Is the true patriot one who is committed to supporting and preferring the actions of his country simply because they are the actions of his country? Or is a real patriot one who loves his country because he loves the common project her citizens pursue?”1
It seems strange that we would encourage love of our family, our alma mater, our community or our favorite sports team, but not love of country. As the Bible teaches that we are to give honor where honor is due, this does indeed include our country. How far should Christians go in loving their country? When does patriotism turn into nationalism? What is the difference?
Patriotism is loyalty to one’s nation. It is the love of a place, fellow countrymen, and local practices. “A people,” Augustine says, “is an assembled multitude of rational creatures bound together by common agreement on the objects of their love.”2 In other words, communities enjoy a unified and voluntary life among their members, so long as their members love the same thing.3
Exhibiting love and loyalty for one’s country is to give preference to that country above other countries. A patriot will sacrifice for his country and seek its own good.
George Orwell admonishes his readers that “nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” They are different from each other. Historian Hans Kohn gives three facets to nationalist belief system:
- A chosen people who have been given a mission by God.
- A covenant between God, the people, and the government.
- A Messianic expectancy of bringing heaven on earth (utopia).
On nationalism’s shoulders lies this cloak of immunity. This country can do no wrong, its people are superior to all others, and that they are the answer to all the world’s problems.
The difficulty lies with finding the exact point in time where righteous patriotism goes into the realm of sinful nationalism. To say where this line exists is very hard. But there is a difference.
There exists no radar detector to prove a transgression. Do we view our country as a God’s gift to mankind? Do we follow our leaders blindly? Are we engaged in matters of society or just along for the ride? C.S. Lewis said that one way to keep wicked rulers at bay is to be a healthy patriot — one who loves his country enough to fight for truth and justice within it.
“Demonic Patriotism,” as Lewis calls it, will compel a man to follow his leaders while blindfolded with his nation’s flag. Let us strive to give honor where honor is due, to love what God has given us, yet without elevating nationhood to virtual deity.
Citations & References1-John Macias, What is Patriotism?, The Imaginative Conservative, May 28, 2017, http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/05/patriotism-john-macias.html.
2-Paul Weithman, Augustine’s Political Philosophy. Cambridge Companions Online: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p 63.
3-Weithman, Augustine’s Political Philosophy, p 243.