Monday, October 6, 2008

What is patriotism?

What is patriotism?

Patriotism is, more or less, defined in the same way by all dictionaries of English language which indicate love and devotion for one's country. Here is a few definitions taken from different dictionaries which are available:

Oxford >>> patriot a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it.
Webster >>> patriotism love for or devotion to one's country
Cambridge >>>patriotism when you love your country and are proud of it
American Heritage >> patriotism Love of and devotion to one's country
Encarta >>> supporter of own country: a proud supporter or defender of his or her country and its way of life

The issue seems to be very simple in first glance but it gets more complicated when it gets to how the love and devotion for country is defined or determined and measured? For example, in Iran of today, we have different groups of Iranians who claim that they are patriotic while others are traitors or at least unpatriotic and at the same time other groups have the same claims for themselves and against others. Who is right? What is really patriotism? Is patriotism a rigid attribute which could be defined solidly within the limits of words?

Someone wrote a more elaborate definition somewhere: Patriotism: Love for one’s country, to support, serve, and defend, to be inspired by, to change for the better and to care deeply for its citizens.

And there are even more elaborate definitions which cover a wide areas of activities for the good of generations of people of one's country. Some people believe that they are more patriotic because they have a religion that values the land and territory. Judaism has even included a particular land in their faith as the land which was promised by god to the Jews, the "chosen people". Jerusalem, to this day, has been the subject of many quarrels and even wars between different religious groups. Does religion really have anything to do with patriotism?
It is quoted from George Washington that he once said: "Do not ever let anyone claim to be a true American Patriot, if they ever attempt to separate religion from politics."

Some people think that United States is founded on secular basis but when we observe the behavior of highest ranking people in America, the presidents, in any period of time, we notice that attending religious ceremonies and events play a major role in their acceptance by public as a leader who shares some values with the society which is important to them. more than two centuries have passed from foundation of The United States and the fabric of society has gone through many changes. Today no one can claim that United States is a completely Christian nation as there is a big population of Muslims present in there and there are also others who believe in other faiths.

Interestingly, there has always been doubts about George Washington himself being a true believer of Christianity by many who knew him closely. Many people including some pastor who performed sermon in his presence believed that he was a deist but he never missed the church. According to Wikipedia George Washington was linked with English church from his birth:
"George Washington was baptized as an infant into the Church of England,[3][4] which, before the American Revolution, was the state religion of the colony of Virginia.[5] Since the English monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and its clergy are obliged to swear an Oath of Supremacy to the monarch, following the revolution churches of this denomination in the United States joined together to establish the Episcopal Church. Until Virginia enacted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786,"
And a bit further down we can read:

"In the 1840s abolitionist newspapers printed interviews with and testimony of Oney Judge, a slave who escaped from the Washingtons in 1796. One such article, from the Granite Freeman, stated: "she never heard Washington pray, and does not believe that he was accustomed to. 'Mrs. Washington used to read prayers, but I don't call that praying.'" [21] (It should be noted that reading of printed prayers is typical of Anglican practice.) In another case, the Rev. Benjamin Chase, in a letter to the The Liberator, wrote that "She says that the stories told of Washington's piety and prayers, so far as she ever saw or heard while she was his slave, have no foundation. Card-playing and wine-drinking were the business at his parties, and he had more of such company Sundays than on any other day." [22] In both cases it should be borne in mind that these statements were intended to disparage Washington's character in so far as he held slaves; for example, Chase continues, "I do not mention this as showing, in my estimation, his anti-Christian character, so much as the bare fact of being a slaveholder, and not a hundredth part so much as trying to kidnap this woman; but, in the minds of the community, it will weigh infinitely more."[22]"

In other part under "unconfirmed claims" we can read this about George Washington:
"Throughout his life, he spoke of the value of righteousness, and of seeking and offering thanks for the "blessings of Heaven". Though Washington often spoke of God and Providence, there is little if any reliable source material for quotes by him containing the words Jesus, Christ, or Christianity. In his letters to young people, particularly to his adopted children, he urges upon them truth, character, honesty, but says little or nothing related to specific items of religious practice. Analysts who have studied Washington's papers held by the Library of Congress assert that his correspondence with Masonic Lodges is replete with references to the "Great Architect of the Universe" (which Masonic historian S. Brent Morris refers to as a neutral Masonic style of referring to God — probably derived from the writings of John Calvin),[23] but that "his response to a Christian clergyman conspicuously avoids mention of Jesus Christ or acknowledgement of personal Christian faith."[24]"

There is so much controversy surrounding Washington that makes one wonder about his intentions of keeping religion linked with politics or about accuracy of the quote with no particular religion in his mind.

Going back to the original question of patriotism, how can it be defined and practiced without a religion? There are many people who believe that patriotism and nationalism are the grounds for brewing fascism and reject the love for homeland or even the idea of homeland. All those people present an ideology or religion as replacement for patriotism and want to abolish the borders through unification of the world with their ideology. How realistic is this concept? Throughout the history, there has been many attempts towards unification of the world under different names. Empires came to existence with that excuse and disappeared after sometime. The most recent attempts in the history include universal Marxist movement and the attempt by Germans under ideology based on racial superiority. Neither of them were successful but the ideologies managed to survive. In all cases throughout the history, patriotism has served as a great repellent against greedy aggressors and enemies no matter who they were and what agenda they had. But, is patriotism only for fighting aggressors and enemies or is it a continuous quality which should lead one all throughout his/her life on certain path?

It is obvious that sacrificing life to defend one's country is considered of the highest value in display of patriotism. And since patriotism is linked with defending one's "home" or "homeland" then anything important related to homeland should have an effect to instigate or satisfy a patriotic act or sentiment. Then what can be the relation between patriotism and religion?

All the people who believe in one religion or another, have places which they respect and consider them holy. Having a sacred place in a territory draws highest degree of sacrifice and show of patriotism by a believer to defend the sacred place against non-believers. Religion can definitely add some ingredient to the patriotism because all symbols of religions have some physical coordinates in a territory which links them to that territory. History shows that followers of same religious belief can be more easily rallied for any purpose when invoking their religious sentiments. The Crusades are clear example in which Christians from far away in Europe came to fight Muslims and sacrifice over a land which they never lived in. George Washington definitely understood the power of "unquestionable religious belief" for common man very well but never limited himself to such divine ideologies while regularly attending a church.

So once again, if George Washington was a "patriotic" person and leader then what is patriotism and how can we learn to be patriotic?

Recently, I attended an outdoor show in front of Parliament of Canada where a beautiful show of "sound and light" was being played. I recorded different clips of the show using my camera and somewhere in this part, you can hear a quote from Pierre Trudeau who was one of the most controversial PMs in the history of Canada, about "patriotism". I found that quote very moving and inspiring and from my own point of view and my own background at home, I can relate to that to some degrees even though I did not have the chance to visit many parts of my country. I believe visiting different parts of one's homeland can definitely have an impact on development of positive feelings towards motherland.

Pierre E. Trudeau: “I know a man who school could never teach him patriotism but he acquired that virtue when he found to his own the vastness of this land and the greatness of those who founded it”

Here is the clip:

Direct link: