Good Riddance to Patriotism and Religion

Over at the New York Times, David Brooks is paid more per line than you’ll probably see all year to proclaim the dire need for a restoration of patriotism:

“Because you’re online so much you probably saw the Wall Street Journal/NORC poll that came out this week. It found that the share of Americans who say patriotism is very important to them has dropped to 38 percent from 70 percent since 1998. The share who say religion is very important has dropped to 39 percent from 62 percent. The share who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent from 47 percent. The share who say having children is very important has dropped to 30 percent from 59 percent. . . . [Blah Blah Reagan Blah Clinton Blah Blah Blah] My greatest fear is that the latest renewal will be killed in its crib by the intractable forces of cynicism and withdrawal. [Blah]”

Brooks makes a mishmash of patriotism, trust, community, and all sort of stuff, but patriotism actually has a meaning. It means giving importance and affection to a nation. To any extent that people can identify with the world and with their local communities over and above the disastrous institution of the nation, so much the better. That only 38 percent of people in the United States say patriotism is very important is highly encouraging. National governments, and especially this one, are the primary threat to peace, environmental survival, and actual self-governance. A peace movement, by the way, that thinks it has to wrap peace in national flags in order to not make the absence of mass murder offensive to people, because of something that happened during the destruction of Vietnam, should pay attention to actual public polling.

Of course, one can read a great deal into simple numbers. I don’t know what each person thinks in detail when they think patriotism is not very important. Maybe they passionately believe that if they could consistently get lied to and screwed over by respectable Democrats instead of Trumpish buffoons then patriotism would be glorious. Maybe they only dislike patriotism because they’re generally misanthropic, ignorant, and simply lacking in the acquired wisdom of David Brooks, not having been around long enough to be publicly wrong about so many things for so many years. But it seems more likely to me that they’ve noticed that corrupt and cynical jackasses believe they’ll fall for getting scammed if enough flags are waved, that patriotism is principally a war marketing racket, and that the first refuge of a scoundrel remains patriotism. Brooks thinks they need to stop distrusting institutions and that doing so will revive patriotism. I think institutions need to start earning their trust, and that they’ll be better able to do so without toxic propaganda like patriotism.

Religion has dropped in the U.S. to 39 percent saying it’s very important. As with patriotism, the U.S. is slowly moving in the direction of many other countries, including European countries that have long had more sense of community, more trust in institutions, and much less patriotism and religion. People becoming wise enough to realize a flag doesn’t fix their problems or those of the planet ought darn well to be wise enough to realize that magical make-believe doesn’t help. This may actually be part of a story of greater community and trust; many people between 1998 and now have dropped various forms of bigotry. When that comes to include bigotry toward people from different religious backgrounds, then one is faced with believing that numerous contradictory fairytales are somehow all true or that none are. Of course, not going to church (and not crying during the paid-for patriotism prior to sporting events) can diminish a sense of community, but the same can be rebuilt more solidly outside of the instruments of division and infantile thought habits. Of course, many religious teachings are of basic morality, but the same can be taught by anyone.

The fact that community can be built outside of decrepit relics of colonialism and ignorance doesn’t mean it has been. Sadly, those who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent. This does not, of course, tell us whether anyone is kind, generous, loving, honest, intelligent, courageous, or anything else. It does tell us that something valuable is being lost. It does not tell us how to change that. One way to change it would be with honesty and kindness, would be telling people that we are in fact facing global crises and need to build global and local communities to address those crises, that we are confronted by rotten governments and oligarchs and need to take them on with the effective tools of nonviolent action, local government, cross-border solidarity, and the ability to see through David Brooks’ bullshit without in any way becoming the pathetic suicidal wrecks he might imagine that would require us to be.

Brooks laments a lack of importance on having children without mentioning that people know the Earth is facing an ever growing likelihood of environmental collapse and/or nuclear apocalypse, and without mentioning that it costs money to raise children, something fewer and fewer people have. This sort of tone deafness is, at least for many people, what drives the cynicism and withdrawal that Brooks fears. But it doesn’t have to. We can confront the cynicism of elected and unelected engineers of the current disaster train rather than becoming like them.

6 thoughts on “Good Riddance to Patriotism and Religion”

  1. The thing about statistical evidence is that it doesn’t tell us what’s going to happen next. Think about Iran, when the Shah abdicated. It seemed at that time, in the seventies, that Iran was trending secular, but it quickly became a repressive malevolent theocracy. Now look at the U.S. It seems obvious that White Christian Nationalism is on the upswing, and perhaps not captured in statistics, as a kind of reaction to this trend in increasing secularization. Trump got elected in 2016 riding on this wave, and the January sixth insurrection also ran on that WCN fuel. In my opinion the danger of the far right merging with conservative Christianity is immanent. Americans are sleepwalking into a coming civil war. The Republicans have weaponized the Supreme Court, making it into a powerful force for dividing up the country into red states with White Christian Nationalist themed legal systems, media, and educational systems. This, together with the fifty year alliance between the gun industry and the far right with the resultant steady increase in mass murders will lead inexorably to a civil war. The statistical trend towards increasing secularization is not at all grounds for celebration. The right wing over-reaction to this trend is now the immanent danger, a danger that overshadows everything else, even global warming. Because if Fascism takes center stage the environmental movement could be permanently crushed.

  2. “If you can have reason without faith [dogmatic, materialist science], then indeed, for example, you will see that there can be faith without reason [religious fundamentalism].
    When human experience becomes shrunken in such a fashion — compressed — then in a fashion it also explodes at both ends, you might say.”

    –Jane Roberts

  3. “As most atheistic ideologies are based in the mere denial of God’s
    existence, I would
    like to stress that no philosophy can be justifiably upheld without
    possessing some
    underlying logic through which to substantiate its basic principles.
    Without such a
    logic, what is referred to as a philosophy is really nothing more than
    just another
    groundless belief system, founded in emotion rather than reason. As I see
    it, this is
    the essential problem faced by today’s atheist movement. Rather than
    possessing an
    inherent wisdom of its own, the atheist movement relies on the logical
    of those faiths it seeks to contest. And though it’s true that no
    has ever been
    able to defend its precepts with reason, no legitimate philosophy can
    stand on gain-
    say alone. The contradicting of one belief system does not validate the
    tenets of
    another. Establishing that something is not white, for instance, does not
    its being black. Analogously, finding fault in the convictions of every
    world religion
    does not constitute proof that there is no God. Consequently, if we are
    ever to
    advance a viable atheism, it must possess its own rationale, its own
    logical founda-
    tion…” which the author below attempts to do with his book.

    From _THE “GOD” PART OF THE BRAIN: A Scientific Interpretation of
    Human Spirituality and God_

    Peoples’ God concepts (which are in essence aspirational) are a reflection of the “state” of their consciousness, “where they’re at” in that regard.

    A lot of fundamentalist Christians seem to embrace the Old Testament vengeful god more than the New Testament rather socialist Jesus.

  4. “Funny” how near-death experiencers no longer fear death. Those are some quite powerful hallucinations of a dying brain.

    There are many cases of young children, including in our own culture, remembering a life of theirs set in the past.

    Scientists “make believe” this stuff can just be completely ignored. Ignoring data is bad science.

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