Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time to trot this beauty out again

Jesus, the Political Insurgent?

Decoding the Coders of Christ


The real conspiracy surrounding Jesus is not the cover-up of his marriage to Mary Magdalene, but his theological transformation into the "bridegroom" of the Christian Church (Mark 2: 18-22). Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He was not about dying so that believers everywhere could inherit eternal life, but about liberating the Jews in his land from Roman occupation. His crucifixion was not about resurrecting the dead but about reviving the living. His sacrifice was not about heaven or hell for all people in the future, but about release and renewal for the Jewish people in this life. The great conspiracy is the early Christian Church turning his model of liberation from an oppressive state into one of accommodation to the state.

It is safer today, as in the past, to believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world than to join in seeking to rid the world of political, corporate and military sins that deny other people their birthright of freedom and fulfillment. Safer because many Christian denominations have allowed themselves to be integrated into and "blessed" and co-opted by the ruling status quo. The real deception of traditional Christianity is its reinterpretation of salvation as an individual matter, apart from institutionalized political and economic realities that greatly determine who, in the gospel words of Jesus, may actually "have life, and have it in its fullest." (John 10:10)

Ironically, Jesus himself seems to be the greatest threat to Christian Churches: his risky model of intervention-of speaking truth to power structures and acting it out-on behalf of oppressed persons. This risk appears to partly underlie institutionalized Christianity's most deceptive conspiracy: that of immortalizing Jesus in order to immobilize his dangerous model of liberation. The threat his cross poses as a model is removed by turning it into a monument and worshipping it. Vicarious identification with his struggle may be substituted for involvement in similar, hazardous ethical struggles today. Here the power is in the prayer. The stature is in the statue. The right is in the rite.

The personal appeal of saving one's own soul for all eternity replaces the more caring and challenging commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. A gospel of personal redemption may also protect one from seeing how one's own institutionalized blessings may be another's curse-gained at another's expense.

A further risk for one's neighbor is that a one true and only saviour of the world appeals to insecure persons. Their need for absolute certainty and rightness, and intolerance of ambiguity, differences and complexity, invite and rationalize power over and domination of others. And another conspiracy is born: oppressing one's neighbor in the name of the very person whose mission was to set people free. Such conspiracies depend on rewriting history.

The early Christians' need to transcend the reality of the cross evidently led them to bury history. The historical reality was that the Jews suffered brutal oppression under Roman occupation, and that Jesus was merely one of many messianic prophets crucified Roman-style for political sedition. He was not about dying for the sins of the world so that believers could inherit eternal life, but about seeking to liberate the Jewish people from the sins of the Roman Empire-which had violated their national sovereignty, occupied their country, and crucified thousands of Jewish "insurgents" and bystanders. Belief in the Messiah was grounded not in heaven but on earth: national sovereignty, freedom and peace.

Jesus reportedly saw his mission as having a key political dimension. He was "anointed . . . to preach good news to the poor . . . [and] to set at liberty those who are oppressed." (Luke 4:18) As New Testament historian Paula Fredriksen writes in From Jesus to Christ, Jesus shared a first century Jewish consensus "on what was religiously important: the people, the Land, Jerusalem, the Temple, and Torah. . . . The political situation was of religious concern because," as Fredriksen has "repeatedly noted, Judaism did not draw a distinction between the two spheres: an idolatrous occupying force posed a religious problem." (Second Edition, page 93, Yale University Press)

The occupying power of Rome, in turn, saw Jesus as a political problem, and swiftly crucified him on a cross after his "triumphant" messianic-like entry into Jerusalem at Passover. A foreboding inscription also was posted above his head: "This is the King of the Jews" (Luke 23:38). Jesus' mission was to empower people not gain power over them-another ethical aspect of his model turned upside down through the ages by evangelistic Christian kingdom builders. They and their descendents have claimed to heed the call of a resurrected Christ: a risen Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 16-20) Never mind that The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was a Christological formulation of the early Christian Church created long after Jesus and his disciples had lived.

The early Christians seemed to stand history on its head in order to put a resurrected Jesus on his feet-and give him legs. They transported him from a political to a theological realm in order to survive and flourish in the Roman world.

