A Patriotic Chosen People?

Yesterday in the Sacrament Meeting I attended, we closed singing the Star Spangled Banner (I managed to suppress the urge to yell “Play Ball” at the end). While going through the typical sacrament meeting in the U.S. before the July 4th Independence Day holiday, I couldn’t help thinking about what role patriotism should play in my life.

Like many Americans I’ve always loved my country, and I generally enjoy the 4th. But on the other hand, I also feel strongly on April 25th (Liberty Day in Portugal) and somewhat on the three other days associated with Portuguese liberty and independence—June 10th (Portugal Day), October 5th (Proclamation of the Republic) and December 1st (Restoration of Independence). Perhaps when the U.S. has a nearly 900 year history we will have 4 liberty-related holidays also. I also have strong feelings about September 7th, Brazilian independence day.

So, is my patriotism impaired?

As exhibited in the U.S., patriotism is caught up in the idea of American exceptionalism—the idea that the U.S. is better than other countries, or that it has a unique and vital role that we alone can fulfill. But when I was in Portugal on my mission, I learned that Portugal was also exceptional, that it also has an important role to play. Can both be true? Isn’t there equality of opportunity for salvation?

At this point, my best attempt at reconciling my various patriotic feelings and understanding scriptural and prophetic claims about the U.S., the Americas, Portugal, etc., is to look at them like I look on callings. For whatever reason the Lord calls or allows to be called individuals to fill positions in the Church. Those called serve for a time, fulfill (we hope) their role, and are released and asked to fill another role. If we look at those callings as some indication of who one person being better than another, or more worthy than another (beyond the Temple Recommend minimums), I suspect we are doing wrong.

Just as the release of a Bishop and calling of another doesn’t necessarily mean that the second is now better than the first, so too the Lord calling one group as his chosen people doesn’t mean that group is better than others, or that the Lord loves the others less. It just means that the group has a role to play—a calling to fulfill. Nations, to the extent that any nation can be exceptional, are only so because of their actions and the role that they can play in the world. The Lord doesn’t love their people any less.

By saying this, I’m not trying to suggest that all countries are the same, or even equal on important measures like liberty, effort or righteousness. But I do want to suggest that nations are made of people, including both righteous and unrighteous, lazy and hard-working, who are entitled to an equality of treatment, love and respect. Sure in many ways the U.S. is more free than other nations, but in some aspects of freedom we may be behind other nations. While we are more righteous than some nations, I’m not at all sure that we are more righteous than every other nation.

I do believe that the U.S. has a role to fulfill, although I’m certain we don’t know all the details. I’m also certain that other countries, like each of us individually, all have their roles to fulfill.

So, on this 4th of July, I’ll look for what role the U.S. should be playing, raising my voice to help and support our country on to further righteousness in the world, while celebrating my connection to this great nation. And at least 5 other times during the year, I’ll look for what the other countries I love should be doing, and I’ll celebrate my love and connection to those countries also.

58 comments for “A Patriotic Chosen People?

  1. I do not believe that the Star Spangled Banner is appropriate for Sacrament meeting. The Rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air result in young men and women bleeding, screaming, and dying. There are many other songs for sacrament meeting. Use the Star Spangled Banner elsewhere. Leave war and blood of youth elsewhere.

  2. I hope that one of the flaws God mends soon is the belief that what was beat across the wilderness can be described as a thoroughfare of freedom.

    That’s what we sang yesterday, and it makes me cringe every time, although I love the irony that those two lines are juxtaposed.

    Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can say that I like this post. Wrestling with the multiple facets of America’s heritage, current state, and future isn’t easy, even before someone puts the religious gloss on it.

  3. Yesterday I sat next to a Korean national who is in my ward. He pleasantly sang “America the Beautiful”. I don’t have any grand philosophies about the experience, but I will say it was kind of awkward and gave me a new view on things. I told him that we should sing a Korean song in church on Korea’s national holiday (August 15th?). I felt the urge to be humble in my patriotism.

  4. I think that America the Beautiful is a great hymn and yes I believe a thoughfare of freedom was beat across the wilderness. I may not understant Julie’s erudite distase for this hymn because I am less educated I prefer this to the national anthem. If we are to sing the Star Spangled Banner we should sing the last verse.

