laws, and principles of America, San Diego is just another Tijuana.
    As it is, San Diego looks like a Southern California version of Everywhere Else, USA: Big box stores, chain pizza & fast food places, The Gap, Old Navy, etc., etc. etc., Regal Cinemas playing the same garbage as on every other movie screen outside of NY or LA, etc. etc. etc.
    To be a patriot then it to align oneself with all generations of Americans–past, present, and future–who claim that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
    Yeah, Thomas Paine he was no patriot according to Carter.
    And neither would be Joe Carter, come to think of it, by this odd definition.
    Why?
    All you have to do get the obvious answer to that is to come on down to Washington DC and take a tour of the Capitol Building.
    There you’ll find what Jefferson meant by his “Creator,” and it wasn’t Joe Carter’s fundamentalist idol.
    Jefferson’s Creator was in fact a rather eclectic blend of Enlightenment Rationalist Deism and Freemasonry.
    And it’s all there in marble and metal and statue and friezes and paintings for anyone to see.

  • ucfengr

    The need to qualify patriotism comes from essentially a marketing failure. If one’s political opponents have managed to associate their policies with patriotism one then will feel the need to qualify their patriotism.
    It is not poor marketing that makes people think that Hanoi Jane or Winter Soldier or Code Pink are unpatriotic; it is the fact that they are unpatriotic.

  • JohnW

    uncenfger,
    Why so cynical and angry?

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    If patriotism is defined simply as “love of country” then the discernment becomes simple.
    A. Criticism of country is not unpatriotic.
    B. Hared of country is unpatriotic.
    C. Seeking the dissolution of one’s country is unpatriotic.
    and so forth.
    But there are still some hard questions
    A. Is there a point where dissolution of one’s country/empire is the best thing, though it is unpatriotic? (ref. American Revolution)
    B. Is patriotism really the highest value that a citizen can hold? This ought to raise serious questions for every Christian. Can I have a commitment God and still serve my country faithfully? To what degree? Against what potential conflicts?
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • ucfengr

    and then there’s this from Jay Rockefeller, one of Obama’s supporters.
    “McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.”
    I wonder how he feels about the people that are currently serving. Do they not care about the “lives of people” either? Are they just dropping bombs willy-nilly without worrying about were they hit too?

  • http://mumonno.blogpsot.com Mumon

    ucfengr:
    I wonder how he feels about the people that are currently serving. Do they not care about the “lives of people” either?
    If they are dropping bombs from 35K feet, they’re trained not to care.
    And morally, why should there be a difference between them and the maniacs that killed thousands by flying jet aircraft into the World Trade Center?
    Oh, yeah, the former were killed so we could impose “our” kind of freedom on the Poor Brown People Over There.
    Like I said, why should there be a difference between them and the maniacs that killed thousands by flying jet aircraft into the World Trade Center?

  • http://godsnowhere.wordpress.com Erik U.

    As a Bible-believing, left-leaning, Christ-follower I’m not sure why patriotism is often linked with Christianity…as in, “if you don’t love your country, you don’t love Jesus either.”
    I consider myself patriotic, which is not to be confused with blind adherence to every aspect of our country’s policies. In fact, the freedom to protest and question is one of the truest expressions of patriotism. The first “patriots” forged this nation because of the belief that it’s not only permissible but ESSENTIAL for the people to have a dissenting voice.
    I love this country and I love that I have the ability to speak my opinion (both pro and con) about what happens in this country. I love that I can invoke the name of God in public places…and that my neighbor can do the same with his / her own deity. It’s this kind of diversity that has always made our country worth defending, honoring, supporting, and questioning.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I’m a patriot and I believe America is the greatest country in the world relative to the other countries. I also believe that America is in moral decline, and that this accelerating moral decline is largely attributable to the ascension of atheistic liberalism (aka secular humanism).
    Today started with me at the train station with my laptop. I had to act fast because someone has a wireless signal that I can pick up at that station. So as soon as I could get online I opened a few random windows of stuff to read once the train pulled off and the net was lost.
    I found this old Atlantic article from 1957 titled “Sex and the College Girl”:

