For the July 4th weekend, Eric Patterson and Mark Melton discuss what C.S. Lewis teaches Christians about patriotism and “love of home,” particularly in The Four Loves. They review how Lewis served his country in both the First World War and the Second World War, which demonstrates that he writes from experience when he writes about patriotism and sacrifice. And while Lewis argues that the “love of home” is the best type of patriotism, he warns against someone loving his or her country because of its history, as this can lead to a puffed-up vision that is easily debunked unless the study of history is done carefully and seriously. So Patterson and Melton discuss how Christians should understand history by recognizing mankind’s sinfulness and God’s common grace. Melton also argues that, if Christians’ love of home or country is rooted in neighborly love, they should love their neighbors both near and far. This requires understanding local issues and participating in local politics. Patterson adds that this focus on the local community can include volunteering in various organizations.
“C.S. Lewis on Love of Country and Love of God: An Independence Day Reflection,” by Eric Patterson.
“For God and Country, Part 1: Christian Patriotism,” by Mark Melton.
Welcome back to the Foreign Policy ProvCast. My name is Mark Melton, and I’m the managing editor of Providence. And today I’m speaking with Eric Patterson. He is the vice president of the Religious Freedom Institute and a scholar at large at Regent University. First off, Eric, thank you for joining us today.
It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Mark.
So today, we’re going to be talking about CS Lewis and what he wrote about on patriotism. And so for listeners who are listening to these podcasts in order, the last podcast, I talked with Sam Goldman about his book on ‘After Nationalism,’ and for those who didn’t listen to it, first off, go listen to it.
So in the book that Goldman wrote, and in the podcast, he describes how Americans have viewed themselves as a nation. And he gets into this idea of like, a strong, cohesive identity. And ‘nation’ has generally meant a group of people with a strong common identity. And in this podcast, we’re going to be talking a bit more about patriotism. And specifically, as Lewis calls it, ‘a love of country,’ or ‘a love of home.’ And Lewis breaks down like different visions, or different faces of what that love looks like: some good and some bad. But we’re really going to be focusing on how can a Christian love their home, their neighbors, their country, their government, whether or not that country or government or state has a strong cohesive common identity, which a lot of places I would argue don’t have.
For instance, in Iraq you have different groups who are living alongside each other: Kurds and Turkmen and others who… arguably it could be described as either ethnic groups or nations. But it’s a pretty mixed up situation there with a mosaic of peoples, as I’ve heard it called before. And so we’re going to be looking at patriotism as ‘how can a Christian love their home and country well?’ And so within this we’re going to be talking, like I said, about CS Lewis. So Eric, would you like to kind of pitch what made you interested in this particular topic? Because you emailed me a few months ago with ‘hey, have you ever written anything, or has anyone written anything about CS Lewis and what he says in Four Loves about patriotism? And I responded, ‘well, actually, I did a couple years ago,’ and we’ll link to those articles. But how did you find this? And how did you get interested in this topic?
Mark, thanks again for having me. And this is such a fascinating topic. So let me say something first about patriotism and nationalism, and then how I came into this with CS Lewis.
And as you said, that in the social sciences, starting in the late 19th century, this term nationalism came to mean the idea that geography and identity should cohere. In other words, the people who live in a place should be of the same kind of ethno-religious cultural identity. Because before that, you think about the Russian Empire, think about the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, these are multi ethnic places. And when they broke down the movements were looking for local autonomy to control their destiny, based on shared identity, history, culture, language, religion, etc. And so it’s a neutral term. One can love one’s country, whether it’s the multi ethnic country or the kind of the mono ethno religious country, but the way we use that term more these days is what I call a chauvinistic, hyper-nationalism, meaning that it’s exclusive. And CS Lewis actually talks about this in his book, The Four Loves. He talks about how we should love appropriately, including our country. So he first talks about patriotism that begins with my love of place: where I’m from, what’s familiar, the people who are around me, and how that love can extend to a larger group, our country. And he distinguishes all that’s good there, with not getting caught up in the in the good to the exclusion of the sins of the past. He warns us don’t make all of the past a fairy tale about the country. Recognize there’s the warts and all, but you can still love what’s good about your country, and what’s familiar about it, but then he distinguishes that from exclusivist, imperialist, nationalistic to use this term from today, these chauvinistic forms of love that make my culture, my tribe, really an idol over any other group around the face of the earth. It privileges us as superior. It gives us carte blanche in politics, to the exclusion or to demean or to put down or even enslave others. And of course, he calls that… he uses words like demonic, evil, etc. to distinguish that type of patriotism, like the Nazis, versus a good hearted love of country, like the Brits, like the United States, like Canada.
