When a nation turns its back on virtue and honor, those of its people who still hold those ideals in high regard seem to either voice their rage or lapse into sulky nostalgia for the "good old days." But rage only generates more rage, and the good old days (even if they were as great as everyone remembers) will never return. The only profitable response, then, is to remember and celebrate the heroes of the past as examples to imitate and guides toward the future.
Looking back to see ahead seems counterintuitive until you realize the current lack of genuine heroes in positions of political and legal authority. Not that there are none, but increasingly the leadership of the United States is less wise, less virtuous, and simply less fit to lead than has previously been the case. Whether this is because the American people are more apathetic and given to self-pleasure rather than goodness and stability, or because the quality of its leadership has declined, is unclear.
What is clear is that without a desire for virtue true patriotism is impossible—but without true patriotism a return to virtue is equally impossible. It's a vicious cycle....unless we uphold the honorable men and women of our nation's history as examples of good citizens and base our patriotism on their adherence to goodness and nobility.
Men like John Quincy Adams, who continued to serve as a U.S. Representative after his presidency expired, simply because he wanted to serve. Or Sgt. Alvin York, whose Christian pacificism led him to one of the most impressive examples of military heroism in the trenches of France during the First World War. Or Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman whose belief in American ideals led him to leave France in defiance of the king and enlist his services as a military commander in support of the Revolution.
Women like Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of former slaves who began a school for African-American students at a time when their education was considered of little importance. Or Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to ever win the Medal of Honor (for services rendered in the American Civil War). Or the perennial favorite, Pocahontas, who converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe (and who may or may not have saved the life of the wild child John Smith, a notorious liar).
Of course none of these people were perfect, and not everything they did was good or worthwhile. We don't want to ignore their flaws. But we also don't want to dismiss them because they exhibited human characteristics and flaws. What we do want is to remember and learn from their virtues and self-sacrifice on behalf of their nation. Particularly, we want to pass this knowledge on to our children, who are our best hope for a return to goodness and a rejection of the shallowness and evil that prevades our society. This is the kind of patriotism we want to encourage, and the kind of national spirit such patriotism engenders.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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