    Since so many of us are going to college, a great many of our decisions about our lives have been and are being made on the campuses, and our behavior in college is inevitably in for some comment. Two criticisms rise above the rest: people in college are promiscuous, for one thing, and, for another, they are getting married and having children too early. These are interesting observations because they contradict each other. The phenomena of pinning, going steady, and being monogamous-minded do not suggest sexual promiscuity. Quite the contrary—they are symptoms of our inclination to play it safe.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/195711/sex-college
    So in 1957 people were fretting that they were being too promiscuous. You’ll be hard pressed to find a serious article titled “Nation in Crises! Promiscuous behavior falls to dangerous lows!”…..or to use Truth’s complaint did he ever write many years ago “Cool, we are almost all moral! good job everyone, try not to loose it!”
    Not to be snarky about it but complaints of ‘moral decline’ too often seem to be way too subjective. I remember when Bill Bennett, the annoying education ‘czar’ who made a short career playing an over-intellectual morality advocate, tried publishing a set of ‘leading cultural indicators’ at the start of Bill Clinton’s first administration. He had to stop after a few year after it became clear the indicators insisted on moving in positive directions thereby distracting from his top moral imperative; which was to violently frown at our ‘moral decline’.
    Collin
    A. Is there a point where dissolution of one’s country/empire is the best thing, though it is unpatriotic? (ref. American Revolution)
    Indeed, would you say that it was possible for a British citizen to have been patriotic and at the same time agree with the American colonies?
    ucfengr
    and then there’s this from Jay Rockefeller…
    1. I don’t think they used laser guided bombs in Vietnam.
    2. This kind of proves my point. Rockefeller’s attack on McCain was stupid and disrespectful but that’s it. Insulting McCain is not insulting America…unless you’re a GOP nutcase who thinks “America = McCain” or “America = whoever or whatever the GOP put on top of their ticket this year”. You could even try to assert Rockefeller was being disrespectful to veterns except for the fact that in the original story (http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/200804070734) he was demanding better health care for wounded vets and charges that pyridostigmine pills given to Gulf War vets were causing neurological illnesses. We can see how patriotism begins to get degraded with ucfengr:
    Step 1 – Patriotism is praised as something good
    Step 2 – Things that are bad are equated with being unpatriotic.
    Step 3 – Your patriotism ends up being a function of how much you agree with the speaker on a whole bunch of things that has nothing to do with actual patriotism.
    Step 4 – Before sanity is restored, the asterisk needds to be called into patriotic duty to save patriotism!
    I therefore lay down the challenge to ucfengr to stop degrading the noble work of the patriotic asterisk.

  • ucfengr

    And morally, why should there be a difference between them and the maniacs that killed thousands by flying jet aircraft into the World Trade Center?
    “And morally”, why should there be any difference between the robber who kills the convenience store clerk and the cop who kills the robber?
    Oh, yeah, the former were killed so we could impose “our” kind of freedom on the Poor Brown People Over There.
    How many different kinds of freedom are there, mumon?
    I consider myself patriotic, which is not to be confused with blind adherence to every aspect of our country’s policies.
    Right, you are not like the knuckle dragging, redneck, NASCAR fanatics who voted for Bush. I get it, Erik.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Or to put it more simply patriotism can be either positive or negative. Positive being “I love my country” and like feelings. Negative being “Person X said/did Y, he is unpatriotic!”
    Now sometimes it is necessary to be negative. If a US citizen joins Al Qaeda, for example, I think it’s more than fair to call it treason. But too often the negative ends up degrading itself into yet another form of political correctness. Instead of doing anything positive you end up trolling around looking for something to be offended at so you can yell “gotcha”.

  • Rob

    A patriot is one who loves his country and supports its authority and its interests. Most people I know are patriotic. The reason some people feel compelled to offer the asterisk is because some other people try to define patriotism so narrowly it only reflects their own interests.
    I don’t want to be categorized with those who wrap themselves in the flag while pushing initiatives I oppose and believe are not in our nation’s interests.

  • ucfengr

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about what being a patriot is. As a public service I am going to start a “Jeff Foxworthy” style list for the “I am a patriot, but” types. I will call it “You might not be patriotic, if”:
    1. you think the two words that best describe the military are “Abu” and “Ghraib”.
    2. you think protesting in front of a military hospital is an appropriate way to express displeasure for the Bush regime.
    3. you think a “Code Pink” demonstration is the epitome of patriotic expression.
    Anybody who does not need to add a “but” to “I am a patriot” may feel free to the add to the list.

  • ucfengr

    1. I don’t think they used laser guided bombs in Vietnam.
    I think they did towards the end. They were in development in the 60’s.
    This kind of proves my point. Rockefeller’s attack on McCain was stupid and disrespectful but that’s it.
    No, it was an unpatriotic attack on all the brave US pilots who risked their lives in Vietnam.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    I thought the act of Al Gore, declaring that Bush was “His” president, was one of the more statesman-like acts that I’ve seen in a long time.
    As far as military occupations go, let’s consider …
    … NATO/Europe. We needed to occupy space for that 50 year period. Period.
    … S. Korea. Again, same policy of containment. (A mildly effective policy. Not the best approach, but certainly the most prudent at the time.)
    … Japan & Philippines. The 20 or so years we spent there helped them rebuild. These had almost nothing to do with keeping us safer. But they were beneficial.
    … Somalia, Balkans, and even our world-wide naval presence. Few of our involvements have anything to do with making the US a safer place in any immediate sense. These are investments, not purchases.
    Nicole Belle, and much of the Left that follows her violent speech, is delusional when she thinks immediate safety is the only concern.
    http://www.crooksandliars.com/2008/04/08/petraeus-testimony-today/
    Collin

  • ucfengr

    You could even try to assert Rockefeller was being disrespectful to veterns except for the fact that in the original story (http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/200804070734) he was demanding better health care for wounded vets and charges that pyridostigmine pills given to Gulf War vets were causing neurological illnesses.
    So in essence, Senator Rockefeller’s position is that Vietnam vets were soulless killing machines, not caring who got hit by their bullets and bombs, and they need a government program to pay for their health care. Okay, I’m really looking hard for the patriotism there, but I just doesn’t jump out at me.

