“Patriotism is the highest form of religion.”
Professor X was my Philosophy instructor in fall 2002. I’m using a nickname not to protect his identity but rather because I can’t remember his name to save my life. In fact, there’s very little I can tell you about him or the course…
- It was a requirement if I didn’t want to take another math class at university (I didn’t)
- Prof. X detailed the disturbingly simple process of performing a lobotomy using only an icepick—I swear I could do it if needed
- He said that if his comments didn’t offend us, either we weren’t pondering them enough or our convictions weren’t as strong as we thought
- One of my classmates described him as “Willy Wonka on speed” (Gene Wilder, this was pre-Johnny Depp)
- I sat next to a girl named Josephine who liked to be called JoJo; I could never bring myself to call her that
- Josephine was also in my Spanish class y ella le gustaba el vino…ella no era 21
“Patriotism is the highest form of religion.” Less than a year after 9/11, his proclamation made me bristle. And to an extent, I think that was his intent. The more I think about it, though, I do see distinct similarities between the two.
While I acknowledge the relative accuracy of his declaration, my perspective is quite different from that of Professor X. In spite of the occasional double-edged-sword quality, I find both religion and patriotism to be generally positive elements of one’s life.
They equally urge us to place our trust and belief in something bigger than ourselves, something that has the power to divide groups but also unite them. Though many terrible battles have been waged under the guises of both, there are precious few other motivators in this world that lead people to lay down their own lives. Such sacrifice is tragic and touching when met with the realization that it’s almost exclusively offered for a perceived “greater good.”
We join our voices in songs of praise and adoration for our chosen deities and countries of origin. We pledge our allegiance and wear or otherwise display symbols boasting our pride and dedication. Most importantly, we long to protect, support and encourage one another when we’re of like mind.
The events of the recent days have been no small reminder of this. When I first heard about the explosions at the Boston Marathon a week ago, it was unclear whether it was an act of terror or a sad coincidence with a natural gas line or other such possibility. And while it quickly became evident that the Boston community had been attacked, Americans near and far banded together in uplifting the victims and strengthening our united resolve. As breaking news coverage on Friday revealed the manhunt and subsequent capture of the suspect, we cheered and breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that our neighbors could again sleep easy.
Perhaps you’ve already seen this scene from the April 17th Boston Bruins hockey game—an arena full of fans proudly singing our national anthem—I can’t get through it without goosebumps.
It absolutely stirs my soul…and that’s the point.
Patriotism and religion, both powerful and evocative, are intertwined with our experiences and priorities. Our lives are rich tapestries woven from the sum of these.