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From the July/August, 2002
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Love for the Fatherland by Leon J. Podles

Love for the Fatherland

Christians are called to love all men (and women and children and those of indeterminate gender). God makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. We are called to love even our enemies. But are we called to love all equally, in the same way and in the same measure? Is the Christian call to universal love a solvent of all natural distinctions? Or does the commandment to love apply in different ways to different people?

A secular universalism born of the Enlightenment wants us not to discriminate (a doubleunplusgood word, in the politically correct Newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984) between people: We should have the same attitude toward the Australian aborigine and toward the Arab terrorist as we do toward our next-door neighbor. Whatever coherence and practicality such an attitude may have (and no one in practice follows it), it is not Christian. Christianity has always recognized an order of charity that takes into account the distinctions in our obligation to love other men, distinctions that are based on our different ties to them.

Thomas Aquinas recognizes that some Christians, following Augustine, claim that we must love all equally. Thomas thought this “unreasonable,” because both natural affections and the affection of charity are “orderly,” that is, they follow an order, since both affections flow from Divine Wisdom. We are not simply more obliged to love those near to us; we are obliged to love them more. “If any man have not care of his own and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8).

We love God above all, because he is supremely good. We love creatures insofar as they resemble God (and there are many ways of resembling God), and our parents are like God because they are our origin and principle. Thomas, following Aristotle, says that the father is more like God insofar as the masculine is the active principle and therefore more like God, the Creator, than the mother, who embodies the feminine principle, that which receives the form. God is the father of all even in the order of nature (we are all his children) and infinitely more in the order of grace.

The obligation to love our parents does not depend on the moral goodness of the parent. If our father is a saint, we are obliged in another way to love him, because he is like God in that respect, but simply insofar as he is a father, he is like God, the principle of being.

Although, as Christians, our true fatherland is heaven, we have a patria, a fatherland, on earth. It is called a patria because it is like a father to us; that is, it provides the active principle for our life, as a father does in Aristotelian embryology. It forms us; it gives us our language, our way of life. And like a mother, a motherland, it also gives us the material sustenance for our body.

Patriotism (from patria, fatherland) therefore has several aspects: the love of the fatherland, and the love of citizens for one another in their social and political (in both the broad and narrow sense) relationships. Those who have a common fatherland (by birth or choice) should feel a special love for one another and have a special obligation to help one another, an obligation they do not have toward those who have other fatherlands. Those who live in a particular society and political community also have special obligations to love and help one another that they do not have toward members of other societies and political communities.

Patriotism will therefore bear a resemblance to the honor given a father, which in turn bears a resemblance to the honor given to the God and Father of all. Grumblers of both right and left have seen in the ubiquitous “God Bless America” a confusion between God and country, an implicit idolatry. What popular feeling rightly recognizes is that our relationship to our country has an analogy to our relationship to God.

The fatherland is not the state, nor are society and the state identical. The state cannot claim the loyalty due to the fatherland, although the fates of the state and of the fatherland are often closely connected. Americans have a special obligation to love their fatherland and their fellow citizens. They do this not because of any special greatness or virtue the United States may incorporate (although its generosity surpasses that of any other country), but because it is their country. They have an ontological relationship to it; it is their patria, it is as a father to them. Both as members of a patria and as citizens in a political organism, they have special obligations to love one another and to aid one another.

As in all human relationships, this love will be intensified by the possibility of loss, and its manifestations both in sentiment and in action should be especially strong as the need is great. Americans have expressed (with the usual exceptions in academia) proper sentiments so far; whether they will carry out their obligations (whatever they may be) depends on their wills and whether they have the virtue of fortitude to continue to seek the good even under great adversity. The behavior of New Yorkers under unexpected attack, the worst attack ever on American soil, gives one hope that fortitude has not been totally lost in the decades of peace and prosperity that we have experienced.


Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and has worked as a teacher and a federal investigator. He is the author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and the forthcoming License to Sin (both from Spence Publishing). Dr. Podles and his wife have six children and live in Naples, Florida. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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