“A Nation with the Soul of a Church”

I’m a slow person. I take a long, long time to react to things, and an even longer time to think things through and reach definitive opinions about them. Thus I’m still mulling over patriotism and love of country, as my dear readers know I have been for months, and in the wake of the 10th anniversary of September 11, I’ve been thinking about these things even more than usual. (And in keeping with my slowness, I’m writing this post on September 13.)

Being an American poses a unique challenge; it’s not like being Italian or German or Indian or Pakistani, where you are because it’s in your blood, you were born there as your ancestors were before you. You subscribe to “American” as to a belief system. It’s not so much a country (a father-land) as it is a creed.

I think this explains why it’s possible for people to live in America and yet claim to hate America. Because if you do not subscribe to it on the basis of faith in what the country stands for, you aren’t really American, even if you were born here and have made your life here.

American patriotism stands apart from the patriotism of other nations. It’s a patriotism of minds and hearts, but not of blood (in the sense of blood-lines–certainly real blood has been spilled in sacrifice to the cause, but that’s another discussion for another time). And I say this as a pretty established American; my ancestors came over (literally) on the Mayflower. We’ve been here a long, long time, in American terms. (One of the strongest impressions I carried away from my various trips to Europe was that of age. A 400-year-old building in Rome is modern. We have nothing older than 400 years here in America, certainly not on the east coast!) Still, I refer to myself as a German/Scotch-Irish/Welsh descendent. And an American. I’ve known many people who try to be purists about it (“I’m an American”), but there’s no getting around it. We’re all hyphenated in some sense.

And there’s a difficulty in that, too. It meants patriotism can’t come as naturally to us as it does to other nations. America is a belief system, incorporating beliefs about the human person, the role of government and authority, and the proper end of man. You have to stand back from it first, to learn it the way we Catholic kids learned our catechism, before it can seep into your heart and become something you’d give your life for.

The anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is a good time to ponder our heritage, to re-embrace our creed, and–as always, more than ever–to pray for our nation.

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4 thoughts on ““A Nation with the Soul of a Church”

  1. I’m not sure what I think of your claim herein. I would strongly claim that I am American but I don’t agree with everything in the Constitution. I don’t agree with most opinions of many of my peers, who would also claim to be American. So, can America be a creed if all Americans don’t agree?

    The problem is that America is the land of the free, regardless of creed, ethnic origin, gender, color, or any other distinguishing factor. We are a land where each of us can think what we want, and spread that thought through many avenues of legal (and protected) speech. Ultimately, the fact that we are a cacophony of wildly divergent voices is our greatest strength, and in the end, our downfall. Remember, divided we fall.

    • And there I think you have the great weakness of America. It is at once a country where people are born and raised, and so it has that claim on each of us, whether we “agree” with everything in the Constitution or not. “Patriotism” in some sense is, I think, a pretty natural thing. We’re attached in some way to the place we come from, just like we’re attached in some way to our parents, even if we’re unfortunate to have parents who aren’t admirable or lovable people.

      But America is also a set of ideals. That’s how she was founded, and that’s how she was meant to continue. And the problem is, we don’t all agree on the ideals, or we don’t hold all of them, or we view them differently. But the very “creed” I’m talking about when I say America is itself a “creed” is just what you describe: the land of the free. At bottom, that’s our basic creed, that man is free, and this is the place where he can come to live that freedom.

      The trouble is, when we have divergent views of what freedom is, what it means, how it ought to be protected and lived out…well, as you say: divided, we fall.

  2. A fascinating declaration. Are there any sources you can refer to that prompt this statement on your part? I think that you’re quite accurate in what you say, though. We are a nation in search of an ideal, and have been ridiculed as idealists throughout our brief history…

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