Rev. Thomas Reese on Patriotism, Nationalism, and the American Dream

Fourth of July fireworks over Washington. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The Fourth of July is a joyous summer celebration with fireworks and lots of food, an opportunity to have fun outdoors with family and friends. It is also a celebration of America, the land of the free. It is our most patriotic feast.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s, patriotism was uncomplicated: America was great and good; our enemies (fascists and communists) were evil. We had leaders we looked up to: Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy.

The civil rights movement taught us — we who were white and middle class — that in fact all was not well in America. Poverty and racism sickened our nation in ways that we had conveniently ignored. Everything was not beautiful. There was evil at home, in the heart of America.

The Vietnam War taught us that patriotism could be perverted and could drag thousands of Americans and Vietnamese to their deaths in a senseless war. It divided the country between those who rallied around the flag and those who burned it. Many became ashamed of their country.

Today, patriotism continues to be in crisis. We still suffer from racism. There are still people who are poor and exploited. We are in wars without end in the Middle East, and we are led by a president who is divisive and political parties that cannot work together.

The terms “nationalism” and “nationalist” have been co-opted by white racists to distinguish “real Americans” from those of different color and religion. This is pushing many of us away from traditional American symbols and language. Extremists even make “Christian” sound like a dirty word by their attempts to co-opt it.

We cannot let this happen. We cannot allow extremists to steal our patrimony and desecrate it with their racism and hate.

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Source: Religion News Service

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