The Jews believed in a living not a resurrected messiah. The real messiah would deliver them from Roman domination and restore their national sovereignty and freedom. Thus for most Jews, any belief in Jesus as the messiah faded as their oppression continued in the years following his crucifixion. Their ongoing struggle against Roman occupation culminated in a violent insurrection between 61-73, which saw Rome destroy Jerusalem, murder over a million Jews, and made tens of thousands of them slaves and captives. (Christians and Anti-Semitism: A Calendar of Jewish Persecution)

The early followers of Jesus found it safer to dissociate themselves from the Roman-despised and ­persecuted Jews. Safer to reinterpret Jesus' messiahship in theological and evangelical rather than political and institutional terms. Safer to appeal to the Gentiles because the survival of the early followers lay in spreading a Christian gospel to the Romans. The gospel of a resurrected Messiah and saviour of the world. Whose miraculous resurrection proves, rather than negates, his being the Messiah and also the only Son of God. Therefore, his followers hold the one true religion in the palm of their faith.

The conversion of Jesus from Jew to Christian is seen in his dissociation from Judaism and accommodating appeal to the Romans. This distortion of historical reality involves the shifting of blame for Jesus' crucifixion from Romans to Jews. The anti-Semitism in the New Testament is seen in reputedly cruel Roman prefect Pontius Pilate agonizingly sympathetic to a would-be liberator of Jews from Roman domination; in Pilate dramatically washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus' death, even though he alone had the power of life and death over Jesus. (John 19:10)

The distortion of historical reality is also seen in Jews being set up as "Christ killers." A "whole battalion-backed, yet uneasy, Pilate giving in to the "will" of subjugated, powerless priests, elders of the people, and other Jews who repeatedly cried out, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15: 12-16) Portraying the Roman Empire in such a favorable light in New Testament books written 50 to 100 years after the fact, may have advanced the evangelizing of Romans by the early followers of Jesus, but it cast a horrible curse on the Jewish people by putting into the mouths of their oppressed descendents, "His [Jesus'] blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25)

Around 300 years later the apparent conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine led Christianity to not only be recognized, but favored by the state. Finally, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians ended. But not so that of Jews. Their continuing oppression is suggested in Constantine's support for separating the observance of Easter from the date of the Jewish Passover. Calling the Jews "utterly depraved" and "murderers of our Lord," he also wrote, "It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. . . . let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. (Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Vol. III Ch.XVIII [1]) (Constantine 1 (emperor)-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

"We have received from our Saviour a different way?" From Jewish liberator to Christian Saviour. The oppressed Christians were legitimized and accepted by the state, and, in Jesus' name, joined the state in oppressing the very descendents of those he sought to liberate from the state. A similar conspiracy operates in the present.

The counterpart today is readily seen in the self-professed "Christian" who manipulated his way into the White House. President Bush has used religion to disguise and justify America's criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to every man and woman in the world," he told cheering Republican delegates at their 2004 national convention. ( The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004)

The Bush administration's pre-emptive war against Iraq is not about "God" and "freedom" but about lies: Iraq's threatening mushroom cloud-like weapons of mass destruction that did not exist; Saddam Hussein's ties to the horrible 9/11 attacks against America that did not exist; "fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we do not have to fight them here"-so-called "terrorists" who did not exist but do now because of the Bush administration's military aggression against Iraq..

The Bush administration is not about spreading "freedom" but American imperialism, not about "God" "anointing the Iraqi people with "the oil of gladness" (Hebrews 1:96), but about gaining control of the oil under the soil of Iraq, not about rebuilding Iraq but about refilling the coffers of administration friendly Halliburton types. The great conspiracy against the American people is the Bush administration reinterpreting its war crimes against the Iraqi people as an act of "God."