You know, there’s some good quotes there too, when he talks about how, if we, you know, he says, “we all know that this love,” in other words, this love of one’s country “can become a demon when it becomes a god.” And I first discovered this passage and this part of Four Loves by reading Tim Keller, who kind of brings this up in his book, The Prodigal Prophet, which is about Jonah and how Jonah basically had a very warped view of… he ordered his loves wrong: he loved his nation first, and then God and even when he presents himself does so in that way. He’s like, oh I forget the terms. He’s like, “I’m an Israelite, and then I am a Hebrew.” So his views are warped in that and so his nation became his god instead of God being his God.
And also, one of the things that CS Lewis brings up in this opening passage, when he gets into the section is like, “if we were to say that all patriotism is wrong,” in other words, all love of one’s country specifically, he says, quote, “we cannot keep even Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. He too exhibits love for his country.” And that’s something that I think is kind of important to know that even Jesus loved his own people and loved his own. He loved the Israelites, he loved his country, so to speak, even though it was under the Roman Empire.
And one of the other interesting things with CS Lewis is that when he writes about war, when he writes about loving one’s country, he’s speaking from a point where he has served in World War One. And I know that you had a few things you wanted to say about that.
That’s right. CS Lewis was not just dealing in abstractions. He volunteered and went into the Officer Corps at the age of 18. He deployed during World War One in the last year of the war at age 19. Shortly thereafter he was struck down with trench fever. And then in the spring of the next year, 1918, he was severely wounded with shrapnel in three places, including in his chest, and ultimately went out of the army in December 24 of 1918, when many other people were also released from duty after the armistice.
And then, during World War Two, at age 40, he volunteered to serve perhaps as an instructor of cadets, he suggested, and he wasn’t accepted. But during that war, he did join the Home Guard. These were typically older men who would patrol the streets at night in their communities, or on the weekends, keeping an eye out for saboteurs and things. He also went around the country, mostly to the RAF and gave speeches: speeches about the morality of the conflict, speeches about a soldier’s duty. And so I think during this time period, he was motivated by… let me read a quote from The Weight of Glory. So a quote from this time period, he said, “a man may have to die for his country but no man must, in any exclusive sense live for his country.” And this is that right ordering of love, that country is so valuable -our community, our laws, our traditions- that in some cases, we may have to serve, and actually sacrificially die on behalf of the country. But that’s different than an idolatry that says, ‘my nation, my tribe, all the time, that’s the most important thing.’ He said, Lewis said, “he who surrenders himself without reservation to the claims of a nation or a party,” meaning the communists for instance, “or a class” again, Marxist thought, “is rendering unto Caesar that which of all things must emphatically belong to God, the person himself.” And so that distinction again: there are things worth fighting for, protecting, even dying for, but we wouldn’t want to make them an idol.
And for those who want to learn more about CS Lewis, his experiences in the First World War, I think we would both recommend Jo Loconte’s book on the topic where he covers that as well as Tolkien’s experiences in the First World War, because that really… It opened up my eyes. Like I did not know that, for instance, he was wounded and had shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life. And I actually did not until we were just speaking a little bit ago, did not know that CS Lewis tried to volunteer to join the military in the Second World War as an older man.
Do you want to speak for a second about how does this topic show up in his different works? Like, I know you’ve mentioned Narnia and how does the idea of patriotism and love of one’s country and home show up in his works?
