Patriotism and Religion
Patriotism and religion? I grew up in a nation where in many of the churches the platform in the sanctuary was flanked by the Christian flag on one side and the American flag on the other side. Singing the national anthem in a worship service wasn’t unusual. I guess you can say that I grew up as a member of the Moral Majority, before it ever got its name.
This was a curiosity to me as a young person, as the denomination that I grew up in, the Conservative Baptists, had a distinctive: the separation of church and state. This distinctive insisted that the government not interfere in the life of the church. It seemed to me as a young person that if the church and the state were to be separate, then patriotism and faith needed to exist in different arena and not be mixed in the church building or in its worship.
In the news these days there is much talk about “radicalized religion”. All fundamentalisms are being view with serious suspicion for they are believed to be the sociological soil from which religious people are radicalized. One of the greatest difficulties in communication is that terms are used with the assumption that everyone knows exactly what I mean when I use the term. This is hardly the case when touching this subject.
In the nation of my homeland, patriotism stands alongside the vocal criticism of the government. American’s are, well, let’s be honest, a bit pushy, all too often arrogant, and far too outspoken - believing their country is better than any other country in the world and believing that God is always on the side of the United States. This is part of the national character of those who live in and love the United States. When I first came to Canada, this characterization offended me, but in the 33 years that I have lived in Canada, I have come to realize that this generalization does have some merit.
I guess that is why it has taken some time for me to understand the Canadian Psyche as it relates to God and Country. Herein Canada it is policy to celebrate multi-cultural and it we wear spiritual diversity as a badge of honor. Heterogeneity is expected, respected and valued in Canada, whereas in the United States, despite the spiritual and cultural diversity that exists, there is an expectation that everyone will melt into the collective “we” of what it means to be an American.
As we are about to celebrate Canada, we may or may not get teary eyed when the flag is flown and the anthem is played. But south of our border, even the roughest characters can get down right sentimental when the Stars and Stripes are flown and someone sings the anthem or one of the many unofficial anthems like: America, America the Beautiful, God Bless America or This Land is My Land. What are we to make of this sentimentality? How do we assess the patriotism of Canadians and how are Canadian patriotism and Canadian religious diversity connected, if they are at all?
Canadian’s don’t have the songs of God and country that are part of the American experience. On a web search “Canadian Patriotic Songs fifteen are identified for of which are provincial songs. Of the remaining songs, two mention God, “O Canada” and “The Maple Leaf Forever”. The latter I have never heard in 33 years living in this country. A song not mentioned yet more popular is the song “Canada Is” written by Eric Robertson and Steve Hyde and sung by Roger Whittaker makes no mention of God.
You are probably wondering, “So what’s your point?” Well, my point is that there is a dramatic difference in the way Canadians and Americans view the relationship of God and Country. South of the 49th parallel, our American neighbors, at least culturally, if not personally, see a much stronger connection between God and country. Whereas in Canada, there is some connection in our national Anthem, but not the strong connection seen in the way American’s live out their patriotism.
Is this good, bad, or just different? Well, far be it from me to pass judgment – I would prefer to just recognize the difference. Rather as we come up on this Canada Day, it might be more useful to ask ourselves the question? To what degree do we believe our nation needs the blessing of God Almighty? O is that question itself a slap in the face to the spiritual/religious diversity that is entrenched in the Canadian psyche?
Should our spirituality touch our devotion to the nation we live in? Should there be anything akin to the God and Country mentality of the Americans that live to our south? These are questions I suppose I am the least qualified to even attempt to answer. But perhaps I am qualified to comment on whether the “God and Country” mentality of our neighbors is a healthy one.
I personally question the health of the American cultural connection between God and Country. There are several reasons for my question.
I think God is illegitimately used to endorse national aggression, veiling national interest with the contention that this action or that action is God’s will. One example of this was George W. Bush’s expressed belief that God lead him to order the invasion of Iraq. Now I have deep respect for former President Bush’s faith, it certainly has been the source of much needed personal reformation in his private life. But did he cross the line by claiming God’s endorsement of his decision to order such an invasion? I personally think he did.
Or think about the way that American Country music weds God and country, yet at the same time endorses such things as drunkenness, sexual impurity and lawlessness. Does the connection between the two not seem contradictory? It bothers me deeply, for even a casual understanding of the Christian Faith recognizes its call to live lives of temperance and sobriety, sexual purity and obedience to the law.
My problem with the American “God and Country” connection is that it is used to give God’s blessing to things God has not nor ever will bless. Thus the connection neutralizes the impact of God’s Word and generally desensitizes the American people to the fact that God exists above country and often in opposition of the Unites States of America.
So, although the American God and Country” attitude is rooted deep into my own experience, I am grateful that I live in a land that doesn’t seek to use God to bolster its national image. My preference is to keep God and Country as separate as possible for it is my belief that that is the cosmic reality. God exists above all that exists as the only eternal being who has always been, and will always been, long after the United States or Canada cease to exist, long after this world as we know it, ceases to exist.