The conspiracy underlying the Bush administration's criminal war against and occupation of Iraq has reached an even more deceptive level. Now unraveling is the cover-up of last November 19's deliberate killing of 24 Iraqi men, women and children civilians in Haditha by US Marines. The apparent Haditha massacre is evidently one of a number of atrocities committed against Iraqi civilians by US troops. These growing horrible disclosures apparently led Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal el-Maliki to "lash out at the American military" in reaction, "denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians." He was quoted as saying the "violence against civilians has become a 'daily phenomenon' by many troops in the American-led coalition who do not respect the Iraqi people.'" ( The New York Times, June 2, 2006) The fact that el-Maliki's government is dependent upon United States military for its existence suggests the severity with which he perceives the "daily phenomenon" of violence committed by American troops against Iraqi civilians

The Bush administration's response to the perceived " 'daily' attacks against [Iraqi] civilians" (Ibid) contains its own deceptive irony. The response became headline news: "US orders ethics training for all its troops in Iraq". The "ethics training" consists of "troops be[ing] taught about military values, Iraqi cultural expectations, and disciplined professional conduct," which includes "the importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield." ( The Boston Globe, June 2, 2006)

If it were about ethics, US troops would not be in Iraq in the first place. This conspiratorial masquerade is not meant to win the minds and hearts of the Iraqi people, but to bolster the flagging support of the American people for a criminal war and occupation that is unraveling. "Ethics training" or window dressing for a corrupt- and corrupting-conspiracy?

The real conspiracy is not the cover-up of Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene but his marriage to the Christian Church-and Christian Churches marriages to the state. It is the corrupting "bond" between church and state that needs to be decoded.

Many Christian clergy often tend not to rock the boat, by speaking truth to power, fearing their own ship won't come in. In institutionalized Christianity, clergy usually get ahead by getting along-which often means going along. Hierarchical structures determine their advancements and thus tend to keep their conscience. You can't have a hierarchy without a lowerarchy.

Similarly, many bishops and other such church executives often tend not to rock the boat, by speaking truth to power, fearing constituents will abandon ship-and not merely Republican church members. The primary emphasis is on evangelism not ethics, on making all people "disciples of Jesus Christ" not doing justice for all people. It is the politics of religion that often keeps religion out of politics-out of risky political issues.

The apparent conspiracy here is turning a prophet into a profit. In other words, a primary characteristic of the successful Christian church leader appears to be the ability to maintain and enhance the institution as it is. Here again the gravest threat to institutionalized Christianity is believed to be Jesus himself-his model of setting the oppressed free rather than evangelizing and oppressing them in his name-or in the name of "freedom."

There are exceptions. One is Jim Winkler, head of United Methodism's General Board of Church and Society, the social action agency of The Church. He recently called on Congress to impeach President Bush, also a United Methodist, for initiating an "illegal war of aggression" against Iraq "based on lies," and contrary to The Church's Social Principles that declare, "War is incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ."

Not surprisingly, Mark Tooley, director of the United Methodist Committee at the Institute of Religion and Democracy, reportedly said Jim Winkler was a front for the "Religious Left," and would make a better "spokesman for a left-wing political action organization like," as he "does not represent the mainstream opinion in the denomination for which he purports to speak." ("Blow-back for Methodist attack on Bush," UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum, June 1, 2006) Tooley himself seems to presume to represent the denomination's "mainstream opinion." Jesus' model of liberation is not about "left" and "right" but right and wrong.

It is time for the bishops of The United Methodist Church especially to follow Jim Winkler's example and speak truth to power more forcefully. Last November, 95 of the bishops signed a "Statement of Conscience" in which they "repent[ed] of complicity in what we believe to be an unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq." They lamented "being silent in the face of the United States Administration's rush toward military action based on misleading information." They confessed "preoccupation with institutional enhancement [italics added] and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die." And their concluding commitment was to "object with boldness when governing powers offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love."

The latest "solution" of the "governing powers" is to offer "ethics training" for troops, whose very invasion and occupying presence in Iraq are violations of international law-and that of any "gospel message of self-emptying love." It is time for the 95 United Methodist bishops to present a resolution to their own Council of Bishops, calling for the censure of their two most prestigious and criminal church members: President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The grounds for their censure are contained in the 95 bishops' own "Statement of Conscience."

