Patriotism and Faith Patriotism and Faith are the Problem, Not the Solution

(mid-September 2001)

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon plane bombings the drum beats of war are pounding loudly. For over twenty four hours television viewers were treated to constant replays of the ultimate money shot, the slow-motion orgasmic explosion of the jet crashing into the WTC tower, each time from a different angle. In between the incessant replays news commentators and politicians relentlessly exhort us to have faith in God and pull together as a nation as we swiftly declare war on the perpetrators. We are promised that we will not only punish the perpetrators but also everyone who has supported or harbored them. The propaganda machine is running full throttle; building our outrage and promising relief through military action.

It is asking a lot to expect a nation to respond with humanity, intelligence and skepticism in the wake of such a monumentally brutal tragedy. It is certainly easier and more comforting in the short-term to assume that our political, religious and military leaders are capable of guiding us through this tragedy. But if we are to ever achieve lasting peace and security we need to acknowledge that patriotism (nationalism), faith (religionism) and unbridled capitalism (greed) are the forces that have brought us to the brink of World War III.

Yes, these forces can be benevolent motivators in situations where they bring people together for a common good. But I feel that it is more appropriate to be motivated by a broader concern for our fellow humans and for the health of the planet. If an area was threatened by fire or flood, few would argue that it is appropriate to evacuate only those individuals with the correct passports or religious pedigrees. Similarly, we must address the current situation with compassion for all humans, not just U.S. citizens.

Patriotism (nationalism) is the belief that the interests of one's nation are more important than those of other nations. The often unstated basis for nationalism is the belief that one's nation is superior to other nations. Nationalism's cousin, racism, is no longer considered socially acceptable in most circles, but it continues to motivate behind the scenes. In the United States we are constantly reminded that our superiority is based on our commitment to freedom and justice. However a closer look will show that the U.S. does not consistently exemplify the values of freedom and justice when it deals with the world's people. We also need to recognize that the people of every other nation similarly feel that they are superior because of their own unique virtues.

For just one example of nationalism in action in the U.S. consider our relationship with Mexico. Recently we provided middle class Americans, who are among the World's most affluent people, with a $300 tax break (not to mention more significant tax breaks for the ultra-rich). Meanwhile, thousands of Mexicans risk their lives to cross our border for the privilege of working in the minimum wage jobs that most U.S. residents consider beneath them. We spend millions of dollars futilely trying to keep them from entering our country and competing with us in the job market. Our nationalism allows us to turn a blind eye to their poverty as we protect our short-sighted self-interest.

Our nationalism - and corporate-controlled mass media - keep us from seeing the poverty and oppression we bring to the world. During the Gulf War only a minority of Americans saw the injustice of bombing a nation in order to secure a steady supply of fuel for our gas guzzling automobiles. Of course, the U.S. is not unique in its nationalism. Examples of nationalistic barbarism can easily be found in today's news and in history books. Virtually every nation has some atrocities its history. Sadly, it seems to be human nature. Let us never forget that the atrocities associated with Nazi Germany were committed by patriotic Christians seeking what they perceived to be justice.

I define religionism, often referred to as faith, as the belief that our world is guided by an external conscious force. Religionism requires a "leap of faith;" the religious assume the truth of ideas and beliefs that can not be proven. Religious people cease observing all of reality and instead choose the comfort of traditional perceptions of truth. Once a person takes a few leaps away from reality it often becomes possible to convince them of almost anything. Again, the newspapers and history books are filled with examples, from Jonestown to the latest suicide bombing.

Religionism allows the believers to act under the assumption that they are privileged because, unlike the "others," they are guided by the "true god(s)." Religionism is often the spark that ignites the worst flames of nationalism. How can individuals question the wisdom or morality of their nation's actions when they are convinced that they are guided by god?

Nationalism and religionism are dangerous because they prevent us from seeing the world clearly. They serve to prevent us from recognizing that people from other cultures and places share our humanity. However, nationalism and religionism are often mere smokescreens for the real force that motivates our actions: greed.

The concept of greed does not require much explanation, but our complex, sophisticated society is constructed so that the choices we make are not made obvious. Our nationalism, religionism and greed obscure the choices we make every day to act in our self interest as we ignore the desperate cries for assistance from the world's poor. With open eyes I don't think it is too hard to understand why much of the world considers the U.S. to be a greedy, brutal and arrogant nation.

Whenever we consume anything that is not essential (such as basic food and water) we are choosing to use up another portion of the earth's limited resources while somewhere in the world someone is dying or suffering from poverty. Is it the right choice to continue building more billion-dollar casinos in Las Vegas instead of spending the money to assist those who are suffering from disease and poverty? That question has never been put on our election ballots, but it is a choice that we make by our actions on a daily basis. If we can begin to recognize that the comfort we enjoy in the United States depends on allowing suffering from poverty to continue in the rest of the world we can begin to understand the motivations of our nation's enemies.

By seeing ourselves as others see us we can begin to act more responsibly in the world. No, I am not saying that these recent massacres are excusable. Two wrongs do not make a right, but neither do three. The perpetrators should be caught and put on trial. But if the U.S. begins punishing entire nations with so-called "collateral damage" (a cynical euphemism for harm to innocent individuals) we will only create more desperate enemies and accelerate a spiral of violence that can easily destroy the entire world. Please, let us take off our blinders and see the way to guide our nation to act wisely and compassionately.

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