  5. Well, Al, maybe you forgot that part of the beating of the thoroughfare of freedom across the wilderness involved beating the hell out of those who occupied the land before us, and rounding them up and sticking them on “reservations.” I’m not sure that it takes much erudition to know that.

    It would be well if all the national songs were taken out of the hymnbook, so nobody would be confused into thinking that any of them is appropriate for sacrament meeting.

  6. 29 years ago today, my family and I arrived in America from Romania. We have personal reasons to celebrate independence day. :)

  7. I think the SSB is a fine national anthem (not despite its eccentricity and difficulty, but because of them) and I cringe every time someone suggests we start ball games with some other tune. As a hymn, not so much. I don’t believe national independence to be a religious holiday or even religiously relevant and I agree with those who urge removing them from the hymnbook, or at least ignoring them.

    I’d much prefer that we leave politics and nationalism at the door of the church. It would honor Jesus’ God and Caesar instruction and it would improve everyone’s experience. Full disclosure: My wife is a Canadian citizen and the whole bit of flag-waving in church seems to miss the point.

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” –Dr. .Johnson

  8. Good thoughts Ken. I don’t think celebrating patriotism or freedom in several different countries is unpatriotic. In fact, to me it is amazing how America was a tool in the Lord’s hand, to spread democracy (even through negative means like imperialism). Now it has spread over much of the world and while there are still many dangers since we rely upon the voice of the people, the systems are relatively good compared to history.

    It’s a huge testimony to me of how miraculous God’s plan is and how he gradually weaves a beautiful situation for most peoples of the earth in spite of so much misery and Satan’s power.

  9. @7 Jim – as long as a national anthem generally alludes to dependance upon God and gratitude for freedom, I’m okay with it being a hymn, although it is hard once you learn the melody came from an English drinking song.

  10. Beat or be beaten. I know that many think of Native Americans as Rosseauian primitives who lived in peace. Nuts to that damnable lie. My defeated ancestors had been assimilated into a superior culture by then so yes a thoughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.

  11. So, we’re agreed that beating and penning up those of inferior culture is part of beating a thoroughfare of freedom across the wilderness? I wonder how many Native American felt (or feel) that way.

  12. Beat or be beaten.

    Being a man of humble erudition I couldn’t say for sure, but you seem to be preaching a gospel of Hobbes or perhaps Lombardi.

  13. No I am tired of the Rousseau/Marx/modernist version of our history. We are the freest and best country on earth. Are we millennial? Not hardly but we are the crucible for the Restoration. Native Americans have more freedom and opportunity than any chief could have given them at any time. Were they treated fairly? No they were not but I will not blame modern America for that. I came primarily from the British isles. I am sure Tgat I carry many genes if conquerers and many genes of the subjugated. Which grievances am I allowed to nurse on my defeated sides? Which of my victorious lines should I be ashamed of? Or is it only grievable if one of the conquerers wrote it down?

    I am quite tired of the modern knee jerk hateful and sneering reaction to patriotic sentiment. It is a tired cliche.

  14. Adam (13), I assume you are responding to the questions in the op?

    If so, I’d appreciate it if you could make clear why you think my patriotism is impaired just because I have patriotic feelings towards other countries. Must patriotism really be exclusive?

  15. Al (14), where in this post and comments exactly is the “modern knee jerk hateful and sneering reaction to patriotic sentiment?”

  16. Cameron N., thanks for your sentiments in (8). But I can’t resist pointing out, in reaction to your comment in (9), that some of our most beloved hymns also use the music of old English drinking songs.

  17. Too often, the acknowledgement of patriotism for any other country than the United States is viewed as “anti-American.”

    I don’t think this is the case at all. America is a land blessed of God and a land which can continue to be blessed if its people are righteous. But the fact that America has a unique role in God’s plan by no means lessens the value of other countries or means that the children of God in America are any better than God’s children in Iraq or Haiti or New Zealand simply by virtue of their national citizenship. Recognizing the patriotism of those who are not American isn’t an unpatriotic act, but rather the fulfillment of a gospel ideal to see our global neighbors as brothers and sisters in the human family.