Jesus is recorded as teaching that eternal life is not something one inherits but does. It is not primarily about belief but about behavior, just as the truth is reflected in what one does. When a lawyer tested him by asking, "Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?," Jesus confirmed that the two greatest commandments were the way: love of one's god and one's neighbor as oneself. " Do this [italics added], and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus did not say which neighbor to love. Nor specify the neighbor's race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. Which evidently led the lawyer to test Jesus further by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus said any person robbed of life and in need of a Good Samaritan. And there were no proselytizing strings attached. (Luke 10:29-37)

Religion is about seeing through and overcoming conspiracies. It is about setting people free, not imposing sectarian or political beliefs on them. It is about empowering people, not gaining power over them. It is about honoring people in calling them by their own names, and experiencing their reality not interpreting it. It is about loving one's neighbor as oneself. And one's neighbor is anyone-anywhere. Religion is not worshiping what the prophets did but doing what the prophets worshiped.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Big brouhaha in Quaker Theology on this

The Immorality of Patriotism

Tony White

Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity only as we love all other lands. The interests, rights, liberties of American citizens are no more dear to us than are those of the whole human race. Hence, we can allow no appeal to patriotism, to revenge any national insult or injury.

—William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist, "Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention" (1838)

Most take for granted that patriotism is a virtue. We are taught at home, in school, and by the media that love and pride for our country rank among our highest moral duties. We are exhorted to patriotism daily by flags, songs, holidays, monuments, marches, speeches, images, literature, and more that extol the glory of our country. So deeply ingrained is our belief in the value of patriotism that to even question it is taboo. When someone criticizes our personal sense of patriotism—always a ready-made tactic for trashing peace activists—it stings, and makes us very defensive. We think they just don't understand what true patriotism is all about, and perhaps we are moved to buy a bumper sticker reading "Peace is Patriotic."

But is patriotism peaceful? Based on my life experience, studies, intellect, and conscience, I am led undeniably to the conviction that patriotism is immoral: it is selfish and irrational, hinders our judgment, divides the world, contributes to militarization, causes war, and contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

Patriotism is an attitude of favoritism toward "my country" and "my people." If egotism or pridefulness towards oneself is a vice, then patriotism or pridefulness toward one's particular country is likewise deplorable.

Patriotism clouds our judgment; it hinders objectivity and detracts from our ability to assess political situations rationally. Patriotism biases us toward our country's perspective, encumbering our desire and ability to consider outside perspectives. Put briefly, patriotism breeds conformity and closed-mindedness. Furthermore, patriotism makes us overly trusting of those in power over us, and susceptible to abuses of that power.

This is evidenced by what happened after 9/11; the U.S. population was swept up in a wave of feverish patriotism and fell in line with a corrupt agenda. As a prime example, take the U.S.A. Patriot Act—who would dare oppose such a noble-sounding ordinance? Never mind that it involves gratuitous violations of civil liberties; what freedom-loving U.S. citizen does not also love warrantless surveillance, wiretapping, search and seizure, as well as detention and no-fly lists? Clearly, the act was given that title because politicians know the efficacy of patriotism for manipulating public opinion.

Cathy Kaplan

That patriotic propaganda measures are increased during wartime should be reason enough to give us pause concerning patriotism. Notice also how many flags are displayed for U.S. holidays associated with war—President's Day (celebrating Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, both notorious for leading war efforts), Memorial Day, Independence Day (celebrating the day war was declared by the colonists on Britain), and Veterans Day—and how few flags appear on other federal holidays—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (honoring a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize), Thanksgiving (purportedly celebrating gratitude and cooperation between European colonists and Native Americans), and Labor Day. The bond between patriotism and war is not even covert.

I personally experienced the intoxication of patriotism. Right after 9/11 (before I was a Quaker), I supported the Iraq War. I believed that the cause was just. Looking back on it, I realize that I was living in a fog, basing my opinions on fleeting, vague notions. Because I heard something about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), I was able to watch "Shock and Awe" approvingly, naively envisioning the United States speedily wiping out terrorism by force across the world. I cringe when I recall arguing with someone publicly that the United States should ignore the United Nations' caution about entering Iraq.

