On Patriotism…

Over the next few weeks, and then months, you’re going to hear a lot about patriotism. I want to weigh in before all of the chaos deepens.

As a Christian, I have trouble with allegiance to a land or to a culture. My allegiance is, and should always be, to God. If I have to choose between my country and my God, my God has to come first. That said, I’d prefer not to have to choose. I want my country to have the same values as my God, to the extent that that’s possible.

What values are those? Compassion, care, love for creation, seeking to know each other rather than hate each other, valuing life and making sure to “do unto others as I’d have them do unto me”. While the Biblical God did engage in wars and manifest destiny and crushing empires, the Christian belief that Jesus is the best example of what God looks like in human form means that if Jesus did it, we should. If Jesus didn’t, we shouldn’t.

  • But that’s just me. In saying my piece about my religion, I’m not saying anything about non-Christians. I’m neither speaking for nor against other people. My denomination is at the root of democracy – We were the Pilgrims and Puritans way back. That means we believe in one person, one vote.

Okay, back to patriotism. Since I do live here, and do believe in democracy, American patriotism must have some standards. There must be a way to know if we’re being patriots. What do we say makes us patriots? Oaths. I looked at the President’s Oath of Office, the oath that Senators take, the oath that Representatives take, and the oaths that new citizens take.

Presidential Oath of Office:1 https://www.usa.gov/inauguration

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Congressional Oath of Office 2 https://www.usa.gov/inauguration

Senators, Representatives, and other federal employees: 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Citizenship Oath

In order to become a U.S. citizen, you have to say this:3 https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/learn-about-citizenship/the-naturalization-interview-and-test/naturalization-oath-of-allegiance-to-the-united-states-of-america

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

  1. First thing to notice, the President doesn’t officially say, “under God”. That’s a tradition, but it’s not required. Why is that? I would suspect that it’s because the President’s vision of God shouldn’t be enforceable as the vision of God. The President isn’t God, doesn’t have to know God, and should never claim to do so. In America, we want everyone’s voice to be heard. Many people who claim to not be my religion or any religion know how to be kind, know how to be fair, know how to be compassionate. Do I understand how? No, but it’s true.

Beside that, (again, my opinion) God is a mystery, and unknowable being. God is bigger that us, and knows and understands things in ways that we can’t.

2)Next thing to notice: Everyone on this list takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” By definition, then, that must be the definition of patriotism.

  • The third thing I noticed is that the lower you are on the totem pole, the more work you say you have to do.

The President doesn’t have to protect the country from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Everyone else does. The Congress doesn’t have to perform noncombatant service or do work of national importance. New Citizens do.  Finally, nobody but new citizens have to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen”

In thinking about this, there are tow ways to read it: People not in office have the most work to do to make this a democracy. We make the democracy, the President and Congress do the democracy. We provide the raw materials of our values, needs, and voices. They try to make something of it.

Another way to look at it is to say it’s assumed that the President will defend the country from its enemies. It’s assumed that Congress will perform service to the nation. That’s their job.

In any case,  the country is made up of more of us “regular citizens” than it is of politicians. If their going to do their job as officials, we have to do ours as citizens.

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people who are just born here, and are therefore citizens, don’t have to say any of these things.

What that means is that your average Joe or Mary doesn’t have to make a conscious choice about things in America. They don’t have to say what they’re faithful to, or what it means to be an American, or anything. They can go through life never thinking about democracy but getting it’s benefits anyway.

There is the problem. For years, there have been anecdotes of people reading the Constitution and thinking “ it’s some kind of socialist document. It’s not ours”. When America went to war in Iraq, Jay Leno said, “Maybe we can give them our Constitution. We’re not using it.

The point here is that your average citizen may never have thought about what it means to be a citizen, a patriot, in democracy. Those people might never know what they’re talking about. You can’t make good choices if you’re not making conscious choices. You can’t make conscious choices if you don’t know what the Constitution says.

So, in order to be a patriot, it seems, you have to

  1. know what the Constitution says.
  2. preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
  3. I would add, you have to “protect it from all enemies, foreign and domestic” in whatever ways you understand that.

In the coming weeks, you will hear people  — many of whom don’t know what the Constitution says – tell you they are patriots. They can’t be. They can’t defend what they don’t know.

In the coming weeks, you will see people who have read the Constitution, argue about what it means to be a patriot. If their idea of what that means doesn’t preserve, protect, or defend the Constitution”, they are not patriots. If their ideas of what that means does attempt to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, they are patriots. It doesn’t mean they got it right. They are still human after all. Still, if it’s clear they were trying to do those things, their trying makes them patriots.

In the coming weeks, you will see people take actions which either protect America from its enemies, foreign or domestic or don’t. If their actions destroy America or democracy, they are not patriots.  If their actions violate the Constitution, they are not patriots. If they support democracy and build a stronger union, they are patriots.

You will note that I never said anything about Republican or Democrat, Red or Blue. There will be people in both of those groups who will be patriots. There will be people in both of those groups who are not patriots at different times. As of this time, I don’t know of an antidemocracy (or unpatriotic) Democrat.

As a Christian, I don’t think that violence, lies, hateful actions are ever helpful. I don’t think you can be a patriot if you don’t know facts. Using your voice is your duty as a citizen. Propagation of lies isn’t.

For the future:

Every American need to have civics lessons in schools. Every American needs to have critical thinking skills and knowledge about things that are important to them.

Every elected leader needs to put that knowledge to good use, benefitting the country, not themselves, and creating a stronger union rather than “playing politics”. Politics is not something to play with or trivialize. It’s a part of our lives – all of our lives.

Resisting in Peace,

John

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