Of Patriotism, Nationalism, and Religion on the Fourth
My two children, my father, my two hounds, and I have at the ready the obligatory festive Fourth brats, beer (root and otherwise), watermelon, broccoli salad, potato salad, brownies, and homemade ice cream.
That said, looking at the stormy/hail-y/duck-for-cover-y weather forecast, I’m betting we’ll be busting out the grill a day late, celebrating the Fourth on the Fifth.
Hail is no fun at anyone’s picnic, but hail, rain, and lightening really do a number on an electric wheelchair, just saying.
But as I’ve never been one for details anyway, and I’m always down for carbs no matter what day it is, it’s all fine.
Gives me more time to mull the day anyway…because as a theologian, I mull.
The more time to mull, the better, in my book.
Character flaw, character asset, your call.
I especially mull about religion.
As I’ve mulled about the Fourth over the last several days, especially after the last year and a half under Trump, it’s all the more clear to me that the Fourth of July has all the markings of a religious holiday.
It’s not a Christian religious holiday, of course, but as an American religious holiday, it’s a High Feast Day, no doubt about it.
The word ‘religion’ comes from the word religare: according to www.etymonline.com (a site to which, admittedly, I visit religiously, not to mention daily, happily, and geekily) it means “’to bind fast…via notion of ‘place an obligation on,’” and even a “bond between humans and gods[!!!].”
A religion, then, could be said to be any system of belief that binds its people together, connecting them to one another and to a higher principle via shared commitments, rituals, and expectations of behavior and loyalty to the common purpose.
That describes, of course, traditional notions of religious fidelity, like to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so forth.
But it also describes a wide swath of US patriotism.
In this day and age of the rise of Christian Nationalism (a mix of toxic Christianity and toxic national pride: check here and here and here and here for more of this increasing and increasingly dangerous phenomenon both exploited and fostered by Trump), it’s crucial that religious people—that is, people who identify their faith as being aligned first and foremost with God—identify how they understand that God, and what difference that makes in how they understand our nation and any allegiance to it.
The ties that bind Trump’s vision of the US exclude rather than include and shackle rather than free.
The behavior which is expected—encouraged, even—is that of bullying, school-yard insults, hostile language, and violence.
If there is any god which is owed loyalty, it is to him.
This is not patriotism; it is malignant extremism, and toxic religious idolatry.
But I’m wanting very much to discover if there is any way to be a Christian and be patriotic.
Is it possible to reconcile fidelity to the Christian faith with fidelity to a nation?
And if so, how, given that the US was—and still is—built on reckless cultural annexation, on the backs of defenseless human exploitation, and engages in mass deportations, discriminations, humiliations, wanton and wretched separations, and depends on economic stratification and a white and privileged narration?
Religion to the rescue.
We can tap into the best of each religion’s identities, discovered embedded in our texts and meta-stories which extol confession, liberation, imagination, restoration, satiation, emancipation, and righteous and abundant salvation—health, healing, and wholeness (dare I say ‘liberty and justice?’)—for all.
Examples of the best expressions of religion and religious binding-to-one-another are found in historical narratives—including that of the US.
It’s all the more crucial that we discover, and rediscover, what those tales are now.
In them we find not just identity, you see, but purpose and hope.
If we are a Christian, the best way that we can be both a Christian and a patriot is to stand on the side of—and to take a stand for—a religious identity which builds up and not down, which fosters equity and not adversity, and which embodies hospitality and not barbarity.
In short, Christian patriots yearn for a Matthew 25 kind of nation: that’s the text in which nations, not people, but nations are judged on whether they provided the hungry food, the thirsty drink, the stranger welcome, the naked clothing, the sick health care, and the prisoners company.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Tonight, or, weather depending, tomorrow, I’ll raise a brat, a beer, a sparkler, and a prayer for that kind of nation, that kind of patriotism, and that kind of righteous religious identity.
And then I will partake in holy homemade ice cream and sing praises to the goodness of the Lord.