When it became common knowledge that Iraq had no WMDs or links to 9/11, and that the war was based on lies, I felt betrayed. I also felt guilty for my own poor judgment—how could I have been so gullible? Grappling with this, I eventually saw that I had fallen prey to the stupefying effects of patriotism.

In kindergarten, I learned a mysterious morning chanting ritual in which one robotically pledges one's life to a flag and to one nation under God "invisible" (as my child's mind heard it) with liberty and justice for all. Now I understand what I was saying. And I understand that people, and certainly Christians, should not pledge at all (Matt. 5:34), certainly not to a material object (an idol), certainly not to one particular nation among many, and certainly not to something under God! I also know now that no kingdom save an invisible one (Luke 17:20-21) could truly have liberty and justice for all.

I remember getting emotional about the war song known as the "Star-Spangled Banner." In seventh grade, I even won third place in an essay contest on the topic "What does patriotism mean to me?" I virtually equated "America" with "freedom"—faulty reasoning on which the essay was based and for which I was rewarded.

If egotism or pridefulness towards oneself is a vice, then patriotism or pridefulness toward one's particular country is likewise deplorable.

Many of us are taught in school that "America is the greatest country in the world," while the darker aspects of our history are largely ignored or glossed over. So how could I not view the United States as innocent, and anyone who opposes it as unreasonable and even evil? How could I not assume that whatever the United States does is destined to work and that the President always speaks the truth?

Patriotism divides the world. Anarchist Emma Goldman, in a 1908 speech on patriotism and militarization, said, "Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate." Patriotism separates us from them and builds pride in our us-ness, setting societies against each other under the pretext that to protect us we must be prepared to kill any of them. If all countries are encouraged to be prideful toward themselves, how can we be surprised when war occurs? Further, patriotism has a tendency to result in nativism; for example, in Nazi Germany and in many in the United States who discriminated against immigrants.

For patriotism to be a universal virtue would be illogical. If it were virtuous for every human being to be patriotic toward the same country, then this—while crude—would be self-consistent. But if it is right for the English to be patriotic toward England and the French toward France, then when England and France have a conflict of interest, morality will conflict with itself. Two leaders will disagree and both will be right, and two armies will clash and both will be doing the right thing.

Patriotism is a major factor contributing to militarism and war. Patriotism is the primary force that glorifies combat, and nothing contributes to the propagation of war more than military hero worship. As long as the view prevails that there is no more glorious, honorable, and heroic service than to train to become a killing machine, there will be war, as any leaders who fancy an attack will have legions of glory-seeking yes-men at their mercy. Military hero worship is what makes it possible for a decent person to murder on command in good conscience. Albert Einstein wrote in The World as I See It in 1931, "The greatest obstacle to international order is that monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism which also goes by the fair-sounding but misused name of patriotism."

Patriotism is contrary to the teachings of Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, "You have heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies" (Matt. 5:43-44). In the context of the Hebrew Law, here referenced by Jesus, "neighbor" meant "fellow Israelite," i.e. "compatriot." Thus "enemy," used in contrast to this, would likely be understood to refer to a national enemy. Jesus was demanding that no distinction be made between countryman and foreigner.

Miguel Saavedra

In fact, allegiance to any current government is consent to violence. Governmental power is rooted in violence—in the military, as well as the armed police. No one sincerely committed to the principle of nonviolence can in good conscience give consent to an institution based on military force. We can contrive many rationalizations for the supposed necessity of government, but this contradiction cannot be denied. The United States Constitution, purporting to be the "Supreme Law of the Land," grants the government the power to declare war. But we are called to recognize a different law as supreme—since we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24), let us not be servants of men (1 Cor. 7:23), but let our sole allegiance be to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom not of the worldly kind and so which does not require its subjects to fight for it (John 18:36), for we have only one Master and are all brothers and sisters (Matt. 23:8).

Leo Tolstoy, in his 1896 essay "Patriotism or Peace" (how's that for a bumper sticker slogan!), writes, "If Christianity really gives peace, and we really want peace, patriotism is a survival from barbarous times, which must not only not be evoked and educated, as we now do, but which must be eradicated by all means, by preaching, persuasion, contempt, and ridicule." Further, in "Patriotism and Government" (1900), he writes:

It is immoral because, instead of recognizing himself as the son of God, as Christianity teaches us, or at least as a free man, who is guided by his reason, every man, under the influence of patriotism, recognizes himself as the son of his country and the slave of his government, and commits acts which are contrary to his reason and to his conscience.

