The Christian, Patriotism, and Idolatry
Can a Christian indulge in patriotism? We have argued in the past that any word with “ism” attached to the end is likely to be an idol in disguise. The “ism” makes the noun being thus qualified ultimate. And ultimacy belongs to God alone. Patriotism, then, would then risk making the love of country an ultimate loyalty.
The dictionary defines patriotism as “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country“. All of which is fair enough. Provided that “devoted” is within severe limits. One can love one’s country as one loves a piece of favourite music or art. One can love the “gentle rolling hills” or other natural beauties. One can love one’s particular national cuisine. None of this need involve idolatry. But if we used a neology–say, “cuisinism” to such a love, the implied meaning would be of an ultimate loyalty to a particular local cuisine.
Such a person–one afflicted with cuisinism–would risk being dismissed as prejudiced, opinionated, parochial, even a culinary bigot. In the same way, the word “patriotism” risks making an idol of one’s country. For a Christian, this is never, ever acceptable.
The Christian’s ultimate loyalty is to the only One who is great enough to command it. Consequently, the Christian must always obey God rather than man. That obligation is plainly stated in Scripture. At the same time, we are to be loyal to the governing authorities because they are put there by God. They are God’s ministers. But that loyalty is never absolute. When rulers rebel against God, when they command that which is evil, Christians must demur, dissent, and oppose as opportunity presents. Christians believe, for example, that loyalty to one’s nation requires that we plead for God’s judgement on behalf of the millions of innocent children murdered in the womb. If the ungodly travesty were to continue the entire nation risks falling under inevitable divine interdiction.
The Christian’s citizenship is in heaven; he is to love his Christian brother or sister in other countries as his own life. He is obligated to help and succour his Christian neighbour as he can–including those in other nations. He is to call them brothers and sisters. This means that patriotism to the Christian must always be written with a very small “p”. There are other loyalties: higher loyalties, commanded by God Himself. Those loyalties cross ethnic and national boundaries. If it were not so, Christ would not have come forth as the Saviour of the world. But He did. He is the only Name given amongst men by which we may be saved. His claim and prerogative is over every family in the earth. When a person at the farthermost reaches of the world believes upon the Lord Jesus Christ, he immediately becomes the brother, neighbour, kinsman of every living Christian. That bond is higher and more sacred than any love for, or loyalty to, one’s nation.
That is why nationalism and the Christian faith are incompatible. That is why racism is an antipathy to the Christian. But it is also why internationalism (another “ism”) is water to Christian oil. They do not mix.
Christians are leery of patriotism. Their loyalty to their country is of another kind, not of this earth. Consequently, their love for their earthly nation, whilst genuine, is also of another kind. It is at God’s behest, never idolatrous, never absolute, and always qualified.