All Our Relations: Pagans and the more-than-human world.

For aware Pagans the Sacred encompasses us all, rivers and mountains, oceans and deserts, grasses and trees, fish and fungi, birds and animals. Understanding the implications of what this means, and how to experience it first hand, involves our growing individually and as a community well beyond the limits of this world-pathic civilization. All Our Relations exists to help fertilize this transition.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

A Fourth of July 4th meditation on patriotism

Here in Sebastopol, where I live, someone loves driving around in his pick-up with a huge American flag attached to its bed.  So far as I know he does it every day. I suppose he is making a statement about his patriotism.  Every week on the main corner here in town for years two groups face off, one loudly “supporting our troops” the other more quietly supporting peace.  The first waves flags and to my mind, sadly the second group generally does not, giving the first a visual advantage they do not deserve.  

Among people with more progressive sympathies patriotism has gotten a bit of a bad rap by being equated with those who talk the most aggressively about it, and shove their views in everyone’s face.  It’s rather like religion getting a bad rap because of the excesses of those who make the most noise about it.   I think this is too bad.  Patriotism is a complicated emotion and a complicated commitment, but it is very real for most of us.

I think there are two kinds of genuine American patriotism, and two false kinds. We have a great deal of the second over the past decade and not nearly enough of the first. Genuine American patriotism takes two forms. They are not mutually exclusive, but they appeal to different dimensions of who we are as Americans.  Different people may feel one more than the other, but both are genuine.

Genuine Patriotism I: Love of our founding principles

The United States is almost unique among nations in having its roots in founding principles rather than the long term occupation of a territory. We have no tribal history, as so many Europeans have. The term “un-American” carries more genuine information than terms like “un-British” or “un-French.”  The first genuine American patriotism is love for the principles upon which our country was founded, principles enunciated clearly in our Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The same values are also clearly implied in our Constitution's preamble.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

These principles are said apply timelessly to all people, but are particularly associated with our own founding. They emphasize all people are worthy of respect, equality under the law, and a voice in determining the laws and institutions under which they live.

Cynics will argue, and they will argue truly, that these principles were imperfectly observed from our very beginning. From genocide and imperialism against native peoples to the horrors of slavery and its aftermath to our government’s frequent support of loathsome regimes abroad, there have been and continue to be no shortage of their violation. 

But this is not a repudiation of the principles or of the attempt to found a nation on them. Here’s why. That every culture and every person frequently fails to live up to their highest ideals does not mean those ideals are simply window dressing. They exert a gravitational pull in their direction, modifying what pulls from other directions, and sometimes that pull can be decisive. 

Consider perhaps our greatest failing, the long persistence of American slavery in the South after independence, followed by often violent and always vicious segregation there - and elsewhere. These founding words could not be made to fit the practice and were too important to erase from our history.  They therefore stood as an eternal criticism of such practices.

One of our principal founders, John Jay, wrote

Prior to the great Revolution . . . our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves, that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. Some liberal and conscientious men had . . . drawn the lawfulness of slavery into question. . . . Their doctrines prevailed by almost impossible degrees, and was like a little lump of leaven which was put into three measures of meal.

By a few decades after the Revolution a majority of states had abolished it, and the profit of slavery in the South was so great that they ultimately repudiated the principles our country was founded on.

When some brave Americans began to create the Civil Rights Movement these principles strengthened their side and weakened the other. Imagine of Martin Luther King jr. had tried to do what he did in South Africa, where the government’s founding principles were the opposite of ours.

Our founding principles are important for another reason. While secular they are in accord with humankind’s highest religious teachings. While not reaching as high, they are in harmony with love and compassion. The principles enunciated in our Declaration are probably the only principles by which men and women of different religious beliefs and practices can live together peacefully as equals. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset captured this insight when he wrote as an ideal liberal democracy is "the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence is the noblest cry that has ever resounded upon this planet. It announces the determination to share existence with the enemy; more than that, with an enemy which is weak. It is incredible that the human species should have arrived at so noble an attitude. . . “

I would add that it gives that opponent the opportunity to become a majority.

Genuine Patriotism II: Love of community and place

The second form of genuine patriotism is rooted in our love of our community because it is OUR community. As Americans we share a common life often lost from sight until some disaster or aggression against some of us focuses us on what we share in common as a political community.  9-11 was such an event, and even those of us watching the attack from the far West winced and felt some of the horror and pain as we saw those jets slam into the World Trade Center towers.  Similarly, we sympathized with the people of New Orleans as Katrina turned a great city into a wasteland or when the great storm Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey coast..  Many of the people of New York, New Orleans, and New Jersey would seek to help us Californians, should a great earthquake devastate us, as one day it will. 

We Pagans in general  are particularly open to love of place, the deeper spiritual dimensions of this land and all that flourishes here.  Pagan societies world wide have generally recognized and honored the sacred dimension of where they lived as more than human and transcending narrowly human concerns.  As a community I think we are very receptive to this kind of patriotism, a patriotism of the heart.