If you still have any doubt about the immorality of patriotism, I urge you to read the peace queries in Faith and Practice and sincerely ask yourself whether patriotism does not conflict with each peace query.

The usual rebuttal to the condemnation of patriotism is that some patriotism is bad, but not all; only excessive, imperialistic, blind, narrow-minded, exclusivist patriotism, go the many variations—but not our "healthy" patriotism.

If all countries are encouraged to be prideful toward themselves, how can we be surprised when war occurs?

Patriotism in its purest form—from which all others derive—is the desire for one's country to claim glory and power over all others due to its people's superiority. To say that excessive patriotism is bad, but that there is a "golden mean" of patriotism, is to say that excessively promoting violence is bad, but moderately promoting it is good. Non-imperialistic patriotism still implies acceptance of past imperialism. What country was not founded on or upheld by unjust conquest? And yet we have no reservations in our allegiance. Patriotism itself blinds and narrows our minds; it is essentially a bias. This supposed "clear-sighted" patriotism doesn't exist, unless perhaps for self-interested manipulation of others, because to see patriotism clearly is to see its pernicious implications. If we remove all that is exclusivist about patriotism, nothing remains.

Most will grant that my argument holds in the context of despotism. However, some may object that since our government is a democracy, the right to dissent is its distinctive mark, and in fact, what makes it worthy of patriotism in the first place. It follows that it is our patriotic duty to question authority, and that, as Howard Zinn said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

Given the First Amendment, I can understand why someone might believe that dissent is patriotic, and I used to. However, consider this statement by linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky: "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."

In public discourse, there is a sense that we can disagree as we may, if only in the spirit of patriotism. Thus it seems as though dissent needs patriotism to legitimize it. So while we may dissent on particular issues, a prerequisite is assent to the system as a whole—a system rooted in violence. Each time we patriotically dissent, we buy into this violent system all over again. Perhaps nothing reinforces the violent status quo more than patriotic dissent—it implies that whatever our disagreements, the one premise that even the most radical dissident dare not question is rule by violence.

To break from patriotism may seem shocking and painful. But I dare say that many people in the United States reading this do not really love the United States, though we think we do. What we really love is an idealized version of United States. We love the values of equality and liberty in the Declaration of Independence. But these values did not originate in 1776; they existed long before, and will continue long after the United States is gone. And the actual United States has never really lived up to these ideals. Inequality and lack of freedom were written into the U.S. Constitution with the institution of slavery, and have since continued through various forms of oppression. To this, we might retort that what we love is the tremendous courage and perseverance of the people of the United States in overcoming these injustices. But why give credit to the United States for what resides in the human heart? Have not people from all corners of the Earth exhibited this same spirit? Most great reforms are initially opposed by governments, and thus much of the people's perseverance has actually been through persecution by the United States.

Some assert that patriotism keeps countries together. But why presuppose that this is good, that the status quo ought to be maintained? That this is even offered as a response reveals the depth of our indoctrination, and directly reflects the view that the powerful have always endeavored to inculcate in the masses through patriotism—that whatever upholds the current establishment is good and necessary. If patriotism alone were keeping a country together, it would be an artificial basis propping up an outlived tradition. Political establishments should be maintained only as long as they are just and beneficial. A sound social organization should be able organically to self-persist, rendering patriotism superfluous at best.

If we want to achieve world peace and a form of society not based on violence, the time for change is now. But if we eradicate patriotism, what unifying principle can replace it? One answer is humanism. It unites not a particular group, but all people. If humanism proves too weak a sentiment, let us embrace universal love. This can happen when we realize our connection to others and the underlying unity of all things; when we experience the Divine inherent in ourselves and recognize this same divine essence in others; when, as Quaker founder George Fox wrote, we "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one."

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February 2011

This is a feature article from the
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