Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's not that I'm not patriotic...

Around this time of year I sometimes get a little uncomfortable about the way some people talk about our country. Don't get me wrong: I am happy that I was born in and am a citizen of the United States. I would like to express my feelings about America and the countries of the world. I think I'll do it as a list.

1. America is a wonderful country, but it's not perfect.
I know that the United States is a unique place. Its government setup allowed for religious freedom at a crucial time in the world's history and paved the way for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a very important thing. But, like all countries, we have social problems. Although our Constitution is established by God (D&C 101:80) it is not the perfect form of government, as I understand it. According to my reading of the Book of Mormon, the best form of government is to have a righteous king (cf. Mosiah 29:13), but since it cannot always be guaranteed that kings are righteous, a republic such as the one we have is a relatively good alternate. It bothers me when people say such things as, "If you don't like America move somewhere else," or something like that. It seems to me that the very freedom of speech that is established in our Constitution allows people the right to speak up about things they don't like and make changes in our system for the better.

2. Other countries are good too.
The United States of America is not the only country in the world where people enjoy religious freedom, freedom of speech, and other important protections. These are available in many places in the world. I have spent some serious time in Canada, the Czech Republic, and Mexico, as well as traveling in other countries, and I have never found impediments to my chosen lifestyle. While governmental policies vary from country to country, there are many places in the world where people enjoy freedom.

3. The United States of America does not exclusively contain Zion or the promised land.
The Book of Mormon also teaches that the American continent is a special place. It was a promised land for the Nephite people who left Jerusalem 600 years before Christ and crossed the sea, led by God. It is also the future location of Zion, the New Jerusalem. But the United States of America is not the only nation that participates in these important blessings. After all, the USA was not to be established for hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon took place. It seems to me that the promises extend to all the people and land of the Americas, not just U.S. territory. While the center place of Zion will be located in the area currently known as the United States, Zion is located anywhere her stakes are established. At this time there are stakes of Zion all over the world.

4. Borders are a fluid concept.
When I lived in Canada, I spent several months in Fort Frances, Ontario. Fort Frances is on one side of the border and International Falls, Minnesota, is on the other side. The border between the two countries follows the Rainy River which flows through that area. People from both sides of the border cross freely. For example, people on the Canadian side of the border would often drive over to the American side to get better gas prices. Many Americans would be found living on the Canadian side as well. If I looked out the back window of my apartment, I could see the other side of the river, but if I called the missionaries in that town, it would be an international telephone call. Living in a border town helped me to see how fluid and, in a way, unreal borders between countries are. I once saw a television show about a woman who lives in Mexico. In order to support her children, she crosses the border illegally into the United States every night to sell cigarettes she brings with her. Then she crosses back to Mexico to help her children get off to school in the morning. Obviously, for this woman, the border is not a big obstacle to her way of life. While I don't support illegal actions, I don't see borders as that important either.

It seems to me that the United States is built on a heritage of immigration and accepting people of many different origins, beliefs, and backgrounds. I wonder sometimes as we sing patriotic hymns in church, for example, whether there are people in the congregation who feel unwelcome because they are not from the United States of America. Perhaps such people feel the way I do when I sing "O Canada": I sincerely love and respect the country, and enjoyed living there. I guess I don't feel that you have to feel that your place is better than other places to be patriotic. It should be okay to like more than one country, right?

Addendum: The Wikipedia article on "O Canada" is awesome! I highly recommend that you listen to the recordings at the bottom.


red said...

I absolutely agree. Loving more than one country is completely appropriate. Personally, I have always struggled with "patriotism" because of the ever growing social ills. It is difficult to support a place that allows such filth and evil to prevail among the population, and a government that is slowly deteriorating to appease the minority. For the dispensation of the fullness of times to be realized, the Lord went to great lengths to provide a way for Joseph Smith Jr. During that time period, I do believe it would have been much more difficult to establish a new religion. No, this country was not welcoming, but there was room for the saints to move away from persecuting hands, west. The Promised Land is where the Lord says it is, because He said so. We are encouraged as a church to participate in government. Sometimes the Lord has to give us something we can handle because mortals are not always the smartest, referring to a kingdom. It is the best way, but some people aren't smart enough (or strong enough, we have to say Satan is pretty influential) to handle a kingdom, so the Lord showed us a way that would help us at least deteriorate slower. The day of the Lord will come, and all will be at peace. For now, I am simply grateful for what I do have. I live here in the United States of America, and will do my best to build the Kingdom of God on earth, where ever He calls me to.

Laverna said...

I have heard history professors say that there have been more wars fought over religion than any other thing. I can't help but think that patriotism/nationalism is now closing the gap a little.
I find it very egotistical of Americans to think that they are "the best." Sure, there are opportunities here that cannot be found elsewhere, but there are also social injustices and inequalities galore. I will refrain from spouting off on this topic, because we all know what's wrong with our country.
I like what you said about the whole concept of a border. Borders are nothing more than arbitrary constructs of leaders to facilitate the designation of "us" and "them" with little regard to demographics. Step over the border of any demarcation and you're not likely to see much difference.
Patriotism shouldn't be a blind elevation of one's country above all others. It would be so much healthier if patriotism was simply a respect and regard for the things that are good about the country while trying to fix what is wrong. Respect, even love for other countries is not unpatriotic.