  • JohnW

    ucfengr,
    Maybe you could remind us of our noble patriotic cause in the Vietnam war? What were we fighting for over there?

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Boonton,
    I think we are so ready to avoid conflict that what is “patriotism” and what is either “treason” or “traitorous” actions all go undefined. Some say that we should never question patriotism. That, for some, is just being civil. But for others it’s a way to justify unnecessary anarchy (ref. Code Pink, C&L, et. al.). We are a nation of wimps, hanging on, as it were, to our mommas skirts and not stepping up and taking responsibility for our nation.
    It was asked why patriotism seems to part of the Right today. I think it’s because the relativism of the Liberal Left has left the world undefined. The only place where we can define anything is in some camp other than liberalism.

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    ucfengr:
    “And morally”, why should there be any difference between the robber who kills the convenience store clerk and the cop who kills the robber?
    Not if the cop had alternatives and the robber was incapable of putting up resistance. Unless of course you’d also justify the cop-killer who killed such a cop preemptively. Me, I wouldn’t.
    How many different kinds of freedom are there, mumon?
    Ah, you don’t really want an answer to that question. Let’s just say that Joe Carter’s or perhaps your conception of freedom ain’t the same as Jean Paul Sartre’s conception of freedom, which is more absolute and profound than any that comes from a deity.

  • http://www.gryphmon.com Patrick (gryph

    Christian*
    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  • http://www.leanleft.com tgirsch

    There’s an old saying that I think helps explain the asterisk that Joe laments:
    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

  • miliukov

    Echoing some of the previous comments: can someone help me understand, based on Scripture, why patriotism is in any way consistent with faith in Christ? It seems to me that at best it is a dead and useless weight; at worst, idolatry.
    Even under the Old Covenant, there was no commandment for “love of country” as such — it was obedience to Jehovah and a keeping of the moral law.
    Not trying to flame or play gotcha. Really would like to know. But please, make your argument scripturally, rather than culturally, relevant.
    –Longtime lurker miliukov

  • ucfengr

    Echoing some of the previous comments: can someone help me understand, based on Scripture, why patriotism is in any way consistent with faith in Christ?
    I would tend to think that if God thought love of country a bad thing, he would have at least cautioned us against it. That he didn’t should lead Christians to believe that it is not always inconsistent with faith in Christ.
    It seems to me that at best it is a dead and useless weight; at worst, idolatry.
    Is a love of math or technology “a dead and useless weight”? What about love of a TV show? Is it your opinion that we, as Christians, are commanded to jettison all things that don’t directly contribute to the furthering of the Kingdom?

  • ucfengr

    Echoing some of the previous comments: can someone help me understand, based on Scripture, why patriotism is in any way consistent with faith in Christ?
    I would tend to think that if God thought love of country a bad thing, he would have at least cautioned us against it. That he didn’t should lead Christians to believe that it is not always inconsistent with faith in Christ.
    It seems to me that at best it is a dead and useless weight; at worst, idolatry.
    Is a love of math or technology “a dead and useless weight”? What about love of a TV show? Is it your opinion that we, as Christians, are commanded to jettison all things that don’t directly contribute to the furthering of the Kingdom?

  • Nick

    I would tend to think that if God thought love of country a bad thing, he would have at least cautioned us against it.
    You may be right, but first we should probably determine whether or not patriotism as we understand it existed at the time Scripture was written.
    That he didn’t should lead Christians to believe that it is not always inconsistent with faith in Christ.
    But equally, the silence of Scripture on many details of modern patriotism should caution Christians against viewing patiotism as an unalloyed virtue (perhaps necessitating Patriotism-with-an-asterisk).
    If discussing patriotism and Scripture, we might consider that when the Israelites wanted a king (something that would cement their national identity and give them a focus for patriotic loyalty), a prophet of God warned against it. In the New Testament, Paul commands that Christians respect ruling authorities, but he doesn’t seem to touch on patriotism. After all, the early Christians, mostly Greeks and Jews, would have constituted conquered peoples in the Roman Empire. They’d hardly be patriotic towards Rome.
    Is a love of math or technology “a dead and useless weight”? What about love of a TV show? Is it your opinion that we, as Christians, are commanded to jettison all things that don’t directly contribute to the furthering of the Kingdom?
    No, but we almost always attach qualifications and limits to that love — the asterisk again.

  • smmtheory

    Another few for Ucfengr’s list:
    You might not be patriotic if,
    1. you blame your country for most of the world’s ills.
    2. you think complaining to foreigners is the proper way to effect change in your country.
    3. you fawn over dictatorial leadership in other nations.

