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A Christian Libertarian Perspective on the Cult of Patriotism

The allowed conversation about being patriotic in America is like a bad survey.

Choose one of the following:

1. Are you proud to be an American?

2. Are you a free-loading, ungrateful, scum bag?

cult of patriotismUmm. Those are not the only choices, but too many people don’t know that. Trying to frame the discussion in other than well rehearsed sound bites can be like trying to reshape one of those elastic exercise bands. It just comes back to snap you. Hard. The propaganda is well taught in public schools. The advertising has very effectively used images of soldiers and children to claim superior motives. Even religion has been appealed to, as it is in some guise or another by all governments, to align the governmental goals with those of God. To risk even hinting at questioning “pledging allegiance to the flag” is akin to blasphemy and treated as deserving the firing squad.

The idea presented to us, both as children in government schools and in subsequent material aimed at adults, is that somehow in pledging allegiance to the flag, we are pledging to ourselves and our freedom. We are told to trust people we don’t know and have very little access to to get to know. All wars are said to be fought for our protection and right, but we are often not allowed to defend ourselves from either our violent neighbors or those in government who wield the sledge hammer of laws and taxes through the living throngs of “citizens.” We are told that if it weren’t for the sacrifices of soldiers, we would all be dead or slaves of Hitler. We are not told about how Hitler really came to power or how the government continually uses soldiers for extremely questionable forays to gain power for itself. We are told we have government by the people, until we disagree with those in power. Then, we are told to obey the law and stop being selfish.

I’m not always sure I know what people mean or that they know what they mean when they say they are “proud to be Americans.” I can’t understand why living on a particular part of the globe, born to a certain family, or under a particular system of government is something to “be proud of.” I can recognize that compared to some countries, I may have more freedom of choice in some areas of life. I can appreciate that I can possibly trust my neighbors to one extent or another, or that I have plenty of food and clothes. I also understand that the word “patriotic” is used differently by different people, although the government uses it to gain loyalty to policies. However, none of this is something to be “proud of.” Possibly, what is meant is being proud of our type of government? But, again, that is like being proud of having certain parents. What did I have to do with that? I can make the best of that or mess it up with bad choices, but there is nothing to be “proud” of.

The Oxford University Press dictionary online says to be proud is:

1. feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated

Or

2. having or showing a high or excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance

It seems a typical stretch of government propaganda to encourage us to be proud of a system of governance, set up by people long dead and no longer really followed, run by people far removed from the vast majority of us, and used to force people to bend to the will of other people in the name of personal freedom. This is why I balk at putting my hand on my heart as a sign of loyalty to “the flag.” I’m not convinced the flag represents my freedom so much as it represents the government’s attempt to coerce me into compliance. It is like asking me to repeatedly admit that they do everything they do “for my own good” and if I was a “good citizen” I would just say my allegiances and send my sons into battle at their behest.

I will not willingly send my sons to battle for a government entity. Defending oneself, one’s family, and one’s livelihood is a different issue than an army set up under the control of a few people to invade and fight around the world. If individuals feel the need to go fight for perceived causes, that is a private choice likely to be made much more carefully because their own life is on the line. If someone from another country tries to come over and hurt people here, private individuals could act and cooperate in defense. It probably can’t be any less efficient or less reliable or less careful than what government military organizations do in the name of victory. The only reason non-government people don’t “have their own cannons” is because it has been made illegal. If we were responsible for our own protection, we would probably figure it out.

I cringe at the premise that: no matter what we disagree with “politically,” we should “support” the troupes, because they are putting their lives on the line for our freedom. I believe that some of them think they are doing that, at least when they sign up. If my time in the Air Force Reserved Officers Training for two years in a high ranking college is any indication, people who join the military fall into various categories of motivation and morals. Some do it for money for school. Some, just to have a job. Some to play war games. And from my earliest days in those classes, everyone was taught how to work the system to get the most money possible for their budget. I quit the program, but I will never forget realizing the disappointment at the attitudes I saw in so many of them.

If one takes time to question the rhetoric about government glory, one finds it is a rare thing that any government’s military is doing other than the leaders’ biding. Conscientious objectors are rarely cowards, but people with courage to say they cannot in good conscious be part of the general slaughter of war. If we have to be protected from anything, it is the strife that all of the world’s leaders are constantly stirring up against each other. It is gang warfare on a global scale, with territories being claimed by those with the biggest guns. We just happen to be in the way and provide a source of money for their war games. The soldiers are truly cannon fodder. I do not wish this for anyone’s son. People should be allowed to disagree with the widely accepted view of “honorable service” without being threatened as traitors. Traitors to what? A poorly run war games tournament with machine guns and bombs?

