Does God love America best?

It’s no secret that I’m a diehard basketball fan. Unfortunately, my favorite team plays 700 miles away in Dallas. I’ve been known to fly down to Dallas for particularly “important” games, demonstrating the infinite tolerance of my wife.

A couple of years ago, I was at a game with a friend, and prior to tip-off, they announced the singing of the national anthem as they always do.

“Please rise as we honor God and America with the singing of our national anthem,” said the announcer. When I pointed out to my friend that there are no words in the anthem referring to God, he accused me of being cynical.

Really?

My generation has the stigma of being unpatriotic, at least within the context of what has been considered patriotism in the past. We don’t have the same general affinity for flags and patriotic songs as generations before us have. Most of our parents lived through Vietnam, the most culturally divisive war in American history since the Civil War, and the repercussions helped shape our view of our government and our global standing as a nation.

There are a few points of resistance with which I know many of my peers can relate. One has to do with the McCarthy-like strategy of suggesting you’re either “fer us or agin’ us.” If you don’t support the idea of preemptive strikes in Iraq, or the greater war on terror, then you’re not patriotic.

This sort of gauntlet, once it’s thrown down, can do nothing other than cause schism. You feel forced to pick sides, and if you differ with those drawing the line in the sand, it places you on the outside of the patriotic circle.

Another point is the ongoing Pledge of Allegiance debate. Some insist that people should not be forced to pledge faithfulness to a nation “under God,” while others contend this position is a direct attack on America itself. Never mind that the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge just over a generation ago.

And, the idea that ours is a Christian nation is a fallacy. In fact, most of our founding fathers were either deists or agnostics who championed the principle of practicing the religion of one’s choice. However, they also asserted the freedom from the mantle of organized religion all together, if one so chooses.

Finally, the matter of patriotism commingling with religion is particularly disturbing to many younger folks. In a time when America was more religiously and culturally segregated, it was easy enough to think everyone believed and looked the way we did. Now, in a much more pluralistic society, the notion of “status quo” is increasingly abstract in every walk of life.

Some see this as a threat to valued traditions, while others look at such critical questioning and thought as an opportunity. For someone who grew up singing patriotic songs in church, and looking at an American flag next to the cross, such symbolism seems perfectly natural. For those of us raised to inspect all leadership and traditions with a critical eye, such things cause us a moment of pause.

There are those who actually believe that America is the home of God’s new chosen people. Most thinking people will agree this is absurd, but this notion is not promoted any more often or passionately than it is from some pulpits on Sunday mornings. For others, the flag and patriotic songs feel right in church, and they have never questioned their place there.

There are those of us, however, who were raised around as many Jews and Muslims as Christians, and living with neighbors, most of whom didn’t look like us. Anything that even suggests a “God loves us more” attitude smacks of elitism, exclusivity and a sense of arrogance, rather than a love of country.

I thank God for being born in this country, and for the many privileges it affords me. I am grateful to those who have preserved the principles of freedom and democracy upon which it was founded.

But the next time you encounter someone who doesn’t express their patriotism in the same way you’re used to, ask questions first and really listen to where they’re coming from, rather than assuming their behavior is patently un-American.

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