Desiring the Kingdom Book Club, week 7: Political Identities

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Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

This week in Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith gets offensive. I must admit that I’m grinning with anticipation to read and interact with people’s responses to this section.

Summary: Is Patriotism Idolatry?

I do not go so far as Smith’s belief that we should not have patriotism at all, always feeling and acting like exiles and strangers in a land, but it is a biblical enough concept that I don’t begrudge him bringing it up and trying to make the case. I myself prefer the Kuyper and Bonhoeffer approach, but there is a place for Smith’s perspective in the discussion, I believe.

On the one hand, perhaps he can see the Americana identity and narrative problems with more clarity because he grew up outside them (he is Canadian). On the other hand, part of me feels attacked by a foreigner by this section. The consumerism section was a “we” problem, this one is a “you, not me” problem, and that makes him sound more caustic and offensive, whether or not that was his intent.

There is a reason, I think, I find this section less controversial than others seem to: I did not grow up in the secular liturgies of our culture. I have lived outside of most of the liturgical practices he brings up in this section. Is that perhaps why I see his point, though I think he takes it too far? I was homeschooled, we did not say the pledge, we did not go to sports events or watch them on tv, and my television and movie watching was quite restricted. On top of that, I have most of my national history from Bob Jones (southern conservative) and Canon Press, so I am more familiar with alternate tellings of the American story than the standard, one that loves the Puritans who settled this nation, the founders who established it, and the states rights both loved, one that tells the American story such that it is obvious we now more closely resemble the government the founders rebelled from than the government they desired to create. Yet, I love my country; I love it enough to pray it repents so it can be reformed and restored, because pride will fall. Unfortunately, I tend toward pessimism in this and so sympathize with Doomsday Preppers (disclaimer: I’ve never actually watched the show). :)

The only movie that he mentioned that I’ve seen is King Arthur, which I wanted to like but turned out to be terrible. As a rule, I avoid sentimental stories, and not only were several of the movies mentioned sentimental (at least, that’s been my impression when I’ve seen them promoted or mentioned), much of the time “American Spirit” is played now as a sentimental card not based on any actual, concrete, current reality, belief, or unity. I have always eye-rolled the post-9/11 flag waving, but perhaps that is because I am on the other side of the country, and all that I saw seemed merely feel-good sentimentality, more about stirring up emotions (as if giving people “thoughts” did them any good) than actually doing anything good and self-sacrificing for others. The type of 9/11 “patriotic” displays seem to me to be more of a symptom that with no God to turn to, people instead turn to manipulating and trusting to their own feelings for comfort, and the effect is pathetic, in the rich old sense of the word – worthy of pity.

However, Smith took it too far to eye-roll honoring soldiers who die in battle. Of course they have given the ultimate sacrifice; isn’t that one’s life? and don’t they? Even if we disagree about the justice or even legality of the war, the individual soldiers fight for the country, and the country owes them gratitude and honor.

Further Book Club Conversation

Visit these other participants’ posts and keep the conversation going in the comment sections! You don’t have to have a blog to participate. Please jump on in.


Next week: finish chapter 3

And now, from you:

  1. As the wife of a soldier and a mother attempting to instill patriotism in my sons I was very put off by this section. I do appreciate learning that Smith was Canadian, though, so I appreciate you pointing that out. The scenario presented on p 108 in which a teacher was philosophically addressing the DOD investigation of a potential Air Force candidate rather than candidly answering the questions at face value could have been damaging to this man’s chosen career. The military mind is notoriously black and white in its thinking and there is no room for philosophical banter, especially when making an effort to ensure national security. “Just the facts, please.” I do understand that the military model is not perfect and there are many areas in which criticism is warranted. I walked away from this section determined to seriously weigh my own allegiances and attempt to analyze them critically rather than jumping the band wagon from either perspective.

    • Please no one misinterpret my comment about Smith being Canadian, though. I merely meant to highlight that he was not a native of the US which can contribute to his approach towards American patriotism. I grew up on the Canadian border and have spent a good bit of time in that beautiful country to a limited degree and have no qualms against Canadians.

    • Dawn, I do agree with you. I do think there are times and places where philosophical niceties are inappropriate. But, in addition to being a Canadian, Smith is a Philosopher. :)

      And I do think it is a correct and good liturgical practice for me to say, Thank your husband for his service.

  2. Well, I had stopped reading the book before this chapter. His “tone,” need to repeat himself and lack of scripture was driving me nuts. =) He is too much of a philosopher for me I guess. I loved his idea and actually wish I knew of another book that explored liturgy at home and in education. But my “To Be Read Pile” is too big to keep reading a book that rubbed me the wrong way. I am still following along with everyone’s comments. I think the ladies discussing the book actually do a better job and give much to think on!

  3. I’m finding it interesting to read everyone’s take on this section. I never did write a post for this section because I just couldn’t get my thoughts to gel. Perhaps I should have tried a little harder just because I have yet a different perspective on the matter – as American who has lived many years outside of the United States. I can see where he is coming from and all our transience has helped me understand that my true home is Heaven (my home is not here in Africa, but neither does America really feel like “home” either), but I don’t think that means that there is no place in the affections for one’s country, or that some of the practices he is debunking amount to idolatry. In other words, I see where he is going with his argument, but do think that he takes it too far.