Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Patriotism: Some Contradictory Thoughts

This year, I’ve surprisingly become more patriotic.  This may come as a surprise to those who know me and my tendency to criticize my country’s priorities and values.  But, it’s true!

This change of heart is primarily due to the relationships we’ve built with young asylum seekers.  To them, America truly represents hope.  They have fled their countries because they are in real danger of being killed, usually merely due to their family’s clan or ethnicity.  And they now live in a country where they are in constant fear of arrest.  They long for freedom—not just freedom in the abstract sense of the word, but the real, genuine freedom to simply live in peace. 

When I talk to these young people about their desire to be resettled in the U.S., I can’t help but encourage their hope!  Even though America is certainly still dealing with our own demons of prejudice and inequality, I can genuinely say to them:  Yes, if you are resettled to America, you will not have to be perpetually afraid of being murdered because of your clan!  You will not have to live in constant fear of the police!  If you’re willing to work for it, there are opportunities for education and employment!  It’s been so funny to notice my own pride in the good ole American Dream. 

However, on the complete other hand, it’s been funny to reflect on something else I’ve realized this year.  Never before have I come to a greater understanding of the dangers of patriotism. Never before have I realized how poisonous a seemingly innocent “love for one’s country” can be. 

Take, for example, the Rohingya refugee crisis.   I would argue that they have been systemically mistreated by the Myanmar government not because all the government officials are evil, but because the Myanmar government takes pride in their nation, and wants to remain strong, to remain “pure,” and to remain free from those deemed threatening or different.  And this year, when thousands of Rohingya took to the sea in dangerous, overcrowded boatsthey were turned away from multiple countries—again, not because of evil governments, but because of their insistence on protecting their supposed economic well-being and their unwillingness to welcome the outsider.

Just name your 20th Century tyrannical dictator—Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao—all ruled their countries and committed great atrocities in the name of patriotic pride and the nationalistic desire to make their countries great and powerful.    

And lest we judge these “evil men” too harshly, the U.S. and other developed Western countries have planks in our own eyes that are far too difficult to ignore.  I would argue that it is this same brand of patriotic pride that lies at the root of Europe and Australia's continued decisions to turn away thousands of dying and desperate refugees in recent years.  And I would argue that it is deep-seeded patriotism, a desire for nationalistic greatness and economic strength, that often motivates Americans when we make decisions like turning away child refugees and and separating immigrant children from their families.   

So, where does that leave me?  Of course, patriotism is not all bad.  As that cheesy anthem says, I am proud to be an American.  But I am continually weary of the dangers of that patriotism. 

Ultimately, I rest in knowing that my citizenship in a Kingdom that is not of this world, one that transcends all divisions of nation and ethnicity, is infinitely more important than my American citizenship.  I rest in knowing that my first allegiance is not to a president or a constitution, but to a King that calls me to seek reconciliation, struggle against injustice, and welcome all who are in need.  


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