Patriotism and Ungodliness
Samuel Johnson once famously proclaimed, "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". He had a point. For the Christian patriotism ought always be written in lower case. There is a form of patriotism which honours God. There is also a patriotism which is a cursed idolatry and angers the Almighty. How can we distinguish?
Love of one's country always must be a subset of one's love for God, for His creation, and for His providential care and provision of His image bearers and other creatures. We love our parents because it is commanded by God Himself: they have provided for us, protected us, and taken care of us. Consequently we return love and affection and care for them, even in difficult times, out of love for God.
Love of nation is similar.
We are to love and care for our nation because it has been God's "mask" to us: our country has protected us from evil, punishing evildoers who would otherwise prey upon the weak and vulnerable, and put up walls of protection and defence against aggressive invaders. Our country has provided us with the opportunity to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves and others: we have lived off the abundance it can produce. This too is a gift from God, and part of the "mask" of His mercy and compassion to us all.
We love the people we meet and enjoy, the friendships with neighbours and colleagues that enrich our lives. We love the foods and traditional dishes upon which we were raised. They speak to us of rich warmth, traditions which sustain life, and the love of family and friends. We recall living overseas for several years and one day smelling roast NZ lamb cooking in a "foreigner's" kitchen. The emotional impact was palpable. In an instant a lifetime memories of warmth, food, fellowship, and pure joy in God's creation of and providence over our homeland was evoked. Such love of country, such patriotism is a godly thing.
But Christian patriotism extends the same respect and open countenance to other nations, other cultures, other peoples--for they too are part of God's creation and providence. They too know His blessings and favour and goodness. We love lamb. "They" love turkey gizzards--indeed, a whole culture of food and pleasing social interaction is based around them--for example. In our country we generally don't eat seabirds, but some in our nation traditionally do. For these patriotism includes this cultural activity--and so it is respected by all others who are truly patriotic.
Other cultures may be foreign to us, but are to be respected and affirmed nonetheless. (We are assuming here, naturally, that all cultural elements which have institutionalised breaches of God's commandments are not welcomed and acceptable to Christians. But that is true of our own culture and patria as well.)
Patriotism becomes a cursed idolatry when one's country is elevated to where it commands loyalty and devotion above, and in the place of, God Himself. In such countries God may be invoked, but never truly served. The state and the culture's norms have become the real pantheon of deity. In such countries to resist the rebellious demands of the ungodly is to be genuinely patriotic. To go along with the illicit demands of an idolatrous patriotism is to deny Christ and to elevate man, collective Man, in His place.
The Scriptures teach that there is a love of man which is both required and godly. There is also a love of man which is demonic and evil. True godly Christian patriotism always knows the difference. If it does not, patriotism has ceased to be holy, righteous and good. It has become nothing more than an evil idolatry. Then it has become the last refuge of the scoundrel.