Scoundrel’s Refuge or Hero’s Home?

Hollywood usually sneers at words like "patriotism." But Hollywood has released a blockbuster spectacular that not only doesn't sneer at patriotism, it actually honors it. Loosely based on actual events, The Patriot draws attention to the forgotten southern campaign against Cornwallis in the Revolutionary War. Telling the story of South Carolina gentleman farmer Benjamin Martin, it highlights the courage and self-sacrifice that made this nation possible--and reminds us of the debt we owe our forbears. When the story opens, Martin opposes joining the war. Though he fought heroically under George Washington in the French and Indian War, Martin desperately wants to avoid conflict for the sake of his family. Like many at the time, he hoped to work within the political system for a peaceful resolution. But Martin is dragged into the conflict by the unscrupulous Colonel Tavington, who cruelly disdains military codes of conduct and slaughters innocent civilians. The Patriot reminds us that the Revolutionary War, like all war, was brutal, gruesome, and had more than its share of tragedy. But with an important difference: We fought not for a king, but for an ideal. In one of the poignant early moments of the film, before joining the war, Martin asks, "Why trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?" It's a good question--the kind Alexis de Tocqueville asked when he visited America. And a question John Adams anticipated when commenting on our newly adopted constitution. "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." The American fight for freedom was rooted in the belief that political liberty frees us to act virtuously. And virtuous, self-regulated men are not tyrants. And the vision of our Founders has been borne out--the entire world is witness to what a nation of free men of moral and religious virtue can do. Fifty-six courageous men signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. That document ends with these words: ". . . with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." But their patriotism came at a great cost. Of those 56 signers, five were captured, tortured, and killed. Twelve saw their homes burned. Nine died in the war. Two lost their sons. Another saw his sons captured. One of the signers, Benjamin Rush, wrote that patriotism "is both a moral and religious duty. It comprehends not only the love of our neighbors but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations." If we were patriotic simply because we were born here, that would be ignoble. But American patriotism is rooted in something else: the transcendent ideals of law and liberty. Now, be cautious. The Patriot is a very violent and emotionally serious film. But it also honors faith, family, and courage. Unsurprisingly, it was written by the same man who wrote the screenplay for Saving Private Ryan. And like Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot reminds us, as we celebrate Independence Day this week, of the precious trust we have inherited. The Patriot is yet another example of how, once in a while, Hollywood gives us as Christians the opportunity to share our biblical worldview with unbelievers.


Chuck Colson


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