it’s appropriate to speak about patriotism on Martin Luther King’s birthday, and
two days before we begin a new administration. What is patriotism? King needed years to move the country
towards civil rights. But when he
decided to voice opposition to the Vietnam War, many of his followers attempted
to dissuade him. They felt that
coming out against our policies would dilute what was becoming popular support
for racial justice. Included was the fact that the President was a supporter of
civil rights, but was pursuing the war.
Many thought King would be labeled a traitor. His response was that ending
discrimination in America and ending the massacre in
Vietnam were not separate. And he paid a price for speaking
out. Former supporters now labeled
him a traitor. Unpatriotic, a “commie.”
Yet, King’s decision now
seems a gesture of selfless patriotism.
recent election, the American Flag was ever present in both campaigns.
Apparently to remind us of the candidates patriotism. The more flags showing the
better. And heaven help the
candidate who failed to wear that American Flag Pin on his/her lapel. Never mind
that that pin was in all likelihood fabricated in an overseas sweatshop, along
with the yellow decal ribbons proclaiming support for the troops. I guess the theory was that
without the symbol, one couldn’t be sure the candidate was truly a patriot. Personal memories, for me, of the
“America…Love it or leave it.” bumper
notion that patriotism consists of paying homage to symbols isn’t new. Governments have made that type of
appeal throughout history. The Nazi movement in 1930’s Germany was
fueled by symbolism. Stirring
music, displays of uniformed men and military hardware…impressive and a trigger
to mob mentality.
I think a
person’s interpretation of the word “patriotism” tells much about that person’s
views and era. Note that: Pro
slavery was once patriotic; pro labor union was UN American. (seems there are those who still believe
that one.) Today, being for marriage equality is looked upon by some as,
“godless and unpatriotic.”
Marginalizing people who hold minority or no religious views, is
“patriotic” The list is endless.
the media, public office, and other questionable sources, tell us that one’s
degree of patriotism is governed by the degree to which they believe our country
is the only repository of good in this world. . “Patriotism” wears many
disguises in America. Some equate patriotism with
militarism. That dangerous premise
ignores that inconvenient portion of the Constitution which gives war making
decisions to civilian, not military, authority. Only Congress can declare war. (at least
it used to be so) Yes, we do still need armies, but abandoning diplomacy to the
generals is like asking the poppy farmer to head the war on drugs. If war ceased
being, there’d be a lot of unemployed Admirals and Generals. But turning over
foreign policy to the military does something else, less obvious but possibly
more insidious: It gives cover to
those who actually have the responsibility to make war.
do we define patriotism? The simple “my country right or wrong” brand is easy as
are all simplistic answers. I
believe Civil disobedience is a more complex form of patriotism. How many laws did King break to further
the cause of justice? Respecting
unpopular points of view is patriotic. Threatening those views is not. Would
wearing a flag pin make me a patriot?…or does believing in what that flag was
meant to represent? So many who use
that flag pin as a litmus test seem to feel that when I voice opposition to
policies I believe are wrong I am unpatriotic. What would Thomas Jefferson, John Adams
and Thomas Paine do? Well. We KNOW
what they did when they tired of paying homage to an unresponsive government
most would agree that Jefferson was an American
Patriot. Yet Jefferson opined that it was the right…no….the
RESPONSIBILITY, of the citizenry to monitor the actions of our government, and
when necessary, remove that government.
What would the right wing windbags make of that? Would Jefferson be thought of as a traitor by todays standards?
Would they think it unpatriotic? I
imagine a 1776 version of Fox News getting daily talking points from the King of
England, and spouting the premise that questioning and civil disobedience were
unpatriotic and TREASONOUS. (see
Boston Tea Party.)
to be considered patriotic. If only
I could believe that my country ALWAYS did the right thing. If only I trusted our leaders to uphold
constitutional rights. If I could
believe that the lack of concern
shown while New
Orleans was drowning had nothing to do with a disregard
for poor and powerless people. And
if I could believe our leaders only went to war as a last resort, I might be
considered patriotic, especially to those with an eleven year old
mentality. But I can’t do those
things; if I did, it wouldn’t be
patriotic. It would be an insult to
the founding principles of
America, and paying homage to
the SYMBOLS of America, while trashing the idealism
upon which it was founded. And it
would be dishonest.
incensed by many who call themselves “conservatives.” I think it’s a perversion
of the term. A famous conservative, Barry Goldwater once said one could not be a
conservative without being a conservationist. “Mr. Conservative” as Goldwater was
often called, also noted that he really was more interested in his co pilot’s
ability to fly an airplane than with whom they sleep. Today, that’s political heresy. Todays
so called conservatives make homophobia and environmental denial pillars of
their philosophy. People who believe in conserving our natural resources and not
killing our planet are called “tree huggers.” And voting for human rights is a
plot to destroy marriage and, probably,
be patriotic? The real question is
are we CONSIDERED so by the majority? If one takes the position that blind
obedience and symbols represent patriotism, then I don’t know too many UU’s
who pass the test. Waving the flag doesn’t take
thought….just some muscle. Maybe
that’s the difference between those who see every action our leaders take as
patriotic, as opposed we who feel that it is the patriotic DUTY of each of us to
evaluate, and oppose when appropriate. A few years ago, I mused about the
difficulty of UU’s to prostelylize. I think our lack of absolutes hinder us in
that, as well as an inablility to
fit today’s definition of patriotism. Free thought and no dogma. So be it. It is hard for undisciplined people to
be disciples…of anything including mindless patriotism.
imagine how the government in 1939 Germany defined patriotism? Did Hitler have a brain numbed media to
reinforce the Nazi version of patriotism?
