Gospel & Culture blog
By Kenneth Nehrbass
As a professor of intercultural studies, I read students' reflections about culture throughout each semester. Often, my students from the US describe American culture as "patriotic" and even assume that patriotism is not only strong in the USA, but a distinct characteristic of Americans.
My hunch, from traveling the world, and from teaching international students, is that most- virtually all- national cultures foster a sense of patriotism. I wondered how unique US patriotism is.
Luckily, we don't have to rely on hunches. In 2014, Gallup did a poll of 62,000 people in 64 countries to measure levels of patriotism. They narrowly defined patriotism as "willingness to die for your country" which is, of course, a disputable definition. But it may give a window into other patriotic sentiments.
It turns out that the USA was near the bottom, at only 44% willing to die for their country. Below the USA were "Germany, Netherlands, and Japan at 18%, 15% and 11% respectively". What were the most patriotic countries? Morocco and Fiji were tied in number one, with 94% willing to die for their country. Pakistan, Vietnam and Bangladesh were next.
Even though the Israelites of the Old Testament were clearly patriotic, some have a hard time finding a biblical basis for patriotism today. Yet, taking Gallop's definition of patriotism more naturally leads to the biblical virtue of self-sacrifice. Jesus said "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13, NIV). In fact, to lay down your life for strangers - especially UNJUST strangers (Romans 5:7)- is an even greater virtue. Perhaps the lack of this sort of patriotism in Western nations is a sign that people have drifted from biblical virtues of sacrifice? (Yes, this is much more complicated than that-- at times we have a hard time seeing how dying for country can be a benefit to others).
If patriotism isn't the distinct American cultural characteristic, what is? There are cultural aspects that are distinctly American, but patriotism probably isn't one of these aspects. More typical "American" cultural features noted by interculturalists would include Individualism (which includes a desire for personal happiness, upward mobility, and a low commitment level).
What do you make of the Gallup poll that puts patriotism levels in the US so low?
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor