L. Beliefs about the nation itself
The society values patriotism and reinforces a shared sense of national identity and purpose
One of the benefits that gave Britain a great economic advantage in the Industrial Revolution was that it was “a self-conscious self-aware unit characterized by common identity and loyalty and by equality of civil status.” The nation as a whole had a “collective synergy” in which “the whole is more than the sum of the parts.”
Japan, similarly, had a strong sense of patriotism that began to contribute positively to economic development in the late 1800s.
Widespread general education instilled in children a respect for (even adoration of) the emperor, and this served to establish a strong national identity. In addition, universal military service “nurtured nationalist pride.” A sense of patriotism encouraged every Japanese citizen to exercise personal discipline in daily life and to “fully discharge one’s responsibility on the job.”
Such a sense of patriotism seems to us to be consistent with biblical values. Because any nation can have rulers who are evil, a Christian view of government should never endorse a kind of “blind patriotism,” according to which a citizen must never criticize a country or its leaders. In fact, a genuine patriotism, which always seeks to promote the good of the nation, promotes honest criticism of the government and its leaders when they do things contrary to biblical moral standards. It also drives criticism of the cultural traditions and values of a nation when they run contrary to biblical values.
But is patriotism actually a virtue at all? The Bible supports a genuine kind of patriotism in which citizens love, support, and defend their own country.
a. Biblical reasons for patriotism
Biblical support for the idea of patriotism begins with a recognition that God has established nations on the earth. Speaking in Athens, Paul said that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
One example of this establishment of nations is found in God’s promise to make the descendants of Abram (later Abraham) into a distinct nation: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). Later, God says to Abraham, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).
The ancient origin of many nations on earth is recorded in the Table of Nations descended from Noah in Genesis 10, which concludes,
“These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (v. 32). In the ongoing progress of history, Job says that God “makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” ( Job 12:23).
The meaning of the word nation as it is used in the Bible is not different in any substantial way from the meaning we attach to it today—a group of people, living under one government, that is sovereign and independent in its relationship to other nations. The existence of many independent nations on the earth, then, should be considered a blessing from God.
One benefit of the existence of nations is that they divide and disperse government power throughout the earth. In this way, they prevent the rule of any one worldwide dictator, which would be more horrible than any single evil government, both because it would affect everyone on earth and because there would be no other nation that could challenge it. History has shown repeatedly that rulers with unchecked and unlimited power become more and more corrupt.
The Bible also teaches Christians to obey and honor the leaders of the nations in which they live. Peter tells Christians to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17), and he also says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors” (vv. 13-14).
Paul likewise encourages not only obedience but also honor and appreciation for civil rulers: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). He also says that the ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (v. 4). He concludes this section by implying that Christians should not only pay taxes but also give respect and honor, at least in some measure, to rulers in civil government: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (v. 7).
These commands follow a pattern found in the Old Testament as well, as the following verses indicate:
My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who
do otherwise. (Prov. 24:21)
Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich. (Eccl. 10:20)
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:4-7)
God’s establishment of individual nations, the benefits that come to the world from the existence of nations, and the biblical commands that imply that people should give appreciation and support to the government leaders where they live all tend to support the idea of patriotism in a nation.
b. Aspects of patriotism
With these factors in mind, we would define genuine patriotism more fully as including the following factors:
- (1) A sense of belonging to a larger community of people. This sense provides one aspect of a person’s sense of identity and obligation to others.
- (2) Gratitude for the benefits that a nation provides. These might include the protection of life, liberty, and property, the existence of laws to deter wrongdoing and encourage good, the establishment of a monetary system and economic markets, and the establishment of a common language or languages.
- (3) A shared sense of pride in the achievements of other individuals to whom one “belongs” as a fellow citizen of the same nation. This might include pride in athletic, scientific, economic, artistic, philanthropic, or other endeavors.
- (4) A sense of pride for the good things that a nation has done. This sense is developed by a proper understanding of the nation’s history and a sense of belonging to a group of people that includes previous generations within that nation.
- (5) A sense of security with respect to the future. This sense develops because of an expectation that the larger group—that is, everyone in the nation—is working for the good of the nation and therefore will defend each person in the nation from attacks by violent evildoers, whether from within or outside its borders.
- (6) A sense of obligation to serve the nation and do good for it in various ways. These ways might include defending it from military attack or from unfair criticism by others, protecting the existence and character of the nation for future generations, and improving the nation in various ways where possible, even through helpful criticism of things that are done wrong within the nation.
- (7) A sense of obligation to live by and to transmit to newcomers and succeeding generations a shared sense of moral values and standards that are widely valued by those within the nation.108 Such a sense of obligation to shared moral standards is more likely to happen within a nation than within the world as a whole, because a person can act as a moral agent and be evaluated by others within the context of an entire nation, but very seldom does anyone have enough prominence to act with respect to the entire world. Also, while values and standards can readily spread to most of the citizens of one nation (especially where most speak a common language), the world is so large and diverse that it is difficult to find many moral values and standards that are shared throughout all nations, or any awareness in one nation of what values are held in other nations. If such moral values and national ideals are to be preserved and transmitted within a nation, it is usually necessary for the citizens to share a common sense of the origins of the nation and its history.
By contrast, the opposite of patriotism is an attitude of dislike or even scorn or hatred for one’s nation, accompanied by continual criticism of it. Rather than sharing in gratitude for the benefits provided by the country and pride in the good things it has done, those opposed to patriotism will repeatedly emphasize negative aspects of the country’s actions, no matter how ancient or how minor compared with the whole of its history. They will not be proud of the nation or its history, and they will not be very willing to sacrifice for it, to serve it, or to protect and defend it. Such anti-patriotic attitudes will continually erode the ability of the nation to function effectively and will eventually tend to undermine the very existence of the nation itself. In such cases, a healthy but limited criticism of the wrongs of a na- 
tion becomes exaggerated to the point where reality is distorted and a person becomes basically opposed to the good of the nation in general.
To take a modern example, a patriotic citizen of Iran in 2013 might well say, “I love my country and its great traditions, ideals, and history, but I’m deeply saddened by the oppressive and evil nature of the current totalitarian government.” A patriotic citizen of North Korea might say something similar. A patriotic citizen of Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein might have said similar things as well.
To take another example, a patriotic citizen of Germany might say, “I love my nation and I’m proud of its great historical achievements in science, literature, music, and many other areas of human thought, though I am deeply grieved by the evils perpetrated under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, and I am glad that we were finally liberated from his oppressive rule.”
These examples illustrate that even citizens of countries with evil rulers can retain a genuine patriotism that is combined with sober and truthful criticism of current or past leaders. But such patriotism still includes the valuable components mentioned above, such as a sense of belonging to a particular nation, gratitude for the benefits it gives, shared pride in its achievements, a sense of security, a sense of obligation to serve and protect it (and hopefully to change any evil leadership), and a sense of obligation to follow and transmit shared values and ideals that represent the best of the country’s history.
If such things can be true of even nations with bad governments, then certainly patriotism can be a value inculcated in all the other nations of the world as well. In this sense, a Christian view of government encourages and supports genuine patriotism within a nation.