As we approach another Independence Day, which most Americans celebrate not with flag waving but with copious amounts of grilled hotdogs and cold beer, I can’t help reflecting on what it really means to be a patriot in the United States at this particular time. I consider myself a patriot, even though I am a proud, godless American, and even though it is nearly impossible in our modern culture to separate patriotism from a belief in god(s).
So, why do I, an atheist, secularist, and skeptic, consider myself to be patriotic? I am a patriot because I believe patriotism is having not just the courage to speak your mind, it’s having the fortitude to let others speak theirs, even when you vehemently disagree with them. I am a patriot because I believe patriotism is found not just among those of us who serve or have served their country in the armed services but among those who gather to protest the things the military is sometimes asked to do. I am a patriot because I believe patriotism is reflected in the actions among those who gather at state capitols on behalf of women’s rights or at benches at city centers to test the limits of free speech zones. I am a patriot because I believe patriots are people who love this country (or what this country could be) even if they don’t assume some vengeful god is ready to punish them for not being a certain type of American. I am a patriot, not because I believe in some misguided idea of a United States that is so exceptional that we have the right and duty to impose our will upon others, but because I love my country for what it COULD be. I am a patriot because of my desire to see our nation live up to its full, fair potential.
It’s been well documented by writers better than I that the American public views atheists, secularists, and even certain religious non-Christians as being unpatriotic so I’m not going to cover what’s already been done. But I say to my atheist/secular patriotic brothers and sisters, as you enjoy your food, fireworks, and parades on routes lined with miniature flags, it’s okay to grab that that little flag, give it a wave, and spend a few minutes contemplating what it means to be a modern, American, godless patriot.