    Kent expressed it well when he said, “that nations are made of people, including both righteous and unrighteous, lazy and hard-working, who are entitled to an equality of treatment, love and respect.”

  18. As much as I enjoy and appreciate the OP and some of the wonderfully informed comments, I’m always tickled that so many people have to jump in with a giant “but..” when it comes to Americans celebrating the freedom their country has and does enjoy.

    It’s like a grumpy (enlightened?) college kid at his cousin’s birthday party sitting in the corner with his arms crossed murmuring about how everyone else is special and that they too have birthdays.

    Let people have our birthday!

    *My “Grumpy College Kid” Addendum: Please stop playing cheesy, overcompensatingly patriotic country music and Neil Diamond songs at firework shows.

  19. I don’t like to get overly patriotic at church, realizing that there can be nonAmericans attending. However, on Sunday when I watched a nonmember actually sing one of the patriotic hymns I thought it was perhaps a way for him to view his patriotism or feeling for his country in a less secular, more religious way.
    In other words, the hymns weren’t bringing love of country into religion, they are a way of bringing God into our feeling for our country.
    On the whole, I count that a good thing. A good thing if my children sing “And this be our motto-In God is our trust” or if their singing petitions God for his grace and for his mending of the flaws of our country. So, on the whole I consider it good stuff.

  20. Those of you who have lived in other countries will have noticed that they are less patriotic than the US. Their flags are less in evidence, and very few would claim, as Americans do, that they are the best country on earth. God is also not connected with patriotism in most other countries.

    When we visit America we are regularly asked if we wouldn’t rather live there and the Americans can’t comprehend it when we say definitely not, where we live is much better. We have social security, we have universal healthcare, we have a regulated banking system etc etc.

    Cameron in #8 claims democracy spreads from the US, i’m not sure where he has in mind but much more of it was spread from the UK and France.

    I once read a survey of how refugees felt about their new country. Refugees in America felt free, refugees in Australia felt safe and secure.

    We sing our national anthem in church on our national day though it doesn’t mention God, and we don’t believe we are supported, selected or otherwise chosen by him/her.

  21. I’m all for patriotism, but too much of what passes for it these days seems to call for the erection of a national rameumpton where we can thank God for being so much better than everyone else.

  22. I too am worried that our Patriotism these days in the United States has verged on transforming into Nationalism. I have always seen true Patriotism in contrast to Nationalism, with the latter being, frankly, sinister.

    However, I am thankful that our patriotic celebrations in the United States continue to take place largely without military display. A Fourth of July parade, for example, compares favorably (in my opinion) to a Bastille Day Parade in Paris where the focus of the parade is a review of military units.

    As Latter-day Saints who are members of a Church with more members outside the United States than within, and with an understanding of God’s love for all of his children and that he works through all of them in their respective environments, let us actively work to temper with self-control how we express our patriotism in religious services in the same measure that we confirm our liberty in law in the intentionally robust secular public sphere.

    So, as we celebrate American Independence on the Fourth of July, let us do so soberly, retaining an awareness of what the Founders were actually up to in separating from England, especially with a view toward what exactly they were rejecting, and what they were maintaining. As American Latter-day Saints specifically, let’s ensure that our gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy in America always co-exist with a realistic understanding that most other countries in the developing world, whether under a parliamentary monarchy or parliamentary democracy or under a presidential republican democracy (like ours in the USA), enjoy and protect the same freedoms under much the same animating philosophies (and in some cases more robustly). In fact, this is also expressly the case with respect to the home country from which we separated, and the Founders intentionally incorporated the philosophies and institutions inherited from the English Enlightenment into the governmental framework they established, for good reason. We owe our stable and prosperous institutions and society to this foundation — do we acknowledge this in our patriotic celebrations?

