On the advent of Independence Day, especially in the aftermath of a tumultuous week in American culture, I’ve been thinking a lot about perceptual paradigms and feel a compulsion to prattle a bit about my menagerie of musings, if you don’t mind.
So how about a little sex, politics, and religion- not necessarily in that order? Oh heck, why not chop them all up and throw them in a blender together? Why not, what the Hell?
First of all this whole concept of “American Exceptionalism” really bothers me. At best it seems like arrogant tribalism, at worst it’s either a well-branded cover for latent racism or- yes I’m going there; heresy and idolatry.
It’s supporters love Reagan’s comparison of the U.S. to “a city on a hill,” metaphors employed both by Christ (Matt. 5:14) and 17th Century Puritan John Winthrop. The thing is, Winthrop meant to inspire the Separatist colonists to set a better example for their English kinsmen. Jesus was speaking to His disciples about reflecting the light of God’s love.
Personally, I think that the best way to “let your light shine,” is to “walk humbly, act justly, and love mercy (Micah 6:8)” just as Jesus did/does.
What I personally believe makes America “exceptional” are the principles embodied in our founding documents; being a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are create equal.” Inclusion, participation, opportunity, justice, with freedom of religion, speech, association and petition. Other civilizations have tended to be more hierarchical, autocratic and dogmatic.
But it seems that often those who espouse and ascribe to “American Exceptionalism” tend to think that God has blessed America because it was founded as a “Christian nation” and basically (though perhaps tacitly, not overtly) they believe that America is “chosen” by God. Naturally there’s a huge fear that God will therefore withdrawal His blessing & anointing and likely even punish us for our acceptance of gay marriage.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel taught that God incarnates himself in nations. First Egypt, then Israel, briefly he experimented by inhabiting one individual (Jesus), then Rome and ultimately Germany. When you examine certain nineteenth century religious movements like special-dispensationalism, millennialism, manifest-destiny, and much of LDS theology, you find that there are plenty of Americans who’d like to think that we are God’s chosen, special people.
But let’s face it, every child secretly wants to be their parent’s favorite, their teacher’s favorite, their coaches’ favorite, everybody’s favorite. And let’s face it, God the Father is spirit and Jesus Christ, while recognized by the ecumenical creeds as fully God and fully man- that man is a Mediterranean/Palestinian Jew, not a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant American. What’ more Jesus sets an incredibly humble, just, and merciful example (see also Philippians 2:1-11) which I contend, precludes the kind of arrogance and superiority that’s implicit (hell, it’s EXPLICIT) in the concept of American Exceptionalism.
If you haven’t figured it out yet- this kind of super-patriotism based on tribalism rather than on principle, is very likely to promote all sorts of ills from racism to sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, classism etc. etc. But I’ve gone off too long already and have too much real life to attend to be able to spend any more time blogging about all of that. Maybe later.