Christians are called to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). This is also the process Paul describes in Romans 12, when he calls us not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds.
If we are honest and thoughtful, we will find that certain ideas we hold dear, and believe to be good and right, may be more the product of our culture than of a Christian worldview. Patriotism is one of them. Can we make our patriotism captive to the obedience of Christ?
There is a patriotism that is in keeping with the mind of Christ, and there are also views and feelings of patriotism that are decidedly not Christian. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, defines a patriot as “a person who loves his country, and zealously supports and defends it and its interests,” and he defines patriotism as “love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.”
What some call patriotism is actually nationalism. For example, a man’s home is his jurisdiction, and he must protect it. Yet he is unrighteous to insist that everything about his home is good, and worthy of protection and affirmation, simply because it is part of his home.
This man may have a son living in his home who robs a bank, and as a result the police come to arrest the son. The father ought to recognize that there is a higher law requiring his submission and by which he, his home, and its inhabitants are judged: a law higher even than the state’s. That higher law is “Thou shalt not steal.” The father should not make excuses for the son. He should not declare that because the son is part of his household, the son is not responsible for wrongs done or that the wrongs are not really wrongs since they were done for the benefit of the family.
As a patriot, when my homeland is attacked, as it was on September 11, my fellow Americans and I are called to protect it. But if our nation should, without provocation or cause, attack some nation and wreak havoc on it (no, I’m not implying Iraq), my country ought to confess the sin and make restitution. Just as the father should bow before the higher law of God, so should our nation, any nation, bow to the law of God and conform itself to His requirements.
Godly patriotism recognizes its own nation’s right to exist and allows the same to other nations. The right to exist, for a man or for a nation, is not a carte blanche. Should one man murder another, he forfeits his right to life. Therefore God raises nations up and brings nations down.
Much patriotism is really “nationalism.” Nationalism, to use our example again, would have the father say, “Mr. Police Officer, has my son robbed a bank? Well, he may have done that, but because he lives in my house, it is either not wrong or it is not wrong enough for us to make an adjustment. We love our home, and its inhabitants are noble. We believe in honorable principles, God and country. We do good works in the neighborhood. Because we are what we are, we cannot be wrong. It would be detrimental to our family to believe we have ever done anything wrong or acted in a way that wasn’t in our best interest. For this reason, I have to say, Mr. Police Officer, that what my son has done is acceptable.”
This is “nationalism.”
This may seem like a homely, even silly illustration. But isn’t it what many “patriots” do when, in spite of the actions of their nation, they wave the flag and defend all its activities, just because it is “my country”? When they support their nation against the higher law of God, are they not as the father of the bank robber? When they fail to judge with “righteous judgment” by acknowledging that God is Judge and that His judgments are true, are they not as this father?
George Orwell in his “Notes on Nationalism” (May 1945) said, “By ‘nationalism’ I mean … the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unity, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
The Wikipedia dictionary defines nationalism as “a concept of identity which members of a particular government, nation, society, or territory may collectively feel. Nationalists strive to create or sustain a nation based on various notions of political legitimacy. These notions of political legitimacy can derive from the Romantic theory of ‘cultural identity’, the liberal argument that political legitimacy is derived from the consent of a region’s population, or combinations of the two” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism).
The Godly Patriot
Nationalism will fail, but godly patriotism — love and care for one’s own country in keeping with the judgments of God and Christ’s Lordship — will grow as history progresses (Is. 60:12). All citizens of all nations on earth should aspire not only to be godly patriots of their own nations, loving and defending its borders and sovereignty, but also to recognize that their first allegiance is to Him “whose right it is,” who is King over kings, and Lord over lords. If patriotism does not recognize that Christ has the right to rule every nation, it is nationalism.
Godly patriotism is to want the best for the country that fathered you. The best for our country, indeed for any country, is for us to recognize Christ as Sovereign and Lord. In all our private and public businesses, in our institutions and constitutions, we must bow to His laws and implement them in our society as the standard and final authority for any policies, institutions, or legislation.