Unearthing the Roots of Patriotism

I’ve read Tony White’s article, The Immorality of Patriotism (FJ Feb.) several times. I particularly appreciate his frank honesty in writing of his original support of the Iraq war. Few seem to modify their original responses by later-discovered facts, as he did. He concludes that patriotism is the force that empowers such destruction. He writes: "We are taught at home, in school, and by the media that love and pride for our country rank among our highest moral duties." He sees patriotism resulting in the propagation of war: we give our support to an institution based on military force. He contrasts this with the message of Jesus to "love our enemies."

Tony White has clearly delineated the course of the patriotic response as it applies to loyalty to country. What I see is that we are all patriots; the roots of patriotism grow unacknowledged in us all. Our unconscious patriotism may not result immediately in violent conflict but it sets the stage for such. One of patriotism’s unrecognized roots in us is a firm allegiance to our concept of us and them, as Tony White recognizes. Another is the gift of our Life-force energy and sense of identity to humanly created structures. The recent legal status of allowing corporations the rights of persons, without the moral responsibilities that personhood implies, is an example of this.

Why are we so identified with the structures we create? We, as living beings, have been gifted by Life. As humans, we apparently don’t find our life identity, alone, adequate to meet our deep needs. Otherwise, why would we give our Life gifts to serve non-life creations?

Why do we identify ourselves with labels tied to humanly created organizations or ideals? I’m seeing patriotism acting through to our "isms": fascism, communism, Catholicism, Protestantism, racism, liberalism, conservatism, nationalism. These terms speak to us as identifiers of ourselves or others who uphold certain conventions, organizations, or ideals. We also separate ourselves by characteristics such as race, culture, and age.

Quakerism: is this a patriotic identity? There are splits among those who call themselves Quakers and divisions between people even within our local meetings and churches. Now, with decreasing numbers of people affiliated with unprogrammed meetings, there is fear expressed that this type of Quakerism might not survive. What is the gift in our unprogrammed worship? If we open to Life and share Life’s blessings with each other in our worship and our lives, Life itself will support our efforts to grow. We move beyond Quakerism into the territory of real life.

The discoveries made by the originators of the Friends movement are eternal discoveries, available to all. They are not limited to individuals and organizations who claim their historical origins in these discoveries. They can only be claimed by each person who newly discovers and lives this reality.

Surely the roots of all such limiting, and ultimately destructive, labels and self-identifiers are our attempts to meet true human needs. When our needs aren’t met, we outsource the reasons for our lack and/or our hopes to fulfill our needs onto organizations and ideals. We blame and oppose those labeled "other"; we support those with which we identify. Either way, we are not seeing the unity of our human condition.

If we identify ourselves as Quakers, what does Quakerism represent to us? Spiritual community? A home-place? Ideals we find in common with others? Much-loved forms, traditions, and structures? How deep is our sense of community? How well do we know each participant in our meeting and in our larger organizations? At what level of knowing are we known? Do we support one another? Can traditions, forms, structures, and ideals meet our true needs? Have we identified these common human needs? Do we help each other open to the love of the Source, Life?

Identifying and addressing our needs requires deep inward exploration. It also requires us to face truths about ourselves and our lives that have previously been hidden from us. We were exploring this in Gila (N.Mex.) Meeting in an adult education program called Roots and Fruits. It can be, and was, painful to recognize how far we are from realizing and meeting our true needs. Until we identify these and begin to address them in community, how can our outreach to others be vital?

When we begin to recognize our unity as Life-gifted humans, we have a key to release our false self-identifications. As Tony White states, the solution is to open to the love that Jesus taught and demonstrated: to "love our neighbors as our self." We may believe this, or similar teachings in other wisdom traditions, but what do we do with our beliefs? We split ourselves into different belief systems and organizational affiliations; we identify self and others according to the "isms" of our times. Do we love our uniquely created Self, or only our ideas of our self as a separate identity, one associated with certain forms and ideals?

How can we open to true love, the love that supports all Life, if we are so confused and misidentified? If we haven’t claimed our true identities, we can’t see the same in others. When we claim our true identities as gifted to us by Life, love flows to us and through us.

I’ve had a taste of this love. I yearn to live in it, always. When I am connected and aligned with the Source, my most basic need is met: I know that I am loved and supported. I trust that when enough of us open and respond to this love, our loyalty will be to Life, however it manifests. This is the basis of true community. This is our part in bringing in the Peaceable Kingdom.

Alicia Adams
Mimbres, N.Mex.