    Finally, when we patriotically celebrate our freedoms and our blessings as a nation on the Fourth of July, let us consciously do so with a measure of humility (exactly contrary to Al’s attitude above — celebrating a naked state of nature of “eat or be eaten” is not what we in America are or should be about). Especially in the Church we should be humble enough to acknowledge the suffering and misery that our historically misguided attempts to promote group interests have caused (and in some case continue to cause). We have no reason to, and in fact the Gospel gives us an imperative not to, ignore that our national ancestors’ occasionally misplaced religious or economic overzealousness led to real and disastrous abuses that straightforwardly violated our own founding principles. Our patriotic celebrations will be more pure as a result and we will certainly avoid Nationalism by taking such an approach.

  23. 24. The only way to address the sins of the past is to live righteously now and in the future. The temple with its ordinances is key to redeeming the earth. All other measures not so based are nearly futile. The curled lip and the sneer at American exceptionalism and freedom is smug, divisive and victimizing. It is utterly without value. Do you know anyone who is living a triumphalist life that excludes “the conquered”? I don’t. Do you sing patriotic anthems in such a spirit? I don’t. I frankly don’t know any nationalists. I do know many people who love our constitution and want to see it protected and honored but I have yet to meet a nationalist. Yes I have lived in a country where there were/are visible and active nationalists and they certainly are a lot rarer here.

  24. When do claims that America is better than everyone else become Nationalism? There was a recent post on M* highlighting a recent turn toward raunchy Nationalism in country music. I think a key to it is that Nationalism is tied up with militarism/the military generally.

  25. I don’t listen to country music so I don’t know the songs you refer to but I am told that the country music demographic produces a disproportionate number of our fighting men and women. Skin in the game entitles one to certain feelings don’t you think?

  26. Al, I’m not ready to justify or endorse raunchy Nationalism no matter whose skin is “in the game”. If our bellicose foreign adventures are simply a game to a certain demographic of Americans, then that certainly is a major problem, and one that I am absolutely confident would have been considered philosophically outside the realm of legitimacy by the Founders.

  27. Since I don’t know the songs it is hard to argue but I find it hard to disdain “rough men” who fight while I am abed in America.

  28. Kent,

    I appreciated this post. It was thoughtful and I think reading it without any preconceived ideas on either the pro-or anti-exceptionalism side makes it clear you were being very fair and your tone was very measured. I think the calling idea is a wonderful analog and provides a wonderful framework for a thoughtful, measured, sincere patriotism and appreciation. I love my bishop but don’t feel the need to slam other bishops.

    The one quibble I have is this that I don’t think American Exceptionalism is “the idea that the U.S. is better than other countries.” That may be how some have portrayed it, but my understanding of the original idea is that America is different–is the exception. I see how people can jump from that to saying it’s better, but I don’t think one has to believe it’s superior to believe in the idea of Exceptionalism anymore than one has to believe one is better than other religious people to believe the Church is true. (I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen, just that it’s not necessarily required).

    Good, thoughtful post. Thank you.

  29. Kent L.,
    that’s like asking if the love of a woman must be exclusive. In a sense, no, but in a sense, very much yes. Affection can be multiple, but devotion must be single.

  30. It’s a good analogy, Kent.

    What really bothers me is the trope we often hear about the constitution being inspired. I have no problem with the basic idea, but when combined with the Wilford Woodruff founding father’s vision and a little bit of Glenn Beck paranoia, it easily morphs into an ugly notion that the United States is God’s favorite country and Washington, Madison, and Jefferson were just unbaptized Mormons.

    I can believe that the constitution helped bring to pass the Lord’s work, but I’ll only go down that road if we acknowledge that many other political leaders and documents from around the world have been likewise instrumental. It’s incredibly narrow and offensive to believe the U.S. has done it all.

    As it stands we’re just a small hop from, “I know my country is true, and I know it’s the only true country on the face of the earth…”

    I’m all for patriotism, but let’s decouple it from the gospel.

  31. Scott,

    Let’s NOT decouple the gospel from the country. Ideally, the country SHOULD be run on gospel principles.

    I think the Constitution was divinely inspired, and that the US was exceptional. What made it exceptional was the devotion of individuals to live Christ like lives. It was exceptional because of its morality.

