I’m working on my Masters Thesis at SDSU. It’s basically looking at how Protestants, Catholics, and Jews each used Patriotism during WWI to more clearly establish themselves as an “American Way of Life” (as sociologist Will Herberg calls it). I won’t go into details, but it got me thinking about patriotism, religious nationalism, and whatnot.
Unfortunately, much of the vitriolic reactions against main-stream religion in the U.S. is bound up with awkward forms of religious patriotism, or even nationalism. When Catholics call for employers to be able to opt out of offering health coverage with contraception — regardless of their religious beliefs, secular America understandably reacts badly. When evangelicals want to defund planned parenthood, or impeach Obama because of his record on abortion — secular America chuckles and “prays” they never come to power.
What many call “patriotism” is actually nationalism. Specifically when leaders within Christianity — a global religion — praise the virtues of the U.S. as salvific for the world, they move beyond patriotism into nationalism; they elevate their individual nation-state to superiority and the deminishment of other nations that also house and protect Christians.
This is NOT the patriotism I mean.
In this climate I’m thinking more and more about patriotism as an antidote rather than the culprit. What America needs right now is a full embrace of patriotic diversity. We need people to show their support for their country because it houses and protects people of all religions, economic backgrounds, ethnicity, skin color, or political persuasion. I’ve always enjoyed bumper stickers like “Want to be a Patriot? Pay your taxes!” or seeing U.S. Muslims carrying U.S. flags or other patriotic paraphernalia. These messages break from the mold of the mid-20th Century white “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” stereotype. Being patriotic can mean celebrating diversity, celebrating compromise amid differing view-points, celebrating peace and harmony domestically and internationally. Wouldn’t the identity of who were are as a nation be radically changed if we celebrated THAT kind of patriotism?