May 22, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Let’s have something to celebrate on Memorial Day

Cynthia DewesIn Scripture, we read the words, “What is truth?” and that’s pretty heavy. Now I’m asking, “What is patriotism?” which is a pretty serious subject as well. It’s worth contemplating, especially on an occasion like Memorial Day.

For many of us, patriotism probably evokes an emotional response such as tearing up at the sight of the American flag displayed at parades and at civic events. We choke up while singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and not only because of the high notes. We feel pride and loyalty and affection for our country, a sentiment which I share because I find them appropriate.

Patriotism should therefore be a positive thing, a force which propels us toward what is good, what is best in the human experience. This is only possible when the country we’re lauding is worthy of such praise. We need to reflect on our history in order to assess that worth.

Our country was founded on principles that all people are valuable and should have freedoms in accordance with moral concern for the common good. Freedom did not mean license, and all people were “created equal” by God, much as some modern critics want to deny it. Since then, we’ve managed to keep a pretty good record.

Still, mindless and divisive zeal have no place in real patriotism. For example, the skinheads and neo-Nazis claim they are upholding or restoring the original aims of our democracy as the Founders imagined. They plan to purge our system by eliminating any citizens who aren’t Caucasian and straight.

The plea of the Statue of Liberty to “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses” is lost on such people, and they ignore the idea of America being a great melting pot of God’s children. They twist the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to assure freedom only to those who agree with them, and subvert the rule of law to their own evil ends.

People like this are allowed to exist only because of the very Constitution they are undermining. Freedom of speech and other specified freedoms keep them able to do what they do. Unfortunately, theirs is not the only warped patriotism.

Some zealots are so dazzled by our country’s power and wealth that they think we have the right to dominate the world. They are greedy about territorial issues as well as international finance, and they seem to believe that we should always have our way just because we can.

Sometimes people forget that patriotism should also include the natural condition of our country as well as its economic level or international policies or whatever. They know we’re lucky to have an abundance of natural beauty and wealth, but they seem to take it for granted that we’ll always have these things no matter how we use—or misuse—them.

It seems to me the problem with some patriotic attitudes is selfishness. We get so wrapped up in what we want that we ignore the needs of others or the unintended consequences of our decisions, both personally and nationally.

We are citizens of a great nation which has the potential to lead and enrich the entire world we live in. But we need to be vigilant about keeping our actions in line with God’s and the Founders’ will. Let’s go ahead and sniffle when the flag goes by and the stirring music revs up on Memorial Day, because we truly have a country to be proud of.
 

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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