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God and Country

© November 2008 Anthony Lawrence

First off, I'm really getting tired of hearing about "patriotism". There's nothing wrong with simple patriotism; your dictionary will tell you that it's just "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it". Nothing wrong with that, right?

George Orwell said it best in 1945:

By "nationalism" I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled "good" or "bad." But secondly -- and this is much more important -- I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By "patriotism" I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Most of the "patriotic" fervor I hear today sounds more like nationalism.

I was interested to find this at John Mellencamp's Blog:

"When people are for the country right or wrong, America right or wrong, it's a lot like Germany. Nationalism is a bad thing. And when you have a mob mentality over a country, over a swastika, over the Fuhrer, over the Iraq war, the outcome is not going to be good."

While Googling for "Nationalism vs. Patriotism", I came across this from BlogCritics Magazine:

To claim moral superiority or believe that one way of life is superior to another is to pay disservice to the notion of diversity. How can one genuinely respect another's beliefs if you feel inherently better then they are just because of an accident of birth? It's one thing to take pride in who you are and what you believe in. It's another altogether to think that yours is the only way.

For too many Americans today, the cry of "patriotism" unfortunately seems to stand for that kind of insular superiority.

For most of my life, had anyone asked if I were patriotic, I surely would have answered "Yes". I'd like to answer "yes" today, but given how "patriot" seem to have redefined its meaning, I'm not anxious to claim that tag. I'm definitely NOT a patriot, at least not in the ugly nationalistic sense that seems to pervade "patriotism" today.

I'm also heartily sick of hearing about the "good, God fearing people of.." wherever John McCain is speaking today. Of course there's an unspoken assumption in there: these people aren't fearing just any old "god", no, this is a fairly specific Judeo-Christian god that they are supposedly trembling before. I don't believe in supernatural beings of any kind, so it's plain that I have no fear of any gods, whether of the bird ressurected from the fire kind or the less flamboyant type McCain envisions. I would also suspect that very few of the crowds addressed really are "God fearing" - today's Christianity tends more to milk and cookies than fire and brimstone, at least for those who have drunk the Koolaid (the rest of us are going to Hell where we belong).

But it's the implicaton that I object to: that someone who fears divine retribution is a better sort than someone who thinks that's all a bunch of nonsense. In other words, moral behavior can only be enforced by fear. The person with no fear of divine punishment can't be trusted - well, unless there are lots of cops around to watch suspiciously as we spend our days not going to church.

It's complete rubbish, of course, and worse, I doubt the man even believes that. He just says it, because, like patriotism, the crowd eats it up. Probably a lot of them wouldn't buy the underlying assumption either, and most probably really wouldn't want to be seen as nationalists if they took a minute to think about it. But they don't. So they stamp their feet and whistle and cheer and the show goes on.

In a recent Larry King interview, John McCain said that he does not believe Barack Obama is a socialist. Yet that's another word he and Sarah love to throw to the crowd. Once again, I'm sure most of that crowd understands that if Obama is a "socialist", so is McCain and probably 99% or more of our politicians, but it doesn't matter: they stamp their feet and whistle and cheer anyway.

Maybe that's what I'm really sick of. The mindless foot stomping, wild clapping, hooting bally-hoo over things they really don't think are true.

Maybe I'd just like Americans to grow up and act like adults.

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Sat Nov 1 15:23:44 2008: 4714   TonyLawrence

And lest anyone think I'm unfairly picking on John McCain, I could make the same complaints about the Democrats, but Republicans do seem to wave the flag more, so..

Sun Nov 2 12:34:00 2008: 4716   BruceGarlock

I'm still convinced this could all be avoided, if the majority of Americans would actually read books, educate themselves about the real issues, and then make informed decisions about what matters. Too many people listen to opinion in this country, and are simply brainwashed into thinking one political party is the answer for them, based on what some spinster says.

Take the remaining people who are still undecided (after 2 years of campaigning!). Their demographic is: less educated, and highly religious. I bet their views of the candidates are fairly black and white, as they have less education to compare the candidates on. (Actually, I think this is something people are born with - you either have a more liberal mind or more conservative mind) So, in some ways, it might not even be their fault. Their ways of thinking simply is not capable of seeing the world in "grayscale" versus b/w. I know I have heard something on NPR about this, so google it for more info..