Yeah. Let me give two examples of individuals from Lewis’s fiction that show these two different types of patriotism. So the first is a negative example, from the the planets trilogy, the Space Trilogy. And of course, the evil character there is a guy named Weston. And Weston at more than one point in the series makes an argument that because his race is superior, that it is therefore justified -it has a moral right- to conquer other peoples. And in a sense, this is the language of imperialism, it’s the language of the communists, it’s the language of the Nazis. Anytime one group sets itself up as -in a Nietzschean Superman way- as superior and therefore has the right based on its identity, to crush others. And that is exactly the type of demonic patriotism or nationalism that Lewis derides.
Separately, think about Reepicheep, this famous mouse character from The Chronicles of Narnia. Now, of course, Reepicheep is a warrior. He is very proud of his own honor but he puts himself as a servant to the kings and queens of Narnia and to Aslan. And it’s interesting because first of all, Reepicheep loves his brothers, this group of mice warriors. And he’s very proud of them. He’s proud of that community. And he loves and is proud of Narnia and he’s willing to give even his own life, or even his honor, his tail on behalf of Narnia, for those who know the story. But here’s what’s even more amazing: the love of his community, the love of his country points him on a quest to see something that’s even grander, and that is Aslan’s country. It’s a picture of heaven. And Lewis, specifically in The Four Loves talks about how our love of country can point us through our community, through our nation, all the way through to a much bigger view of all of the world is God’s, and God is Lord. And that patriotism can push us towards this bigger love and Reepicheep is that type of character.
And so for listeners to kind of understand what CS Lewis is writing about here, he -like we mentioned earlier- he talks about four different phases of love. And the first one, which he seems to say, or he does say is the best type of patriotism is the love of home. And so usually when I talk about patriotism, I sometimes describe it as the love of home or the love of country. And so I’m going to read a little quote here for this, quote, “with this love for the place, there goes a love for the way of life; for beer and tea and open fires, trains with compartments in them and an unarmed police force and all the rest of it.” What I find interesting there too, is that right before that, he says, like “when I’m talking about my love of country, I’m not talking about Britain, I’m talking about England, Scotland, Wales, and Ulster.” He says, like “Britain only exists or… only foreigners and politicians talk about Britain and being in the UK and the US.” That seems to be true. So, so yeah, that kind of gives you an idea of like the different things that he loves about his country. It’s very tangible, very pragmatic things like in your day-to-day life. You know, like, if you were to lose your house, you would miss all the things in it. In the same way, like if you lost your country, you would miss everything that you… be exiled, it would be a horrific experience.
And what’s tied to this is a respect for others who feel the same way about their own home. And so the Patriot can love their country, have a sense that in some things ‘we’re the best, I’m proud of these things,’ and say, “and you know what I expect a Parisian to feel the same way about his home, and to feel the same way about his country and a Brazilian to feel the same about his home, his community, his country.” And so this type of patriotism can be zealous, and it can be proud, but it is not chauvinistic. It is not hateful. It leads to a sense of tolerance and respect and a thankfulness for the diversity while being thankful for what is familiar -Lewis’s word, ‘familiar’- to me.
And I think there’s an important point here for me, at least. That for Christians, if we’re going to love our country, and it’s a product of our neighborly love -like if CS Lewis is also reading this in the idea of neighborly love- then we need to love our neighbors, both near and far. Because if you don’t love your neighbors right next door to you, who you see on a daily basis, how can you claim to say you love Americans across the country? And one of the things I’ve kind of harped on either both on the podcast and articles and in different talks is that Christians need to be more involved in local politics because the state and local government is going to be the main type of… they’re going to produce the main policies and the main laws that affect most of us. For instance, our zoning laws, our school boards. And yeah, these are the topics that are sometimes the hardest to follow, because they can be quite frankly, boring. I know that when I wrote my article about Christian patriotism a few years ago, one of the topics where I was living at the time was different codes for like, renovating your house. And it just made renovating people’s houses very expensive, and they were unnecessary. And yet, that’s something that in order to understand that, you either have to know someone who’s going through that, you’re going to have to find some obscure publication, or you’re going to have to go down and actually pay attention to what the local board is talking about in their meetings. Most people don’t want to do that. We’d rather watch cable news, even though I find that some of the topics they cover in there are those that don’t affect us very much. And so that’s kind of the first challenge.
