Why do people get so worked up at the idea of someone burning a U.S. flag? I mean, I think it’s really stupid for those pyros to claim shelter under the Constitution of the nation in order to burn a symbol of that same nation, but nobody ever said people were smart.
We don’t–I hope–have a similar response when somebody abuses one of the symbols of a favorite sports team or university. In a less mature age, I used to refer to a certain college basketball team that has had even more success than my favorite team as the “Puke Spew Devils.” Hey! I said it was a less mature age.
When people heard that, they might have rolled their eyes, but they didn’t threaten to beat me into the pavement. Burn the flag, however, and you might have to deal with some serious pushback. Why?
The reason, I think, is pretty simple. People think that the U.S. flag and “the republic for which it stands” are a pretty important, pretty serious thing. Dragging either the nation or its symbols through the mud or through the fire is more significant than calling a certain Rocky Mountain football team the “Donkeys.”
That’s also why the third of ten commandments tells us to treat the name of God with respect:
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.–Exodus 20:7
What does it mean to misuse God’s name? John Piper has a powerful three-minute ditty on this matter. You listen. I can wait.
God, Christ, the cross, the things he is and the things he did are great, and they’re weighty. And there’s a certain corresponding demeanor of worship that should be there.
That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Getting back to the country for a moment, I’d like to suggest that burning the flag isn’t the only possible misuse of it. Ever drive by one of those car lots that has American flags flying from every vertical post? I’m going to suggest that those displays are often motivated much less by patriotism than by a sense that they can use the flag to drum up customers.
Similarly, we can misuse God’s name, His image, His “brand” in many ways that do not fall under the traditional categories of taking the Lord’s name in vain. We can misuse a flag or God’s name in ways that show hatred for them or simple lack of respect. I’m not sure which one is worse.