All of this smacks of cult behavior, don’t you think? Don’t stray from the teaching of the cult schools. Don’t question the character or motives of the cult leaders or cult soldiers. Don’t question the link between God and Country. Certainly don’t speak to anyone else about your disillusionment and realization of the truth. In fairness, it’s not like our government is the only one to do this. It is how governments (a.k.a those who have pushed their way to power) have worked since we have any historical records of human governance. Those with power in governments lie about their accomplishments and lie about their plans. They lie to make money and they lie to make people do their dirty work. The promise of power most often attracts those who would love to have power over others, but rarely attracts those who will grant true individual freedom. For one thing, it is dangerous to get involved in the arena with those who are willing to do anything to grab onto and maintain power.

Yet the so-called good citizens continue to send their children to the cult government schools, like lambs to the slaughter, even when they could choose to do otherwise. Today’s schools are not anything like the community school houses of old, even assuming those were a decent model for teaching children (I don’t think they necessarily were, although they are definitely romanticized as such). Sure, the government makes it challenging to buck the system, but, so far, it’s not as hard as most people think. There are laws about “education,” but there is still the viable option of not submitting children to 12 – 15 years of government programming for hours a day. If only more people would be willing to question what the government has “legislated” as what defines a “good education.” Really, the biggest challenge is risking seeming different and working on priorities.

A sad irony is that many people who take their children out of the government system schools, still teach them the government’s cult version of history. However, if the emphasis in a non-government setting is on teaching the children to think and evaluate, rather than only recite the stories, parents may find themselves beginning to question what they have been taught. Somehow it doesn’t sound quite as plausible when telling your own children all the great deeds of the mighty government.

Some people suggest that if we would get “involved” or “take back” our government, things would be better. If all you want to do is give everyone their freedom back, maybe that might work. But if what you want to do is feed the beast of government with power to do what YOU want, it will turn on you one day. Apart from that, what is so noble about taking power to force everyone to live the way you or I want them to? Call it what you will, it is wanting to be king over someone else.

Is there really such thing as a benign king? If there is, wouldn’t such a king relinquish power to let people live in peace and freedom, without his taxation and coercion. Aren’t family and neighbors better suited to know when and how to help and persuade their fellow humans than some distant king/president/congressman who exists for little more than to say he is king and in charge? If you are willing to use force to try to make the world run exactly how you want, then, you want to be a king. Call it “what the voters have demanded” or call it “the kings’ will,” it is people taking control of other people’s lives with all manner of excuses about “greater good.” There is no greater good. There are only individual people.

You say we need “some order?” There needs to be “enforcement” of what is right and wrong? Assuming we could agree on what is black and white, the trouble is that as soon as that power is put into the hands of someone, people with less than good motives seek and gain that power. It is sooner or later (usually sooner) corrupted into a force to get done whatever people in positions of power want done. Some people think that since they know what is right for everyone, there should be laws about that. Some people just get a kick out of being able to push other people around. They like being the guard, so to speak. It doesn’t really matter what the laws are, if they are rational, or allow for personal liberty, as long as the enforcers can act the bully when the occasion allows. Granting power of some over others is a slippery slope.

Many Christians fall back on the supposed idea that we are supposed to obey our governments. I discuss this some in this article about what that probably really means in total Biblical context. What is odd to me is that while most Christians I observe are pulling their hair out over the monster that the government is showing itself to be, they are some of the most ready to want to encourage the government to enter wars over news on the other side of the world. It can be very difficult to get a good understanding of something that far removed from our own experience and our own concerns. It’s far worse than being a back seat driver. Too often it is meddlesome with a capital M for murder.

Isolationism is a negative political term given to anyone who thinks Americans (people who are considered citizens of the area known as The United States of America) should mind their own business. I know for a fact it can be hard to learn enough to counsel a parent who wants help training their children, even if they are telling the truth and are right in front of you. How much harder it has to be to gain the necessary insight into all the strife in a country half a world away when your news is from gossips who call themselves journalists and governments with agendas. The idea that if we only had better trained or wiser diplomats is akin to the idea that communism would just work better if Stalin was smarter and nicer. Maybe not as many people would have been outright massacred, but the economics of the country would still have been a mess, leaving people in desperate poverty. Planning by a few for the many does not yield pretty results. Government action by a few in the name of many does not make us all friends or enemies. We living day to day, being responsible for our families, being free to buy and sell, don’t need a diplomat in a foreign country “representing” us. We can do that with freedom of association, freedom to protect ourselves (if the means are not made illegal), and freedom to buy and sell. Would nuclear weapons and other horrendous weapons even be an issue if there were not huge governments competing with each other for possession of the land and families trying to make a living?

Americans easily think of those in other countries as being misled by their government’s propaganda, while thinking that our own is somehow more pure. That is probably the exact same thing the people in those other countries are being told about Americans. It seems that everyone is right about everyone else, but too many people are are wrong about their own country. They will stand up for their “own country” with cult like patriotism. I choose a different option in the survey. I choose to be a humble citizen of nothing other than my own person, building relationships with family and associates in the mode of “love your neighbor as yourself. I hold my God in esteem completely separate from any government system. I often have to follow the laws of whichever country I am in in order to survive, but I choose NOT to pledge my honor and loyalty to a government. I can’t choose the same for you, because the one thing the government cults cannot really change is that we are all free agents to, if we would but, choose to be free.

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