    Today, I view nothing exceptional from the U.S. – her people continue to turn their backs on God in greater and greater numbers, their morality is compromised, to say nothing of years/decades of bad policies. In that sense I view the US much the same way the Muslim’s due, as a cesspool, an exporter of evil, that I wouldn’t mind seeing cleaned from the earth. In as much as God as done such cleaning before, and promised He will do it again, I rather look forward to the passing of the U.S. into the past. I’d rather have repentance, but don’t expect to see it.

    I still pledge allegiance to the flag, because I stand squarely in the corner with the principles of the REPUBLIC for which the flag stands – not for what it is today. The biggest problem with the patriotic songs is that people think singing them makes you a patriot, rather than actually standing for the principles that once made this country great.

  32. Amen Jax. We are running on the steam of previous generations. Living gospel principles creates the society and culture we want to live in.

  33. Love this post. It and many of the comments paralleled my thoughts on Sunday and Monday.

    As the question of patriotism and patriotic songs in church meetings was addressed, I thought the blog post linked below would be of interest to some. It gives a history of the revision process that preceded the publication of the 1985 LDS hymnbook. One of the original goals for the new hymnbook was to make it truly international and consequently the First Presidency ordered the removal of the US patriotic hymns. Elder Benson later lobbied to have them added back in.


  34. Marie,

    Elder Benson was a member of the despised and corrupt John Birch Society.

  35. As to the question about the role nations play: I think Kent’s analogy to individuals and callings versus nations and destinies is a good one if applied correctly. Remember that “salvation” is an individual matter. No one’s salvation is more assured because of his or her nationality. At the same time, certain nations appear to play unique and important roles in the destiny of the rest of the world. (I am not talking about unique beauty or personality but actual impact on nations outside of their borders). The United States’ important if not decisive role in the 2nd World War and providing a crucial 20th Century balance of power come to mind. Does the Lord love an American more than a Monacoan? Of course not. But is the United States more important than Monaco? I think the answer is Yes.
    (At least if we view a nation as consisting of more than the sum total of the souls who inhabit it. Personally, I am OK with China’s permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council as opposed to, for instance, Portugul’s).

  36. I should preface my remarks by saying I have dual citizenship USA and Germany and very close ties to a third (UK). I love all three very much. Each has its strengths and its weaknesses. But I’m proud to be a part of them. However, I must admit that the sense of American superiority we sometimes hear in church leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I’m American, but not exclusively American, and my father is not an American citizen at all. We have many great blessings here in America that we should be grateful for. But those blessings don’t make us any better than my family members in the UK and Germany, who share in many of those same blessings. We can acknowledge the blessings of living in America without acting superior or arrogant.

  37. Re: L-d Sus:
    My experience is that people don’t mind participating in other nations’ national celebrations/traditions/quirks when they are visiting those other nations. In fact, they like it. I think that goes even for Latter-day Saints who visit LDS congregations in other countries and who are expecting something beyond the correlated experience. That’s probably why your Korean friend sang the U.S. National Anthem “pleasantly”. Instead it is us locals (and I think in particular, Americans) who feel as though we are doing some injustice when we are observed (by others) practicing our traditions at home. I don’t know if this is a benign result of our being the “E Pluribus Unum” country and having learned to get along with multiple ethnicities or if it derives from a more sinister, subconscious arrogance* that comes from thinking we are obviously the best and we better be extra careful to not lord it over others. Perhaps a related trait of Westerners in general (not just Americans) is how we love to visit other quaint lands and play the role of the anthropologist. And yet when people visit us, we feel ourselves quite uninteresting and go out of our way to accommodate if not re-create the visitor’s home and learn all we can about them (again, playing the anthropologist).

    *I don’t think you are arrogant at all…just wondering where this common sentiment (that I too have felt) comes from.

  38. …I am beginning to believe Kent’s analogy is even better than I initially realized as I think back to the time when Portugul was a superpower and sent explorers around the globe.

    And yet…there appear to be “nations” who will never play the role of either a Portugul or a United States…but they do have a role (or “sphere” to use the word Pres. Hinckley used when speaking of callings).

  39. Al (26) wrote: “The curled lip and the sneer at American exceptionalism and freedom is smug, divisive and victimizing.”

