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On ‘flag worship’ and the politically correct

There are so many distractions in our lives today—the radio, the telephone, text messaging, Tweeting and the like—that new words have entered virtually unnoticed into our common vocabulary, one of the latest of which is “multitasking.” It’s a newly–minted way to describe the practice of doing a whole bunch of things at the same time.

It was a talent not much admired by our ancestors who coined the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” to describe ”multitaskers.” But, like so many things our forebears disapproved of, modern circumstances have transformed an ancient vice into a latter day virtue.

One thing that multitasking has certainly not done is extend our attention spans and improve our ability to listen. Hence a question posed to me by a visitor who attended a service recently: “What’s with the flag worship in the middle of the service? Isn’t it just a little bit jingoistic?”

For the multitaskers among us, perhaps I should explain that the term “jingoism” came into being in 1853 during the run up to the Crimean War. It is directly attributable to a piece of doggerel published in the English satirical magazine Punch. It included a verse which read:

We don’t want to fight,
But, by Jingo, if we do,
We’ve got the men,
We’ve got the guns,
We’ve got the money, too.

In other words, “jingoism” is probably aptly defined as an “arrogant, gleeful, and highly belligerent expression of patriotism.”

However the business involving the national flag after the Offertory—while admittedly old fashioned and undoubtedly politically incorrect—is neither flag worship nor is it in the least bit jingoistic. Quite to the contrary, in fact.

There’s nothing in the words of the fourth verse of My Country ’tis of thee that can in anyway be interpreted as “belligerently patriotic.” They read:

Our fathers’ God to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God our King.

Far from being arrogant, they are humble—an earnest plea for God’s aid in maintaining the precious freedoms with which he has endowed us. There is no hint of arrogance in this verse. It does not suggest we are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy, nor does it so much as suggest our ancestors gave them to us.

The hymn makes it clear that our freedoms were bestowed upon by God and God alone, and that our continued enjoyment of them depends ultimately not upon our own efforts, but upon the protection that he alone offers.

One suspects these sentiments are viewed with disfavor by many “opinion makers” not for their tone, but because they they invoke the name of God. Many politicians today subscribe to the notion that it is they who are responsible for such liberties we enjoy and that they have the right to “regulate” those freedoms as they see fit. Thus they find the the sentiments the hymn expresses downright offensive.

The idea that “rights and freedoms” are defined by political philosophies and conferred by the political classes is encountered in places as widely spread out as Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, even the British Isles and Scandinavia. As a consequence, no other country in the world upholds and affirms the God–given rights enjoyed by the citizens of the United States of America.

It is particularly disheartening to see that so many Americans take their God–given rights so lightly that they fail to recognize how deeply those freedoms been eroded over the past half century or so. It is even more worrisome to see the process continue apace still largely unrecognized.

As rector of St. Stephen’s, I sincerely hope that as long as the parish exists its people will have the humility, wisdom and, yes, courage to flout popular opinion and to continue what the politically correct so casually disparage as “flag worship.” It is a vital weekly reminder of how precious our God–given freedoms are to us. It is also a well earned rebuke for how feeble we have been in upholding them. GPH✠

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