Can patriotism be redeemed?

Theologian Richard Mouw calls for a God-chastened love of country. 

Nowadays many readers are likely to look down their noses at any book that appeals to patriotism. Loyalty to some corner of humanity seems parochial, a betrayal of morality’s commitment to all people. With this book, evangelical theologian Richard Mouw is likely to reach a different set of readers: those who see God and country as practically one. For many evangelical Christians, loyalty to God entails loyalty to country. Mouw defends patriotism but emphasizes that the patri­otism proper for Christians gives highest loyalty to God; other loyalties must bend to that one. Christians must be ready therefore, to speak against—as well as for—the policies and direction of the country they love.

The argument may seem quite middle-of-the-road, and it is. But today in Christian circles, it actually needs to be made. For one thing, Americans who worship with the Stars and Stripes on prominent display—a commonplace, as everyone knows—slip easily into unthinking alliance with their flag-waving leaders. For another, with politics now so infected by anger and distrust, Americans just as easily slip into paralyzing—or sometimes violent—cynicism. For still another, Americans who consider Jesus a purely “personal Savior” often veer toward an individualistic faith that is indifferent to political concern. In all of these ways, true love of country seems compromised, practically inoperative.

Then again, does love of country make sense at all, given God’s claim on our highest loyalty? On this point, Mouw invokes the French activist and philosopher Simone Weil. After Christ had, as she put it, taken “possession” of her, she looked again at her relation to the French nation, then terribly compromised by its cooperation with Adolf Hitler. Weil argued that there is a human need for the particular loyalty we associate with patriotism. Knowing, however, the power of a wrong, or thoughtless, love of country, she sought something more responsible.