by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
CGG Weekly, July 5, 2002
"When people stop believing in God, they do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything."
Unlike any other country, America came into the world with a message for mankind—that all are created equal, and all are meant to be free. There is no American race; there's only an American creed: We believe in the dignity and rights of every person. We believe in equal justice, limited government, and in the rule of law. We believe in personal responsibility, and tolerance toward others.
This creed of freedom and equality has lifted the lives of millions of Americans, of citizens by birth and citizens by choice. This creed draws our friends to us. It sets our enemies against us, and always inspires the best that is within us. In this 226th year of our independence, we have seen that American patriotism is still a living faith. We love our country; only more when she's threatened.
President George W. Bush said these words in his Independence Day speech to the citizens of Ripley, West Virginia. His choice of words exhibits a religious tone well known in the speeches of wartime presidents. Particularly striking is his assertion that "American patriotism is still a living faith." Maybe he did not intend it to mean this, but he is asserting that, when Americans recite the Pledge of Allegiance, fly their Stars and Stripes, affix their "Proud to Be an American" bumper stickers, and belt out the national anthem, they are practicing the religion of America.
Most people do not consider patriotism to be a kind of faith, a religion of sorts, but it has every possibility of being or becoming one, especially to those who have become disaffected with "traditional religion." The nation itself becomes "God," and the Constitution is its Bible. The Declaration of Independence is its creed (to use President Bush's term), and the various national holidays—Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Flag Day—become sacred, inviolate days of worship. As strange as it sounds, Washington, D.C., becomes the holy city, and the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and Washington Monument are shrines of American greatness and righteousness.
It can be taken further. The President is high priest. The Supreme Court is a kind of Sanhedrin, while Congress functions as Nazirites, under a vow to serve their God for a set time. Public service—from voting in elections to serving on juries to joining the armed forces—is a sacred duty, and any who would not participate are worthy of shame and disgrace as infidels.
Finally, we would be remiss not to mention America's missionary responsibility to proselytize, convert, and aid the whole world to accept our glorious system of freedom and democracy so that all people can benefit from the bounties that Americans enjoy and cherish. If only the Palestinians, the Afghanis, the Bosnians, the Chinese, and all our other enemies would just try democracy and free markets and equal rights, their would be peace on earth, good will toward men. It would bring about the Millennium of Pax Americana.
Of course, this description is exaggerated, but patriotism sometimes takes this tone.
A concise definition of idolatry is putting anything before the true God (Exodus 20:3). "Anything" could mean a pagan god, another person, wealth, prestige, a job, a possession, an idea or ideal, and even a nation. The true God wants nothing to come between Him and one of His children. No matter how "good" an idol is, it cannot compare to the goodness of God, and it is dangerous to the individual and to his relationship with God.
Over the past week or so, Americans have been abuzz with indignation over the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' declaration of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional. However, we must remember what the phrase "one nation under God" means: Our primary allegiance is to God. If we worship America, its Constitution, democracy, liberty, equality, justice, law, tolerance, or any other good thing, we still fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
It all comes down to answering a very simple question: Are we Christians or Americans first?
Remember, "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). His side is the winning side.
Yes, we can love this country, the land of our birth or naturalization. We can cheer its victories and grieve for its losses. We can enjoy its plenty, its freedom, and its beauty. In the end, however, we answer to a higher power, for Whom we should reserve our worship.