This is kind of a half-assed excuse for spiritual thinking on my Sunday morning, but so it goes.
John Prine has a great song called “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”, the chorus of which, following the title line, says
They’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killing
No matter what the reason for
And your flag decal won’t get you
Into heaven anymore
Obviously, written during Vietnam, just as relevant now in an anti-war sense, and directed at Americans. This morning, however, I’m inclined to note that we in Canada are not heavily involved in military action or militaristic thinking, and yet there’s something about this statement even outside the question of war.
When did patriotism in and of itself become a virtue? I’m not talking about whether one agrees with individual decisions of the government, the general direction of a particular political party, or even the underlying principles on which the nation operates. I mean why is it considered a good thing to have pride in our country, such that the discussion is always framed in terms of “Yes, I’m proud to be Canadian/American, but…” or “It’s not unpatriotic to criticize” and people look at you like you’re a crazy person if you say “Actually, you’re right, I think patriotism is a horrible idea”. The idea of questioning the concept is not on their radar.
Biblically, we are to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but certainly to have nothing more primary than Christ. We’re also supposed to eradicate pride (though I would argue that the way this term has come to be used to counteract shame in marginalized communities is a different concept from the one we’re expected to eliminate) and love our neighbour, with Jesus and the early church defining neighbour in ever-expanding terms. I’m absolutely grateful for the privileges I enjoy as a Canadian citizen, for the political structures that allow me freedom and a measure of personal security, and I take responsibility to be a fully participating member of this society. But I was two when the Charter of Rights & Freedoms came into being, I certainly wasn’t born in 1867 and the accomplishments of Canadian Nobel Peace Prize winners or politicians have absolutely nothing to do with me as an individual.
John Prine’s point stands whether we’re flag-waving about a war or not. At one point he describes someone who puts so many flag decals on their truck windshield, he can’t see a thing and drives it into a tree. The point is obvious in terms of overdoing it, but it’s also saying that, you know, if we’re emphasizing this one material symbolic element as primary, we might actually be unable to see the road that’s spiritually mapped out for us.