Questions for Atheists: Are You Patriotic?

Pastor Mike here again:

In the aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a political post. And if this question doesn’t continue my trend of drawing hundreds of comments, I don’t know what will. Here’s what I want to know: as an atheist, do you consider yourself patriotic?

I know this question has a history. For most of the Cold War Era atheism was considered synonymous with Communism and un-Americanism; thus I could understand that many atheists would want to reject to this false stereotype by vehemently asserting their patriotism. However, I want to put a little spin on this question. See, most people who ask whether atheists are patriotic are probably assuming that being patriotic is a good thing. I do not. In my opinion (and this is based largely on my religious beliefs) patriotism is largely a negative and destructive force in the world. For instance, the last two centuries have been the ongoing story of how patriotic nationalism has led to imperialism, war, racial oppression, economic exploitation, and even genocide – and that’s just American patriotism! So when people accuse atheists of being “un-American”, to me that’s a good thing.

So my question is not “prove to me that you’re patriotic enough” but more along the lines of “explain to me how you justify being patriotic”. Given the common humanity of all people that I assume atheists would affirm, is it rational to favor one group of people over another? And since you don’t believe in tribal deities or in a God who would bless one particular nation, is there any reason to suppose that your own nation is still somehow more “blessed” than all the rest?

I’m not assuming that most atheists are patriotic, but if you are, I’d like to know why. Why does it seem rational (and not just pragmatic) to you to be so?

  • Old Beezle

    As an atheist who leans towards Humanist ideals, I support nations that tend to help support those ideals. As long as America does that, then I’m supportive. When America strays from that path, then I hope that my vote is enough to set things aright.

  • Robin

    Absolutely I consider myself patriotic. I love the US, despite its’ faults.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Absolutely I consider myself patriotic. I love the US, despite its’ faults.

    But why Robin?

  • Stephen

    I’m patriotic in that I love America, even though I loathe certain aspects of American society (which I hope will change over time). I think our government is a great system that’s been misused by a lot of assholes over time.

    Patriotism to me means appreciating my country, and appreciating it includes acknowledging its faults. I’m not going to get into those faults, because that’s not what you asked. But what really aggravates me are the redneck and neocon “patriots” who think patriotism means supporting everything the government does (unless a Democrat is in the Oval Office), stopping the Gay Agenda, and keeping the damn Mexicans out. Patriotism in their view means no room for a variety of opinions or viewpoints about things like foreign policy, religion, social values, government powers, etc.; as such, their patriotism is the polar opposite of what America is supposed to be about. It’s just a shame that these people have temporarily hijacked the government, but I have some small confidence that we’ll get back on track sometime in the next 50 years or so.

    I want to serve my country. I was going to apply for the Naval Academy, but I had a spinal operation that disqualified me. Now, being in college, I have multiple paths open to me, but one I’m considering is joining the Foreign Service. I like the idea of serving America’s interests, though naturally, since I’m not an aforementioned redneck, I have no desire to put American interests ahead of other nations’ interests. I’d like it if I were able to promote global cooperation and all that jazz in the Foreign Service, but it’s not like I’d have a choice in the matter; I’d just be pushing the current administration’s agenda.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on too long. To sum up – patriotism is fine, but the negative aspect that Mike talked about, which is often called nationalism, is not fine. I disagree with Mike that patriotism is always bad. But being patriotic doesn’t exclude being considerate of other nations, other cultures, and others’ needs.

  • FNU LNU

    I love my secular Constitution. I cherish democracy. I value our freedoms. Why would someone be wrong to think that this nation is the best on earth?

    My nation may not be perfect (wich one is?), but for me it is at close as it gets. And every day i try to make it better. By my actions (especially by voting) and my words. That is what a patriot would do.

    As an athesit i consider myself lucky and privileged to have been born here.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    I love my country (USA) and despite its flaws believe it is one of the best in the world. I love what this country has accomplished and the diversity of the people, towns, landscape, etc. I’m very lucky to be born and raised in this part of the world. So I’m patriotic in some sense I suppose.

    However, it seems that the definition that Bush Co. has put on patriotism has tainted the word. The “why do you hate America” crowd seems to think that being patriotic means you can’t question the president or his policies/actions. When patriotism becomes blind loyalty is when it can (will?) become dangerous.

  • Tom

    The link between patriotism and nationalism is something I’ve often thought about as well.

    I have to disagree with Pastor Mike on this one. I wouldn’t consider patriotism bad, but nationalism. Too many people don’t know the difference, and therefor think they are being patriotic when they are in fact merely nationalistic.

    A sports analogy helps me on this one:
    Patriotism is like supporting your town’s sports team. Maybe you become a booster, or go out for games. Maybe they need fund-raising. You want them to win and succeed, so you help out.

    Nationalism is like the fandom of the big local team. You don’t play the game. The team is always changing. In fact, it’s rare to have the any members be from the region on the team. Yet you assert to all detractors that “your” team is the best team and you are proud to buy their merchandise and display it on your SUV.

    America has been caught up in a wave of nationalism in recent years. Criticize any aspect of it in your local bar and you will likely get told to “love it or leave it” amid various threats of violence. Everyone seems to have flag on there house or business, but how many people know the proper way to dispose of it when it is old and worn? Many just end up in the trash.

