Today is Memorial Day. It’s supposed to be a day when we remember the men and women who have died protecting this country. Somehow their lives are memorialized by barbecues, furniture blow-out sales, and fireworks. And it’s not really a celebration unless we take the day off. Amid all the Memorial Day sales, it’s hard to remember that we’re supposed to be remembering the soldiers that fought and are still fighting to protect our freedom.
Patriotic holidays easily disgust me. Now I have no ill-will towards my government, I have no vendetta, I have no conspiracy theories. My grandpa fought in World War II, facing horrors I can’t imagine and that he rarely spoke about. I respect my grandpa’s bravery and courage, I appreciate his sacrifice and service. But at the same time I question the blindness that comes with patriotism. I do not say this glibly, as if it’s a simple issue I’m just throwing out there with my simple solution. It’s one of the paradoxes of life, and every fourth of July and every Memorial Day the question comes haunting back during some montage on TV or a prayer uttered in a church service. This is a question I continually ask myself, and I’m never easy with the answers.
As a Christian, I pledge allegiance to my God before my nation. I don’t think that’s too radical of a notion. Yet patriotism quickly blurs those lines and changes that hierarchy. The blindness that follows means that my nation is not challenged with my Christian principles. The result is injustice–injustice endorsed by Christians.
For some reason American Christians think they have it all. We’ve got the right religion, and we’ve got the right country. We’re on top of the world, and nothing can stop us. We never stop to think that God and his will is higher than anything we want to do. When our country storms into battle, patriotism stirs within us and we rally to the call of battle. We don’t question what our country is doing. Bombs fall and people die, but we go on waving our flag. We never stop to think that bombs are falling on people who need God, the very people that we pray for in church. To take it a step further, those bombs are falling on our brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow Christians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Kosovo, Korea, Germany, Japan. Those Christians are praying for protection, just like we are, and someone’s prayer goes unanswered. These are the difficult questions we never stop to think about when we pledge allegiance to our flag before our God.
What’s worse is when we force God to pledge allegiance to our flag as well. Time and again Christians claim that this country was founded on Christian principles. How many times have I heard a pastor say that the Constitution was written with a pen in one hand and a Bible in the other? I question the validity of those statements, but even if they’re true, what does it matter? The Constitution does not grant preferential treatment to the religion of its writers. Our country was founded on religious freedom, not on Christianity. Anyone claiming that the religion of our forefathers grants us the power to bring Christ into the public schools is sadly mistaken. It’s simply the worst argument you can make, and holds together simply because we continue to be a nation of predominantly Christians, admittedly in name only. The argument becomes ludicrous when you imagine a nation where Christians are not the majority, something that’s not inconceivable. Rather than arguing for history, you should be arguing for religious freedom. We have the right to do this because all religions have the right to do this.
Patriotism blinds us with foolish arguments, a warring heart, and it even allows us to look away. If God has favored this nation, then why was it founded on the slavery of an entire race? If God has favored this nation, then why was our land stolen from a native people? If God has favored this nation, then why do precision-guided bombs fall on the homes of innocents? Patriotism has blinded us to the injustice the world has suffered at the hands of our nation. Blacks endured slavery because Christians refused to speak for hundreds of years. The men writing the Constitution with a Bible in one hand also had slaves waiting for them outside. Native Americans had their land and homes stolen, and they were lied to and literally back-stabbed. We butchered those people, and we continue to butcher them. Indian Reservations are the among the most impoverished pockets of humanity in America. Where’s the Christian compassion and justice that founded this country? During Vietnam we bombed Laos for no reason. We denied the fact that we were doing, and we dropped cluster bombs on villages, designed simply to kill people. Children today are still killed when they discover unexploded bombs in the fields. The injustice of thirty years ago continues to haunt us. In the 1980s we sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein. He unleashed them on his own people in 1988, but it wasn’t until after the Gulf War that we cared. Then and now we continue to raise a stink — but our consciences weren’t effected when we sold the weapons, and we didn’t seem alarmed when he even used the weapons. It’s only now that we have something to gain that we care. What happened to justice?
Even now the call to battle is continuing, and Americans are waving their flags and supporting their troops in the face of terrorism. This is not a threat easily dismissed, and I’m not advocating easy answers. But in the face of terrorism we must not be blinded by patriotism. Terrorism is fueled by a hatred for America, a hatred that is fueled by our unjust acts in the world. So if we respond to terrorism with unjust force, we will only be awaking the giant.
So as I remember the sacrifices made for our country, and as I appreciate the fact that my neighborhood has never been a war zone, I also realize that I don’t have the ability to forget the rest of the world. For every sacrifice a U.S. solider has made, another soul somewhere in the world has equally sacrificed. My allegiance to my country commands that I have no compassion on the sacrifice of others, but my allegiance to my God demands it.
I respect and appreciate my freedom today. I pray for my cousins, my friends in the armed forces. But I will not close my eyes as I salute my flag. I imagine German Christians in the 1930s were patriotic, but that doesn’t excuse the Holocaust.