And I mean, I know just recently like yesterday, I was watching an interview with Mayor Bowser here in DC. Now, I don’t live in DC, so I don’t get to vote. But they were talking about things that actually affect my life on a regular basis. Like there was a bridge that collapsed on one of the highways around here. I drive under that bridge, or I used to drive under that bridge. And so those types of topics, that’s a big deal to me. And that is the type of topics I think we need to spend more time thinking about. And yet, like I said, it’s the most difficult because it’s boring.
And Christians, I think those should… if our love is going to be different than non-Christians, then we should do the things that are more difficult.
Mark, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what you just said about being a good citizen and being a public servant as reflections of our faith. For many years, I was dean of the School of Government at Regent University. And whereas my interest has always been international relations, about half of our students were in the Master of Public Administration. And it opened my eyes to the 80,000 governments that the US has, the school board, the water board, etc. All of these smaller governments at the municipal and county level, and how good-hearted people, even if we disagree on certain political things, good-hearted people were in so many jobs as public servants trying to help their fellow man. And there’s a major, major role there, a calling for people to serve their fellow men in public service. And tied to that is the witness of just being a servant in the first place; of volunteering for the library committee at the local school, volunteering to be a coach, volunteering through your church, volunteering through the YMCA, Salvation Army, etc. Love of country doesn’t make sense, as you said unless love of community is at the bedrock of that. Otherwise, it’s an ephemeral thing that really doesn’t have legs.
You want to be patriotic, do something in your own backyard with the people in your community first and foremost.
Like you said, like for me, I first ran across the idea of like local government having a huge impact when, during the Great Recession days, I was an adjunct professor and I taught a state and local government class. Even though my degree was in international relations, I was teaching state and local government and I was then studying all the problems of -I was in Mississippi- all the problems of Mississippi State Government and how the school systems are run and it made me very angry.
But again, those are the things that will have impact for generations on people’s lives. The second thing that I kind of wanted to touch upon here is like the second phase of love that CS Lewis describes, which is kind of… he’s cautious about. And I think he’s right to be cautious, and I would probably add an extra qualification. But it’s this idea of like, your love of country being based upon its history. And I think he’s right to really be cautious about this, because he says like, ‘if your vision of the history is almost a caricature, if it is a’ -I don’t want to say the word myth- but ‘if it is easily debunked, then it can lead to disillusionment, and actually lead to the opposite of patriotism.’ And so he says, we need to have a good, healthy understanding of our histories and not have this false impression of what that history is. And to kind of read a quote here, “this feeling has not quite such good credentials as the sheer love of home. The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings.” And an article that I’ve written before -I’ve looked at Robert Burns and Scottish nationalism, because Robert Burns is a major character there. And frankly, Robert Burns is kind of a scoundrel, and yet he did do a lot of good things for Scottish culture for the nation of Scotland. But he was also a womanizer. He spent his money very poorly. I think he was a hypocrite on different things, but we can both appreciate the things he did well, and also be fully honest about who he was as a person. And then CS Lewis is right here. Every country has shameful doings.
And in this, I would -so Grayson Logue, former assistant editor for Providence a couple years ago, wrote an article on this topic of how should Christians read their history. And in this, and he doesn’t use these exact words, but I would say we need to keep two things in mind. One, mankind’s sinfulness. I would say depravity, though not every Christian tradition would use that terminology. And the second thing is common grace. So the first part here, the idea of our depravity or sinfulness. Like if we fully recognize that we are fully sinful characters, and even our heroes are going to be sinful. If we look at how the Bible treats its heroes, people like, you know, the apostle Paul, King David, these are not people who are 100% perfect. In fact, they actually do some very awful things. And yet God is still able to use them. As one pastor I heard once preached, ‘God works not because of us, but despite us.’ And in that there’s like the recognition of our own sinfulness and depravity, but also a recognition that even though we have done bad things, God’s not done with us yet, and he can still use us. And so for me, for instance, when I go to Mount Vernon, and see George Washington’s grave, you have this very beautiful grave. But on the other side of it, you also have a lot of the slave graves. And I think, as Americans, we can keep both of those in mind, while understanding the sinfulness of people.
