Loyalty -- patriotism and pride and its other synonyms -- and the corresponding boost it gives to one's self-respect is inculcated from early age, certainly in the US, perhaps in other countries. The first complete sentence most of us learn as children is the Pledge of Allegiance, because we recited it each morning from first grade (kindergarten?) forward. "Be true to your school". "Texas Pride" (there used to be a beer named this). Lee Greenwood's song.
There once was a distinct separation of Godliness from patriotism in American public schools; there was when I came through, anyway. Yes, the Pledge added "under God" in 1954 and that development was about ten years old when I began school, but the first time I can recall the two intersecting -- 'colliding' is probably better -- was when I caught myself staring at two Jehovah's Witnesses in my (new school to me) third grade class who stayed in their seats for the Pledge. But today loyalty is increasingly intertwined with religiosity in American public life.
It may be the seed that grows into the conservative notion of American exceptionalism. "God Bless America" in the seventh inning stretch of MLB games now gets the same treatment as the National Anthem: players, umpires, fans remove caps, stand at attention, place hands over hearts. Football players point at the sky after scoring touchdowns, baseball players regularly thank God for their home run right off the bat (pun) in postgame interviews, nearly every public gathering of any kind opens with the Pledge or a prayer or both.
This sort of public, prominent demonstration of the depth of one's faith used to be met with mild scorn. "Jesus freaks", they were called. Today that gets met with an aggressive victimology by Christians. "How dare these Godless heathens criticize our right to pray in public?!"
A much more unfortunate development is the advance of Christianism into the political realm. Our most recent example is, of course, Rick Perry's "Response". A sitting governor organizes a prayer event in a football stadium ... and oddly chooses to exclude from it religions that aren't Christian, that did not immigrate to North America with Caucasians.
And it is increasingly part of the premise that not comporting oneself in this new tradition leaves one open to be criticized as disloyal -- unpatriotic, un-American, anti-American. Dare not even suggest that this trend might be inappropriate for the health of our republican democracy.
I'd rather write more exclusively about politics but for a moment it'll be about my religious experience growing up, so my own motivations might be better understood..
The concept of one Christian denomination being better than another was also introduced to me early on, in my father's failed attempts to indoctrinate me into his Church of Christ. The preachers (they never called them pastors) and the church elders and deacons regularly assailed the Catholic church for its false god, the Baptists and the Methodists for using musical accompaniment, and the Pentecostals and Jehovahs for just being plain crazy. I was as appalled at this behavior as I was at the notion that there was an invisible man in the clouds who could see everything I had ever done, hear and remember everything I ever said, kept a ledger of it all and was prepared at any moment to pass judgment on me with it (along with everybody else in the world).
You know, when you're a 'tween and you're trying to get your rocks off and that idea suddenly enters your head, it's over. (But I never was much for guilt either. No percentage in it for me.) When I got older and thought this out a bit more, one of the conclusions I reached was that there must be a real backlog of cases in that courtroom.
Everybody has probably had, at least once, a tyrant for a boss in their working life -- the closest equivalent to a vengeful, vindictive God, perhaps -- but to choose to live at the tip of that spear for the entirety of one's life on Earth? Under pain of eternal Hell? Seems like a pretty miserable existence. I always felt a little better about the red print in the New Testament, and the words of Mohandas Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
There are a couple of movies which come pretty close to inspiring my current ideas about religion: Defending Your Life, with Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, and Rip Torn; and Dogma with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and George Carlin as a pompous, publicity-seeking Catholic cardinal.
Anywho I need to get some semblance of work done this morning so I'm going to stop here and maybe pick it up again with an update to this or in the comments, depending on what reactions it draws.
Update: Ahh, just the reaction I was expecting. None.
Annie Savoy: I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring... which makes it like sex. ... I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.