    I would consider “patriotic nationalism” a bit of a malapropism. They are related enough to make that term redundant, but thankfully different. “American patriotism” is just the misnomer for American nationalism. And nationalism, regardless of the country, is always ugly.

    To your point: is patriotism relevant in the atheistic view? In theory, I would say no. Given the choice of living in any country, one would choose the one best suited to their lifestyle. Enjoying the benefits they are best. The technology is cheap enough to hop a plane to Sweden or take a bus to Canada.

    In practice, we are born to the country and culture of no choosing. We are emotionally attached to the people and places we live near. We wish them well and should seek to improve them, otherwise I am not really a patriot, but merely a local fan.

  • http://purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    Honestly, I’m not the most patriotic person, and I don’t feel bad admitting it. I see patriotism as supporting your country merely because you were born there or reside there – even when your country is wrong. I just can’t endorse a country that does so many things that contradict what I believe is right. Why should I support a war I am adamantly against? Yes, I will support the troops, because they are human beings and I care about their lives, but I also care that we don’t go bombing other countries indiscriminately. I just can’t put those thoughts away and start chanting “USA! USA!”

    But I feel the way about sports teams, or high school spirit. I honestly don’t understand why people have a favorite sports team. There’s very little logical reasoning in why you may like the Sox and hate the Cubs (I live in a divided family…sigh) other than that’s the team your parent liked. Seems very much like religion to me. Same with “school spirit.” I could care less if my high school sports teams won or loss, the only exception being if I had a friend on the team. Obviously I’d want them to win so my friend would be happy, but I really don’t care about pride. The only reason I mildly care if my university’s team wins is because I have to listen to every other school gloat about trouncing our ass in football (which to say the least, is annoying). If it weren’t for that, I could care less if we lost every game.

    But anyway, that’s just me. I just don’t see the point in supporting something unless you have some reason to support it. If I support a candidates’ positions, I will campaign for them and be very excited as a whole. But patriotism to me is a blind following, and that is not something that I do.

  • JoshH

    It all depends on your definition of patriotism. In the nationalistic context you’re speaking of, then I must say that hell no I’m not patriotic.

    However, in the context of Howard Zinn’s famous quote (often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson): “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” then yes, I am. I am because I think it’s important to have a “keep the government in check” kind of attitude. If all citizens practiced this, we would be less likely to become the bad kind of patriots–the ones you speak of.

  • James Koran

    Throughout my religious past as a Jehovahs Witness I was called the dead wood of society because I didn’t vote in politics. My reasons for not voting or getting wrapped up in patriotism then are similar to your view as held by your religious beliefs. However, since disassociating from that organization in favor of atheism; I do vote now regularly only because there are many admirable things that I like about this country its people and its constitution and I’ll continue to support it. I realize that my position to vote and be patriotic is arbitrary in the grand scheme of humanity but we are so far from realizing a world free from the negatives of national sovereignty and patriotism. I realize there are many countries that may extend a kinder hand regarding my atheism, however, my life is not defined solely by my atheism. I like the pluralistic framework of the United States of America and I’ll vote to keep it secular.

  • Richard Wade

    My brand of patriotism is not nationalism. I love and support the principles and ideals embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I support the isolated aspects of any country that promote similar principles. Although I am an atheist, if it comes down to it I will put my life on the line to protect anyone’s right to worship as they see fit. I’m constantly trying to help Christians understand that the separation of church and state protects their rights, not just mine. An official national Christian religion would not exactly fit their beliefs and they would not be happy with it. Even if they agree well enough, they would not be freely choosing their faith. That aint faith, that’s a sham.

    Whether or not my country lives up to those foundation principles and ideals is a completely separate matter. I have steadily grown disenchanted and disappointed in our government’s behavior toward any group of people, both domestic and foreign who stand in the way of multinational corporate profits, or at least people who have nothing to offer in terms of profits. Naked greed is the driving force behind our government. Human rights, civil liberties are used as a pawn to gain favor in public opinion. Whenever they conflict with getting the cash, they go in the trash.

    So yes I’m patriotic in terms of the principles and ideals we are supposed to live by. Love the USA? Not unconditionally. Behavior is what makes something or someone real. You are what you do. I’m deeply ashamed of much of what my country has done around the world and that shame comes from my patriotism. Assume America is intrinsically better than some other country? Nope. Follow our Liar In Chief without question? Never, ever.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    My working definition of patriotism is something like, “The act of being supporting of the ideals of one’s country.” I do not follow the working definition that a lot of pickup-truck-with-eagle-on-the-back-window-driving people seem to follow, which seems to be something like, “Listenin’ to Bill O’Reilly and supportin’ our troops who fight fer our freedoms in Eye-Rack.”

    Since I believe that this country was founded on principles grounded in freedom and equality, even though the founders didn’t quite implement those ideals as well as I’d like, I do view myself as patriotic. Some of my patriotic duties are to participate in the government by voting, influence my government by communicating with my elected officials, and by speaking out for good and against evil.

    If patriotism is the pickup truck version, then I guess I am unpatriotic.

  • infideljoe

    I love this country and served 8 years in the Air Force to protect it. For all it’s faults, it’s still the best country in the world. It’s note perfect, but this country learns from it’s mistakes and makes changes (slavery, suffrage). There’s no place I’d rather live.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Mike here we agree on something.

    I think patriotism is too close to nationalism and therefore quite dangerous. Besides, why should I be proud to be an American? I was born here. I didn’t choose to be here. I did nothing to be proud of to be a citizen. And to be honest, lately I am ashamed of, not proud of, my country.

