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What Patriotism Is Not

by Ray Colon (writer), Tobyhanna, PA, August 28, 2010

Credit: Ray Colon
This sticker from the 2008 election adorns my desk lamp.

Patriotism was on display at today's Restoring Honor rally. If we move away from simplistic slogans and overreaching characterizations, we discover that true patriotism is difficult to define.

"I love my country more than you do."

It’s not a new tactic, but it’s an easy one to implement.

Wrap yourself in a flag and point an accusatory finger outward toward those who disagree with your definition of patriotism. Those who are easily swayed by this cheap and meaningless call to action will rally to your side. You’ll gain instant credibility.

It’s a dangerous game of one-upmanship.

Similarly, a claim to be speaking in God’s name, or better yet, as in Glenn Beck’s case, a claim to having been spoken to by The Almighty will cause your stature to rise among those true believers who have somehow forgotten the lessons of following false prophets.

The farce that was this weekend’s Restoring Honor rally on the National Mall in Washington found its impetus in the melding of these two motivating dynamics.

If we move away from simplistic slogans and overreaching characterizations, we discover that true patriotism is difficult to define. The definition must include aspects of intent, action, and conscience. Loyal opposition should be held in as high regard as concurrence. The blemishes of a nation should be as visible to all as are its accomplishments. In each case, one extreme should not obscure the other.

As difficult as it is to define patriotism, I can readily recognize what it is not.

Patriotism is not something that is worn on a lapel, adhered to a bumper, shouted from a rooftop, or used as a weapon. It’s not a contest where the winners get their country back and the losers are exiled to who knows where.

Patriotism is not linked to a belief in a deity. As much as we would all love to feel safe in the knowledge that a greater power is on our side, the reality is that no one can make that assertion. If a divinity exists, I seriously doubt that his or her blessings are sold on EBay to the highest bidder. Being the biggest and the strongest is not a guarantee of righteousness, so believing that strength trumps truth is foolishness.

Patriotism is not stagnant. There’s more to it than harkening back to the feats of our founders and reveling in their glow. Patriotism must be nurtured in a way that makes love of country relevant today. Our actions and those of our representatives must not only be consistent with the aspirations of our founders, but must also reflect a genuine concern for the well being of our fellow citizens. It is utterly inconsistent to profess absolute love of country while ignoring the needs of much of its population.

The options presented to our citizens should never be: “Love it or leave it,” or “My country right or wrong.” If those had been the prevailing thoughts at critical times in our history, America would never have made much of the progress that has occurred during our evolution.

Patriotism should drive us toward progress and not destruction. Patriotism should propel American citizens to speak out against things that are wrong like warrantless wiretapping, preemption, torture, or an illicit war.

Patriotism should never lead us on a path toward anger and distrust of our fellow citizens, or blind acceptance of our country’s policies.



About the Writer

Ray Colon is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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16 comments on What Patriotism Is Not

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By Lady D on August 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Seeing Glenn Beck speak was such an insult to every American. He has none of the compassion for all that Mr. King had for all.

I am not sure how I would difine Patriotiism. But when I see what a great planet we are living on, sure makes me wonder why we would not love and respect how others live.

Thanks for a thoughful article

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By Ray Colon on August 29, 2010 at 07:15 am

Hi Lady D, I wasn't so much insulted by Beck's performance as I am amazed that he has a following at all. On Friday, my boss asked me about my weekend plans and I said that I was heading down to DC for the Beck rally. He knows that I am one of those "crazy liberals" so my comment was good for a laugh. A colleague overheard and told me that one of my co-workers had taken the day off and that he was actually going to the rally. So whatever the turnout numbers end up being, Beck's uber patriotic message is being embraced by some Americans.

You make a good point re respecting how others live. It would be good if folks viewed the world in this way.

Thanks, Ray

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By Libdrone on August 29, 2010 at 01:12 pm

Ray,

The "bumper sticker patriotism" you describe so well in this piece is it seems to me completely different than the sincere love of country and appreciaiton of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship that was inculcated in me back in elementary shool civics classes. Great post.

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By Ray Colon on August 29, 2010 at 01:34 pm

Thanks, Libdrone,

Yes, it is a completely different take on patriotism than what we were taught in grade school. I know that there have always been those who espoused a "take it or leave it" approach to love of country, but those voices never seemed to be as prevelant or as caustic as they are now.

I can't say when expressions of patriotism began to trend in this negative direction, but I am saddened to know that they have. Ray

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By Ray Colon on August 29, 2010 at 06:24 pm

Hey Melody, Thanks for the compliment.

The thing that's most incomprehensible to me about Beck's allure to some is exactly what you point out. I know some of these people and I can attest that they are indeed "otherwise sane."

It's not just Beck, of course, but to my knowledge he is the only member of the Fox News tribe who professes to be a messenger of God, of sorts. It's very disturbing.

I fail to see the difference between what some are hopeful for -- a mixing of God and government -- and the craziness that we've witnessed in countries that do just that.

Lastly, if I'm channeling your thoughts, I must be doing something right. :) Ray

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By Theresa H Hall on August 30, 2010 at 02:35 pm

I concur.

