Writer Samuel Johnson once said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” To be fair, he wasn’t criticizing love of one’s country, he was criticizing so-called “false patriotism,” which was really a cloak for self-interest. By calling a selfish or aggressive act “patriotic,” it somehow becomes heroic. It’s an appeal to emotions in order to distract people from the facts and to stifle dissent–for fear of being labeled a traitor. How this differs from “true patriotism,” I’m not really sure, because in my mind, patriotism is always an expression of self interest–my country above all others.
In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, one of the characters paraphrases this statement by saying, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I might paraphrase it further to say, “Violence is the first refuge of the incompetent.” But whether tried first or last, resorting to violence is always an admission of defeat–even though it’s often portrayed as an expression of power.
Which brings me to white evangelicals. According to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals in America report significantly stronger feelings of national pride than any other religious group (68%). They are also “more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84%).” When you pair this with the 2009 Pew Forum study that found 62% of white evangelicals say torture can often or sometimes be justified, this paints a pretty disturbing picture.
As I noted in a previous post, as long as white evangelicals continue to conflate their faith with their country, their primary concern will be security. And if security–self-preservation–is your primary concern, all of your actions will be inherently self-interested. That’s why white evangelicals are both patriotic and violent. It’s a natural and logical expression of manifest destiny.
Unfortunately, as Johnson and Asimov point out, it is also an expression of unscrupulous incompetence, which is why it is most certainly doomed to fail–but not before it hurts a lot more people.