When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we approach the celebration of the birth of our nation tomorrow, patriotism is on my mind. Bonnie and I attended a very nice service at a Unitarian Universalist church this weekend, and one of the topics discussed by the minister was about balancing being both liberal and patriotic. I have mixed feelings about this. I find myself generally turned off by patriotism as displayed by most conservatives in this country. I don't teach my kids the white-washed version of American history that I learned in school, nor do I have a national flag displayed in my house. And of course I don't force my children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
All that said, I am incredibly drawn to the secular values our nation was founded on. As I have begun reading the first chapters of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism , I'm learning how much thought and attention was put into crafting our secular American government. I love our Founding Fathers' vision for this country!
Am I proud to be an American? Sometimes, maybe. But I often find myself pretty ashamed of many aspects of our nation's history and current policies. I love George Carlin's words here on the idea of national pride:
...I could never understand national or ethnic pride, because to me Pride should be reserved for something you achieve on your own.
I am happy to have been born in and continue living in a country that was founded on secular values and reason by some of the most intelligent men in history. But I wish our nation lived up to those values more, and I don't pretend that being an American is somehow "better" than being from another nation, many of which are leaps and bounds ahead of us in things I strongly value, such as life expectancy, literacy, math, science, healthcare, not waging war, and women's rights.
When I am not waving flags and saying God Bless America tomorrow, it's not because I don't love this country. Really, I do. (Do I think Gob blessed it? Well, obviously not.) But I don't ever want to confuse patriotism with blind loyalty to the government, or to the military, or to upholding a false view of our national history, and I feel like the conservative definition of patriotism that's running rampant has done just that.
There's a really great quote that's incorrectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson and that appears to have conflicting views on its origin. Nonetheless, it defines patriotism simply in a way that makes sense to me: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
I hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday!