With so much anger over NFL protests during the national anthem, the issue of the American Flag and what it symbolizes has become a hot topic. To some, the Flag represents systemic oppression. To others, it represents the hope of freedom and the ideal of human equality. But what happens to a nation when Her people become so balkanized that they no longer have a shared symbol of unity? Hold on to that question and let me tell you a story.

Recently, I was out to lunch with some colleagues. After entering a local Chinese restaurant, I saw the buddha statue (pictured above) decorated with a swastika. I was shocked. I asked myself, “What was the symbol of Nazi hatred doing on a statue here in an Asian-American restaurant?” When I got back to my office, I did some research and found some information that challenged by perceptions of this symbol.

First, it seems I am not the only one who was dismayed seeing these symbols pop up in unexpected places. In this story out of New York, “Sixth-graders at an elite Bronx private school have been caught drawing swastikas in art class, so administrators met with the kids — talking mainly about how the symbols represent peace in some cultures.” Parents, seeing their kids draw these swastikas assumed that there must be some sort of white-supremacist or nazi influence. But was that the only possible response? From a 21st century perspective the swastika is a symbol of Hitlerian hate, yet to countless others throughout history the swastika was a symbol of peace. Really? Is that even possible?

A quick look at the history of the swastika may help us discern a truth outside our limited experience. The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, writes the following:

The swastika is a very old symbol with use widespread throughout the world. Sometimes referred to as a “Gammadion” “Hakenkreuz” or a “Flyfot,” it traditionally had been a sign of good fortune and well being The word “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit “su” meaning “well” and “asti” meaning “being.” It also is considered to be a representation of the sun and is associated with the worship of Aryan sun gods. It is a symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism, as well as a Nordic runic emblem and a Navajo sign.

Basil Jackson in this article goes into more detail of just how old the swastika is:

The swastika is one of mankind’s oldest symbols and one of the most powerful in effect. Apart from the circle, the swastika is probably the most widely distributed of all symbols. The swastika has been found on a fragment of Greek pottery dating back to the eighth century, and the use of the swastika has also been demonstrated among Egyptian, Greek, Arabic, and Navajo civilizations.[1]

Would you be surprised to learn then that the swastika was a symbol even used by Jews? It’s true. The swastika has been discovered by archeologists inside of a Jewish 2nd century AD synagogues “paved with simple white mosaics and a swastika”[2] and also among other ancient remains dating back to the 7th century BC:

The most striking types were the bowls and dishes with two handles, and the pottery with Philistine decorations, the concentric whirls, the so-called Maltese Cross, the square cross in use long before the Christian era or its late adoption by the Knight Templars, the swastika, and especially the strange swan-like bird with its neck curled around over its back.[3]

Clearly, these kinds of symbols do not have inherent meaning but can be adopted and used for many reasons—including the manipulation of an entire nation. Hitler was a master of manipulation—using a symbol that spoke peace to the psyche of the German people and then subverting it with his own brand of terror. Jackson concludes:

Hitler recognized the power latent in this symbol, but instead of leaving the swastika spinning “with the sun,” representing the powers of light, he gave it a satanic twist by reversing the emblem and thus causing it to spin in a counterclockwise fashion. This is a significant clue in the understanding of the satanically energized control that Hitler had over millions. He knew and used the power of the symbol to reach into the very depths of the unconscious of his people, and thus gained control over them.[4]

Even today, James M. Skidmore observes, “In places like Pointes-des-Cascades, where pre-Nazi swastikas exist, extra care must be taken to contextualize their presence.” If you happen to be traveling around the world, remember that not everyone shares your point of view. Not every swastika is a Nazi-swastika. You cannot just see a swastika on a statue and assume it means “hate”… even though it certainly has that shared meaning within our own Western context.

So then, back to the original question, what happens to a nation when Her people become so balkanized that they no longer have a shared symbol of unity? 

Without doubt, some people will always look at the American flag as a symbol of oppression, but the problem for us as a nation comes when we are so divided that we lose any foundation for unity—we become broken and polarized. As I discuss in this short video, “Polarization is the ultimate consequence of a Secularized, Pluralized and Privatized society demonstrated in the balkanization of civic, social, religious, and family structures.”

Symbols like the American Flag do not have any inherent meaning, but that is why it is all the more important we as a people have a consensus. The flag should not be a symbol of my experience, your experience, or any one group’s experience. The flag should not be a Christian symbol, a Muslim symbol, a Buddhist symbol or an Atheist symbol. It should rather be used as a symbol that reflects our common ideal of human dignity.

We should not allow the white-supremacists or the Hitlers of our day steal the symbol from “we the people”. No one person owns the right to define the symbolism of the American flag. We don’t stand for the National Anthem to honor a president… or any person. Neither the foolish Tweets of Donald Trump nor the race baiting of Liberals should dull our passion to stand together for something better.

We should not stand in denial of the sins of racism & bigotry that do exist & will always exist because all mankind is sinful. Every nation is scarred by sin. Standing does not mean we deny the bad, but that together we can rise above it.

But I cannot shake the feeling that when people of good will sit or take a knee, we let the wicked think that America belongs to them. We let the wicked become little Hitlers who take it upon themselves to redefine the meaning of a flag that should otherwise stand for something good.

The only people who should be ashamed to stand during the national anthem and salute the American flag are those who deny the truth enshrined in our constitution that all human beings are created equal and worthy of dignity.

Instead of sitting or taking a knee, we should stand together and demonstrate to the world that “we the people” are willing to come together, rise above our failures, work to eliminate the influence of the corrupt, and dedicate our lives to helping every man and women know real freedom. The flag means nothing except the meaning we give to it. And if we lose our common symbol of unity, we will find only discord.


Footnotes

[1]  “Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Pastor: Part,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 201–202.

[2] Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).

[3] Melvin Grove Kyle, “Excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim, the Ancient Kirjath Sepher 1928,” Bibliotheca Sacra 85, no. 340 (1928): 394.

[4]  “Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Pastor: Part,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 201–202.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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