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Today we’ll start out with a little quiz. Here’s the first question: Do you think of yourself as a patriot?
Before you answer, let’s review: patriotism means “one who zealously loves his own country.” But where does the word “patriotism” originate?
The root of the word, from the ancient Greek term patria, means “fatherland.” It originated in the idea of worshiping or paying homage to a father-figure, the king or the Caesar or the (always male) ruler of the area where you lived. Patriotism developed into a major force right along with the development of the first nation-states, when the rulers insisted on citizens’ loyalty to the state and encouraged the idea of exceptionalism—our country is so much better/more advanced/more deserving/more favored by God than your country.
Given that definition, I’d like to introduce you to a new word here: matriot. We’ve needed this word for a long time, but it’s just recently started to come into general usage.
If patriotism means love for country, for the fatherland; then matriotism would have to mean love for the motherland, right? Matria, patria; mater, pater; mother, father—makes sense, doesn’t it?
Here’s how the Urban Dictionary defines matriot: A person who loves, supports, and defends the earth and its interests with devotion.
Since all of us owe our entire individual physical beings to our mothers; and since every living thing owes its existence to mother Earth, wouldn’t matriotism seem like a good idea? Don’t you think everyone should be a matriot—one who zealously loves the world?
Now for the second, two-part quiz question: do you think of yourself as a matriot? If so, which of these loyalties seem strongest to you: to your country, or to the world? Do you think of yourself as a citizen of your nation, or a citizen of the world, or both?
And now, for the final question: Have you ever heard the word “jingoism?”
It means “a person who professes his patriotism loudly, excessively and fanatically, favoring preparedness for war and an aggressive, bellicose foreign policy; militant and boastful chauvinism.”
When patriotism becomes excessive and fanatical, privileging one country over all others and obliterating matriotism, that’s jingoism.
The Baha’i teachings say that this brand of “patriotic prejudice” if carried to excess, will become “the primary cause of the world’s destruction.” In this definitive quote from the Baha’i writings, Abdu’l-Baha explains that “the terrestrial globe is the motherland of all”:
As to the patriotic prejudice, this is also due to absolute ignorance, for the surface of the earth is one native land. Everyone can live in any spot on the terrestrial globe. Therefore all the world is man’s birthplace. These boundaries and outlets have been devised by man. In the creation, such boundaries and outlets were not assigned. Europe is one continent, Asia is one continent, Africa is one continent, Australia is one continent, but some of the souls, from personal motives and selfish interests, have divided each one of these continents and considered a certain part as their own country. God has set up no frontier between France and Germany; they are continuous. Yea, in the first centuries, selfish souls, for the promotion of their own interests, have assigned boundaries and outlets and have, day by day, attached more importance to these, until this led to intense enmity, bloodshed and rapacity in subsequent centuries. In the same way this will continue indefinitely, and if this conception of patriotism remains limited within a certain circle, it will be the primary cause of the world’s destruction. No wise and just person will acknowledge these imaginary distinctions. Every limited area which we call our native country we regard as our motherland, whereas the terrestrial globe is the motherland of all, and not any restricted area. In short, for a few days we live on this earth and eventually we are buried in it, it is our eternal tomb. Is it worthwhile that we should engage in bloodshed and tear one another to pieces for this eternal tomb? Nay, far from it, neither is God pleased with such conduct nor would any sane man approve of it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 299-300.
Baha’is have nothing against a sane and intelligent patriotism, as long as it doesn’t trump matriotism:
By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.