Periodically we hear Republicans skeptically ask if President Obama is a patriot who loves his country, and is he a Christian? I'm more interested in why people ask these questions, and how their answers of "No" or "I don't know" reveal more about the questioners than about Obama. I'm also interested in how such people respond to these two questions: What is a patriot? What is a Christian?
I could not have had a more patriotic beginning, or so I was taught to believe. I was born on Flag Day (June 14) in 1942, during World War II, at Liberty Hospital in Philadelphia, birthplace of the nation and the flag purportedly designed by Betsy Ross. But my views on patriotism in general and Flag Day in particular have changed considerably over the years.
On my 12th birthday, President Eisenhower signed into law the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, saying, "From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." President Eisenhower made no mention of the Constitution during this Flag Day ceremony in 1954, perhaps because the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office and says nothing about any almighties.
"Under God" was inserted at the height of the McCarthy era to distinguish patriotic Americans from those "godless Communists." This melding of God and country turned a secular pledge into a religious one, and caused me to feel less, rather than more, patriotic when I no longer believed in any gods.
Although we tend to deify our nation's founders and hold them up as role models, we act more like them when we question the old order and try to improve it. Criticizing our country and working to eliminate its faults is definitely patriotic -- a lot more so than merely reciting pledges and prayers or waving flags.
One of the many differences between Evangelical Christians and atheists in this country is that the majority of evangelicals believe America is the greatest country in the world, compared to 20 percent of those without religion.