Patriotism properly defined

Posted on 01/17/12 28 Comments

I have enjoyed my discussion with Paul Manata. My critique of the name of a sports franchise that happens to be in Cleveland Ohio has unleashed from Paul a torrent of labels like race-baiting and liberal, all driven by his own projections of my psychological state and political inclinations (projections about which he was refreshingly candid, even if they were all nonsense).

Unfortunately discussions like this often tend to fracture rather quickly and go off in countless different directions. So before leaving the topic behind I’d like to close with an illustration and a final reflection.

Texas Illustration

Let’s say that I read an essay online critiquing the oil sands in northern Alberta, a massive development just a few hours drive from my home and a massive economic force in the province. The essay laid out a case that the oil sands are a complete environmental disaster, they are ruinous for the watershed, wildlife, and the climate, not to mention the millions of gallons of freshwater that are wasted extracting petroleum from the bitumen. I conclude that the arguments of the essay were strong enough that I shall have to rethink my sanguine view of the oil sands.

Then at the end of the essay I read that the author is an American living in Houston, Texas.

How should the discovery of the nationality and place of residency of the author feed into my assessment of the overall worth of the essay?

If I were Paul Manata, I suppose I should respond like this:

“American? Texas? Deep Water Horizon? Why don’t you clean up your own backyard first buddy!”

Alas, that would be an absolutely foolish response. My assessment of the essay and the arguments contained therein should be completely separate from the nationality and place of residence of the author. Those things don’t matter. What matters is the quality of the argument.

I have no problem with Paul Manata contending with my arguments. But he hasn’t been content to do that. Instead he has repeatedly insisted on criticizing me for not sharing his nationality or living in his country. To call that kind of response a red herring is to slander the poor fish.

Closing reflection

This is where I turn to my closing reflection. About twenty years ago I read Jacques Ellul’s classic book The Presence of the Kingdom (originally published, as I recall, in 1948). In the book Ellul argues that Christians have one primary allegiance. It is not to a nation state, not to a political party, and not to a social movement. Instead, it is to being a disciple of Christ who labors to see God’s kingdom of righteousness come in its fullness. This will potentially involve the participation in various nation states, political parties and social movements. The disciple is wonderfully pragmatic about those affiliations. To the extent that he sees the kingdom being realized in a particular nation state, political party or social movement, he commends it and seeks to perpetuate it. To the extent where he does not he is a critic of it. His voice is no less legitimate if he happens not to be a member of the nation state, political party or social movement in question. All that matters is his commitment to the kingdom and the quality of his arguments seeking to demonstrate that the nation state, political party or social movement is or is not in accord with the coming kingdom.

It is for this reason that I simply do not share Paul’s flag-waving mentality. I am a citizen of Canada by historical accident and I hold that citizenship lightly. I criticize that nation, its political parties, and its social movements as surely as I do those of any other. And I welcome criticism of it both from those who live within the nation and those who do not. If  an American or a Brit or a Korean has a good critique of the oil sands, or Canadian healthcare or the seal hunt or hockey or anything else I want to hear about it.

And what about patriotism? I do not count patriotism a bad thing in itself. But I think we must all hold our national ties lightly, for the idol of nationalism is a perennial one in the Christian tradition and indeed among all people. So let us be patriots, but only to the extent where that patriotism serves our fundamental commitment to the kingdom of God. And always remember that a true patriot is always open to criticism of the nation in which he lives (or any institution or movement or practice within that nation) regardless of where that criticism originates.


  • The Atheist Missionary

    Randal wrote: It is for this reason that I simply do not share Paul’s flag-waving mentality. I am a citizen of Canada by historical accident and I hold that citizenship lightly. I criticize that nation, its political parties, and its social movements as surely as I do those of any other

    Randal wrote on a previous thread: I welcome criticism of my government and national culture (to the extent where a national culture exists which, as any Canadian will tell you, is doubtful).

    Randal views are … well … typically Canadian. It is amazing that we share a continent with a population whose views are generally so disparate from our own.

    If a Canadian politician made either of the following statements, they would be pilloried by the media and the voting public:

    “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American Left who hates Christendom. … What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.” Rick Santorum, February 22, 2011.

    God did not create this country to be a nation of followers,… America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers Mitt Romney, October 6, 2011.

  • Ray Ingles

    “Patriotism does not mean that you think your country is perfect, or blameless, or even particularly likeable on balance; nor does it mean that you serve it blindly, go where it tells you to go and kill whom it tells you to kill. It means that you are committed to keeping it alive and making it better, that you will do whatever seems necessary (up to and including dying) to protect it whenever you, personally, perceive a mortal threat to it, military or otherwise.” – Spider Robinson

  • Jared

    You would tolerate someone criticizing Hockey? How can anyone criticize hockey? I’m pretty sure Hockey is the sport we will all be playing in Heaven – it’s in the Bible somewhere I’m sure … around the middle. The perfect sport: aside from the concussions I mean…

    But 1948 was a good year for books. For me, Presence was a watershed book that helped me crystallize big parts of my theology. But as I reflect on it I think about the tendency (particularly) American Evangelicals have had to take the ideas espoused in that book and turn it into another flag to wave at nationalistic rallies.

    (search Christian flag in Google for images)

    All of a sudden the symbol of Kingdom nationalism looks an awful lot like American nationalism. All of a sudden pledging allegiance to the cross sounds an awful lot like pledging allegiance to the flag.

    That there are literally thousands of Churches across the US (My wife’s Home Church in Chicago being one) makes me sad.

    • star2


      The middle of the Bible is Ps 118:8

      “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”

      • Jared

        Couldn’t agree more.

        I just get nervous when human endeavors try to take the place of God centred endeavors.

        • Jared

          Err… – were you just pointing out what the middle was (in reference to my Hockey line) ? If you were, my bad. It’s really hard to glean intonation from a blog comment.

  • Morrison
  • PM

    I see your content to misrepresent and caricature again. I’ll respond later with more concrete criticisms. You’re simply either unable or unwilling to understand and grapple with the real elements of my arguments, of which there were many. I cannot understand the accidental or purposeful obtuseness. More than that, your one-size-fits-all approach here is very naive and not representative of your other stated positions and approaches to subjects. You don’t make room for disanalogies. Hence, for you, my comment about the practical rationality of a Canadian picking on an American pastime by grasping at straws and struggling to find klansmen hiding in Major League Baseball, and hiding deep inside each and every American who watches and supports alleged nefarious teams is analogous to Texan writing a scientific paper pointing out (per stipulation) obvious scientific facts about some section of the earth in Canada. I’ll respond more later.

    • randal

      Paul says that I “caricature” and then he accuses me of “struggling to find klansmen hiding in Major League Baseball.” Nice.

      Your final bit of bluster is absolutely mystifying. You seem to think I was comparing the Texan writing a critique of the oil sands to Americans watching baseball. Um, no Paul. Your rage has blinded you. I was comparing the Texan critiquing the Canadian oil sands to the Canadian critiquing the name and logo of a baseball team.

      As you admitted to me, your critique of me was rooted in your own arm-chair psychologizing about my internal mental dispositions. As any court would inform you, you are not a credible witness to testify to my internal mental disposition, not least because I’ve never met you.

      So take a deeeeeeeeep breath, and then breathe it out slowly in rhythm with the cascading flow of a Zen waterfall that you’ve drawn in your mind’s eye.

      Then, when you’re calm, perhaps you will be able to respond to what I wrote here. Do you agree with Ellul? And as for the analogy, if you agree that a Canadian shouldn’t psychologize a Texan he doesn’t know and should instead restrict himself to the content of the Texan’s essay, why shouldn’t an American like yourself refrain from psychologizing a Canadian you don’t know and instead restrict yourself to the content of the Canadian’s essay?

      • PM


        I did not “think I was comparing the Texan writing a critique of the oil sands to Americans watching baseball.” Other than that, I have no rage. But you appear blind. Notice I related:

        “Canadian picking on an American pastime”

        to a

        “Texan writing a scientific paper”

        You can’t be this dense in real life, or can you?

        And, yes, I psychologized you. You have a paper trail. You fit a certain type. I made an inductive generalization. I’m not going to apologize for it. Name-calling and making non-sequiturs about never meeting you won’t scare me. More than that, charges of *racism* depend on access to the internal mental state of the accused. You don’t have access to our mental states over here. You based your judgment off public, observable facts. The only difference between you and me is that I think my charge fits, your charge doesn’t and is a product of your hypersensitized sense of duty to “defend” people who don’t need or want your defense.

        Now, apply your Zen advice to yourself.

        Now to your analogy. It’s disanalogous. First, my point which you haven’t dealt with had to do with practical or means-end rationality. You’ve ignored this point. Second, the situations are wide of the mark. Now, if you had tried to be honest and claimed that the Texan starting morally degrading Canadians, and pointing out the hidden earth-raping sexual sadism hiding in plain sight in Candada,” then this Texan would be a doofus just like you are.

        Again, I don’t buy your charge of racism. I don’t and neither to a large majority of Indians. In fact, my wife is Cherokee, and she laughs at you. You can sit all high on your moral highground and convince yourself that you’re bringing in Jesus’ kingdom of righteousness (because you’re a theologian of glory, not of the cross), but the air up there is thin and you get delusions of grandeur very easily. Other than that, you’re so high that you can’t see or here the plebes laughing at you below your feet. About Ellur, it must be nice to claim you have no political allegiance and only need to bring in the kingdom of righteousness which, ironically, matches leftist ideals! So when you stump for political agendas, you simply claim they’re “kingdom” agendas. Nice. You may not see through this, but others do.

        You stand up for “Indians” but not “Vikings.” You pick on America, but not Canada. And you do it all behind atrocious arguments. Now, why don’t we end this so you can go and pound your chest and thank God that you’re not like me, a ignorant, beer swilling, racist American. I have better things to do, like gear up for Conference Championships, where among other things, I’ll hopefully catch a glimpse of the cartoonish patriot running around like a buffoon with his musket and his pasty white skin, no doubt done to caricature gun happy white people. I am offended!

        • randal

          “if you had tried to be honest and claimed that the Texan starting morally degrading Canadians, and pointing out the hidden earth-raping sexual sadism hiding in plain sight in Candada,” then this Texan would be a doofus just like you are.”

          Yes, that’s what I was doing. Yup.

          “I don’t buy your charge of racism. I don’t and neither to a large majority of Indians.”

          As I pointed out, the percentage of a population that believes an image is offensive isn’t directly relevant to the question of whether that image is, objectively, offensive. If 70% of women believe pornography is not offensive, that is irrelevant to the moral assessment of pornography.

          “You stand up for “Indians” but not “Vikings.””

          I provided three reasons why which you’ve simply ignored.

          “You pick on America, but not Canada.”

          I already explained that critiquing the name of a sports franchise is not “picking on America” anymore than critiquing the name of a sports franchise is “picking on Canada”. There is a sports team in Ontario (Canada, not California) called “The Rippers”. Their logo clearly alludes to Jack the Ripper. It’s a distasteful name. Any person from any nation can critique that name without “picking on Canada”.

          Finally, how come you don’t include your smiley face emoticons anymore? You used to pepper them liberally in your posts. But now they’re all gone. Surely that doesn’t mean the goodwill is gone with them? :(

        • randal

          By the way, one could certainly make a good case for you fitting a certain type, the type that starts with the image of a pickup truck rolling down a dirt road cranking Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”. But then where would that get us? My psychologizing you into a certain preconceived type (e.g. gun totin’ nationalist redneck) would be as useless as your psychologizing me into your preconceived type (e.g. pansy bleeding-heart liberal).

  • Grady

    All this talk by men who have never faced an enemy in combat.


    • randal

      What relevance does fighting in a war have to this discussion?

    • PM

      I’m a Desert Storm vet, you moron.

      • drwayman

        Thanks for your service to our country.

  • drwayman

    Dr. Rauser, I thought you might be interested in this…

    Headline: New school can’t be Cougars because middle-aged women might be offended

    “Still, the Canyons School Board refused to accept the Cougar as a mascot out of fear that it might offend older women. In the current edition of the Webster Dictionary, the second definition for cougar sights a slang terminology that refers to “a middle-aged woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man.””

    • randal

      Does that mean “The Golddiggers” is out of bounds too?

      • drwayman

        I would think so. LOL

        • randal

          I don’t think the PC brigade has thought this through. If this were carried to its logical conclusion even “The Sugar Daddies” would be considered taboo. What kind of world do we live in?!

          • PM

            I was going to post that article! It’s the ultimate reductio for Rauser.

            And, Dr. Rauser, :-)

            There’s a smiley face for you. My good will isn’t gone. I just thought we were putting on our cowboy boots and showing how tough we were int his one. After all, I think it was you who began with a slam that my arguments’ were bad and “beneath me.”

            • PM

              Oh, and I thought I did respond to your reasons. Anyway, here’s one: my forebears were mistreated here. The Italians have a good, long period of discrimination. See here:


              We were put into internment camps in WWII. This happened in Canada too.

              Now, will you please post a blog critiquing Godfather’s pizza, the Jersey Shore, mafia films and tv shows, and all the other stereotypes? For example, I had to watch the show Friend’s with my girlfriend a long time ago. Joey filled the “Italians are sweat but dumb” stereotype. The same “lovable idiot” stereotype was with Joey from the show Blosson. Then, there’s Tony from Who’s The Boss. I could go on and on: Vinnie Barbarino, etc., etc., etc.

              Next, we have the “violent” stereotype. Telling people you’re gonna give them “concrete shoes” is a popular saying. Also, there’s those tank tops that are called dego- or guinnea-tees.

              Then, look at shows like Growing up Gotti, Real Housewives
              of NJ. Or even Mona Lisa Vito’s character in My Cousin Vinnie.

              Of course, we have the “Italians are womanizer” stereotypes. They’re often called Casanovas. Or take Rudolph Valentino. So Hollywood runs with the image of the womanizer. Take this line from the movie The Godfather:

              “She was beautiful, she was innocent, she was the greatest piece of ass I’ve ever had, and I’ve had it all over the world. And then Johnny Fontane comes along with his olive oil voice and guinea charm and she runs off. She threw it all away just to make me look ridiculous.”

              Of course, this womanizer theme is ubiquitous, e.g., the Fonz (Happy Days), Tony Banta (Taxi), Tony Miceli (Who’s the Boss), Vinny Barberino (Welcome Back, Kotter), Joey Tribbiani (Friends).

              Or, just a couple of years ago, Jeremiah Wright sad Italians look down their “garlic noses” at Galileans.

              Let’s not forget what the founder of the Guardian Angels said: “”The Italian-American Museum in Little Italy? What the hell is that? I mean, what do you need an Italian-American Museum in Little Italy for? Plus, what do we need to be spending federal tax dollars? You go to the Italian-American Museum, you make a contribution. Or, you have an enforcer there from the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo, Bonanno crime families who forces you to pay a contribution?”

              Or, how about the campaign ad against Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi used the theme of The Sopranos as background music.

              Or what about what NY state senator Greg Ball said in 2011 about one of his opponents: First, let’s be honest, he is an Italian American. I would like to see it get done, and also he is going to have a tough time in the southern and western primaries”.

              Other than this, when people get excited or make a good point I have to hear them say, “Badabing!” On top of that, whenever a sports team, especially a NY or Chicago team, beats a team someone likes, I know I’ll here, “Oh, they got the mob to pay the refs off.”

              Or, look at this San Francisco news article where it was reported that an Italian took offense at a mob joke about payoffs. Then, the *newspaper article’s author* ends the article this way:

              “Irish jokes, French jokes and Canadian jokes may still be told with impunity, mostly because those cultures don’t boast of scary-looking men in expensive suits . . .”


              I can go on and on.

              So, this plea for your help is based on one of your reasons for why we shouldn’t name sports teams the “Indians.” I think it just shows, again, how lame and stupid your argument is, but if you want to be consistent, please post a blog defending Italians.

              I am offended at my mistreatment. I am offended that you would watch mafia movies and not blog about them in my defense. I am offended that you don’t complain about the Joeys and Vinnies from the tv shows. Offended! Whoa is me, my people were heavily discriminated against, beaten, quarantined to ghettos, put in internment camps, and now we have to sit by as politicians, the media, Hollywood, and the general populace subtly mock Italians.

              And *this* is why your argument is stupid. I actually don’t give a crap about this. Just like the vast majority of Indians don’t. But, hey, “wrong is wrong,” right, Randal? There now you have your new “cause.”

              Oh, and :-) :-D :-P ;-)

              • randal

                “We were put into internment camps in WWII. This happened in Canada too.”

                I’m very familiar with the Japanese internment camps (but not the Italian ones which apparently were carried out on a much smaller scale). In fact, I mentioned the evil Canadian internment camps in the blog a few days ago.

                “So, this plea for your help is based on one of your reasons for why we shouldn’t name sports teams the “Indians.” I think it just shows, again, how lame and stupid your argument is….”

                Paul, I am really happy with these comments because you have dropped the irrelevant discussion of my own nationality. My critique of racial stereotypes in sports franchises may be legitimate and it may not be, but my nationality is irrelevant to the assessment of those arguments.

                I will respond to the rest of your comments in a blog post.

                • PM

                  Randal, for the umpteenth time, I have never suggested that your nationality is relevant to the arguments in the way you’re suggesting. You took one sentence and ran with it in an absurd direction. I still defend that sentence in the sense I used it and meant it.

                  And I don’t want you to “respond” to my comments, I want you to defend Italians and lambast The Godfather and Joey from Friends and people who blame the mob for bad referring. Do you know how bad it hurts to be an Italians!?

            • randal

              No my ultimate reductio is a lake in northern BC named “Chinaman Lake” which the PC police tried to get renamed because of its racial insensitivity … until they discovered that it was named after a First Nations chief (alternate spelling “Chunaman”). Your reductio is putting on blackface and telling your African American neighbors to get over it.

              • PM

                No, I just have Thomas Sowell tell them that :-D

          • drwayman

            Then there are music groups. Don’t even get me started on those: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Insane Clown Posse, Accidental Goat Sodomy, Albino Toilet Boys, Bozo Porno Circus, Cycle Sluts from Hell, Drew Barrymore’s Dealer, etc.

            Offense in that arena is rampant.

            • randal

              I was in high school when 2 Live Crew had their moment in the sun. I’ll never forget one of those idiots wearing an American bandana and appearing on Donahue as an advocate for free speech. That posturing was even more offensive than their lyrics and show.