Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Red, White and Baha'i?


Like most Americans, I spent July 4th with family, enjoying barbecue, watching fireworks with a large crowd of young and old. As multi-colored fire flashed across the sky greeted by applause and a chorus of "oooooo's" and "aaaaahhssss", the wheels in my ever active Baha'i mind cranked and turned. What does patriotism mean for a Baha'i? Does it mean anything? After all, Baha'is are all about world unity and world citizenship. How comfortably do world citizenship and patriotism sit in one heart, one mind? Consulting the Baha'i Writings, one finds patriotism addressed in at least two ways. One way is critical of patriotism as a source of prejudice and division among people, a force that while powerful, is too weak a basis for meeting the challenges of the current stage of spiritual and social evolution which involve uniting humanity into a global civilization:

"In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between the children of men. For example, patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are, in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal -- temporary and not everlasting. "
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 101)

On the other hand, we find that the Baha'i Faith does not seek to suppress patriotism, but rather encourages a "sane and intelligent" or "sane and legitimate" patriotism:

"A word of warning should, however, be uttered in this connection. The love of one's country, instilled and stressed by the teaching of Islam, as "an element of the Faith of God," has not, through this declaration, this clarion-call of Bahá'u'lláh, been either condemned or disparaged. It should not, indeed it cannot, be construed as a repudiation, or regarded in the light of a censure, pronounced against a sane and intelligent patriotism, nor does it seek to undermine the allegiance and loyalty of any individual to his country, nor does it conflict with the legitimate aspirations, rights, and duties of any individual state or nation. All it does imply and proclaim is the insufficiency of patriotism, in view of the fundamental changes effected in the economic life of society and the interdependence of the nations, and as the consequence of the contraction of the world, through the revolution in the means of transportation and communication...It calls for a wider loyalty, which should not, and indeed does not, conflict with lesser loyalties. It instills a love which, in view of its scope, must include and not exclude the love of one's own country. It lays, through this loyalty which it inspires, and this love which it infuses, the only foundation on which the concept of world citizenship can thrive, and the structure of world unification can rest. It does insist, however, on the subordination of national considerations and particularistic interests to the imperative and paramount claims of humanity as a whole, inasmuch as in a world of interdependent nations and peoples the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 122)

If there is a sane and intelligent patriotism, what exactly does it involve? How is it different from an insane and unintelligent patriotism? My understanding is that a sane and intelligent patriotism is founded on a consciousness of the oneness of humankind which is both a spiritual and physical reality and the ultimate aim of social evolution on this planet. Love of country involves love of the gifts one's nation has to offer towards a united world, a world where "the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole." Such a love is expressed in selfless service towards the perfection of these gifts which will find their fulfillment within the context of a global society.

What do you think about patriotism?