Are American Catholics Too Patriotic?

By pintswaquinas July 3, 2024

Some people find Americans’ displays of patriotism surprising—from flying the flag in front of their homes to placing their hands over their hearts for the National Anthem.

This level of patriotism may be questioned by Catholics, in particular, for being excessive. After all, the U.S. still allows abortion, gay “marriage,” and other assaults on human dignity.

The Church does teach that patriotism is a virtue. But just like any other virtue, it can be taken to an extreme.

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Here’s what authentic patriotism really looks like.

Patriotism is not nationalism.
The true patriot loves their nation and the people that live there. They rightfully prioritize their nation’s good before other countries the same way one looks after their family before tending to the needs of other people.

In his book “Memory and Identity,” Pope St. John Paul II talks about this connection between one’s nation and family:

“Nation and native land, like the family, are permanent realities. In this regard, Catholic social doctrine speaks of “natural” societies, indicating that both the family and the nation have a particular bond with human nature, which has a social dimension. Every society’s formation takes place in and through the family: of this there can be no doubt. Yet something similar could also be said about the nation.”

Yet patriotism excludes hatred of other nations and refuses to divinize the state. In fact, true love of country sometimes requires one to oppose their government if it assaults human dignity and undermines the common good.

For example, during World War II, the United States rightly opposed Japanese aggression. But the atomic bomb was an unjustified attack that destroyed countless innocent Japanese lives.

And while the Church does teach that a nation has a right to protect its borders, a nation should also be welcoming to those who, for good reason, come to it from other places to share in its blessings.

Patriotism is fueled by authentic freedom.
True freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want. That would lead to societal chaos. It means being free to choose acts of love. We have individual rights, but we are also responsible — to a degree — for the welfare of other people.

Ultimately, our allegiance belongs to God, not state. Putting God before state helps us properly love our nation by wanting its true good.

May the words of St. Thomas More before his death be our motto: “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

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