Patriotism Contained in the Scripture

Review: Patriotism is a unique love of, devotion to, willing to sacrifice for one’s country.  And to add a little nuance, patriotism is a love for one’s country and his people and his nation, country designating the people’s land, people its citizenry, and nation referring to the shared history or ideals or culture that come prominently to mind when one thinks of a particular people.  

We are seeing if the scriptures make the case for patriotism.  And by a “case for patriotism” I mean that it’s ok to be patriotic.  And something more: to be patriotic is expected; that the absence of patriotism suggests something has gone wrong.  

In a previous post, we observed patriotism modelled throughout the scriptures.  Yes, admittedly we found instances only of Israelite patriotism, and that fact holds its complications, but we’re probably still dealing with a transferable principle.  Now on to the second step in making the case:

#2 Patriotism is contained in the scriptures.  By this is meant that some scriptural passages, while admittedly not exclusively describing patriotism, yet contain patriotism within the scope of their meaning.  And those passages are recommending patriotism.  OK, let’s get to an example. 

Twice in the New Testament (Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3) Paul uses the Greek work storge that the KJV translates as “natural affection.”  To be precise, both times the word is employed along with the negative prefix: so “without natural affection.”  In these passages Paul says that a society moving away from the good sense of religion and hence entering “times of difficulty” is often marked by this lack of natural affection.  

[By the way, surely we have here a case of a superior KJV translation – in the NIV storge is rendered too baldly, as “love”; the ESV has “heartless,” which is better, but it doesn’t train the light on what kind of heartlessness is in view.  Eugene Peterson’s the Message “cruel” shares the ESV’s shortcoming.]  

The “natural affection” that storge has in view is the reciprocal love between fathers and sons.  Yet storgeencompasses more than relationships within the nuclear family.  All the way back to classical Greek (and certainly by the time Paul used it) “natural affection” included ideas of fathers, ancestors, community, fatherland.  

Hence from ancient times, storge has also served to denote patriotism.  Which makes sense.  After all, patriotism emerges from the Latin patri, the “fatherland,” which in turn stems from pater, “father.”  

The KJV translations points out that storge – remember, which includes patriotism – is a “natural” love, which means a) that it normally arrives to the soul unbidden and b) it is in the proper order of things for this love to be taught and exampled from one generation to the next and c) there are corresponding examples of storge to be discovered within the non-human creation.  

This is how the old Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield describes storge: “It designates that quiet and abiding feeling within us, which resting on an object as near to us, recognizes that we are closely bound up with it and takes satisfaction in its recognition. . . It is a love that is a natural movement of the soul, something almost like gravitation or some other force of blind nature.”

Caveat: for all of that “naturalness,” storge can be buried, eliminated.  I’ve read of it being fashionable for turn of last century intellectuals to be out of sorts with their fathers.  A little closer to home, and a little provocative: I think the movement toward identifying oneself as a “global citizen” veers toward “without natural affection.”   

A little more substantiating info to associate “fathers” to nations and thus patriotism:  Scripture doesn’t speak of races created by God.  But in the early chapters of Genesis (confirmed in Acts 17: 26), we do read of nationsbeing created indirectly by God.   Almost always these nations come to be primarily through common descent and common language, that is nations have to do with being born and raised.  This reality is borne out in etymology: the word “nation” is out of the Old French nacion, denoting “birth,” “relatives,” “country”; which itself is from the Latin natio –“that which has been born.”  

Though presumably not providing the total account, the idea of patriotism is contained in Paul’s idea of “natural affection.”

In short, the notion of fatherhood is all over the concept of “nation.”  Hence, repressing the notion of patriotism, a type of father feeling, is a deeply unnatural thing.  “Unnatural” because it is a kind of rejection, first of one’s ancestors, but then ultimately of one’s self.  Which is why the Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest describes this“natural affection” including patriotism as “the binding factor by which any natural or social unit is held together.”  The society devoid of storge must soon collapse.  

(The point isn’t obviated through granting citizenship to the foreign born.  Even when someone becomes naturalized, becomes a citizen of a nation where he was not born, along the way he is brought in an ancestry of ideas.  He adopts the culture and language and ideals that are the inheritance from his new nation’s founding fathers.)  

The Scottish poet, Walter Scott, speaks of the utter unnaturalness of not bearing an affection for one’s fatherland:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

Ok, getting back to our original premise.  Though presumably not providing the total account, the idea of patriotism is contained in Paul’s idea of “natural affection.”  After hopefully establishing this is probable, we can now add one more important reference that contains the notion of patriotism, and in the containing recommends it:  Exodus 20: 12 – Honor thy father and mother.  

You probably saw that one coming!  

Anyway, we have one more e-mail to go in this topic in which I hope to make the biblical case for patriotism.  Remember that the case won’t be carried by just one point but in the accumulation of evidence.  Stand by…

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