Thursday, September 29, 2011

Religion and Patriotism: CNN misses the point

I recently came across this article on CNN's "Belief Blog". This strange corner of CNN's website is an odd mixture of weird apologetics, inane blatherings about "modern religion", and purportedly "balanced" opinion articles on matters surrounding religion in public life. Considering all the contributors are believers, I have a had time finding any of the articles truly "balanced". They generally lean towards the apologetic, accommodating view that religion is good and necessary.  They occasionally post articles about atheism, which they generally get wrong from the start with false, yet popularly held myths about atheism and the mindset of the atheist.

In this article, the author, Dave Schecter, gives his thoughts on the findings of a Pew Poll... well... actually, no he didn't. What he did was offer his thoughts on a "Christianity Today" parsing of a that Pew Poll regarding their views of the United States. Taking just a few of the data points from this poll, Christianity Today indicates that of the subjects polled, evangelical christians were the most likely to think that America is the greatest country on earth. They went on to say:

Other Christian traditions were less enthusiastic about America's position in the world, but they still saw the U.S. as one of the best on the planet. About 40% of other Christians said the U.S. stands alone as the greatest country; around 55% said it and some other countries were equally great. As with evangelicals, only a few said there were greater countries in the world.
Then, of course, comes the truly important data: "Only one in five of those without religious beliefs said the U.S. is the best country in the world, an equal percentage agreeing that 'there are other countries that are better than the U.S.' ”

The article also goes on to also show percentage of people of various faiths, or no religion, who display the American Flag. Again, the faithful do this at a much higher rate. 

And then the article goes on to describe what the author calls a "God Gap", in which there appears to be a correlation between religiosity and patriotism. And this is where the article goes off the rails for me. I won't argue with any of the data points from the Pew poll... in fact it shows more or less what I expected. However the author is making the wrong correlation. The mistake is in equating being overly provincial by thinking your country is better than everyone else's, and displaying the flag with "patriotism". I would have answered the poll questions similarly to other irreligious folk. I don't believe our country is the best in the world, and I don't generally display the American flag prominently. This makes me un-patriotic? Don't be ridiculous. The truth is that I, and most of my godless acquaintances, are more deeply patriotic than any of your average "god and guns" 'patriots'. We think our country could be better. We think it is flawed... we think there are places where the quality of life for the average citizen is better... where the goal of government is to support the population, not control it. We love this country and want to see it rise to the ideals on which it was ostensibly founded, but has never quite lived up to, mainly due to the constant and omnipresent religious influence that permeates the fabric of American culture. 

Religious people don't think America is the best country because they are patriotic. They believe that because they have been brought up to believe that christianity has a preferential place... that christians are "chosen" by god... and that America is a "christian nation", and if we are more christian than other nations (and by all accounts, unfortunately, we are), then by rule, we are the best. And religious people don't fly the flag because they are patriotic. They fly the flag because they have been taught to worship symbols their entire lives. The cross... the eucharist, the alter, the statue of Mary, rosary beads... the flag. From the time you are old enough to walk, as a christian you are taught to look upon symbols with awe... that the symbols are as important as the thing itself. Just ask any christian. If you desecrate a cross, you are desecrating Jesus himself. To a christian, the cross is Jesus. And similarly, the flag is America. Non-believers don't revere the flag with any less respect, we just have learned not to put too much emphasis on symbolism and idol-worship. We simply don't equate the flag as being America itself the way that believers do, because we've stripped that wiring from our brains (or never had it, in some cases). That doesn't make us less patriotic. It simply means that we'd rather focus on what should be the real American symbols... fairness, opportunity, freedom, equality, and empathy. These are the things that are of utmost importance to the irreligious... not some nylon fabric, or some silly notion that we're better than everyone else. Give me people that look at America and evaluate it in those terms, and then I'll show you a true patriot. 

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