Wednesday, January 26, 2011

5 reasons patriotism is wrong

Andrew wrote this last year. I'm reposting it because I like it. (Many people disagreed.) #5 is 10 times more true this year than last year. 

5 Reasons Patriotism is Wrong

1. It's thinking your country is superior to every other, which is both deluded and proud.
2. It inhibits critical reflection on what is good and bad about your culture.
3. It's selfishly putting what is good for me and my country above what is good for humanity.
4. For Christians it forgets that our citizenship is in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus.
5. It means that Aldi can make money selling cheap and tacky Australian flag merchandise and people drive around with those cringeworthy plastic Australian flags on their cars that they got free with their carton of beer. 


  1. For once we might have a disagreement, depending on what you mean by 'patriotism'. I would think patriotism basically means love for one's country.

    So if we took 'country' and 'culture' out of points 1-4 and replaced them with 'family', would we be as happy with the argument that loving one's family is bad?

    If we aren't happy with that, is one's nationality so utterly different from one's family that love for one is good, and love for the other is bad?

    And as for point 5 - that's just elitist sneering. I feel the same, but there's no moral content to that emotion. Don't confuse aesthetics with ethics.

  2. Come on, Mark! Like you've never enjoyed a little elitist sneering!

    Seems to me that there's a lot said about nations in Scripture that isn't applied to families... and on the whole, I am not about to kill someone for not belonging to my family, but I may just be given a gun to kill someone for not belonging to my nation.

  3. Yes, I've enjoyed it, I like being me with my tastes, and feel quite superior that I like, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and don't like, say, reality tv. But I don't see that as a moral issue. If people want to put plastic Australian flags that they got free with beer on their cars, there's nothing wrong with that. I won't be doing it, but it's not 'wrong'.

    Yes, there is a lot said about each institution (ruling authorities and families) that's not said about the other, but there's a lot of overlap as well. My point was that if 'love' is bad when directed to one, and good when directed to the other, that suggests far less overlap than I think I see in Scripture.

    And families do kill people for not being part of their family - it's called a feud, and in societies with weak states it's often an endemic problem (think Romeo and Juliet) especially when it gets moved to an ethnic or tribal identification. Whereas it's not really that common for a government to tell you to kill someone just because they don't belong to your nation. Usually there's something like a war involved, and both sides usually think that there's some valid reason for that - either defense against aggression, or some reason why their aggression is justified.

  4. Maybe patriotism is like any love or strong passion - it can be the source of selfless deeds and sacrifice, or it can be the source of destructive acts and prejudice. Maybe the problem is not whether, or how patriotic a person is, but that out of all our hearts come things that can defile us. What will you do with that feeling of belonging to your country/family/school/church/club/gang/clique (etc)? Include, value and respect others or alienate them?

  5. It's also worth adding that in the current context, the nation-state is a fairly arbitrary accident of history, as far as the boundaries of the population go.

    The contrast between family and nation at this point is fairly extreme, I'd suggest.

    The Bible also conceives of family on two levels - the human/genetic one, and the household of God. So, biblically speaking, love for family does not exclude love for a larger family. Love for one nation is however exclusive.

    (I should declare a vested interest: I once got a 'Lead Balloon' published in the Briefing on this, and I'd hardly want to contradict my first major contribution to the academy!)

    I have to agree with you on #5 though Mark. I'd be willing to suggest, to go further, that #5 is an act of anti-patriotism. As far as I can tell, it cheapens and denigrates the nation. And that says something too about patriotism in a fallen world!

    (I can't believe Andrew didn't get a rise out of me last year! I remember reading it with approval...)

  6. @Kath I agree.

    @Anthony, I agree that "nations" are very much the product of history, and so are contingent in a way that family, built into creation and pointing to the eschatological relationship of Christ and his people, is not. But that's true of all social institutions beyond the family - one's village or town or city, one's tribe, one's fiefdom, one's administrative district, one's state in a federation of states and the like. Does that contingency give it a completely different flavour so that it is not an inherently good thing?

    Because that's what seems to be implied by saying that patriotism isn't good. We should love the good and hate the evil. If we shouldn't love our country, that implies that 'nation' as a concept is not good - it's either outrightly evil, or a necessary evil. We shouldn't think of ourselves as Aussies at all. If it shouldn't be loved, it isn't good.

    And if that's the case then any replacement other than the family has the same problem - Qlder, Anglo-Saxon, English speaking, Brisbaner etc, they're all historical accidents grounded in neither creation nor the new creation. But does that make them something other than a good gift from God, warranting its own appropriate love?

    And I'm not sure about the exclusive/inclusive nature of love. I love my wife and my sons in a way that is exclusive - no other boys or women are loved in the way they are (at least by me). Inclusivity there would be unfaithful to the integrity of the family. I can love other families, but not with the exact same love I have for my own.

    And people can love other countries than their own. Many missionaries seem to both love the country and culture they are ministering to while still loving "their" country. The love is a bit different in both instances, but still genuine I think.

    So, I'm going to try and pop that lead balloon of yours ;)

  7. @Michael ugliness is no more bad than stupidity, physical weakness, or any other inaptitude in an area of human life is bad. Some of us are capable of great things, some of us are plebs, and some of us are so plebbish that we lack even the ability to want to be more than we are. None of that is a moral issue in and of itself. Having no aesthetic sense means you have no aesthetic sense, nothing more.