This kind of patriotism is in many ways similar to our love for our families. We may not agree with other family members, even over issues we hold dear. We certainly did not choose them. But we are still family, sharing a common bond and obligations of loyalty and regard and even love.  Thanksgiving is a powerful affirmation of these ties, the only major holiday corporate America has yet to turn into a profit center. If at no other time, Democrats and Republicans, Pagans and Christians, Believers and Nonbelievers gather together to celebrate both as members of a family and members of a nation.

There is another aspect to this kind of patriotism.  It respects similar patriotism in others. I love my family but do not imagine it is qualitatively superior to all other families.  I know other people love their families with just as much justification as I love mine.  The same hold for love of my country.  Genuine love of country does not denigrate other countries. It is a standing rebuttal to those who argue patriotism of the heart necessarily needs enemies.

False Patriotisms

As bad money drives out good, two imposters have weakened the hold genuine patriotism has for many Americans. Like tapeworms and other parasites, they masquerade as what they are not to take on a vitality they could never acquire on their own. And like other parasites they weaken their host. Too many of them can destroy it. And we suffer from a bad infestation of those who raise false patriotism above the real thing.

False Patriotism I: the egoism of sect

The first of these parasitical imposters is the "patriotism" of those Americans who exclude many of their fellow Americans from full membership in our country. It is exemplified by ‘patriots’ like Ted Cruz  who opposed aid to New Jersey but demanded the people of New Jersey pay to aid Texas when it flooded.  These ‘patriots’ exclude people they have never met and about whom they know nothing beyond their politics, religion, ethnicity, or previous nationality are often different from theirs.  For these people patriotism is not belief in our country's founding principles, but belief in community homogeneity, not love of a symphony, but for a single note, repeated over and over again. In the context of our country they are the true parasites, giving nothing in return for what they take.

To return to my family analogy, it is as if membership in my family requires agreement among us all, and anybody with different views is expelled. It is the attitude of a sect.  Attitudes like these shatter families and countries alike. Far from being evidence for either love of family or love of country, this attitude is only a narcissistic love of self expanded to include or reject all others based on how well they confirm my own sense of what’s right. Those who differ from my values or attitudes do not deserve fellowship with me. It narrows, embitters, and weakens a country because it reflects attitudes at odds with genuine love of country as well as human decency.

False patriotism II: love of power

Bad as this third kind of "patriotism" is, it is Enlightenment itself compared to the most toxic of all.  The fourth is simply love of power and domination over others dressed up in patriotic rhetoric. It has afflicted every people during their time of greatest political success, and it has eventually undone them.  This attitude is exemplified by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman  saying the real message Iraqis needed to hear was “suck on this.” The Iraqis had nothing to do with 9-11, and bad as their situation was under Hussein, it has been far worse since power drunk Americans decided for them to ‘suck on it.”

This is the philosophy of the thug and exemplifies the most subversive of patriotic poses. It glorifies our country's power while undermining the well-springs of that power. They are excited by our capacity to impose our will and kill those who disagree. They argue the President is above the law, an American Caesar, and that we have the right to force our will on anyone anywhere with the justification that at some future time they might do something we do mot like if we don’t.  It is a principle incompatible with peaceful relations.

Further, by claiming that patriotism is only genuine for those who support them, they weaken our nation internally by turning American against one another. They equate themselves with the country as a whole, the better to force their way on others. They equate supporting our troops with supporting their policies- policies that get some troops killed and others maimed physically and psychologically in the name of endless war.

This fourth kind of "patriotism" undermines first two and is ultimately unconcerned with the third. Those adhering to it are among our country's most dangerous enemies. One of the saddest aspects of politics today is that so many well-meaning Americans still believe these people love their country when what they really love is power and domination.

On today, the Fourth of July, and afterwards as well, may we grow in our appreciation of the two genuine forms patriotism can take, and reject the poisonous imposters that have confused far too many of our countrymen and women.

Last modified on
Gus diZerega DiZerega combines a formal academic training in Political Science with decades of work in Wicca and shamanic healing. He is a Third Degree Elder in Gardnerian Wicca, studied closely with Timothy White who later founded Shaman’s Drum magazine, and also studied Brazilian Umbanda  for six years under Antonio Costa e Silva.

DiZerega holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UC Berkeley, has taught and lectured in the US and internationally, and has organized international academic meetings.

His newest book is "Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture Wars, and the Return of the Divine Feminine (Quest, 2013) received a 'silver' award by the Association of Independent Publishers for 2014. It puts both modern Pagan religion and the current cultural and political crisis in the US into historical context, and shows how they are connected.

His first book on Pagan subjects, "Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience," won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from  The Coalition of Visionary Resources. 

His second,"Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and a Christian in Dialogue" is what it sounds like. He coauthored it with Philip Johnson. DiZerega particularly like his discussion of polytheism in Burning Times, which in his view is an advance over the discussion in Pagans and Christians.

His third volume, "Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine," was published in 2013 and won a Silver award from the Association of Independent Publishers in 2014. The subject is obvious, and places it, and the rise of goddess oriented spiritual movements and our "cold civil war" in historical context.

His pen and ink artwork supported his academic research in graduate school and frequently appeared in Shaman’s Drum, and the ecological journals Wild Earth, and The Trumpeter. It now occasionally appears in this blog.


Additional information