    Sorry, I can’t see how this could possibly be true.

    While I certainly don’t have any “curled lip” or “sneer” at the idea of exceptionalism, (and I actually think that the U.S. has important roles in the history of the world, just not anything that makes us better than others) I can’t see how disbelieving exceptionalism is “smug, divisive and victimizing.”

    I think you are going beyond what can reasonably be claimed.

  40. Braden (31) wrote:

    The one quibble I have is this that I don’t think American Exceptionalism is “the idea that the U.S. is better than other countries.” That may be how some have portrayed it, but my understanding of the original idea is that America is different–is the exception. I see how people can jump from that to saying it’s better, but I don’t think one has to believe it’s superior to believe in the idea of Exceptionalism anymore than one has to believe one is better than other religious people to believe the Church is true.

    I tend to agree with you. One of the difficulties with exceptionalism is that it is very easy to go to the belief that the exception is better than the rest.

    It may be analogous to the “separate but equal” idea discredited by the civil rights movement–it may be technically possible to actually be separate but equal, but human nature makes it not equal very quickly. Exceptionalism appears to be like this. We claim to be exceptional, but quickly, given human nature, begin to believe we are better.

    As for the Church, I’m afraid that, in my experience, many Mormons also easily go from “the Church is true” to “Mormons are better than others.”

  41. Adam (32) wrote:

    that’s like asking if the love of a woman must be exclusive. In a sense, no, but in a sense, very much yes. Affection can be multiple, but devotion must be single.

    Sorry, that an analogy I can’t see as valid. For one thing, like the vast majority of Americans, I never chose this political entity to which you say I owe devotion. For another thing, my relationship with my country is not really like a marriage. Just because I use the word “love” to refer to my country does not, I think, imply any “devotion.”

    Let me put it more bluntly, perhaps: Why must I have a “devotion” like that I have for my wife for ANY country. I can see having that devotion for my religion, yes. But beyond that? Why?

  42. Jax (34):

    Let’s NOT decouple the gospel from the country. Ideally, the country SHOULD be run on gospel principles.

    Whether or not a country should be run on gospel principles has nothing to do with whether or not it has some exceptional role in the gospel.

    IMO, EVERY country should be run on gospel principles.

    But I also think that EVERY country has a role to play in the world. Some of those roles may be more important than others (like with callings, we should be very cautious about how we assess that importance), but no country is better than another because of its role.

    I think the same principle can be found in the gospel. I’m certain that Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet is more important than any I have had or will likely have in the future. But whether Bro. Joseph is a better person than I will only be decided at the judgment–and if we both make the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, then we are equal, regardless of what callings we held here on earth.

    This is also, I think, true of nations and of peoples.

  43. Wow, kids, must we quibble so much! It sounds like most of us agree on the larger points of the article, but can’t seem to agree on the minutia…isn’t that unusual? How very ‘human’ of us!

    What I’m hearing even more clearly is many taking offense with what can, in most cases be simply a matter of writing style or word choices. (Something you intellectual types should be able to deal with or reconcile.)

    I think the analogy of ‘callings’ can be applied on an even larger scale here, and even include how each of us views patriotism, exceptionalism, and beyond.

    Let’s thank the Lord for our differences and acknowledge them, then work harder at getting along despite them, and not be offended at every corner. Let’s recognize that some people are patriotic in different ways, and at different levels, than others. And let’s not be too offended by the words of a certain patriotic song, while reading scriptures that relate just as many awful circumstances that one would rather forget (especially those who live it).

    And finally, can we all simply agree that all we are really defending with our comments are our own opinions, and not necessarily opinions aligned that closely with the Truth (or do some of you have special connections that the rest of us don’t?).

    In other words…Lighten Up! Your doctor will thank you!

  44. The Latter-day Saints know as well as any Americans the ways in which the United States has fallen short of the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The institutions of American state and Federal government were actively turned against the Church for decades. In that respect, Mormons have a kinship with American Indians and with the Japanese-Americans imprisoned during World War II.