    Let’s just say that Joe Carter’s or perhaps your conception of freedom ain’t the same as Jean Paul Sartre’s conception of freedom

    Anarchy is not freedom.

    Echoing some of the previous comments: can someone help me understand, based on Scripture, why patriotism is in any way consistent with faith in Christ?

    Does it mean nothing that the theme of nations runs all throughout the Old Testament? Does it mean nothing that Jewish national pride manifested in being God’s chosen people?

  • ucfengr

    No, but we almost always attach qualifications and limits to that love — the asterisk again.
    When I say something like “I love ice cream”, do I really have to add “,but I wouldn’t want to eat 2 gallons in a sitting” or “,but I wouldn’t like vomit flavored ice cream”? No; everybody understands that there are limits to “I love ice cream”. In the same way, when I say “I love the USA”, do I really need to add “,but I don’t like our agriculture policies” or “,but I don’t like our energy policies”? No; again, it is understood that there are limits to “I love the USA”. The problem I have with people who say “I love the USA, but” is that they are saying one of two things that I find problematic. Either they are saying something to the effect of “I love the USA, but I am unlike those brain-dead, knuckle dragging, slack jawed, NASCAR fanatics who live in the South and join the military” or “I love the USA, but I think it should be substantially different from what it is now”. Now it should be self evident why I find the first sentiment problematic, but the second requires a little explanation. If I said to you “I love ice cream, but I really wish it were more like North Carolina BBQ”, would you have cause to wonder if, in fact, I really did love ice cream. I think you would. By the same token, if I said “I love the USA, but I think it should be a lot more like France (or Cuba, or Canada, or etc.)”, would you also have cause to question whether or not I really “love the USA”? I think you would. In other words, when you say “I love the USA, but”, I think what follows the “but” is really the substantive part of the statement and “I love the USA” is just a throw away line to soften the blow. Sort of like when you break off a long term romantic relationship, you might say “I love you, but I’m breaking up with you because…”. The important part of the statement is “but I’m breaking up with you…”, not “I love you”.

  • Nick

    Does it mean nothing that the theme of nations runs all throughout the Old Testament?
    It definitely means something, but it is not at all obvious that a nation in the Old Testament is equivalent to a modern nation-state. There are several logical steps required if you want to argue that modern patriotism is similar to ancient tribalism.
    Does it mean nothing that Jewish national pride manifested in being God’s chosen people?
    It means something very important, but I would be very, very careful about comparing patriotism to the Israelites’ pride in being God’s chosen people.

  • JohnW

    The people that stood up during the Petraeus hearings yesterday and yelled “bring them home” are real patriots.

  • Nick

    When I say something like “I love ice cream”, do I really have to add “,but I wouldn’t want to eat 2 gallons in a sitting” or “,but I wouldn’t like vomit flavored ice cream”? No; everybody understands that there are limits to “I love ice cream”.
    On the other hand, if I say that I love my best friend’s wife, I’d should damned well qualify it and make sure everyone understands that I mean agape or philia, not eros. Sometimes qualification is critically important. Throughout the last few centuries, but especially in the 20th century, love of nation has been used to justify horrible atrocities. Patriotism is not a US-specific concept. Even in the U.S., I think that people disagree about important aspects of patriotism, and that disagreement doesn’t mean one side is unpatriotic or the other consists of knuckledragging rednecks.
    If we assume that all Americans agree that the principles Joe summarized are worthy of loyalty, we don’t necessarily agree on the ways that the U.S. can become more closely aligned to those principles. Thus qualification and asterisks are useful for communication.
    Heck, in your very first comment, you asterisked your patriotism: it isn’t like the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh. On that particular issue, the asterisk isn’t particularly important, since we all agree on that point. It’s where disagreement occurs that aterisks are important.
    I love ice cream, but I wish it didn’t make me fat. I love ice cream, but I love Carolina barbeque better (with slaw and hushpuppies). I love America and I wish that it was more humble. etc.

  • oclarki

    JohnW,
    “The people that stood up during the Petraeus hearings yesterday and yelled “bring them home” are real patriots.”
    No, they were just rude and wasting everybody’s time.

  • JohnW

    Well, Oclarki, members of neither party will stop funding the war/occupation, the administration doesn’t care what the public thinks, and the press is not doing their job, so what’s our recourse?
    Petreaus and Crocker are the wasting out time-as they are only mouthpieces for the administration. The hearings are a waste of time. It’s time to cut off funding, begin impeachment proceedings, and set up war crimes tribunals.