    It makes me cringe every time I see Christian and patriotic bumper stickers on the same car. They always seem to go hand in hand. I hate to admit this because it sounds like stereotyping, but whenever I see those two kinds of stickers on the same car, I can’t help but thinking that the driver is a mindless zombie who just believes whatever his or her pastor and president says is true.

    In my opinion, patriotism is not a virute.

  • Joseph R.

    Mike, I fail to see why and/or how patriotism and atheism are linked. I am familiar with the stereotype of atheism being unpatriotic, but have never understood exactly why. Therefore, I am not sure why your question of “Are you patriotic?” is relevant in this forum. That being said, I will answer your question. I am not very patriotic. I served this country in the Marine Corps for 6 very interesting years. I did it because of a sense of responsibility I have towards our society as a whole. At the time I felt like I should, in some way, serve my country. The military was my choice. I do not regret my decision. You ask several other questions and then toward the end ask…

    “And since you don’t believe in tribal deities or in a God who would bless one particular nation, is there any reason to suppose that your own nation is still somehow more “blessed” than all the rest?”

    Why would you ask any atheist if he/she considers anything/anyone “blessed”? Blessings are not a part of my belief system. That’s about as simple as I can put it.

  • http://americanpessoptimist.blogspot.com/ Sara

    I’m patriotic to the extent that I happen to have been born in America and continue to live here, and unless Huckabee becomes president I don’t see this fact changing any time soon. I therefore wish the best for this country and care very deeply about what happens to it and to the others who share this land with me. Being Native American also causes me to take America’s well-being personally. It is my land, after all. ;-)

  • http://katsudon.livejournal.com Katsu

    At this point, and after a lot of thinking, I’d rather define myself a citizen of the world than a citizen of America. The way patriotism is being defined these days by those accusing others of lacking it – blind nationalism, senseless obedience to authority – I’d rather not be patriotic at all.

    But in a way, I still consider myself a patriot because I believe in the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution, and will speak out for them and fight for them if necessary.

    So it all depends on how you want to define a patriot.

  • Linda Lindsey

    I am patriotic. I love my country even though it’s far from perfect. I have served in the US Air Force and after my enlistment continued to serve the military itself as a civilian for most of my adult life. I do not approve of war or aggression (I’ve been to Iraq and hate what’s going on), but I do approve of strength, readiness and defense. I approve of a military that will deploy within hours of a natural disaster, no matter what country it’s in, and lend a hand and that is prepared to defend the citizens of our own country on a moment’s notice if needed.

    I’ve had the chance to live in several foreign countries and be subject to their laws. Some of those laws made a lot more sense than some of ours. But, some of them didn’t. I could have chosen many times to become a citizen of another country, but, overall, I think we have the right idea in America. I choose to stay here and try to fix the things that I feel are broken.

    I’m a patriot in that I believe in the foundations of our government and will do whatever I can to support them. Including protesting and voting people out of office.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I forgot where I heard this (maybe David Sedaris?) but it’s important to remember that no country’s national motto is “We’re number two!”

    Am I patriotic? When I feel it’s justified. Our country isn’t ranked highly when it comes to health care or education or drug laws. So I’m not about to say we’re the best at any of those things. When it’s warranted, though, I’m proud to be an American.

    The words “Under God” aren’t the only reason I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance :)

  • Siamang

    I think just about everyone here echoes my feelings in one way or another, and said it better than I can.

  • Amy

    Yes, I would consider myself a patriot. I firmly believe in the Enlightenment ideals that the founders used to construct the Constitution. The ideas of science and human rights are as essential today as they were over 200 hundred years ago. While Pastor MIke has pointed out all of the bad things that patriotism has done in the past, I can’t point to a county in the world that hasn’t done so at one time in their history.
    I also believe that being a patriot is essential. If I don’t love my country then I wouldn’t care what happens to it. I wouldn’t want to participate in the democratic process to choose the person I believe would be the best leader. I wouldn’t be up in arms when I believe somebody is trying to distill my rights.

  • Thomas Wood

    patriot, n. and adj.
    A. n.

    I. A person.

    1. a. A person who loves his or her country, esp. one who is ready to support its freedoms and rights and to defend it against enemies or detractors.
    In early use, as in French and Dutch, chiefly with ‘good’, ‘true’, ‘worthy’, or other commendatory adjective: cf. ‘good citizen’. ‘Patriot’ for ‘good patriot’ is rare before 1680. At that time often applied to a person who supported the rights of the country against the King and court. (Oxford English Dictionary)

    Sounds like a contradictory position for anyone to be in. Are “detractors” the same as dissenters? If not than I suppose I am a patriot. I believe in the liberty, justice, and stability of a republic. I believe that the United States was once the exemplar of this most excellent and secular form of government. I also believe that the republic which I am proud to pledge allegiance to has been tarnished by decades of apathy and luxury. Our rise as a world power has made words like “liberty,” “patriot” and “republic” itself ashes in the mouths of even those that use them with evident relish.

    Am I a patriot? Who am I to judge?

    No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. (James Madison, Federalist 10.)

  • K

    I heart Joseph R. and writerdd.

