According to Wikipedia, a national flag is a flag that symbolizes a country. The flag is flown by the government, but usually can be flown by citizens of that country as well. There are three distinct types of national flag for use on land, and three for use at sea, although many countries use identical designs for several (and sometimes all) of these types of flag.
Flags originated as military standards, used as field signs. The practice of flying flags indicating the country of origin outside of the context of warfare emerges with the maritime flag, introduced during the age of sail, in the early 17th century. It was only with the emergence of nationalist sentiment from the late 18th century that national flags began to be displayed in civilian contexts.
This is all very interesting, and I understand the reasoning behind the creation of flags. We mark our place on the battlefield, identify ourselves on a ship in international waters or at a meeting of NATO, show which team we’re supporting in the upcoming NCAA tournament, etc. I have mixed feelings, however, when people fly the national flag from their cars on a daily basis. What are they trying to express? To identify themselves as members of the country in which they are living, driving, the state of their residence clearly stated on their license plate? There’s not really anything wrong with any of this, I guess, but it always seems to me to hint at something more exclusionary. God bless America, my country is better than yours.
Do we really believe that God blesses America more than he blesses other countries? What kind of God is this?
It also reminds me a bit of when there’s some kind of tragedy — plane crash, train derailment, explosion in a marketplace in Israel — and the requisite reporting of how many Americans were killed in the tragedy. As if our amount of sympathy should be parceled out proportionately.
How about a flag of humanity? I’d fly that one, any day.