From the desk of Sir Jason ...
"Our country: in her interactions with other nations
may she always be in the right, but our country right
or wrong" - Stephen Decatur
"People are different, they like to be different, they
have a right to be different" - Agent Ben-Canaan,
The first quote is sometimes misquoted. Decatur was not saying he would commit himself to agreeing with everything his country did (in fact he said the opposite). What he said was that he would love his country whether it was right or wrong. Loving one's country only when it is right is not love, it is judgment (and given the complication of international affairs, a rather arrogant judgment). Love may prefer merit - it cannot require it. Or rather it cannot require merit to the degree of rejecting the beloved on learning of imperfection.
The second quote (from a rather overrated movie) said something else. It pointed out that we cannot dismiss parochial loyalties out of hand, for they are part of what makes us human.
One instance I read of in a public school provides us with a negative example. Now of course it is easy to find single instances and one cannot say more than a few public schools are like that (though I am often of the opinion that in a divided society they really constitute an "establishment of religion", and in any
case give diminishing returns). In this example, a textbook was examining the tune, "God bless America." It brought up the question of "What would a Swede or a Kenyan think of asking God to bless America, over and above other nations". The answer to this is so easy it gives a sadistic pleasure like that of killing an insect.
One, the Swede and the Kenyan wouldn't care unless they were "trained" in college to be unnecessarily resentful - and they as like as not were praying the same thing for their country (or village in the Kenyan's case). Two: the song does not say, "over and and above other nations". Furthermore the writer was an amiable person who would be happy for other nations to be blessed. And while it is a reasonable inference from the circumstance of the time and the writer's ethnic background, that he desired America to be blessed over and above Germany not even that was mentioned. Three: asking for your country to be blessed is morally no different then asking for your mother to be blessed. And four: preaching what can be interpreted as subversive propaganda in a state sponsored school is rather eccentric.
This feeling is usually called "nationalism" or "patriotism". I prefer to call it tribalism. Not only is it more humble, it awakens an atavistic sort of feeling - it reminds us that we still share things with savages.
The evils of tribalism are well known. Blood-feud, war, genocide, etc. But the evils of fire are also well known. Yet fire has a good side; for it warms and nourishes. Likewise tribalism can make people braver, more generous and more caring than they would be without it.
A classic example of the perversion of tribalism is the Third Reich. What is seldom mentioned is that a great many of those who opposed it were motivated by the same thing. In those days very few fought for "the four freedoms", or "the United Nations." Rather just as Germans fought for Germany, Japanese fought for Japan. And Russians fought for Holy Mother Russia, English fought for The Regiment, Americans fought for America, Poles for Poland, Finns for Finland, Yishuvim for Israel-to-be, Ghurkas for Honor and Tradition, Frenchmen for La Glorie. And Italians didn't fight at all (OK, a little humor here-actually they did better than legend says). And all fought for their comrades. In other words while most may have assumed or hoped that what they fought for was right, that is not what they fought for. They fought for human things like comradeship,honor, and - tribalism. Being tribal is human and we should not be ashamed to be human.
"In God there is no Jew or Greek"?. Even so. But are we God? Is a tree more beautiful because it's roots have withered? Yet that is what those are contending who condemn our tribal instincts. They are trying to make humans into angels to disconnect us from those things that are between the purely animal, and the spiritual, those things that make us uniquely human. However those that try to make themselves angels to often end up making themselves devils instead. For only a saint has enough room in his heart to "love mankind". For most people who aspire to this the result is at best a cold benevolence, at worst a temptation to injustice to individual members of mankind. We are commanded to love our Neighbor. But how can we love our neighbor in that sense, if we cannot love our neighbor next door?
It has not pleased God to reveal himself as the cold distant God imagined by Greek philosophers. In the Song of Solomon, and the Wedding at Cana He sanctified the love of woman. In inspiring the psalmist to write, "Oh how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity", He sanctified friendship. In calling Himself "Father" He blessed family loyalty. In calling Himself King he blessed feudal loyalty. He even blessed esprit-de-corps when he called himself, "The Lord of Hosts."
Likewise He blessed tribal loyalty when He revealed Himself through a small tribe of miserable refugees and commanded them to have their yearly feasts in which they made merry to celebrate, "The deeds of the Lord to his people Israel."
God has warned of the misuse or exaggeration of these impulses. But he also said that they are all blessed in their proper place. The impulse among some Christians to condemn "nationalism" is not Christian, it is Gnostic: it assumes what is "spiritual" is good and what is "material" is bad. Yet the devil is a spirit. And Jesus was a man as well as God.
The Jewish exiles were commanded to pray for the peace of the city they dwelt in. And so should we. For though the tree's roots may seem dirty and grubby, the tree cannot blossom without them.