Patriotism Reconsidered by Carol P. Christ

Originally published on July 8, 2013 on FAR under the title “What Is Patriotism?,” this blog asks questions that seem even more important today, when tanks have been paraded in front of the Lincoln Memorial and children are held in appalling conditions at our borders because their parents dared to seek asylum in the United States.

July 4, American Independence Day, has come and gone. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to reflect on patriotism. What is it? What does it mean from a feminist perspective?  What is the relationship between patriotism and militarism?  Can one be a patriot and oppose war?  Can one be a patriot and deny that “America is the greatest country in the world,” the foundation of  the doctrine of American exceptionalism?

In a recent blog, Caroline Kline called attention to the use of patriarchal God language in the patriotic hymns her child was asked to sing in the 1st grade.  She wondered if this God language could be changed to female positive or gender neutral.  Her post prompted me to ask if changing pronouns would be enough and to revisit the question of patriotism and nationalism.

While I had opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, I was surprised to read Jonathan Schell’s questioning of national sovereignty and the nation-state itself in his 1982 book on the nuclear question, The Fate of the EarthSchell wrote, “the nuclear powers put a higher value on national sovereignty than they do on human survival, and … while they would naturally prefer to have both, they are ultimately prepared to bring an end to [hu]mankind in their attempt to protect their own countries.” (210)  Schell concluded that the adherence to the idea of a nation state may in fact be antithetical to human survival. He stated, “Just as we have chosen to live in the system of sovereign states, we can choose to live in some other system.” (219)

In his 2009 lecture titled “Three Holy Wars” Howard Zinn” questioned the necessity of 3 American wars that almost all historians have justified as necessary and good: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Second World War.  I hope readers of this blog will watch this lecture or a longer version  “The Myth of the Good Wars” on Youtube and think about the reasons leftist pacifist Zinn thought justice could have been achieved in each of these cases without resort to the violence and destruction of war. 

According to Martha Bockee Flint in her 1896 book Early Long Island, at the time of the Revolutionary War, “a not inconsiderable Quaker element was on principle opposed to war, as itself a greater evil than any it might seek to right.” (340)  The Hempstead Colony petitioned for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Bockee Flint commented, “Could ‘honest men’ and good citizens do any less than here resolved?  Yet these Resolutions branded all concerned therewith as ‘Tories,’ the synonym of traitor.” (501)  Still today, anyone who even dares to ask such questions is likely to be called unpatriotic.

In his 1967 essay “Civil Religion in America,” Robert N. Bellah called attention to the ways in which the American narrative has been shaped by the notion of divine providence in the founding of the American nation and in its testing during the Civil War.  When his essay was reprinted in 1991, Bellah stated, “I conceive of the central tradition of the American civil religion not as a form of national self-worship but as the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it in terms of which it should be judged. I am convinced that every nation and every people come to some form or religious self-understanding whether the critics like it or not.”

In the intervening years critics have questioned “American exceptionalism,” which I would argue is rooted in the idea of divine providence in American history.  American exceptionalism is based on the notion that “America is the greatest country in the world.” The root of America’s greatness is “our democratic system.” The corollary to this is that “America has been chosen to spread democratic principles to the world.”  The doctrine of American exceptionalism has been used to justify American wars and interventions in the political systems of other countries.

Critics of American exceptionalism have pointed out that America is not the only democratic system in the world, and possibly not the best exemplar of democratic principles.  How democratic is a country in which states and municipalities systematically and persistently attempt to bar black citizens from exercising the right to vote? If our democracy is so “exceptional” why does America come in 77th in the world in a comparison of the percentage of women holding national political office How democratic is a government that spies on the internet conversations of law-abiding citizens? These are only a few of the many ways American democracy is less than exceptional.

In my series of blogs on patriarchy I argued that patriarchy is a system of male domination founded on the control of female sexuality, private property, and war.  In a recent blog I argued that military culture has been a rape culture since its inception.  Yet the military and war are the bulwarks of the nation state.  Should feminists be supporting any nation state?

Is it possible to be a patriot and to question America’s wars? Is it possible to be a patriot and to ask if war is a greater evil than any it sets to right? Is it possible to be a patriot and to insist that America is neither chosen by God, nor in any other way chosen to be a light to the world?  Is it possible to be a patriot and to recognize that violence is rarely or never the best way to solve national and international disputes? Is it possible to be a patriot and to recognize the military as a rape cuture? Is there another way to be proud to be an American?  Or, should we be trying to build another kind of system altogether?

These are the questions I was asking myself on the 4th of July.


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator currently living in Pachia Ammos, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women.

13 thoughts on “Patriotism Reconsidered by Carol P. Christ”

  1. You raise good questions.

    For me, at least, my answers, I think, depend on whether the “love of country” often associated with patriotism can include pushing your country to do better when it is not doing as well as it could or should. Pushing one to do the best they can is a form of love, after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is as timely today–or more so–as it was five years ago. Surely patriotism and patriarchy share a linguistic root? I have never had much sense of identity as an American, ie United States Citizen, at least not a happy one, because of our history of genocide and slavery and the wars we were involved in as I came of age and continue to pursue. I do have a great love for my region, the Hudson River Valley, its rivers, mountains, trees, plants, and I feel encouraged by the efforts of people to restore the health of rivers, to preserve open land, and to farm sustainably.

