Remember when Mark Twain and Matthew Brady did that daguerreotype with the fake bloody head of Honest Abe? What about after Pearl Harbor when Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna mugged for the newsreel cameras holding FDR’s noggin?
You don’t remember these stunts? That’s because they didn’t happen. Lincoln and Roosevelt were despised by millions. And yet, the comedians of their day would not have dreamed of pulling so-called ”funny” stunts involving severed heads.
Well, it has to do with patriotism. There was a time when patriotism was the norm. So were generally-accepted limits regarding how we express civic disapproval. The main form of dissent was yanking down that lever in the voting booth against the candidate we disapproved of.
So when did a normal and healthy patriotism begin to fall out of favor? Many believe it began during the flag-burning Vietnam War era. (Sadly, these acts were countered with an unthinking hyper-patriotism typified in the slogan: “America, Love it or Leave It!”) Thus, an atmosphere of enshrined adolescent rebellion took over. The flag burners quickly moved from academia and found a home among our cultural elites, especially those in the news media and in Hollywood, where it has thrived ever since.
Now this is bad news, because a unifying spirit of patriotism is vital for the United States to continue to exist. America is not based on ethnicity, but on the unprecedented idea of liberty and self-government. This means we are incapable of truly being America unless we understand and appreciate our country.
During the 1950s, my dad came here from Greece and my mom from Germany. They met in New York City and raised me to love their adopted country. However, in the public school education I received during the 1970s, we pretty much skipped learning the greatness of America.
And when I got to college in the 1980s, professors taught against patriotism. A narrative had taken hold that America was not the strong, heroic country protecting the weak; instead, it was the abusive stepdad who needed to be kicked out and arrested. I drank this anti-American Kool-Aid and became deeply skeptical of anyone who wrapped himself in the red, white and blue.
But not long after the 9/11 attacks, I was on a ferry ride with my family and I saw the Statue of Liberty against the deep blue sky, nobly holding out her golden torch to the world. My proximity to the recently vanished Twin Towers gave the statue poignant context.
It was then that I knew I loved my country, and I felt shame for ever taking her for granted.
There’s a Greek proverb that says, “If a man does not boast about his house, it will fall on him.” If we do not begin to understand and appreciate what made us great—including the flawed heroes of our history, who risked life and limb so that we could enjoy liberties unlike any before in the history of the world—we can never again be great.
And as Chuck Colson once said on this very program, “we’re to love our country just because it’s our own. Not because it’s the best and most democratic country in the world-which it may not be at times—but because it’s the place God has put us.”
The thing we must now rebel against is rebellion for its own sake. We must resist resistance for its own sake. We must dare to express our love of this country and its promises if we ever hope to solve our problems.
Now if some of us happen to be too proud or too angry to do that, then we need to have the maturity to let them stew in their rebellion, loving and praying for them all the while, hoping that they might at last come to their senses and then come down to supper with us again.
This commentary was adapted from Eric Metaxas’s op-ed in USA Today, “We need patriotism, not severed heads to make America great again.”
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: July 5, 2017