“As their contribution to this community will be prayer rather than property taxes the town will take a large loss on the currently paid property taxes,” Elliott wrote. “As for prayer, I am sure we are all grateful for that but are capable of doing that ourselves.”
In Benedict’s Rule, he encourages his brothers “[t]o keep death daily before one’s eyes.” (RB 4:47) This seems like a rather dreadful way to be. A daily reminder of death? I would assume that the postmodern would think this is a silly idea since s/he is skeptical about any notion of heaven/hell/resurrection. Why focus on something that we can know nothing about? However, the afterlife matters and can be discerned.
Death puts everything in its proper perspective. When you die, it really doesn’t matter what kind of car you drove or how much money you made while you were alive. No one will care about those “things.” Material things should be de-emphasized by those that are daily reminded of death. The permanent things in life should be nourished.
Death reminds us that our lives are vulnerable. It’s true that I can do things to make myself healthier. But, I cannot make my heart beat or prevent every single accident or tragedy that may occur. Accepting the reality of death daily reminds us that we are created beings sustained by something outside of ourselves. This is a call to worship the Creator and to be constantly dependent on Him for life.
Death reminds us that the world is in a state of abnormality. In the beginning when the world was created, it was called good. Humans were made to live, not to die. But sin entered the world and death followed. Death reminds us of the brokenness that exists in this world and we should be offended by it. This is a call to act and work for God’s Kingdom. N.T. Wright says in “Surprised by Hope” that “following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, [God] has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, [God] equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track.” (p. 107)
The question posed by Timothy Dalrymple at Philosophical Fragments is as follows:
When does patriotism pass over into idolatry?
First, one must define patriotism. The simple definition of patriotism is possessing love or devotion for country or homeland. Simple enough. The problem with this is that different individuals demonstrate love and devotion in a myriad of ways. There was a time when certain people were branded unpatriotic for not supporting President Bush in the war effort in Iraq. It was unpatriotic to say the war was not a good idea. However, on the other side, a protester of the war may believe that patriotism compels him to speak out and criticize the actions of the President in his war efforts. Both sides think they are patriotic. And, they are both probably right. Patriotism should not require one to assent to various political “doctrines.” It only requires love of country. No one side has a monopoly on patriotism. When one has a genuine or sincere love for his or her country, they have patriotism. An individual’s love may be misdirected, misinformed, or misapplied – but that does not mean it is insincere. Let Truth guide whether the love is good. Let sincerity determine patriotism.
Second, one must define idolatry. Idolatry is excessive devotion or worship of a person or thing. In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes that idolatry exists when an individual turns good things into ultimate things. He also says that “[i]dolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.” One can be idolatrous about anything – money, sex, ideas, a job, family, country. It is when that thing becomes such a necessity for a person’s well being, even more so than a relationship with God, that it becomes an idol. Idolatry is replacing God with things.
So, when does patriotism pass over into idolatry? This occurs when an individual sets his whole heart on the love of country while turning his heart from God. I would argue that this rarely happens. It seems that it’s more likely for an individual to set his whole heart on political ideology than it is to set one’s whole heart on the love of country.
Since Glenn Beck was mentioned in the article, I will use him as an example and make certain assumptions about him. I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Beck is a patriotic man. He loves his country. Mr. Beck is also a T.V. personality, author, and speech maker. Through these mediums, Mr. Beck transmits his political ideology. If Mr. Beck has any idolatrous tendencies, it is his political ideology. In my limited exposure to Mr. Beck, there always seems to be patriotic underpinnings to his words and images. But, he is not trying to get people to love America. He is trying to get people to love his ideology. And, only the people who love his ideology are the people who are truly patriotic. Mr. Beck believes his political ideology is the answer to the problems that are facing this country and potentially the world. He also believes his cause has been divinely ordained. His answers are God’s answers. Or rather, Mr. Beck has replaced God with his own answers. Mr. Beck stated at the “Restore Honor” rally that the country needs to turn back to God. But what he is really saying is that the country needs to turn back to conservative politics. The danger here is not patriotism. The danger is that people will put their trust in a political ideology rather than God. Now, it should be stated that the left is probably no less idolatrous than Mr. Beck, and it could easily be used as an example as well. My apologies to Mr. Beck and his supporters.
So, I do not think it is fair to indict anyone of America-worship. But, I do think an indictment for idolatry is appropriate. A hip phrase for this is not needed. It is idolatry, plain and simple. But, the truth is that we all have idols. It’s just that this one is on such a macro level and is explicitly claiming God as its main proponent. That’s dangerous.
I read a very interesting post on the Big Questions Online magazine written by Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College. This article was particularly informative in that it highlighted an aspect of modern American culture that I intuitively feel but have been unable to uncover and put words to.
He writes, “We clothe ourselves in the manifest justice of our favorite causes, and so clothed we cannot help being righteous (“Someone is wrong on the Internet”). In our online debates, we not only fail to cultivate charity and humility, we come to think of them as vices: forms of weakness that compromise our advocacy. And so we go forth to war with one another.”
Sometimes I spend more time reading comments on online articles or blogs than I do the actual article. Comments are extremely entertaining, and rarely informative.
But, why clothe ourselves in justice? Why not humility?
Jacobs states that “[l]ate modernity’s sense of itself is built upon achievements in justice.” He cites for example the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, etc., as accomplishments, all political in nature, that have defined who we are as people. He continues, “we live in a society with a hypertrophied sense of justice and an atrophied sense of humility and charity, to put the matter in terms of the classic virtues…. And so, as we have come to focus our attention ever more on politics and the arts of public justice, we have increasingly defined our private, familial, and communal lives in similar terms.”
The substance of another person is often perceived to be a certain way dependent on where one sides on certain issues of justice, i.e. GLBT rights (an example given by Jacobs). When I recently moved across town to my new home, while I was getting to know the neighbors, one of them asked me who I voted for in the last presidential election, which I find to be an inappropriate question to ask someone when you first meet them. The question was really asked in order to find out who I was – as if my political persuasion reveals the essence of who I am as a person. Forget questions about my hobbies, or where I am from, or if I like coffee, or what’s my favorite movie — my whole being can be summed up in who I voted for. Let’s cut the “b.s.”, if I’m really gonna know who you are I want to know your politics. Whose side are you on, anyways?
This “state of nature” is enhanced online because people can express their thoughts anonymously (as I unfortunately am doing on this blog). Their is no accountability. But, the real problem with this way of being or defining ourselves is that it infects the most fundamental relationships. Jacobs quotes Wendell Berry:
“Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided.”
I am guilty of this in my own marriage. When I think I am doing more at home, my natural reaction is to think that it’s not fair. I think that all the tasks at home should be divided equally among my wife and I. My natural approach is seldom aimed at how I can serve or love them better – instead of itemizing the minimum amount of stuff that I should be required to do. I want to think differently about this – and I feel there is progress being made within me – but culture’s strong arm of influence has conditioned me to fight for my rights even amongst those whom I love and care about the most.