It strikes me that people who burn our country’s flag actually do so because they have no sense of the sacred in their lives. The flag is, after all, a civil icon. It points to a complex synthesis of meanings from home, to patriotism, to a national “ideal”, to the sacrifice of those in service of the country. These things are not unique in the U.S. flag. They are inherent in the flags of all nations. Because the symbolism of a flag is complex, it presents something of a civil sacrament — if that image is not pressed too far. To deliberately burn one’s own flag should be troubling. I’m not speaking of legal or political thought, but of a deeply human and Christian mind.
Human beings are created in the image of God. Images mean something, because they ultimately either point to communion with God himself, or they point away from that. This is why we have competing images and flags, and why there are natural alliances as well. But to destroy one’s own flag is ultimately a theological statement. It is a willful act.
It means that there is nothing that is transcendent or honorable. It says that only the mundane and vulgar are acceptable, that only our passionate desires are worthy of fulfillment. And so flags are burnt. Such burnings proclaim that there is nothing holy or sacred.
Those who do this are terribly broken and one feels some pity for them (or should); that is not to say that we should have pity for their actions but the reality in which they find themselves. It is a sign that they have turned their backs on God and his holiness, and so they strike out to destroy all images of any sort which proclaim an “otherness” beyond the vulgar, or which demand a response of loyalty and fealty, whether it is faith, country … and very tellingly now … other persons.
This is the lot of all iconoclasts. They destroy the image and set fire to their own beings.