The Case for National Gratitude

July 28, 2017

America is a relatively free and prosperous land.  That we’re citizens of this country - and not of one in which such qualities are less manifest – ought to produce in us a sense of gratitude.  But whether we’re also justified in displaying national pride is a question that is often overlooked, and one that is particularly relevant to America’s Christian majority (as is the question of whether the struggle for independence from Britain was a direct violation of Romans 13:1-7 [1] – but that’s for another discussion).  What does our faith teach us about pride?  Can we infer God’s position on pride, according to the Scriptures?

“I hate pride…” (Proverbs 8:13)

Well, that was easy.  Thanks for reading.

All joking aside, a thorough explanation as to why pride is so problematic, especially from a Christian perspective, is in order.  Before I begin, though, I should acknowledge that what many Americans call “pride” may be something far less pernicious than what I have in mind.  Perhaps this term means nothing more to them than a simple love for one’s homeland.  But what I’m critiquing in this essay is a particular sentiment that, I fear, many believers openly express, even if doing so runs counter to the Christian values they profess.   Pride, per the latter understanding, may accordingly be defined [2] as a “high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” 

In some cases, the nationalist’s “high or inordinate opinion” of himself, qua national, owes simply to his citizenship, not to any personal achievement. In other cases, he thinks highly of himself because of what he has personally accomplished.  With respect to the former, the nationalist imagines that the very fact of being a national entitles him to take credit for the achievements of his co-nationals, past and present.  “We fought for our freedom,” a friend of mine once boasted when explaining to a Canadian why our independence day is more meaningful than hers (never mind the fact that his Polish ancestors didn’t arrive in the U.S. until a century and a half after the War of Independence).  “We invented the lightbulb,” say many whose ability to screw one in could be rhetorically questioned.  Such nationalists are thieves of a sort - stealing the glory of those who happened to be have born or naturalized in the same legally-demarcated land.

But what of those who have contributed to the nation’s perceived greatness – the soldiers, innovators, musicians, athletes, and others?  Are they justifiably proud, in addition to being worthy of our admiration and respect?  While Christians should certainly rejoice if they use the time and talents allotted to them wisely, they mustn’t forget that, “apart from [Christ, they] can do nothing” (John 15:5). What St. Paul asks of the Corinthians could also be posed to the proud members of any nation, not just ours: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

To this I add my impression that the more you love yourself, the more you harm it.  When one fancies himself – either as an individual or as a member of a nation - superior to others, he denies that anything can be learned from them.  At the national level, this seems to play out in debates over whether the U.S. should adopt certain policies that appear to be working in other countries.  There are times at which I feel that, whatever arguments are employed against such potentially helpful policies, the ulterior reason for the rejection is the simple fact that they originated beyond our hallowed shores.
We’d all do well to recall the words of Solomon: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2).  Interestingly, this ancient lesson seems to be catching on in the business world. “Humility is a critical strength for leaders and organizations possessing it,” concludes a Houston University study [3] on business leaders. “In contrast to humble leaders, those who are arrogant, narcissistic, egotistical, prideful, selfish, or hubristic are a threat to their firm.”  What is true of business firms is, I believe, true of nations: pride can limit or even reverse progress. 

Now, before you tell me to move to Canada, please know this: for me, the preferable alternative to national pride isn’t national shame, but rather national gratitude.  I’m not proud to be an American.  I’m thankful to be one.  Such gratitude, and not a sentiment of unmerited superiority, may more effectively secure God’s blessings for America.

Amir Azarvan
Georgia Gwinnett College

Amir Azarvan is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, and a former member of the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party.  He is the editor of Re-Introducing Christianity: An Eastern Apologia for a Western Audience (Wipf & Stock).

 Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™