  • Claire

    I do see a link, Mike, although it’s more of an antithesis. I’m not a supporter of either belief or worship, and that’s what a lot of modern patriotism seems like to me: belief in something is essentially what the individual has defined it to be, and in the case of the flag-worshippers, well, the name really does say it all, doesn’t it?

    I consider patriotism with the same skepticism I bring to religion. America (however you care to define it) is too big and too complicated for any person who wants to retain their sanity or self-respect to be able to say “I approve and support it all”. Yet, there are some in this country who worship America the same way they worship their god – completely and unquestioningly.

    The ideals that this country was founded on? Those I support whole-heartedly, and nothing would make me happier than to see our government do so, too, instead of trying to circumvent them.

    It’s also interesting that you bring up the word “tribal”, Mike, because that’s always what patriotism has always seemed like to me – an outgrowth of tribalism. The problem with tribes, of course, is that if there’s an ‘us’, there’s got to be a ‘them’, and of course, there’s got to be ways that we are different from them. Human nature being what it is, it’s only a short step from “they are different” to “they are wrong” and another short step from “they are wrong” to “they must be shown the error of their ways”.

    Would I defend my country if it were attacked? Hell, yes, even small animals will try to defend their homes and families. Of course, there would have had to be an actually invasion by someone who wants to take over, and I don’t remember any of those lately. As you may have guessed by now, I don’t support the war, and frankly, I don’t support the troops either – if they choose to swear to follow the orders of someone like George Bush, they are just as culpable for this mess as he is.

    I know the question asked was “explain to me how you justify being patriotic” and I’m doing the opposite, but sometimes it’s nice to see that someone does think the way you suspect they will. If you think atheists should be skeptical about patriotism, too, well, this particular one is.

    One bit that puzzles me are those who love their country unconditionally and won’t hear a word against it, and at the same time, completely hate the government. Although I don’t suppose it should puzzle me – what’s one more drop of irrationality in that particular bucket?

    Here are my two favorite quotes from G. B. Shaw on the topic:

    Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.

    You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.

    Mike, this one’s for you, just in case you’ve never come across it. It’s from Thomas Paine:

    My country is the world, and my religion to do good.

  • Karen

    I can’t help being patriotic in some sense, such as getting teary-eyed watching our school band (mostly kids of immigrant parents) participating in the Fourth of July parade. I agree with those who said they are devoted to the secular constitution and the Enlightenment ideals of representative government which my ancestors helped put into practice back in Virginia during the Revolutionary War. I wept while visiting Ellis Island and hearing about the hopes and dreams of my husband’s ancestors, who risked everything to come here. So yes, I have a sense of emotional connection to my birthplace and “my people” that I think is a natural outgrowth of our evolutionary past (which doesn’t make it any less real or relevant).

    However, I am definitely not patriotic in accord with the nationalistic “My Country Right or Wrong” or “America Love It Or Leave It” crowd. To imagine that our country is “blessed” by some supernatural power is nonsense to me (and I felt that way as a Christian also, actually).

    Patriotism involves honest criticism when I see things that are wrong (which there are plenty) and working to right those things. That’s the responsibility that comes with being a citizen, which I feel is a great privilege that I never take for granted. I’ve never missed voting in an election where I was eligible, for instance, even the local school board and city council elections. That’s patriotism, to me.

  • http://blog.quentinanthony.com Mandie

    Absolutely not. I might love my country (though I can’t say at the moment I love more than the ideal of the country – which certainly does not represent its current state), but patriotism, in my mind, suggests blind, unconditional love, much like a parent’s love for her child.

    Patriotism seems to me to encourage the same blind faith and willingness to follow as many/most religions. “You’re with us or against us.” Is that line spoken by the leaders of a country, or by the leaders of a religion?

    I cannot hold blind allegiance to a country, a faith, or anything other than my beloved children. I must reserve the right to turn away when those things start to clash with my personal beliefs and ideas. Patriotism does not allow for such freedom of thought, but calls for its countrymen to follow in blind faith.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, I fail to see why and/or how patriotism and atheism are linked. I am familiar with the stereotype of atheism being unpatriotic, but have never understood exactly why. Therefore, I am not sure why your question of “Are you patriotic?” is relevant in this forum.

    I tried to list a few ways in which I thought an atheistic worldview would influence one’s opinions on patriotism. Here’s a few:

    1) Atheists value Reason, thus it makes sense to ask whether patriotism is rational.

    2) Atheists typically say that they base their worldview on science. Science tells us that we’re all part of the same human family. Does it make sense then to let patriotic notions divide up the human family into competing and antagonistic nationalities? Scientifically speaking, is there really an “us” and a “them” in the human race?

    3) Atheists don’t believe in God or gods. One of the justifications for patriotism has often been that God favors one nation over all the rest. No gods, hence no favoritism.

    4) Claire brought up another one, which is that patriotism often takes on the character of unquestioning worship of one’s country based on very few substantial reasons. This would seem to run counter to the skeptical and freethinking mindset of most atheists.

    “And since you don’t believe in tribal deities or in a God who would bless one particular nation, is there any reason to suppose that your own nation is still somehow more “blessed” than all the rest?”

    Why would you ask any atheist if he/she considers anything/anyone “blessed”? Blessings are not a part of my belief system. That’s about as simple as I can put it.

    That’s why I put it in scare quotes. If you prefer, just substitute the word “better” for “blessed”.

  • Vincent

    as an atheist, do you consider yourself patriotic?

    No. As an atheist I do not consider myself patriotic. As an American I consider myself patriotic. My opinion on the very limited question of whether or not there is a supreme intelligent force is completely irrelevant to my love and appreciation of representative democracy.
    In fact I resent the question.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Patriotic? Meh. I don’t have “school spirit” either. I think I’m just incapable of feeling that way.

    I do think it’s cool that tolerance is a cultural value in America.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    No. As an atheist I do not consider myself patriotic. As an American I consider myself patriotic. My opinion on the very limited question of whether or not there is a supreme intelligent force is completely irrelevant to my love and appreciation of representative democracy.
    In fact I resent the question.

    What are your thoughts then on the four reasons I listed above about why I thought atheism might actually be related to this question of patriotism?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Patriotic? Meh. I don’t have “school spirit” either. I think I’m just incapable of feeling that way.

    Yep, that’s pretty much how I am too. I never understood “school spirit”, I don’t root for sports teams, and I don’t understand why I should say that my country is “better” than all the rest just because I happen to live here. It all just seems so arbitrary, and in the case of patriotism, potentially dangerous.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com/ BlackSun

    Mike Clawson,

    I am a globalist. Nations divide, it is only principles that unite. As the song said:

    Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the World, than the pride that divides, when a colorful rag is unfurled.

    To me, patriotism is one of the four false concepts which must fall if we humans are to overcome our pathologies:

    1) God, 2) Country (patriotism), 3) Parents (children’s unlimited respect for, or parents ownership claims on their children), 4) Unfettered Free Will (free of genetic, epigenetic, and circumstantial influences and limitations).

    Dennett discusses the evolutionary origins of our attachment to some of these false premises. Until we look deep into ourselves and our societies and re-evaluate these sentimental notions, we will continue to repeat the same mistakes and our ‘democracy’ will continue to be held hostage by demagogues.

  • Mriana

    I support the Constitution, esp the First Amendment, so I would say I am very patriotic- in that respect though. I don’t go around waving the flag and I could care less if someone burnt the flag. It’s just a piece of material. The Constitution though is an important document which should be preserved and upheld, IMHO. I also vote regularly too, esp in presidential elections. So, yes, I am without a doubt very patriotic. I also strongly defend my right under the 1st Amend. to criticize and condemn the Shrub for his actions too.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I’m certainly not patriotic in the traditional sense. Like others here, I think patriotism often gets equated with nationalism, and I have a tremendous problem with nationalism. And I think it’s absurd to think that my country is the best simply because it happens to be the one I was born into.

    I am patriotic in the sense that many of the principles this country was founded on — such as democracy and freedom of speech — are principles I cherish. But I’m keenly aware of the fact that, of late, my country is failing to live up to those principles in some dramatic and appalling ways. I think there’s a yawning gap between America the theory and America the practice — and in the past few years, America in practice has made me, not just “not proud,” but actively ashamed. (Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and our government’s defense of waterboarding leap to mind.) I’m not going to put on blinkers and pretend that this isn’t true. And unfortunately, that blinkering is how “patriotism” is often interpreted.

    And my love for my country’s ideals doesn’t interfere with my ability to see that other countries have their advantages as well. I’m in the middle of a fascinating book, “The European Dream,” and am coming to the conclusion that many of my values are really more European than American. And I don’t see why the accident of my being born in America should make me dismiss the things — such as health care — that other countries are doing right.

    And none of this has a darned thing to do with being an atheist.

    Except insofar as my beliefs are not clouded by the absurd notion that America as a country is somehow favored by God.

  • Allison

    The way patriotism is commonly used these days? Nope.

    Am I (in a global sense) proud of my country’s ideals, do I wish it well and try to make it (I think) a better country both for those who live here? Yes. I do love the US. Maybe it’s that I’m the child of an immigrant (not a hardcore one — my dad came down from Canada, but he is naturalized). I like it here, despite the flaws. I don’t think this nation is somehow favored over the rest, and I worry that it is in great danger from itself at the moment. I’m ashamed of some of the things our government has done, both recently and in the past.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Here’s what I want to know: as an atheist, do you consider yourself patriotic?

    Your question belies a bit of a continued misunderstanding I think. Most of us don’t do much of anything as atheists. We do lots of things as people just like all other people. We can all give answers why we’re patriotic. A lot of us probably haven’t even really thought about why we’re patriotic, like most people don’t really think much about it.

    It IS a bit of tribalism, really. I wouldn’t likely call myself patriotic end stop because that word can mean so many sorts of different things. But I am proud of my country, in the sense that I think it has a lot to offer and has a core philosophy legal and ethical, that I think is very worthwhile and admirable.

    However, I also agree with your distaste for the extremes of tribalism that patriotism taken too far has brought us. As something of a libertarian, I’m for free trade and even free travel, and maybe someday free citizenship. I don’t think there’s any moral justification for treating people differently because of where they were born, even in most legal issues that are status quo in immigration law.

    I’m not “my country, right or wrong.” I’m “my country: I want it to do what’s right, and I feel responsible for it when it does not.”

  • Siamang

    Greta Christina wrote:

    I’m in the middle of a fascinating book, “The European Dream,” and am coming to the conclusion that many of my values are really more European than American. And I don’t see why the accident of my being born in America should make me dismiss the things — such as health care — that other countries are doing right.

    You bring up an interesting point. Perhaps my patriotism is more based on my knowing the ethics and ideals of our nation’s founders better than I know those of other nations.

    We’ll see how these elections play out.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    To me, patriotism is one of the four false concepts which must fall if we humans are to overcome our pathologies:

    1) God, 2) Country (patriotism), 3) Parents (children’s unlimited respect for, or parents ownership claims on their children), 4) Unfettered Free Will (free of genetic, epigenetic, and circumstantial influences and limitations).

    I assume these are just the deconstructive portion of your philosophy. What is the constructive part? After we rid ourselves of these pathologies, what goes in their place? And what is the end goal? Just wondering.

  • Allison

    Bad wrote this, and I agree:

    I’m not “my country, right or wrong.” I’m “my country: I want it to do what’s right, and I feel responsible for it when it does not.”

    That feels like where I am on the whole thing.

  • Justin

    The fact that atheism is linked in this country with a lack of patriotism is simply another way in which some close minded zealot here tried to attack the non-religious. As far as I am aware no one ever concluded that Russians of the USSR were less patriotic then Americans because of their atheism.(I wouldn’t be surprised if some did claim that a lack of patriotism/god caused the fall of the USSR , since some will conclude they are the same thing.)

    (In a sense you could conclude that Soviets were more patriotic then their American counterparts, since they were beholden to only the state, while the god fearing American had to split himself between god and country. Unless you believe they are one in the same of course.)

    In my opinion this line of thought was brought about by the people who think they have the final word on life and how it should be lived in this country. The same problems we all face today in our blooming theocracy.

    To answer the question as it was posed. My lack of a belief in Gitche-Manitou has little affect on my philosophy on patriotism, except to make me realize most if not all labels are foolish. I am not simply an American or a Caucasian. I am a Human of the planet earth no more or less special then anyone else.

    So I agree with Mike on that issue. Patriotism is a harmful -Ism that should not be a position we strive for. Personally I wish to support ideas and ways of doing things because then are beneficial to all the Humans on earth not just the ones that live in the same imaginary circle of government I currently reside in.

  • Drew

    I am a patriot in the classic sense. I want my country to do Good for it’s citizens, and for the people of the world. When it does not do Good, I do not support it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, thanks to everyone for the thoughtful replies. I’m especially glad to see some of the less frequent commentors coming out of the woodwork for this one.

  • http://crazyrainbowunderwear.blogspot.com yinyang

    I am an American by birth and culture, but I wouldn’t claim ownership of it. I’m interested in American politics and changing the country for the better, but I think I would bring those values with me if I decided to move elsewhere. I cherish many of the principles in the Constitution, but recognize that similar principles exist and operate in other places.

    Patriotic? No, not really. I’ll probably choose to stay in America (unless Huckabee makes it to the White House) out of cultural comfort and knowledge, not because I weighed my options and and deemed America the best country in the world. I’m not even sure people can qualitatively say that any one country is better than all the rest, except in specific issues.

    I’m not much on school spirit, either, despite choosing to drive all the way across town to attend the one I want.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    (First up – for clarity – I’m not American)

    I have no problem with being proud of your country when it’s doing things right. There are many things that I think my country does well, … and many more I think it should do better. (I have travelled overseas enough to have seen a number of other countries and I would not choose to live anywhere else but here.)

    On the other hand, I think patriotism is a major cause of suffering, and I agree with the “refuge of a scoundrel” thing. Patriotism is one of the bases upon which war crimes are built; some other major ones would be racism and fundamentalism. When all three are put together, there’s little hope for anything but evil outcomes.

    Patriotism where I come from tends to me much milder than in the US, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it can be dangerous.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’ll probably choose to stay in America (unless Huckabee makes it to the White House)

    You know, I often hear people say this sort of thing: “If so-and-so gets elected I’m leaving the country”, but do you know anyone who actually did it? Seriously, do any of you know of someone who honestly left the country because they didn’t like who got elected president?

    Just wondering…

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Personally, I think of myself as a global citizen, not just the citizen of some country I happened to be born and live in. So, I’m a global patriot. Of course I’m proud when we do good here in the ol’ US of A. And I’m proud when Canada does good. And Mexico. And so on. But of course every country also does bad as well and deserves to be criticized for such actions so they can learn and do better next time.

    What I don’t like about patriotism is that it seems to encourage us to think of ourselves as somehow better than everyone else. As if we Americans have some sort of special qualities that no one else has which enables us to do such great things. Bullshit. We definitely have certain advantages which not everyone else has. But put those unfortunate people in our place and they’ll be able to be just as great as us.

    To me, the patriotism industry serves two function. First, to keep people from asking questions. Second, to drive the economy, not for the good of the majority of the people in this country, but for the economic elite. So most of the patriots in this country are going against their own self-interest. So I don’t think patriotism is really a good thing for the country. At least not as it is practiced currently.

  • Claire

    Mike, I don’t know anyone personally, but emigration to Canada from the US did increase after the 2000 election.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    As many others have commented here, my patriotisms comes form an appreciation of the constitution with recognizing that the freedoms it contains makes this country a good place to live for the various diverse groups. It seems to me, though, that “tribal” feelings of our country being great just because we were born here is much stronger among religious people. The people I have met from other countries are just as nice and decent as the people from my own country so I can’t logically base patriotism on where someone was born.

    I do, though, tend to root for my college football team… And I have rooted for the my country’s Olympic team (but more so in years past before the professional athletes starting participating….)

    I like what Carl Sagan use to say… A citizen of the cosmos.

  • Darryl

    Yes, yes, blah, blah, blah, we’re all one big global family, of course. But, that’s not at issue with Mike’s question. Actually, I think it’s the wrong question. For me, it comes down to this: will I take responsibility for the U.S. constitutional democracy project? Framing the question as one of loyalty to a ‘something’ separate from me is false: our form of government is a ship that needs steering. Do we want to steer her or not? Do we shoulder the responsibility or not? Do we assent to the principles the founders enunciated? I do. I take responsibility for my country. Of course I support similar strivings everywhere in the world. Americans are not special; our principles are what is special. I don’t know why I took the time to write this; this whole line of questioning is stupid.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Seriously, do any of you know of someone who honestly left the country because they didnâ??t like who got elected president?

    Yes. I have a close friend who moved her family to Canada when GWB got elected. I don’t blame her. I wanted to go too. I’m not sure I could force myself to stay here stay here if Huckabee got elected.

    It’s not a matter of someone I don’t like getting elected. It’s a matter of the whole structure of American secular society and the values of freedom and enlightenment being systematically destroyed.

    Darryl, I think has it right. How long do you stay and try to do your best to fix things when the ship goes off course? And when do you decide it’s a lost cause and abandon ship for your own sanity or safety? How do you know when your country has gone so far off course that there’s nothing you can do as a citizen to fix things?

  • http://psychodiva.blogspot.com Psychodiva

    Sure I am- to the United Kingdom and to England within it :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yes. I have a close friend who moved her family to Canada when GWB got elected. I don’t blame her. I wanted to go too. I’m not sure I could force myself to stay here stay here if Huckabee got elected.

    Do you suppose that your life has been significantly worse in any way because you stayed? Have you been personally negatively affected by GWB’s policies? Have they affected your personal sanity or safety? I’m just curious.

    Speaking for myself, while I am outraged by Bush’s policies, I can’t say that they’ve directly harmed me, at least not in any way that wouldn’t still be true no matter where I lived (e.g. my friends would still be in Iraq even if I moved to Canada). That being the case, I am content to remain here and continue working to make things better (or at least prevent them from not getting much worse).

    So I wonder, what exactly was your friend hoping to avoid or escape by moving to Canada? What was the tangible benefit for her? Again, just curious.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Mike, my friend doesn’t have to puke every time she watches the news, she doesn’t have to be part of a country that makes her embarassed every day to admit that she lives there, and she doesn’t have to cringe every time she has to pay taxes.

    Your question could have been asked to many people in Germany before WWII and they would have said their lives were still fine. Now I’m not saying that America is becoming Nazi Germany, but who knows what it will turn into if the current trends continue? I find it very disturbing.

    You don’t have to worry about it because you’re a Christian and a man and probably white. I’m a godless atheist. I am also Jewish. I am already worried about when my rights will be revoked by a president who doesn’t think atheists should be counted as citizens and by a congress who is willing to pass such retarded laws as the one Hemant recently posted about or by a newly elected president who thinks that freedom requires faith.

    I’m also a woman and I am concerned about other women who live in ass-backward states who have no access to abortion and who are have pharmacists who refused to fill their contraception perscriptions and who get raped and go to hospitals where doctors refuse to tell them about emergency contraception. I worry if abortion would be accessible to me if I got raped or accidentally got pregnant.

    I also worry that I could be a target of illegal government spying because I frequently call and email people in Europe and other parts of the world, and I criticize the president and this country frequently and publicly. I am not afraid of terrorists. I am afraid of my own government and that is very, very wrong.

    I am paying taxes for an illegal war that I don’t support and to give money to unconstitutionally support “faith based” charities that promote ideologies that I frankly find repulsive and immoral. The costs of my health insurance has skyrocketed and I have had trouble perscriptions filled. The economy sucks, I am effectively making less money than I was 10 years ago, but the Bush administration says everything is great because corporations and rich CEOs are doing fine. And what little money I do have isn’t worth shit in Europe, so my ability to travel or to move overseas is curtailed.

    Yes, my life is already worse.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Good points writerdd (I keep forgetting your real name, though I’ve heard it several times… sorry). Thanks for clarifying.

  • Cade

    I’m becoming more patriotic now that the elections are coming up. This is the first election that I’ll be able to vote in, so I want to be informed.

    I see myself as patriotic in that I want to be involved in the discussion of where the country is going and try to have a say. “the Assault on Reason” made me realize that it’s our responsibility as the governed to be informed and to make educated decisions.

    Your definition of patriotism seems to me to be simply blind support for whatever the government does. I see that as very unpatriotic. If we don’t continually check the government, it’s bound to take a turn for fascism sooner or later, and that’s the worst thing you can do for your country.

  • fusion duelist

    I don’t think that I’m especially patriotic, but I think the USA is a good place to live.

  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    This atheist is proudly anti-nationalist, and for pretty much all the same (secular) reasons that Mike Clawson gave. The world would be a better place without patriotic emotion.

  • Rasmus Paulsen

    I’m from Denmark, so I’m only able to speak from that point of view, but since I’m an atheist and live in a nation state patriotism is an issue for me to, I guess. From where I stand Denmark sucks these days. We have a right wing government whose parliamentary base is a radical right wing party bordering outright fascism. I simply cannot indorse that kind of idiocy.
    But when it comes to civil liberties and freedom I’m all for it. I don’t love my country as such, and I’m not a patriot, but it could be a great place. And for that I’m willing to fight (vote).
    A couple of years ago the borderline fascists tried to outlaw the burning of our flag. I think that is a great blow against the democracy I love. I want to be able to burn my own flag, gosh darn it. If I can’t do that, then whats the point? It things like that (and our behavior towards refugees) that makes me ashamed of telling foreign people that I’m from Denmark. It did not use to be like this.
    My point is, I think, that nationalism is easily confused for patriotism, and vice verca. So it’s prolly best not to dabble with either. It’s nationalism that have brought Denmark to the sorry state it’s in at the moment.
    Just fight for your ideals and freedom. And burn a flag if it needs to be burnt (your own that is. No good comes of burning other countries flags).

  • http://haveyarnwilltravel.blogspot.com/ Sherilyn

    I’m patriotic. I am not nationalistic. There is a difference.

    I may not always feel at home here, but I love the country of my birth. When 9/11 happened I was living overseas and had a rather startling urge to go “home”…to be in the States. To commune with my fellow Americans, as cheesy as that sounds. Of course, that wasn’t practical, and I didn’t do it, but I am an American and will always be one, even if I have given some thought to the idea of moving to Canada if Huckabee or Romney get elected. I’m afraid DH wouldn’t go for it, though, and I’m pretty sure his company wouldn’t pay us to live 3,000 miles away. I often felt more at home in Europe, but a part of me belongs here. I do not think we need to fly a flag from every corner and I don’t have a big problem with flag-burning, but the national anthem makes my heart swell and I root for the USA every two years in the Olympics. I also root for individuals from other countries, but I like it when Team USA wins.

    However, I don’t value my country above other countries or think we are intrinsically better. I recognize that many other countries have superior systems for dealing with various things. I love to travel and recognize that we Americans are not the Be All End All. I certainly don’t think we are God’s gift to the world or that some sky daddy prefers our country above all others.

  • terri

    I agree with FNU LNU:

    I love my secular Constitution. I cherish democracy. I value our freedoms. Why would someone be wrong to think that this nation is the best on earth?

    There are so many places where we could never have this discussion. And while there are also many places that we could have it, very few of them are less than 250 years old.
    Yes, we have issues. But really – our economy ain’t bad, we have a high rate of mobility (greener pastures), and if you are patient and willing to work hard, most of us can make a better life. We’re free to dissent, to complain, and to make what we think is a better country. As such things go, this is a country of great freedom and good works, and a lot of potential. Sometimes I think the population focuses so much on “us vs. them” only because we don’t have bigger issues; consider how we come together during times of crisis…

  • Jen

    I tend to think I am not patriotic, though I do really like where I live. This may be because in my mind, “patriotism”= chanting “USA USA USA!” anytime Bush does anything. This is probably not fair; however, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around a way to make “patriotism” a good thing.

    I like living in America, for the most part, but I think that is more about the devil I know. Every so often on my feminist forums, they will post a story about, oh, honor killings in Asia or dowries in India or something anti-feminist in another culture. Someone will inevitably write, “See what happens in THOSE countries, where they hate women” and then twelve people will jump down their throat, pointing at all the terrible, terrible anti-feminist stuff happening in America. It’s easier to ignore and forgive a culture you are surrounded by than one you don’t understand. Therefore, every day I think I am lucky to live here where I have X or Y, I have to remember that every ugly bit of homophobia, institutionalized racism, sexism, etc, it merely the tip of the iceberg, and that we are no more ‘civilized’- whatever that means.

    I do love the Fourth of July, though.

    And I agree with Jennifurret. I really don’t understand loving sports teams. Whenever someone claims to be a fan of a team, I want to ask them why, when last year it was a different group of people than this year and next year. Sometimes I have tried to ask questions along these lines, and I think some people are much most hostile towards questioning their love of a team over any sort of religious question I could dream up.

  • Vincent

    MikeClawson said,

    No. As an atheist I do not consider myself patriotic. As an American I consider myself patriotic. My opinion on the very limited question of whether or not there is a supreme intelligent force is completely irrelevant to my love and appreciation of representative democracy.
    In fact I resent the question.

    What are your thoughts then on the four reasons I listed above about why I thought atheism might actually be related to this question of patriotism?

    1&2 are simply non-sequiturs or gross generalizations. They are not part of atheism. They may be paths to atheism, but that is all.
    3 doesn’t say anything about atheism, merely points out some wacky ideas held by some theists and therefore is irrelevant. 4 points out one of the problems in this discussion, which is what is meant by patriotism (again having nothing to do with atheism other than that skepticism can lead to atheism).
    To me, patriotism is the same as pride.
    If you achieve a great thing, like win the nobel prize, or get into the college of your dreams, then you should be proud of your accomplishment. You should bask in the glow of doing something good. Patriotism is taking pride in the good things your nation has done and the good principles it embodies. Our constitution embodies great principles. We should be proud of them, but we should not fold into our acceptance the actions taken against those principles. Patriotism means we should strive to keep those principles strong, reject arbitrary justice, cruel treatment, etc. and support human rights.

    To sum up, patriotism is pride in one’s nation and taking part in keeping it worthy of that pride. The question of theology just isn’t relevant.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    I beleive that atheism and/or religious belief should have no bearing whatsoever on patriotism.


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