This might surprise you, but the term “patriotism” makes me a little nervous–not because it isn’t a good thing. It certainly is, but we might to stop for a moment, on Independence Day, and consider what the word really means — what love of this country really means.
To be clear at the outset, I love my country and I believe “love of country” is good for the soul. If a picture of the home where you were born, if a stroll across those streets, and parks, and fields, if the little first-grade faces next to yours in the class picture — if none of that means anything to you, I’m sorry for the sadness of your childhood. We all deserve some little corner of this earth where, as old folks, we can start a conversation with the words, “remember that time..”
There is a moment in Band of Brothers where two soldiers discover they are from the same neighborhood in Philadelphia. The joy of a common neighborhood lit up the dreariness of war, for a moment, like a campfire. You may have had moments like this yourself. You are in some strange corner of the world and you hear not just English being spoken, but the English you grew up with. That voice on the other side of the room might as well be your dad calling the family down for dinner. You never really thought your neighborhood, your country, was that important to you, but that shared sense of place called you powerfully home, as though there were a leash on your heart you didn’t know existed.
People who hate their country are as mysterious to me as people who hate their family. That sort of darkness requires real effort. Love of country is just an organic, universal truth. It transcends history and place. Canadians and Ugandans and Finns all feel it.
But America is peculiar in this sense: The land is beautiful. The history is beautiful. The people are beautiful. But the ideas are even more beautiful.
Imagine, as an immigrant, rowing your boat ashore on the beaches of the new republic, in 1793. A Long Island fisherman greets you, and then he extends a free civics lesson..
“..our Bill of Rights is fairly new. You can worship as you choose here, and speak your mind too. You can keep and bear arms, to defend yourself and the country. The constable needs a warrant, from a judge, to search your home or your person. You can peacefully assemble, even in large masses, to petition the government. You don’t have to testify against yourself. They can’t torture you. You have a right to a speedy trial, by a jury, and not just a judge.”
The fisherman is slightly out of breath, recounting all of this. He’s still thinking.
“Glory be,” you respond, as he collects himself. “We come from a part of Europe where the local baron can take your daughter if he fancies her.”
“Oh, wait!” The fisherman shouts. “One more thing. There may be other rights we haven’t even articulated yet. The federal government has no say there. Those are reserved for the states, or the people.”
“What wise men must rule over you.”
“Wise men?” thunders the fisherman. “We get these rights from God. All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights!”
If you want to know what makes America “exceptional,” it is this simple truth: “some things are not up for a vote. God said so.” A new majority in the last election cannot vote you out of your life, or your right to defend yourself, or your right to due process. Unruly mobs, hiding behind “democracy,” wear a choke-collar in this country, and the leash is in God’s Hand.
Several years ago, I performed “Patrick Henry” for a local service club. After my performance, the business of the club was taken up in earnest and the members seemed drawn to a problem that was heavy in the news at that time: flag-burning. They were intent on letting their representatives know they wanted to protect the flag at all costs. As much as I detest flag-burning, I couldn’t help asking myself, “why aren’t they worried about protecting the liberties the flag represents? What if we preserve the flag and destroy the liberties?”
Think about it. None of us, in California, can really “keep and bear arms” without a special permit issued by law enforcement. On the Seventh Amendment front, I have spent five years proving that, these days, a speedy civil jury trial is almost impossible. As to those rights not articulated in the Bill of Rights, California currently has a law that would take a child away from their parents if they don’t affirm gender reassignment surgery (castration or breast removal) for twelve year olds. Even if you are a Democrat (and you are still reading this), you really have to wonder how a former president can be prosecuted for holding classified documents, when Joe Biden stored the same stuff in his garage.
It’s easy to love our family. It’s easy to love the little drug store lunch counter down the street. Who couldn’t love Yosemite and New Orleans and Niagara Falls? I may be going way out on a limb here, but I’m guessing even Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have warm hearts on those fronts. Mafia dons and drug lords and con men love their blood kin, and their hometowns.
But ideas? Liberating, empowering, God-ordained truths? It’s far more than the flag, or the anthems, or the pledges of allegiance. It’s the truth itself. Jesus said there is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. This is certainly true, but I don’t think He meant thugs merely dying for other thugs, or even blood dying for blood. Sacrificial love, patriotic love, means risking loss for the very truth itself when it is put on trial. The wealthy men who risked everything to give us a country loved us, certainly, but they loved “these truths” even more, because they knew we couldn’t really live without them.
American patriots fight for their friends, to be certain, but they fight for the truth first. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, that is what “patriotism” really means.
This post was written by Jim Riley