In the Olympic Games that have just finished we saw an outpouring of patriotism hopefully channelled in the right direction. In the United Kingdom, we cheered as our athletes achieved success and won medals of gold, silver and bronze. Because I have always held a worldview, I thought that I was not particularly patriotic, but I found myself screaming at the television set when Mo won the 5000 metre race after having already been awarded a gold medal for the 10,000 metre race.
But patriotism can have a negative effect. It divides people into “us and them”. It can cause us to consider other people as less important, or even inferior, to us. In crying out, “British Jobs First”, what seems like patriotism looks more like selfishness and racism. I would defend the right of any country to defend itself against invaders. But patriotism can be used to stir up the emotions and ultimately result in sending our young men to fight for causes with more dubious aims.
Going back to the Olympics, why did it matter so much to me that we got more than our statistical allotment of gold medals? Why did I cheer for Mo? Mo was born in another country. His skin colour is different from mine, and he is a Muslim and I am a Christian. But he is a British citizen and was obviously proud to represent Great Britain.
As human beings, we want to “belong”. We need to belong to a family, a community or a tribe. History has divided the world into over 200 nation states. In many cases, the boundaries of these countries represent lines drawn on a map by past colonial powers. Sometimes these boundaries do not take into account tribal divisions. This has led to unrest, war and massacres.
In my country, the United Kingdom was created after many years of fighting between Angles and Saxons, Danes and Norse, Welsh and Scottish. Eventually unity was achieved – although many people from Wales and Scotland want independence.
Many countries I know well, like Nigeria, Uganda, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, try very hard to create a sense of national identity. But different races or people groups having different languages and different religions make unity difficult to maintain.
Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace
John Lennon rather idealistically imagined a world where people were not divided by countries or by religion. I feel a little uncomfortable about the phrase, “and no religion too”. Having a faith in God and a creator is I believe fundamentally important to us all. But religion, when it separates people into “us and them”, is divisive and has been the cause of much unrest, killing and warfare throughout history, including recent history.
It is not easy to see how John Lennon’s dream of “no countries” could be achieved. One possibility is a “world government”. This has many negative connotations to some Christians afraid of an anti-christ! Looking back at history, one cannot be optimistic about the record of big empires controlling big chunks of the world like the Romans or the Mongols. (Or even the British!)
The other alternative is what Jesus told us to pray for.
“Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
As the kingdom of God advances and is extended in this world we can have hope for a future of peace and harmony. I believe that ultimately John Lennon’s dream of “all the people living life in peace” will be fulfilled but not quite in the way that even John Lennon imagined!
Competition or Confrontation
Let’s go back to the Olympic Games again. Certainly competition is better than warfare! When the city states of ancient Greece invented the Olympic Games, competing was better than the continual power struggle between these ancient kingdoms.
And so today, a friendly competition between athletes and countries is much better than violence and warfare. In watching the games, on television, it was thrilling to see competitors from different nations hugging each other, and congratulating each other. At the closing ceremony, athletes from 200 countries partied together as they celebrated human achievement.
So was I right to be patriotic as I relished the success of our athletes and counted the gold metals? Patriotism can be positive as long as:
- We don’t gloat over the relative lack of success of neighbouring, or “rival” countries. (In our case, France or Germany).
- We do not consider other countries to be less important or inferior to our own.
- We do not let our patriotism turn into racism.
- We are prepared to celebrate the success of athletes from other countries.
At the end of the day, it was not the United States, China and the United Kingdom at the top of the medals table which benefited from the Olympic Games. The whole of mankind benefited through friendly competition rather than confrontation and violence.
I realise that I have been rather controversial in certain areas in this article. If you agree, or disagree, or can add more to the dialogue please leave your comments below. I will not delete your comments even if you don’t agree with me! I will only delete comments which are offensive.
- John Lennon remembered at Olympic closing ceremony (examiner.com)
- Ten things we have learnt from the Olympics (neilcrofts.wordpress.com)