  • ucfengr

    On the other hand, if I say that I love my best friend’s wife, I’d should damned well qualify it and make sure everyone understands that I mean agape or philia, not eros.
    Really? I wouldn’t feel the need to qualify that statement at all. I would assume my best friend or my wife knew what I meant.
    Heck, in your very first comment, you asterisked your patriotism: it isn’t like the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh.
    Read what I wrote again:
    “I don’t feel like I needed to draw a distinction between my beliefs and those of a Timothy McVeigh or a William Pierce (author of the Turner Diaries). Whatever those people call their beliefs, they are certainly not built on a love of the USA [patriotism] or a love of their fellow citizens.”
    I wasn’t qualifying my beliefs (i.e. asterisking them), I was qualifying their’s

  • oclarki

    JohnW,
    [i]Petreaus and Crocker are the wasting out time-as they are only mouthpieces for the administration. The hearings are a waste of time. It’s time to cut off funding, begin impeachment proceedings, and set up war crimes tribunals.[/i]
    Sorry, I almost forgot how unhinged and goofy you are. You and Mumon should go off to your world where the sky is orange and lemonde springs bubble up from the rock candy mountains. While there you can discuss where you will set up your prison and eat a sandwich.

  • smmtheory

    It definitely means something, but it is not at all obvious that a nation in the Old Testament is equivalent to a modern nation-state. There are several logical steps required if you want to argue that modern patriotism is similar to ancient tribalism.

    I’m not even trying to argue that patriotism and tribalism are similar. If the authors of the Bible had meant tribes, don’t you think they would have written tribes? After all, the Jewish nation was comprised of 12 tribes. I think that the Jewish nation was the pre-cursor to the modern nation and indeed that the U.S. is the logical extension of that first prototypical nation. They maintained their national identity even in captivity to Babylon, which I believe was totally unheard of at that time.

    It means something very important, but I would be very, very careful about comparing patriotism to the Israelites’ pride in being God’s chosen people.

    I see nothing wrong in comparing Jewish national pride/identity with patriotism, but I’m not really intending to equivocate that with being God’s chosen people. I think that being God’s chosen people and that knowledge led to their national identity or national pride, but I don’t think that it was pride in that knowledge that fed the national identity. Remember, they didn’t make birth a qualification for being a Jew. An outsider or foreigner could become Jewish and assume the national identity, which is also something that I think was unheard of among other nations.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    ucfengr
    So in essence, Senator Rockefeller’s position is that Vietnam vets were soulless killing machines, not caring who got hit by their bullets and bombs, and they need a government program to pay for their health care. Okay, I’m really looking hard for the patriotism there, but I just doesn’t jump out at me.
    Actually his statement was that McCain didn’t care about the people he killed because he was doing it from 35,000 feet. McCain is one Vietnam vet, not all vets. As stupid as that criticism is of McCain, you don’t do yourself any credit by pretending to be equally as stupid. Even if you stretched the statement to be an indictment of any serviceman who killed at great distance you are still only referring to a tiny subset of Vietnam vets….most vets who killed during the war did it from a much closer distance. And he didn’t say McCain was a ‘soulless killing machine’, he said he didn’t care about those he killed because he was doing it from 35,000 feet. Fundamentally, that is a good argument that was ruined by Rockefeller’s partisan attempt to attack McCain. Many of the supporters of this war aren’t supporting it at a distance of 35,000 feet but at a distance of thousands of miles both literally and metaphorically. They do not see the damage it is doing either on the other side of the world or to our own military and their families.
    But this is off thread, the thread is about patriotism and the problem is your brand of negative patriotism which is really just another type of whiny, cry-baby, political correctism repackaged for conservatives. Rather than being positive, which is what patritotism should be, your brand seeks out things to be offended at so you can play the victim and demand apologies, recriminations and so on.
    You might have, for example, cited the Obama supporter who gave a speech calling McCain a war monger. BUT Obama got up and said that was wrong. Unfortunately, though, for people who care about discourse there will always be someone somewhere who will say something offensive whether it is taken in or out of context. If that search should fail you’ll always find old standbys like Jane Fonda which people like you seem content to spend another 35 years milking every last drop.
    Collin
    I think we are so ready to avoid conflict that what is “patriotism” and what is either “treason” or “traitorous” actions all go undefined. Some say that we should never question patriotism. That, for some, is just being civil. But for others it’s a way to justify unnecessary anarchy (ref. Code Pink, C&L, et. al.). We are a nation of wimps, hanging on, as it were, to our mommas skirts and not stepping up and taking responsibility for our nation.
    The Founders crafted a very limited definition of treason. Very limited with a very high standard of proof. I’ll ask again, in 1776 could a British citizen have supported letting the Americans have their independence and still call himself a patriotic subject of the crown?

  • ucfengr

    Actually his statement was that McCain didn’t care about the people he killed because he was doing it from 35,000 feet.
    So, was the Senator’s assumption that McCain was the only pilot killing people from 35,000 feet or that he was the only one who didn’t care about it?

  • oclarki

    To use a biblical example a little more familiar to us than the nation of Israel, let’s look at the Roman empire. An entity that occupied the same space in the world that the US does presently. Would the earliest christians have qualms about being patriotic Roman citizens? There was a lot to be proud of as a Roman citizen, econmically, politically and militarily. In fact the foundations of what makes the West so great today were laid down in Rome. However, the perescution of christians by Rome would have made patriotism a difficult prospect indeed. What about individuals such as robert E. Lee or Irwin Rommel? Christians who did their best for regimes that were morally suspect at best in the case of the confederacy to repugnant in the case of Germany.
    The more I really think about it the more uncomfortable I am with hyper-patriotism being too associated with being a follower of Christ. We should be thankful for the liberty and freedom that we are blessed with in this nation. We should also seek to strengthen our nation in as much as doing so helps advance the kingdom of God.

