On the 4th of July I did the consummately American thing and went to a baseball game. Yes, it was blisteringly hot (an ironclad excuse to eat lots of ice cream!) and true, the Iowa Cubs played a lousy game of baseball, but the fireworks afterwards were lovely and Ruby and I had a good time.
What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves in court just before the game began. For about 30 minutes, Principal Park was transformed into a setting of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, and 29 men and women from 19 different countries around the world were sworn in as new citizens of the United States of America. It was a moving experience – one that prompted me to think a bit about patriotism – what it is and what it isn’t. It also prompted me to think a bit about religion – I’ll get to that in moment.
The presiding judge offered some powerful commentary at the conclusion of the swearing in ceremony. In addition to a straightforward critique of the tendency of some of our fellow citizens to suggest that there are for Americans any “normative” or “superior” religious, political or social values, he addressed that part of the oath of citizenship that requires a disavowal of any allegiance to any foreign country. The judge acknowledged that this can be hard for new citizens. He asserted that there is an important distinction to be drawn between allegiance and appreciation. He charged these new citizens to continue to value – to appreciate – the cultural richness of their places of origin; to cultivate continued relationship with friends and family in their old home; to enrich buy strattera online canada their new country with the best of that from their past. He was very clear – allegiance to the United States does not require “loathing” of their country of origin.
In fact, the judge was developing a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is an attitude of appreciation and gratefulness for the country of one’s citizenship. It is characterized by an ability to name what is good about one’s country and to articulate those advantages. At her best, a patriot can wax eloquent about the beauty and strength of this nation, but she can also acknowledge its weaknesses….and what is more, she can acknowledge things good and admirable about other countries. Nationalism, on the other hand, is characterized by an adamant avowal of the superiority of one’s nation. Nationalists aren’t just convinced that their nation is good, they are convinced that it is better than all others – that it is best.
I found myself suspecting a similarity – an analogy, perhaps – between degrees of national allegiance and ways of understanding the relative value and place of different religions.
I’m a Christian and devotedly so. I can articulate the reasons why I’m a Christian and I’m proud to be a follower of Christ.
Long ago, I was raised to not only believe that Christianity was good and valuable, but that it was correct and superior to the exclusion of all other religions. I’m no longer so sure of that. I guess I’ve become a patriot for the Christian faith, but not so much a nationalist.
At least that’s how I see it. I’m curious what you think.
With great hope!
Rich Pleva, Iowa Conference Minister