While talking about patriotism usually brings up images of Christians from our history, there has always been a minority group which is still not always considered as devoted to our country as others, and has even been accused of not being patriotic by George Bush Sr. at one point (allegedly). This group, you might guess, is atheists. July 4th went pretty normally for my family, interjecting a prayer which I simply listened to with the same silence and impartiality I regard any pleas to divinity. But unbeknownst to me, again, American Atheists ran a campaign across 27 states about atheist activism and culture of sorts. But out of the 78 people who’d fly these planes, only 17 agreed, meaning 10 states might have been left out of the campaign.
The gist of this 4th of July celebration involved flying banners from planes that read either “God-less America” or “Atheism is Patriotic”. It must’ve been difficult to come up with short and concise phrases for this campaign. I actually like the first better than the other, since it brings up much more contention about whether your religion, or lack thereof, has anything to do with your patriotism, which is probably why some of them didn’t run the signs, Christian or not. “God-less America” has a combative ring to it as well, but not to the effect that you make theists feel attacked with “Atheism is Patriotic” The pun on “God Bless America” is a nice touch, but people can get offended at most anything in terms of making atheism stand out in contrast to the theistic majority. If you added “too” at the end of the second saying, maybe you’d get the idea across of shared patriotism in the country, but people might think you’re trying to take God completely out of the country, which would only exacerbate the rumors people spread of anti-God secularism.
With politics and religion, there always seems to be a point of contention in terms of one’s personal adherence to a religious belief, particularly metaphysical, and one’s belief about ethics or values in a secular context. The value of patriotism seems to be held primarily, if not solely, based on the belief in God for some reason. I fail to see the relation between holding any value and your belief or lack thereof in some ultimate value-giver, such as God. If a value is held, such as the justice and greatness of the United States (not exceptionalism, mind you), democracy or individual inalienable rights, one can believe it even if you don’t believe we were created or have souls. One can hold a variety of political positions and believe or disbelieve in God, ranging from anarchist Christians to socialist atheists and vice versa. Many people could actually just as easily accuse Christians of being anarchist, centrist or socialist more than people might commonly accuse atheists of being communists. And capitalism, as I’ve noted in “Conservatives, Christians and Capitalists”, is a shared love of both atheists and theists. It seems as if the ontology or general nature of the values one holds as an atheist are accused by Christians to be groundless because they don’t believe in a law-giver, creator or such. But holding those values doesn’t require grounds beyond basic goals of advancing human flourishing, to use more Aristotelian and Greek philosophical language. To value humans does not require you believe they are absolutely unique and special beyond other animals. More importantly, to believe laws are binding upon society does not require you believe in a transcendent law maker like God is commonly described as.
In engaging with theists about patriotism, it’s a good start to find shared “American” values. Atheists could believe that democracy, freedom of speech and religion, free market economy and other such general beliefs are good and make America an awesome country in its overall goals. If theists don’t recognize this, it puts them in the position of trying to argue that being American requires you also believe in God, or that in order to really love and appreciate the values of this country in any way, you have to believe in God. So this particular crowd thinks that I’m either being willfully deceptive or my beliefs are unjustified by my nontheism, it appears. I noted previously that in philosophical terms, the grounds of a belief don’t require any divine consciousness behind them to have efficacy. They only have to have a practical goal in mind. If humans conceived of this idea of freedom and a government based on freedoms like voting (as long as you’re registered) and other such things (as long as you’re officially a citizen of the country), then shouldn’t those laws be valued because they have people’s interests in mind? No one has to say they’re perfect, because the understandings of laws can change through a popular misunderstanding that persists through history, such as the theme that has become more prominent in the aftermath of the 60s or so of the “Christian nation” and the true “Christian” goals of the founding fathers.
I follow the law not because I’m afraid of jail or punishment by police or the legal system, but because those laws make sense and have reasonable justifications for their existence in most cases. It’s the isolated examples of state constitutions that still have unconstitutional religious test requirements of people in state government that bothers me; it’s the thought process that went behind the decisions in the early and late 50s to make America seem like more of a theistic or, more specifically, Christian, country that bothers me. We may always be a Christian majority nation, and atheists may grow in numbers elsewhere, but no theist should ever make such a claim that an atheist would not be willing to die for the values of this country, because these values don’t need God to compel humans to act for other humans. We merely need the ambition that the country’s very inception inspires in us to begin to act for our fellow person and make the country, dare I say the world, a better place. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.