    So does the singing of patriotic songs in our Sunday worship services demonstrate some kind of amnesia or schizophrenia? What happens between July 4, honoring the USA, and July 24, when we commemorate the pioneer experience whose constant feature was persecution by state and Federal governments and attacks by regular Army troops as well as state militias?

    I think the singing of patriotic hymns is very much aspirational, focused on the positive ideals undergirding American history, in much the same way our other hymns are aspirational, singing of a Zion that is only partially realized in our real lives.

    We don’t sing “God Bless America” or “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”. “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” are hymns, however. Most Mormons don’t get much experience learning the words and the melodies for either song in any venue other than at church. Most public school bands learn to play them, for sporting events if nothing else, but I would guess that a big slug of Americans don’t sing the national anthem at ball games because they don’t belong to a church that makes them practice it with words and music in front of them.

    There is no question that there is express, though generalized, religious sentiment in these songs, just as there is express, generalized religious sentiment in the words of the Declaration of Independence. No such hymn could be sung without echoing that founding document that invokes the Creator as an authority prior to the British Crown, just as the Gettysburg Address also invokes the Declaration as the basis for all American patriotism. There is a clear strain of religious devotion that is invoked in the assertion that God has declared that all men are created equal. Singing those songs is the primary ritual in the civic religion by which we Americans seek to sanctify our public institutions and invite each other to devote our efforts. Another such ritual is the taking of an oath of office which asks God to witness our promise to uphold the Constitution.

    Singing these hymns in LDS meetings is an affirmation that we are participants in that civil religion, which asks God to save the honorable Supreme Court, which places “In God We Trust” (in obedience to the SSB’s 4th verse, which says “And this be our motto, In God is our trust”) on our coins, and which quotes the Gettysburg Address when we pledge allegiance to the US flag with the implicit prayer that our nation shall be “one” and “indivisible” as it is “under God”. Unlike some other minority American religions, we LDS do not claim that our loyalty to God’s kingdom precludes devotion to America. We sponsor Boy Scout units that have an express patriotic component. We do not assert pacifism, but honor those who serve in the armed forces, and invoke God’s blessings on them.

    The Star Spangled Banner does speak of artillery rockets and bombardments, but they do not glory in them. They were attacks of British ships on American Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor, and the flag (which survives and is on display at the Smithsonian) was the symbol of stubborn defiance in defense of American freedom in the face of an invading military force that had already burned down the White House. It sings of defense of home and nation, which is our collective home. It is, in that respect, a perfect counterpart of Moroni’s Title of Liberty. And like the Title of Liberty, it calls Americans to remember that America only wins battles when it aligns with the righteous purposes of God.

    Does the USA have a special mission from God? The Declaration and Constitution have been models for newly independent countries for two centuries. In specific terms, without the United States, the Axis powers could still rule half the world. And without the USA, eastern Europe (including eastern Germany) and the former Soviet nations would still be under a comprehensive tyranny. And with that liberty, the Restored Gospel has been enabled to spread to places (such as my native Japan) where it must be preached to prepare mankind for Christ’s Millennial reign.

    At the dawn of the 21st Century, the USA increasingly reflects the world in its ethnic composition. The entrance requirements are not racial or religious, but center on the willingness to join in the common aspirations of Americans. It is virtually impossible for someone to become Japanese in the way immigrants can become fully American.

    What makes the USA exceptional is that it is a modern developed nation that has the levels of religious devotion that generally are only found in the less developed world. One of the reasons for that is that it has been able to develop a “civic religion” that ties the nation’s ideals to deity, but not to any specific denomination, making the nation a unifying center for people of most religious affiliations. Indeed, the more other Americans understand that Mormons are also devotees of that civil religion with them, the less they should be suspicious of Mormon candidates for office.

  45. Raymond,

    Very eloquent. My point is, and will remain, that the star Spangled Banner is not an appropriate hymn for Sacrament meeting. It is not compatible with the sacredness of the Sacrament. It is very easy to tell you have never been in a battle where the ground is soaked with the blood of young men.

  46. In twenty years of military service I never encountered another LDS service member who expressed David’s aversion to singing the national anthem in a church meeting. I know there were plenty of World War II and Korea vets in the wards where I grew up singing the national anthem. And I cannot recall any aversion to it in the stories told by LDS combat vets in the Saints at War oral history.