  • ucfengr

    Many of the supporters of this war aren’t supporting it at a distance of 35,000 feet but at a distance of thousands of miles both literally and metaphorically. They do not see the damage it is doing either on the other side of the world or to our own military and their families.
    By that logic it is wrong for any American to support any war, at least since the Civil War because for the most part, all were fought thousands of miles from our shores.
    You might have, for example, cited the Obama supporter who gave a speech calling McCain a war monger. BUT Obama got up and said that was wrong. Unfortunately, though, for people who care about discourse there will always be someone somewhere who will say something offensive whether it is taken in or out of context.
    But Jay Rockefeller isn’t just someone, somewhere; he is a very powerful US Senator, a scion of one of the US’s most well known and wealthy families, and a prominent supporter of Obama.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    ucfengr
    So, was the Senator’s assumption that McCain was the only pilot killing people from 35,000 feet or that he was the only one who didn’t care about it?
    Well since he was attacking McCain specifically for ‘not caring’ I would say it was him specifically.
    By that logic it is wrong for any American to support any war, at least since the Civil War because for the most part, all were fought thousands of miles from our shores.
    I didn’t say it was wrong to support a war at a distance…I did say that supporting a war at a distance makes you less sensitive to its costs and therefore may give you a biased view when trying to make a cost-benefit argument. If you insist, I’ll acknowledge that it is also possible to be too distant from a war’s benefits likewise distorting your view. It is also possible to be too close to a war. I’m sure there were some who lost loved ones in, say, WWII who must have felt their loss wasn’t worth any benefit.
    But Jay Rockefeller isn’t just someone, somewhere; he is a very powerful US Senator, a scion of one of the US’s most well known and wealthy families, and a prominent supporter of Obama.
    So what does this have to do with patriotism? Next time Rockefeller runs for re-election why don’t you save this item to post on that discussion?
    One good thing that has come out of the Hillary.v.Obama fight is that maybe we have finally had enough of this ritual where each candidate is made to denounce any and all political incorrectness on the part of their supporters.
    Like I said, if your goal is to be offended you are the luckiest person in the world because there will never be a shortage, never.
    oclarki
    There was a lot to be proud of as a Roman citizen, econmically, politically and militarily. In fact the foundations of what makes the West so great today were laid down in Rome. However, the perescution of christians by Rome would have made patriotism a difficult prospect indeed.
    Could Christians in 1850 be patriotic Americans even though slavery was the law of the land (assuming you disagreed with Christians who felt slavery was perfectly acceptable)? Or likewise how about pro-life Christians today? The number of Christians burned by the Romans is barely an asterisk compared to legal abortions, no?

  • oclarki

    Boonton,
    I think you could have been patriotic in 1850 and can be patriotic now in spite of abortion. In much the same way christian in the middle ages could love the church in spite of the Inquisition. Any institution made up of humans is going to be flawed and sinful. Which is why I think a patriot loves theis nation for the ideals it was founded on, and the progress it has made in living up to those ideals. By that measure, there is much to be patriotic about as an American.

  • ucfengr

    Well since he was attacking McCain specifically for ‘not caring’ I would say it was him specifically.
    Oh okay, so Senator Rockefeller only thinks John McCain is an uncaring killer, not all Vietnam Vets. Good to know.
    So what does this have to do with patriotism?
    Well, I don’t know, maybe I’m just a cock-eyed optimist, but I just think a patriotic US Senator and scion of the Rockefeller family could avoid accusing a fellow Senator and genuine American hero, a man whose son is currently serving in Iraq. of being an uncaring killer.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Oh okay, so Senator Rockefeller only thinks John McCain is an uncaring killer, not all Vietnam Vets. Good to know.
    No it’s not good to know. If you only learned one thing today it should have been your pathological need to be offended. It’s also not good that we’ve wasted so many posts on a pet side issue of yours.
    Well, I don’t know, maybe I’m just a cock-eyed optimist, but I just think a patriotic US Senator and scion of the Rockefeller family could avoid accusing a fellow Senator and genuine American hero, a man whose son is currently serving in Iraq. of being an uncaring killer.
    There it’s settled, even Rockefeller is patriotic. You’ve all seen it from ucfengr’s own keyboard!
    oclarki
    Which is why I think a patriot loves theis nation for the ideals it was founded on, and the progress it has made in living up to those ideals. By that measure, there is much to be patriotic about as an American.
    Indeed but the temptation remains to call things we don’t like unpatriotic without really thinking about it. “I hate cute puppies” may make you question the speakers sanity but it doesn’t make him unpatriotic. Even “I hate vets” doesn’t make on unpatriotic, although it may earn you a broken jaw.

