Patriotism and the Olympics

We’ve covered patriotism a few times here, but recently I considered it in light of Independence Day. The issue rarely comes up, and my conclusion was rather concise: it was good to be patriotic, but not the greatest good, and you should read Brett McCracken’s thoughts on this. But now the issue stares me square in the face, as our nation sends the best our athletes to compete with other nations’ respective bests. The events function as a sort of strutting about, seeking to prove we are the best at some particular sport or another, but without the casualty of war. Our dominance can be in gold medals, rather than empty bullet shells. Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

Patriotism itself is tricky, in ways that remind me of war. Not in a lot of ways, but in significant ones. I never wish to celebrate the loss of life in war, but I certainly celebrate when a war is won for the ‘side’ I found myself on, usually by association. We love the end of war, which is right, and we favor victory. This is natural, and even good, but we must always temper our discussions of war with the reminder that lives–people made in the image of God–are lost. Men and women actually die in war, regardless of how often this is sterilized by a statistic on the news, and this is something we can never forget.

It is in these ways that patriotism feels similar: we should celebrate and enjoy our nation, but if we neglect to recognize that other nations are populated by human beings, we’ve failed to understand what makes patriotism even attractive. We can enjoy our love of country precisely because it is not so serious that we hate those who are not from our own land. This is especially true of a nation like the United States of America, ideally speaking. We are composed of immigrants in this great melting pot, and we should always remember that. In fact, many Americans feel the difficulty of patriotism, since their heritage, their families, or even their own lives are split between two different nations. Who does the dual-citizen cheer for in the Olympics? The truer nation, I propose.

And so it is for Christians, daily. We find ourselves with some sort of dual citizenship, recognizing that we are destined for Paradise while we sift through the muck of the earth. One citizenship will last, and the other will deteriorate, but we must honor both, in different ways. Patriotism is no sin, but it is not the highest good. Let’s cheer for America in the Olympics, but remember that any event where men and women from all over the world can come together with no hostility is one to be celebrated, regardless of our gold-medal count.

Image via DayLife.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).