    Again, I fail to see how the words evoke blood soaked ground. They speak of noble but unseen suffering by the US defenders who refused to surrender by taking down the flag. There are clear parallels to the Saviors teaching that the greatest love is to lay down our lives for others. It seems eminently suited to an LDS worship service.

  47. In specific terms, without the United States, the Axis powers could still rule half the world. And without the USA, eastern Europe (including eastern Germany) and the former Soviet nations would still be under a comprehensive tyranny.

    That the US has played an important role in world affairs over the last half century or so is beyond doubt, but when the dust settles it will be a more ambiguous one than that portrayed here (see, for example, the United States’ generous support of a “comprehensive tyranny” during WWII and its role in partitioning Europe).

  48. Peter So it’s perfection or nothing? No room for realpolitik? Perhaps you are right. One prominent strategist claimed that our best option at the end of WWII was to nuke the soviet union into total submission. Wow the problems that would have solved! Oh well.

  49. Al, while some who commented may be the people Dalrymple is talking about, if you read the op you will find that I’m not one of them.

    I do recognize that the US has accomplished a lot of good, I just don’t think that makes us somehow better than others.

    As for Dalrymple’s post, it feels a bit like he’s not really made his point. In particular, I didn’t see where he managed to answer the question he posed: “Is Patriotism Really a Virtue?”

    I do think that a lot depends on how you define patriotism, and my own response is that it can be a virtue, so long as it leads to service to nation and community — and, so long as it recognizes the value and dignity of other countries.

    In my view, there is nothing in that which requires exclusive patriotism.

  50. David:

    Humor me. Why is a song with a discussion of blood not allowed in a sacred meeting like Sacrament Meeting? On a similar note, should we tone down or throw out half of the Sacrament hymns 169-196 because of their language? Hymn #179 in particular: “In token of thy bleeding flesh And of thy blood so freely spent.” Clearly it’s ok to sing about blood, no? I understand we shouldn’t sing about just any blood, but blood spilt for the betterment of mankind seems apropos, if we do not overly focus on it, I would think. But a small remembrance seems ok to me. Why the protest?

    It’s once a year ordeal, and while I am by no means the biggest fan of war, I think it’s nice to sing these songs. Now if I saw it on the program in November, I may find it odd.

    I currently live in Bangalore, India. I can relate first hand to the notion the uncomfortableness in participating in another’s rituals. Every time we visit a Hindu temple, I either have to get a bindi on my forehead or am asked to throw something into a fire. And always remove my shoes. It is awkward. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone by performing the puja wrong when I am there merely trying to have a cultural experience. Normally I prefer to just watch and observe but sometimes find flowers and kum kum powder foisted on me before I know what’s happened. And all this angst for something I don’t even believe in to boot!

    And no, we did not sing any such songs here in Bangalore on the 3rd. Just the usual songs.

    The part I don’t like is that the 4th always falls around Fast Sunday, meaning there’s always at least one person who gets up and either praises or demonizes the current commander in chief, depending on their political leanings. No, I did not miss hearing that this year.

  51. The sacrament is not compatible with war and kids bleeding and dying. The sacrament meeting should be reverent. Again, it is obvious you have never been in battle.

  52. Raymond, the Civic Religion argument is a good one but also cuts against the Tea Party rhetoric of the US being a “Christian Nation”. Rather, its existence alone testifies that this is not the case nor was it intended to be so. The Civic Religion enshrined in our founding documents and expressed through our public practices (including the fact that our holidays in the US are keyed to this Civic Religion and not to Christian liturgical holidays, i.e. the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day — Christmas seems to be the only exception) is purposefully deistic, just like many of the Founders themselves. They appear to have prioritized Lockean religious toleration (see his 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration) and appreciated the value of religious pluralism. As you point out, this deistic Civic Religion allows deity to be involved in a way that is accessible for adherents of virtually any religion, and even to agnostic and atheistic citizens because the nation itself takes on the identity of a higher power outside of the individual.

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