    I would not want to see nation states fall to multi-national corporations (as is already happening), but i would love to see a world without artificially created cruelly enforced borders. All sorts of creatures, including humans, used to migrate seasonally on this continent and surely in other places in the world, too. How might we begin to see the earth again as a round shared home beautiful in her diversity of life.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Brava! Excellent research. I have found it very difficult to be “patriotic” for many years, I guess, since Vietnam. I resist standing for the national anthem (which celebrates war) and was on the side of the kneeling football players. Our “fatherland” is no longer exceptional, hasn’t been in many years. Alas. I guess I feel marginally “safer” here in California, home of the so-called liberal elites. But even that safety is fading as the Abuser-in-Chief does his best to destroy our beautiful Mother Planet.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Timely post indeed. I do not believe it’s possible to be a patriot and foster human and non human survival on this planet. The system is rotten at its roots, the founding fathers supported all kinds of discrimination. I could go on and on here.

    As a culture we really need to look at this idea of being chosen as a world leader. In view of recent politics this is a more frightening thought than ever before. We are, have become a culture of hate…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for re-posting this excellent essay; I will be exploring the many links as well. I was listening this weekend to a timely podcast (called Women in Depth) episode where they discuss the concepts of citizen-oriented heroism and enemy-oriented heroism, which led to a good talk between me and my husband about what it means to be “American” with regard to a lot that you mention above. I’ve also been exploring the development of USA in the larger context of the Renaissance and how it escalated into the Scientific Revolution and the Reformation; there’s so much more than the “founding fathers” in how our country became what it is with its strengths as well as flaws. Since most of my ancestors were here from early colonizing times, I’ve been journeying into history … and herstory (where I could find it) … seeking understanding as well as trying to envision how we might shift into a healing, peaceful culture. Blessings to you, Carol!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember distinctly when I realized that the American system is not the best in the world. It was when President Nixon got caught. In Canada it would be a crisis of confidence, the government would fall, there would be an election and it would be business as usual with a different government (or the same one with a new mandate). The US system, on the other hand, has no way to change parties at the top in less than four years. Successful impeachment only leads to a different President from the same party and further successful impeachments still would not allow the electorate to choose (at the time) the party of the President. I remember learning in school that the Founding Fathers (!) did not anticipate political parties; originally the man (!) who came second for President became VP.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I too have not been proud of my country for a long time now US citizens are the only ones who call us “the greatest nation on earth.” No one else does. We are waaaay down the line on health care, on education, on voting rights, on economic opportunity, on women’s rights, on freedom for all, and we have fallen off the map on climate change issues and immigration issues, and the “happiness” quotient doesn’t even show up for the US. So what makes us “great”? Nothing. Not a silly thing. Sometimes it feels like the veritable soul of our country has been hi-jacked. I am still here because my friends are here. And maybe I can influence a tiny corner of my world.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you Carol.

    When the military is extolled on the 4th of July, I shout in my head no, no, no our freedoms and liberties are protected by attorneys and judges, the military not so much. ACLU attorneys are working right now to protect the rights of adults and children held at our borders with little if any respect for their legal rights to due process and basic human needs. The lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center wage a continuous battle against hate groups. Hate groups that hate based on race, religion, sexual orientation and on and on. There are also the public defenders who protect the rights of indigent defendants. These attorneys are often underpaid and frequently lack adequate funding to go against the well funded office of the district attorney.

    I am reflecting today on the win of our soccer team. Without Title IX where would women athletics be? Perhaps we would still dribble the basketball twice and then pass it to another player … those were the rules when I was in high school. We have a ways to go for financial equity, but we will get there. I don’t expect much help from the military, but the legal system for all of its perfections, yes.

    If America is great, I would say it is because we have worked to insure the rights of more and more persons. This is not to be naive and not recognize the many challenges remaining.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Such excellent points, Winifred. I am thankful that today’s atmosphere has taught us EXACTLY what we don’t want. And I daily send prayers into the Universe that the young women coming up through high school and college right now, products of the #metoo movement, high school shootings, the rape of our earth, etc., will become future lawyers and judges who will bring balance back to the system, and bring an end to the pontificating that “he shouldn’t be punished because he comes from a good family and has such potential”, and other such asinine logic as we see today.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Good points all. The air doesn’t know (or care) what nation it blows over and through. Water flows where it will without regard for boundaries. The sun shines on all parts of our precious planet. When will we ever learn. Thanks for writing this Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, Carol. All your thoughts above and more. I look forward to those links as well. The question for me this year has been what is the difference between patriotism and nationalism, but really, does it matter at this stage? When I have such negative feelings about the entire process, I come back to the point that I can only do the little I do in my small circle of the world, and just hope that it radiates out. It’s exhausting though.

    Have you read Dr. Scilla Elworthy’s two books Pioneering the Possible and Business Plan for Peace? I’ve started both and am gradually becoming more positive; I hope they follow through to the end.


  11. Thank you, Carol for reposting this. I missed it the first time.

    My belief is that if things don’t change drastically and soon this country is on its way to becoming a third world country. Things just keep getting worse and worse for everyone except the very rich and don’t get me started on the environmental issue!


  12. Thank you, Carol for reposting this. I missed it the first time.

    I beliefis that if things don’t change drastically and soon this country is on its way to becoming a third world country. Things just keep getting worse and worse for everyone except the very rich and don’t get me started on the environmental issue!
    God bless you Carol!


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