Magazine article The Christian Century

True Patriotism

Magazine article The Christian Century

True Patriotism

Article excerpt

MANY AMERICANS HAVE become born-again believers in patriotism since September 11, some to their own surprise. Writing the "My Turn" column in Newsweek, for instance, 20-something Rachel Newman confessed that before 9/11 she and her girlfriend had been talking about moving to another country because of the perceived inequalities in the U.S. All that changed after the terrorist attacks: then she realized she had taken American freedoms for granted. Though she would never have classified herself this way beforehand, now she calls herself a patriot.

This is natural: when under attack, we find security and solace from within our family, clan or nation. But the circling of the social wagons brings its own problems--as the culture of terrorism shows. Eric Hoffer once said that a movement doesn't necessarily need a god to survive, but it needs a devil. We can respond to threats by sealing ourselves off from the "other," or demonizing those who seem like outsiders. When people feel under siege, they tend to feed off each other's anxieties. And they become more compliant toward authority, looking to their leaders to comfort and protect them. This can lead to sacrificing individual rights and the legal safeguards of due process for the promise of security. …

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