    I'll go out on a limb and say that people won't like bad aesthetics in the new creation, but that is more like people not being weak or sick in the new creation than people not sinning in the new creation.

    Aesthetics is no more a moral obligation than being able to excel at sports or science is a moral obligation.

  8. Deliberate and even thoughtless ugliness is bad. The UTS building in Sydney (for example) is as clear a result of the fall as there can be!

  9. I'm struggling to think of any Scripture that might suggest that a human being sins by failing an aesthetic test, or where the ugliness of a building is evidence of the Fall.

    Deliberate ugliness - where a person knowingly chooses what repels them, is perverse, and a rejection of God's good gift. It's probably a form of aesceticism, and only morally justifiable under the most extreme situations (like an addict, or someone with a susceptibility to an addiction, simply refusing to have that substance at all - they can't use it without abusing it, so they reject even the use).

    But thoughtless ugliness? That's just a missed opportunity to create something better, it's not a moral issue itself, any more than someone is morally obliged to actualise every bit of potential they have in every area of life. We make choices with the limited resources we have, that's being human.

    Of the huge range of good possibilities God sets before us, we actualise a subset. That's not bad, that's human. We are limited by a whole range of factors internal and external, and none of that matters in the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not about what we eat or drink or wear or build.

  10. @Mark - I think we're talking about different senses of the word. I'm working from an exclusive-love-of-country patriotism, whereas you're seeing it as a non-exclusive-love-of-country.

    The simplest solution is just to recognise my definition is the one that's correct by usage ;-)

    Or we could retire from the field gracefully, I suppose. Terribly anticlimactic.

    @Michael - to take something from good to worse deliberately - an act of uncreation, perhaps, that rebels against God's assessment of his work?

  11. Ugly is dehumanising. I don't think you can so easily segregate 'moral' issues from other ones. Scratch ugly, and you'll find all kinds of bad: greed, vanity, sloth, lust, pride, corruption etc. God's verdict of 'good' on the creation ain't just a moral verdict, right?
    Of course, we need to discover in the gospel what beauty properly is ...

  12. I think that's too one sided an assessment. People can be ugly, and live in ugly environments, and be full of both humanising and Christian virtues. People can be beautiful, and surrounded by beauty, and have shrivelled souls. Artists are not necessarily the most humane humans around; often the person with little to no aesthetic sense is a better person.

    I agree that God's verdict of 'good' on creation is not fundamentally a moral verdict. Morality is something unique to human beings within creation, it's part of our 'glory'. When God calls people, and people's actions 'good' that is always a fundamentally moral judgement.

    And that moral dimension to human existence seems to overpower the other elements in Scripture. The OT Law doesn't call on people to build beautiful houses, but houses with a parapet to stop people falling off the roof. It doesn't require people to create beautiful farms, but farms where dangerous bulls are safely interred. The NT doesn't tell the thief to go and work with their hands to make something beautiful. Paul doesn't say, 'on the issue of eating and drinking, it's important that you eat cultivated food, not that cheap and easy stuff' - he says that the issue is not one in the kingdom of God.

    Beauty is good gift. I'm grateful for every bit of beauty I get to enjoy. But it's not at the heart of what it means to be human. Love God, love neighbour, that's the core of what humanity is.

  13. ...and isn't THAT beautiful?

    You have too readily accepted a kind of 'natural' and amoral definition of beauty (a la Oscar Wilde) ie, as what artists do. Idols and pornography have a kind of surface attractiveness, but they are in fact not just bad morally but aesthetically too. Robert Mapplethorpe's art is not just morally bad, it is terrible as ART. What we call 'aesthetic sense' frequently turns out not to be anything of the kind.

    The OT Law also calls upon the people of Israel to build a needlessly and expensively beautiful tabernacle. Interesting phrase in Ps 29:2: used to be translated 'the beauty of holiness' (now it is 'the spleandour of his holiness'). It isn't the holiness of beauty, note: that something is beautiful doesn't make it holy. But something holy in the way God is holy has an aesthetic power.

  14. But Wilde's art is some of the most beautiful in the English language, alongside Pater's Renaissance, which gets to the very core of the meaning of art both intrinsically and to the artist. Just as some films (two favourites of mine, for instance- Equus, and American Beauty) could hardly be called "holy- but both are penetrating studies of the human condition, and both powerful, if not aesthetically pleasing, works of art. "It is not what goes in, but what comes out, that defiles a person". It must be about time for me to reread Schaeffer's excellent Addicted to Mediocrity...

  15. Well Matthew Cardier has made my first point far better than I was going to.

    Moving on to the other issues - I don't limit beauty to what artists do. But I think some people are better at beauty than others - have more innate capacity, that can be developed. The best artists have a capacity with beauty that the rest of us cannot match, but can recognise.

    The Tabernacle wasn't built by everyman having a go. God singled out particular craftsmen by name as being filled with wisdom to produce what was needed.

    And I agree the Tabernacle was an obligation of the Law. But it wasn't needlessly beautiful, that was necessary to its function. Where something is symbolic, the symbol is the function, and often aesthetics is fairly necessary for the symbolism to work at all.

    And the Tabernacle seems to be a particular obligation, not a prototypical obligation. Israel was to build one house of God, but you didn't extrapolate from there to apply that to other areas of life. One of the things about the sacrifical system was how unique it was, and different from the rest of life. Love for the neighbour, the alien, the orphan, the widow, the stanger, does not fundamentally 'cash out' in an aesthetic obligation in either testament.