At least for people like me, who tend to apply logic, factual, and opinion to my beliefs, at least there is an explanation as to why some people think this way. I re-read Animal Farm by Orwell recently, and recommend everyone re-read that one again. With Orwells application of how each group of animals followed one leader vs. the other, you could make some analogies to today's world. The less educated animals preferred the fascist ruler, while the thinkers and more educated preferred the democracy. Not much is really different with our own society. :-)

Sorry for these jumbled thoughts - I wrote this in about 4-min, without proofing... Kids are calling :-)

- Bruce Garlock

Sun Nov 2 13:34:29 2008: 4717   TonyLawrence

The inability to see grey is exactly it. A million PhD's will have a million different opinions; a million Joe the Plumbers may only have a handful.

If (I'm stilling saying "if") Obama is elected, I can once again feel hopeful about this country. Unfortunately things are so messed up now that the hope may be quite forlorn, but at least it is hope. If McCain steals this, I just cannot imagine anything but more misery for decades to come.

I don't have decades to wait.

Sun Nov 2 16:01:46 2008: 4719   BigDumbDinosaur

People as a group tend to feel more confident when they belong to something or are part of something. This basic feature of humanity explains both patriotism and nationalism. The former was common around the time of the American Revolution and has tended to fade away (vidi the Michael Moores and Michelle Obamas of the world), the latter has existed throughout the 230 year history of the USA.

Given that our population has surpassed 300 million, it is inevitable and unavoidable that nationalistic viewpoints, couched in terms of patriotism, will be widespread. Also, given that a large influx of Hispanics, a traditionally religious group, had a lot to do with the doubling of the American population in our lifetimes, politicians are going to use God and Jesus as a focal point of their campaigns. So I see no particular reason to castigate John McCain for referring to God and/or religion in the context of an election. I'm actually a bit surprised that Barack Obama, who is transparently courting the Hispanic vote, hasn't gotten God and Jesus more involved in his campaign than he has. This is a guy, after all, who sat in Rev. Wright's church for 20 years as the latter vilified the white citizens of the USA and, in effect, accused the non-black American population of being slavemasters and warmongers (You'd vote for someone who buys into this crap?).

Incidentally, it's a popular notion to assume that most of the religious BS comes from Republicans. However, a careful review of past presidents would show that God, Jesus and such were equally invoked on both sides of the political fence. For example, in his thunderous address to the congress immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR, a Democrat, famously stated that the USA would gain the upper hand, "So Help Us God!" Of course, God had much less to do with the resolution of World War II than our industrial might and overwhelming military force.

I personally get annoyed hearing about how a return of religion to our schools, libraries, courts, etc., will magically take the USA back to a better time (whatever that may be). I see religion as a fomenter of conflict, an excuse to behave in a bad way (e.g., queer Catholic priests), a mechanism of childhood mind pollution, a case of superstition replacing logic and reason. One does not have to be religious or have a belief in a supreme being to be a good person. If one has sound personal principles and a desire to do the right thing, a total absence of religious belief will have no effect on that individual's behavior toward his fellow human beings.

Sun Nov 2 16:11:03 2008: 4720   TonyLawrence

As I noted in my first comment, I agree that Democrats play the "God" card too.

However, the Republican base is the deeply, crazily religious.

Mon Nov 3 13:28:58 2008: 4730   anonymous

However, the Republican base is the deeply, crazily religious.

Interesting that you would say that. Just about all of my clients are or claim to be on the Republican side of things, yet only one has ever indicated that he is deeply religious. In fact, I personally know no one who is self-employed and espouses the pseudo-socialism and "spread the wealth" philosophies that have been the bedrock of the Democratic party since the days of Old Hickory.

As for the "deeply, crazily religious" types, in my myriad travels throughout the USA I seemed to encounter these folks mostly south of the Mason-Dixon line. I know a few deeply religious types around here but none has taken it to the level of obsession that the true Bible thumpers (e.g., Dubya) exhibit.

I personally equate religion with superstition and want no part of either. However, I recognize that some people find religion a source of comfort and just as I don't want them shoving their beliefs into my face, I don't think it's my place to tell them that religion and astrology are both havens for fools.

Mon Nov 3 13:30:23 2008: 4731   TonyLawrence

That's all fine, but the Republicans pander to the "crazies" - that's exactly why they tapped Palin.


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