And the second part of all this, the common grace. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, that basically means that God is able to use people who either aren’t Christians or -it’s not a saving grace- that God is able to use people in the world to produce things and to help make life better for all of us. And so we can think about like the wheel. The wheel makes makes our lives a lot easier but it wasn’t created by a Christian because, you know, that wasn’t a thing at the time. And so we can look at the common grace that God is able to bless us. And I feel that if we understand history this way, we can both appreciate the good things in our history, and understand the bad things. And I think it drives us to be grateful. I think, when I think of American history, the liberties, the freedoms and all the things we have in this country, I don’t immediately want to thank the people who did them, I want to thank God for allowing these things to happen. And so do you have any thoughts on that?
Yeah, I think that it’s wise to bring this up. Because in the past year, in particular, we’ve had so much controversy about how to understand US history. Think about the difference between thinking about the country starting in 1620, and all of the historical facts about the Mayflower Compact, these wonderful individuals who had really survived a lot chose to leave a pretty good life in the Netherlands to come try to build a new world, try to evangelize, didn’t own slaves.
And contrast that with the so-called 1619 project that begins with a very different position, and tries to say among other things that all of US history has been about racialist politics and things. Two very, very different views. The second one, many of the so-called historical facts debunked because it was just made up. But we have had terrible racial sins in our country and other sins. So how do we think about this? And I do think that the way that Protestants talk about an arc of redemption is very helpful. God created a good world, and much good remains; humans have intelligence and creative possibilities. But second, there was the fall, and the effects of the sinful fall mar the world, mar are our nature to this day. And so what do we need? We need redemption. And of course, we need the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. But this is also where that common Grace is linked to the creation, is that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. God allows a lot of good in this world, regardless of whether or not we choose to serve Christ or not. And we look forward to an ultimate restoration. Now we see these in Lewis’s stories, these four elements: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. But when we think about patriotism, and what’s a good rooting for patriotism. If we’re trying to raise our kids to be patriotic from whatever country they’re from, having a spiritual basis that God made a good world despite the fall, and that he wants to redeem it, he wants to work through us as agents of redemption in our society, that that’s a responsibility that we have as good stewards, whether it’s in public service, or in our community and churches, and that we are agents for a limited restoration in this world and of course, it’s up to God in the long run, to have the ultimate consummation of history through the work of Christ and salvation history… That’s a good theological rooting, to be proud of your country, and to commit to serving in a way that betters our community.
And so to kind of close this out here, to bring us back to the patriotism and how we love our country, my recommendation for and what I want to do this weekend over the July 4th weekend to understand and to better love my neighbors is to, actually since I’ve moved to a new area, to actually look up and see how does the local government work. Because like I said, that’s I think, a great way to love our neighbors. Do you have any recommendations for what people should do over the July 4th weekend?
Yeah. First, let me say three quick principles from CS Lewis. The first one is, is that he said, despite all the foibles of our countries, nonetheless, patriotism seems to make people behave better than they would have without it. In other words, they’re willing to give more, they’re willing to serve more, because of their love of country. And second, Lewis said, that love of home and its people can point us to higher loves, the love of the world, community, and of course, God. And then third, in humility, it is exactly right to love the place where God has placed us. And the New Testament has a lot to say about being content where God has placed us. And in my case, that’s the United States of America. I love it, I’m proud of it. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect. But it’s appropriate to be thankful to be in the place where God has placed us. And so as we go into the Fourth of July, maybe closing with what John Adams had to say… many people know that in the letter to his wife, Abigail, he famously said that they’ll celebrate Independence Day -and he called it July 2, because that’s when the signatures started coming in- “we’ll celebrate it with pomp and with parades, and with public displays, and fireworks.” We often don’t hear that the very first part of that quote, is ‘with acts of thanksgiving to God.’ And so as we go into the July 4th weekend, it’s perfectly appropriate to be joyful, to be thankful for our blessings, but to recognize that all of the good, both comes from God and it’s a faint portrait of his eternal kingdom, which will be our final home.
And as the book of Jeremiah says, ‘let us seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which we have been carried into.’ And so Eric, thank you for joining us and talking to us about CS Lewis, and thank you for emailing me about it earlier this year. And I really enjoyed the conversation and thank you.
Thank you very much.