Flag Day and Patriotism
Today is Flag Day here in the United States. So, what does that have to do with Paganism? Well, I am part of a small movement called Religio Americana or American Paganism which grew out of a discussion on the Beliefnet Hellenismos & Religio Romana forum sometime around 2002. Erik Dutton and some others were talking about how in ancient Rome there was a state religion, the Religio Romana, and how even though in the United States we have separation of church and state, we have a kind of Judeo-Christian flavored civic religion- a Religio Americana. That we might further develop a pagan form of this- religious celebration of civic holidays, pilgrimages to sacred sites like state capitols and honoring heroes like George Washington and Lady Liberty as our goddess. Some of the participants of this discussion went on to start the Religio-Americana yahoo group and the American SIG in ADF. Pax, a member of the list suggested doing synchroblogging on civic holidays- here’s his take on Flag Day.
While there are other civic holidays, like Independence Day and Thanksgiving that have more meaning to me, Flag Day is one that I tend to overlook. I admit that have some mixed feelings about my country’s flag, that I’m working on getting over.
I remember in Girl Scouts when we’d raise the flag and salute it. It made no sense to me. Why salute a piece of cloth? Why show it respect? After getting into the more traditional forms of polytheism I realized the treatment of the flag is a form of orthopraxy (right practice) The flag is treated as a sacred symbol of the nation. “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” – Section 8.j. The Flag Code, a list of rules governing the proper display and disposal of the flag, is vaguely reminiscent of Kosher laws. Outside of the military and perhaps the Boy Scouts, post-Baby Boomer generations are pretty oblivious to this protocol. The website I linked to above has a “Wall of Shame” with photographs depicting violations of the Flag Code. Ironically, quite a few of these took place after September 11 when people were trying to be patriotic!
So what’s the problem? The liberal discomfort with the American flag probably goes back to Vietnam, with burning the flag and re-hoisting it upside down as acts of protest. There were various efforts to ban flag burning. While I oppose these bans as violating freedom of expression, I wouldn’t participate in flag-burning myself. Not only would this be unpatriotic, but also an ineffective form of protest, too divisive.
There’s been a tendency to see display of flags as implying conservative and pro-war views. The flag should transcend all these political divisions. It does not represent the government, but the country itself. Patriotism is not about blindly following ones’ government. In fact, dissent is quite patriotic, if intended to improve or help ones’ country.