July 4, 2010

God Bless America—from a Buddhist.

American Patriotism is typically superficial and macho, here’s what it’s actually about:

Why I’m just one of many liberal  patriots.

(Plus, my fave patriotic Norman Rockwell paintings)

USA! USA! USA? Not really. My American Patriotism is a gratitude for our foremothers and forefathers, for Self-Government & Fundamental Rights.

My momma raised me to love my country—but not blindly or aggressively.

As for those who wear the USA flag on shirts and hats, however innocently, traditionally the Boy Scouts and military would consider such to be disrespectful. You don’t treat the flag like fashion. You raise it cheerfully, silently acknowledging all that it symbolizes.

Our flag symbolizes our freedoms, not merely our uncritical support of whatever Administration happens to be in power; and so when I see liberals wear tee-shirts with upside-down American flags, it makes me sad. Our patriotism can handle dissent; in fact it thrives on it.

When I saw Neoconvervatives who never served in the military criticize President Obama for not wearing a (Made in China) American lapel pin at all times, it reminds me that we are confused. Patriotism in other countries might be like rooting for a football or baseball or basketball or soccer team: you’re either for ’em or against ’em, no matter what they do.

But if patriotism is love for a nation, then let our love be mature, gentle, firm. It needn’t be superficial, macho.

America is and always has been first and foremost an idea, an ideal. Thomas Jefferson, slave-owner and lover, wrote a long criticism of slavery into the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. In America, even Neo Nazis—or any ideology we might disagree with—has the same right to Freedom of Expression that we do. Just because we don’t like something—say, gay marriage or blacks sitting at the front of a bus—doesn’t mean that we should be able to outlaw it.

And our fourth estate, our media, however bought and paid for on a mainstream level, has the right to speak truth to power without fear of retribution (in an age of blogging, this right is newly powerful, superficial, casual, grassroots and independent).

As a liberal patriot, I love America like a brother or sister who might veer left or right of the razor’s edge of truth and integrity. So I criticize America, because America is by, for and of the people, and we have retained the right, nay duty to criticize our self-government.

But I do not disrespect America. I am a liberal. I am a American patriot. I am just another liberal American patriot, and I say here that the flag is as much mine as it is yours, and I say that the wisdom to vote for a lesser evil, for an imperfect man or woman is my most sacred of duties.


And so, tonight, this being Independence day, I’ll raise a microbrew and I’ll say—as an American Buddhist, free to worship in one of the rare governments that separates church and state—”God Bless America.”

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