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By Dane Morgan on August 31, 2010 at 01:29 am

First, good article. I'm doing a lot of thinking on the topic right now and collecting ideas and views of what patriotism is and what an inclussive view of it might look like.

Couple of thoughts from reading the article and the comments. Jesus, if he should return will not likely do so on Airforce One. The render quote has nothing to do with seperation of church and state, it is pointing out that the things Ceaser concerns himself with are of no interest to God.

Belief in a diety does not preclude patriotism, and proffession of that faith does not constitute the formation of or desire for a Theocracy. Beck isn't the governement he can believe in any being he likes and shout it from the roof top.

I further find it just as untennable to insist that one forego their faith to serve in public office as I would that one were forced to adopt some faith. Both paths lead to the same oppression. The most ardent "Seperation of Church and State" people I know (and know of) use the concept as a weapon to beat the faith out of anyone who would dare pray beyond a whisper in their closet and that is as offensive as a State Inquisitioner to me.

Our constitution does not preclude the faithful from participating or from commenting or even from influencing. It merely precludes our government from legislating. Nothing more, nothing less. That we have gone beyond that place, on both sides at one time and another, invalidates the very principle we mis-cite to defend our actions.

Okay, I'll stop now. I really enjoyed the read and have book marked as a resource for the book I'm writing. thanks

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By Libdrone on August 31, 2010 at 03:17 am

Dane!

How nice to see you here on Broo. How's by you?

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By Ray Colon on August 31, 2010 at 04:06 am

Hello Dane,

Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. I’d like to begin by saying that this post was not about whether an individual can freely express religious beliefs or even if religion belongs in government, although some of the comments did touch on those topics.

My reference to a deity concerned the linkage that many make between faith and patriotism. It is true, as you indicate, that “belief in a deity does not preclude patriotism,” but I’ve suggested that one has nothing to do with the other. If one asserts that patriotism is based on religious beliefs the implication is that those who believe in another religion, or no religion at all, are somehow less capable of being patriots. So in my view, the premise is exclusionary.

Yes, Mr. Beck is a private citizen who can shout his beliefs from as many rooftops as he can find, but when he does that shouting, he opens himself up to criticism. Certainly, he has every right to use his influence in any way he chooses, but he should expect that there will be opposing views, like mine.

Please let us know if you move forward with your book idea and if your research leads you to defining the seemingly elusive inclusive view of what patriotism. Ray

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By Dane Morgan on August 31, 2010 at 06:51 am

Yes, absolutely. Patriotism and religious belief, and indeed poitical philosophy are completely independent spheres of social life.

To be completly clear, I am agnostic. I find the idea of inteligent design to be a vastly more elegant solution, but the kind of faith I see in some few of my friends who have it eludes my meager capacities.

I think one missing ingredient to true patriotism, at least as it applies to a democratic nation, is a respect for the patriotism of those with whom we disagree. It is troubling to see the people who now demand consent to an administration, who only 20 some months ago bridled under the burden of disent.

It seems we are often a nation of patriots to convenience only.

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By Dane Morgan on August 31, 2010 at 06:53 am

Hey Alan, things are rollin along. How have you been?

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By Libdrone on August 31, 2010 at 08:54 am

Retired, collecting social security, starting a little business. I'm doing great.

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By Ray Colon on September 03, 2010 at 11:02 am

Hi Julian,

Yes, I touched on this aspect of what patriotism is not in my third point and feel that it is the most problematic one. The divergence between the unity that should be presumed and the vitriol that is expressed against other citizens is a disconnect that I find baffling. After all, what says more about a country than how its citizens relate to one another? Ray

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By D. E. Carson on September 05, 2010 at 03:52 pm

Melody said: "Our own Founding Fathers made provision in writing for this selfsame separation of state and religion."

I have a challenge for you and anyone else. Please find for me exactly where in the Constitution OR the Declaration of Independence is this so-called "separation of church and state" clause. When you find it, please feel free to e-mail it to me at decarson001@yahoo.com and I will happily oblige you with a concession that I'm wrong that there is no such thing in America as the separation of church and state. Here is the link to the National Archives website where you can find a word for word copy of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for your research. Please take your time as I don't want you to rush through anything. Make sure you really can prove the separation of church and state.

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By Ray Colon on September 05, 2010 at 04:05 pm

Wiki seems to explain the evolution of this concept very succinctly:

"The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle derived from various documents of several of the Founders of the United States. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." The modern concept is often credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but the phrase "separation of church and state" is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, where Jefferson spoke of the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this wall had been erected to protect them. The metaphor was intended, as The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted it, to mean that religion and government must stay separate for the benefit of both, including the idea that the government must not impose religion on Americans nor create any law requiring it. It has since been in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court,[1] though the Court has not always fully embraced the principle."

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By Ray Colon on September 05, 2010 at 06:15 pm

Hi Dean,

Thanks for the links. I watched Chris' ninth video and enjoyed it enough to go back and view parts one through four of her series. She's comes across as very well read on the subject and makes her points without resorting to hyperbole or histrionics. Of particular interest was the way that she demonstrated how passages from the historical documents had been taken out of context, edited, and abridged to fit the narrative. I've subscribed to her channel. It was time well spent. Ray

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