  • miliukov

    ucfengr — you wrote:
    I would tend to think that if God thought love of country a bad thing, he would have at least cautioned us against it. That he didn’t should lead Christians to believe that it is not always inconsistent with faith in Christ.
    I am not sure that I agree that love of country is not cautioned against, but even if I did, I can imagine many activities that are not expressly mentioned in Scripture, but that we may infer are “bad thing[s]” based on principles, rather than specific prohibitions. Pornography; trafficking crack cocaine; child slavery; backdating stock options; dumping garbage on your neighbor’s lawn. Even to get to a pro-life view on abortion requires interpretation of lyrical passages, rather than a straight “thou shall not condone abortion”.
    On the other side, there are many, many references that urge believers to set aside every weight (Hebrews), consider everything other than faith in Christ but loss (Philippians), take up the cross, etc. Flip through your New Testament and on literally every other page you’re likely to find a similar exhortation. You’ll find nothing urging you to love your country.
    Is a love of math or technology “a dead and useless weight”? What about love of a TV show? Is it your opinion that we, as Christians, are commanded to jettison all things that don’t directly contribute to the furthering of the Kingdom?
    From I John 2:
    15: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
    16: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
    17: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

    Maybe it can be parsed to not include “your country” or “your TV show” or “cool technology”, but I don’t see how. Or maybe it is indeed, as Nick pointed out, why we need an asterisk after all [*].
    Now, we all struggle differently; we each have our own dead weights. My struggle is not with putting faith into human institutions or wasting time in front of a television set — but with a fine bottle of aged Speyside whisky (and another one after that, and so on) among sundry other shortcomings, both more and less observable, ranging from trivial to probably fatal. But unlike patriotism, no one is suggesting that these choices are consistent with a Christian walk when put on public display like a red-white-and-blue lapel pin…
    –miliukov

  • miliukov

    smmtheory — you wrote:
    Does it mean nothing that the theme of nations runs all throughout the Old Testament? Does it mean nothing that Jewish national pride manifested in being God’s chosen people?
    I think that the Old Testament’s “theme of nations” is totally irrelevant under the New Covenant. I also think that “Jewish national pride” (whatever that means) is equally irrelevant because of the sacrifice of Christ’s blood and his resurrection. The books of Acts and Romans are very clear on this point.
    If you want to try to go back to living under the OT law for justification, bear in mind that the Sabbath starts sundown Friday; BBQ ribs are not the menu; and the United States is Gentile nation.
    From chapter 3 in his epistle to the church in Galatia, Paul is writing about the New Covenant (worthwhile to read the whole passage of course, I’m excising just a bit here):
    28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
    29: And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    If you take this passage seriously (and similar ones elsewhere in Romans, Ephesians, etc.), can you really claim that patriotism is useful? Perhaps not sinful, as such. Perhaps. But certainly beside the point.
    I also wanted to pick up on this point that you raised, which is a good and interesting one, about the Israelites:
    They maintained their national identity even in captivity to Babylon, which I believe was totally unheard of at that time.
    To me, this is evidence of God’s sovereignty, and blessing, rather than the Israelites’ “patriotism”. If it were mere patriotism that kept the nation together, presumably maintaining national identity wouldn’t have been “totally unheard of”. Rather, it was supernatural; not political.
    –miliukov

  • http://jakeknotts.blogspot.com Jake Knotts

    Being an American patriot can create a lot of problems for a missionary living in another country in light of present day American foriegn policy.
    As a missionary in Ukraine, I used to be somewhat proud of my American citizenship but nowadays I am more inclined to not let someone know I am an American in order to avoid unnecessary tension.
    Even simple healthy patriotism can be a stumbling block for the gospel in a foreign country. Not to state the obvious, but a lot of people in the world don’t like America these days. Some American missionaries can’t let go of their patriotism for the sake of the gospel and thus distance themselves from their audience, which I did for a long time and find myself doing still.

  • JohnW

    Oclarki, Re your Comment # 45. I agree with you one hundred percent. Very thoughtfully and eloquently stated.
    I would add there are atleast some justifications for seeing our country as a type of modern day Roman Empire, yet there is much that is good about our country too. What I mean by country is it’s people and values.

  • miliukov99

    I just re-read my previous posts, and I’m not sure I got the tone exactly how I wanted it to be. I’m not trying to be combative or derisive — apologies are in order, because it probably came off that way.
    Still interested in hearing opposing views though.

  • ucfengr

    There it’s settled, even Rockefeller is patriotic. You’ve all seen it from ucfengr’s own keyboard!
    Of course he is. Everyone and everything under the sun is patriotic. Taking a giant dump on the flag and wiping your arse with a copy of the Declaration of Independence is patriotic. Everyone and everything, with one exception; actually loving your country is not patriotic. Loving your country is an indication that you are a low-bred NASCAR fanatic, who probably voted for Bush, and that is not patriotic.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Some day ucfengr will stop playing the victimization card. Some day.
    For the record, if Rockefeller does indeed take a dump on the flag and wipes with a copy of the Declaration of Independence, I will say that is unpatriotic. Feel free to post a YouTube link when you find it.
    Otherwise, I think it’s a good thing to resist the temptation to make patriotism be only about the things you agree with.
    Of course he is. Everyone and everything under the sun is patriotic.
    This is what really bothers him, isn’t it? A definition of patriotism that cannot easily be turned into a partisan club to bash over the heads of one’s opponants. Yet why is that such a bad thing? Critics of political correctness would define racism or sexism in such a way that very few people (and almost no public figures of any importance) could be called racists or sexists.
    Those who think patriotism is a good thing, though, would do well to be on guard against turning it into a club that only the politically correct can join.