And consider the irrefutable truth that America was a
legitimate British Colony in the 1700’s…what was the definition of patriotism to
those British Colonists?
the“my country right or wrong” bunch, and they’ll accuse anyone who questions
the erosion of civil rights of being un-American. And part of this is the effort to merge
religion with the government. To
many it’s an integral component of patriotism. If you aren’t a Christian, can
you be patriotic? Can an Athiest be patriotic? Not if you watch Fox News. Simply
inferring that a candidate was Muslim was enough to smear him. Could our
founders, who specifically stated that this country was NEVER to have a
religious test for public office abide this? But then, repealing portions of the
constitution seems very patriotic lately. Could a UU pass the test? I don’t think so. And while this country was clearly
founded on a secular foundation, reactionary voices now spout out the term
“secular humanist” as a curse. Most
religions are based on some really wonderful suppositions. (Sometimes called ‘facts’ or ‘truth.’)
Each tells me what is good and what is evil. How I should live and what I must
reject. So many memorize those
rules, while forgetting the central tenet of every religion…It starts like this..‘do unto
some polititions have perverted democracy, so have some clergy perverted
religion. Rather than exercise the
golden rule, they spend time judging others, and segregating them by whatever is
then convenient, sexual orientation, political philosophy, and whatever self
serving interpretation of scripture is.
Gays are bad…Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. will all burn in hell. It is
my sacred duty to compel you to believe as I do. And if I fail to convince you,
then I have to kill you.” (of
course, I do so for your own good.) In the name of God, they pervert religion.
I think that philosophy makes
religion a sham. Hindus and Buddhists preach universal love without judgment of
others….more humane. But I haven’t
evolved to the point where I
believe in a world where evil doesn’t exist.
the right’s favorite times of year has just passed. It is that annual self indulgent
paranoia called “the war on Christmas.” You said happy holidays! It’s Christmas! You are a secular
humanist.” I ask: Must a Jew or Muslim embrace Jesus in order to be an
so many things I’d really like to believe.
I like the notion that beneficent space aliens will soon come and teach
us to ban all evil, cure all diseases and create paradise…but I don’t count on
it. That belief, I think is a modern day version of traditional religion. Do sentient beings inhabit other corners
of space? Probably.But are they
perfect godlike creatures? I doubt it. And if they are perfect, why on EARTH
(pun intended) would they want to come here?
to believe that technology will solve all problems, do away with sickness,
and invent our way into a world
of cleanliness and sustainability
and yet have unlimited access to power sources to run our planet. This is currently a popular idea, and,
again, I love it. It means having
it all, with NO sacrifice. How
appealing. I WANT to believe this
one. But I have serious
is probably a good thing. But maybe
a sharper definition would help.
Here are a few thoughts. I’m
certain you can add your own.
my country can lead the world towards PEACE is more patriotic than knowing we
can vanquish anyone in war: I think
the many thousands of citizens who took to the streets prior to the invasion of
Iraq were patriots in the true spirit
of our founders. It is patriotic to recognize and HONOR the separation of
religious belief from the governing of our country. Keeping in mind how
many came to America to
escape regimes where the line between government and religion was blurred, or
simply ignored. The rights of the
minority must never be compromised by the will of the majority…to do otherwise
is UN patriotic and anathema to the constitution: I believe torture is un-American, as is
the de facto repeal of the right of Habeas Corpus, and that this nation was founded on the
premise that it be ruled by LAWS and not by men. George Washington was offered the
position of KING. His wise refusal was a lesson: we do not
benefit by mimicking that which we despise. And yet we hear constantly that “Well,
they do it, so why shouldn’t we?” A true patriot would say that by mimicking
that with which we disagree is surrendering.” We do not spread democracy by
ignoring democratic ideals. When we become what we purport to fight against, we
are committing treason. And that treason is no less so when our
leaders do it. And when we send our
children off to fight and die in wars of choice, it may be hubris, or empire
building, or material gain… but it is NOT patriotism. And even less tolerable when those who
do so have cowered when they were called. Not patriotic…not Christian, and un
American. If there is a hell, I
believe there is a special place reserved for that bunch.
history judge those who speak out against war as traitors or patriots? What of those in support the right of
every loving couple to be married.
Blasphemous? And, is there
any doubt upon which side of those issues Dr. King would stand? Is it patriotic
to, as many on the right have already begun, to be calling for failure of a
president even before he’s taken office?
That is antithetical to both democracy AND religion. I cannot believe in that.
I will march in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. And in two days, my
heart will swell with patriotic pride as a man raises his right hand and is
sworn is as president. And I
wonder: if Dr. King had obeyed every law..had kept his thoughts about
Vietnam to himself...if hundreds of
thousands had decided it would be unpatriotic to object to slavery, segregation,
and wars for profit. If we’d
remained silent, could this have occurred?
No…the “love it or leave it” crowd could never have accomplished these
So I’m putting on this
symbol. I’m unwilling to cede this
flag to those who subvert its ideals.
It’s my flag, and I’ll wear it because of the principles it was meant to
represent. When we decide that this
nation is a force for good, we deserve the title patriot. In the family of
nations we will act as any good family member. Treating others with understanding when
we have differences is patriotic. And I hope that those who would call
themselves patriots will recognize that the kind of patriotism this flag was
meant to represent is: King’s humility and love, not Cheney’s swagger and
torture. Airplanes dropping food packages and medicine, not bombs. A government
that tries to resolve differences thru discussion, not threats. This week might
just be a beginning to let the rest of the world see America for what
we were always meant to be…not the abyss into which false patriotism has sunk
us. If we do this, all the world
and all the world’s GODS will join us in blessing America. And
patriotism will have prevailed.
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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.
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