The past decade has been littered with changing views on patriotism. For some, it remains a commitment to love, support, and defend America, its people, and its interest with devotion. For others, it means quite the opposite, as in using whatever means necessary – including demeaning rhetoric and even violence – to tear down, obstruct, and replace whatever they believe restricts their personal views or freedoms.
I often hear the strident voice of those who see themselves as the heirs to the radicalism of the Founding Fathers who fomented massive rebellion through acts like the Boston Tea Party and the use of firearms on the Lexington village green and the Old North Bridge in Concord.
Of course, we cannot escape the fact our country was, in some ways, birthed in insurrection and rebellion, even as we argue that throwing tea into the sea while masquerading as Native Americans was appropriate.
What is at issue today, however, is the simple question of ethical patriotism. How do we support, defend, and love our country and its people ethically? How do we live out a reasoned and profitable patriotism that never becomes dangerously fanatical, either in blind support or barbaric opposition? Here are some suggestions.
First, make sure you are aware of all the pertinent facts concerning what is going on. Be an educated, informed patriot. And yes, the tsunami that is the combined power of both broadcast and social media, makes it much more difficult to know the truth about people, positions, and problems. So that means we need to make more of an effort to get the truth.
I greatly fear far too many of us become outraged and take inappropriate action before actually taking the time to investigate and find the truth. I believe such rash behavior is ultimately unhelpful, potentially dangerous, and certainly not patriotic.
Second, refuse to be fixated on what needs change or repair. Rather, remind yourself often of all the advantages we have every day because we live in America. And lest some reading downplay those advantages, or consider they are not benefited by them, let’s get real. Whatever you may think of our freedoms, our educational opportunities, our public safety officials and first-responders, you must admit we actually have all these, and more! Having travelled to several countries I can testify it is always a treat to return back to American soil. Yes, we need to improve many things, but let’s not fail to count our blessings.
Third, refuse to let pundits and politicians do your thinking for you. There is no way you can get all you need from a two-minute commentary or breaking news sound bite.
Patriotism has always demanded diligent effort, rational thought, and righteous activity. Don’t let someone else tell you how to think, what to think, or who to love. Do the work, and then do what’s best.
Fourth, understand there has never been the perfect human politician, leader, or teacher. There are always some that are better than others, and offer us a great resource. But, no one will ever live up to the divine expectations we too often place on temporal beings. We can always expect to be disappointed at some level, which means we must never pin all our hopes and dreams on a person or party.
Patriotism is grounded in the idea that we the people are the source of the American spirit, and always will be. How we think, live, love, and address our challenges as citizens has always been the power behind constructive change and progress, and today is no different.
At the core of ethical patriotism lies the need for us to be ethical people. And to be ethical people, we need to lash our thinking to the basic absolutes every society has held. For America, those absolutes were originally distilled from the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they provided the means whereby patriotism could be wide-spread, even among those who disagreed on certain points and policies.
As we look around our country today, we can see the erosion of traditional values is rapidly occurring. Yet, few would say we are better as a society. Has the new sexual freedom created stronger families? Has the erosion of civility made us a more united country? And has pushing God to the margins made us more honest, more faithful, and more truthful? The answers are obvious.
What we need is a return to real patriotism, where we put God before country, and country before self. Maybe there’s still time, but the clock is ticking.