  • Nick

    Really? I wouldn’t feel the need to qualify that statement at all. I would assume my best friend or my wife knew what I meant.
    But would everyone else? I didn’t specify who I was telling.
    I wasn’t qualifying my beliefs (i.e. asterisking them), I was qualifying their’s
    By qualifying theirs, you are, IMO, indirectly qualifying yours If you just qualify yours directly, people are less likely to have mistaken assumptions about unspoken aspects of your position, and you are less likely confuse things by mistaken assumptions about theirs. Obviously, this isn’t such a problem with McVeigh. No one is likely to think that an unqualified statement of patriotism means you agree with McVeigh. Other situations (where people are more likely to say “I love my country but…”) may be less clear.
    Loving your country is an indication that you are a low-bred NASCAR fanatic, who probably voted for Bush, and that is not patriotic.
    For someone who has seemed very sensitive about people misreading his comments, you have a surprising penchant for putting words in people’s mouths and assuming the worst about their motivations.
    IMO, it is patriotic to love your country as it is. It may be virtuous or immoral, depending on what your country does, but it is patriotic.
    It’s also patriotic to say you love your country but you dislike X about it or you love your country but another country currently does Y better. I see it as analagous to saying you love your brother but you wish he didn’t smoke/drink heavily/use drugs. What comes after the “but” doesn’t mean you don’t love your brother. You wish intensely that he didn’t use drugs because you love him. You might even organize an intervention, and if he perceives it as hostile that doesn’t mean you don’t love him.
    What is unpatriotic is thinking your country is wrong and not caring.
    Patriotism doesn’t require that one think one’s country is better than the others. “My country right or wrong. If wrong to be set right’ implies that there may be situations, perhaps frequently, where other countries are right and ones own is wrong. A patriot loves his country not because it is better than all the others, but even if the others are better.
    So when we have some people who are patriotic and think the country is pretty much OK and other people who are patriotic and think the country needs a major change in direction, it just makes sense, for clarity of communication, to add the asterisk to statements about patriotism.

  • smmtheory

    I think that the Old Testament’s “theme of nations” is totally irrelevant under the New Covenant. I also think that “Jewish national pride” (whatever that means) is equally irrelevant because of the sacrifice of Christ’s blood and his resurrection. The books of Acts and Romans are very clear on this point.

    I don’t because it was God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed because of him. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of that promise, the blessing of all the nations.

    If you take this passage seriously (and similar ones elsewhere in Romans, Ephesians, etc.), can you really claim that patriotism is useful? Perhaps not sinful, as such. Perhaps. But certainly beside the point.

    On the contrary, I think we (as Christians) are called to patriotism toward the Kingdom of God. If we are half-arsed patriots to one, we’ll probably have a tendency to be half-arsed patriots to the other.

    To me, this is evidence of God’s sovereignty, and blessing, rather than the Israelites’ “patriotism”. If it were mere patriotism that kept the nation together, presumably maintaining national identity wouldn’t have been “totally unheard of”. Rather, it was supernatural; not political.

    I think it is also evidence that patriotism (at least in the case of the Israelites and Americans) was/is not wholly political. There is the common thread of ideals and principles that transcend material existence too. As such, I don’t think that patriotism is irrelevant to Christians.

  • miliukov

    smmtheory — Based on your comments, I am not sure that you understand the Gospel message very clearly. All in due course I suppose.
    But if your patriotism makes your faith stronger, good for you. God bless.
    –miliukov

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    ucfengr :
    veryone and everything, with one exception; actually loving your country is not patriotic. Loving your country is an indication that you are a low-bred NASCAR fanatic, who probably voted for Bush, and that is not patriotic.
    I hate to get all Otto Rank (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Rank) on you, but “actually loving your country” in the context you put it seems to me to have the ring that someone would put on justifying loving their goat.
    Whatever happened to one man one woman?

  • http://mumonnno.blogspot.com Mumon

    Darn! I meant Wilhelm Reich (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Reich) above. That’s why they invented trading cards for European psychoanalysts!

  • Rob

    Nick, I think your comment makes good sense. I wish more people understood that patriotism should not be the same as blanket approval. We expect something from those we love, and we should. Would I be doing my child a favor if I applauded her misdeeds? I love her unconditionally, but that won’t lead me to withhold criticism when she needs it. It is a poor love indeed that cannot afford the occasional sternly-worded correction.

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