Let me preface this entire post briefly in a few ways:
1) I have thought about this a lot. As I write it, I am praying that I say this in an edifying manner. I really want to say this, but it’s important that I not mess it up, see? This is a touchy topic, and I’m fairly certain I’m about to step on a lot of toes. That being said, I have thought about writing this since about August. I’ve started a few blog posts, read others, argued with my peers, disagreed with at least one professor, and tried to sort this all out in my head. And it’s tough. Not because I don’t know what I believe, but because I, like virtually all estadounidenses (United-States-ians, if that helps), was raised with a fundamental assumption that is contrary to what I am finding to be true. Fighting against your own assumptions is hard. It’s even harder when everyone around you holds to those assumptions.
2) I am going to state things bluntly and occasionally overstate them. Please, if you agree with nothing else, hear this: I love the United States. This nation is the place where I was born, where I grew up, where I have become who I am. But it’s not the only place I love.
3) I’m going to comment on the remarks of one of the professors from Patrick Henry College, Dr. Mark Mitchell, because I believe he articulates this better than I. After all, he’s had more years to think about this and experience in the political realm than I do. He has written a couple of blog posts for the Front Porch Republic that relate to this topic. You can find them here and here. Take the time to read them, especially if you disagree with me. Dr. Mitchell explains things better than I can, and he certainly knows what he’s talking about. I identify with his opinion, though–trust me–I don’t just take it at face value. In fact, I’m writing this because I have found that there are other men and women whom I greatly respect who would at the very least feel discomfort about what I am saying. I’ve weighed the opinions of both sides, and I agree with Dr. Mitchell. That being said, I want to note that he has not previewed this post, so I do not want to speak for him. Read his work, analyze it yourself, and chat with him about it if you like. Please do not assume that I am the best interpreter of his work–I can’t be. I’m not him. He knows what he was trying to say, so if you think there’s a discrepancy between my words and his, you might be right. Investigate. Comment. Push me to understand his points better. I want to learn through this. I want to grow.
With those preemptive remarks, I will begin.
The United States is not the sole good nation in the entire world. The United States has done wrong. The United States is not perfect.
Whew! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I think we’ll be good. If you’re already offended, please, read on. At least hear me out, okay? I know I’m just some college kid, but I have thought about this. Give me just a few more moments of your time. Or go read the posts I’ve linked to. Maybe you won’t agree with me, but you might agree with what’s said there.
Back to what I was saying… The above statements about the US come from two semesters of hearing about the greatness of the West (read: United States and maybe her allies). Now, my professors are fair. They admit that the US isn’t perfect. Most of my peers would assent to this as well. After all, they would say, no nation is perfect. We live after the Fall. But what they usually neglect to recognize is that they are functioning out of a worldview of United States jingoism. For those of you, who like me, read that word and said, “Wow, cool word! It’s fun to say, but what in the world does it mean?” here’s a definition, courtesy of Cambridge’s online dictionary: “the extreme belief that your own country is always best, which is often shown in enthusiastic support for a war against another country.” We truly believe that our nation is the absolute best, that it’s not just unique–it’s exceptional! As Dr. Mitchell puts it, we have been told, “Don’t question American goodness; support for America means supporting American foreign adventurism; criticism of the American way of life is unpatriotic” (“American Exceptionalism or a Modest Republic?”).
Well, pardon me, I’m going to be a bit unpatriotic… or at least anti-jingoistic. Though we would agree that, for example, slavery was wrong, we still maintain–if unconsciously–that the United States is far superior to any other nation. There is no one like us–never has been, never will be. But this simply is not true. Forgive me if that sounds harsh. But that’s what I see, and it makes me uncomfortable.
Let me give an example from early this semester. I wrote this a few hours after I sat through an uncomfortable hour of Western Civilization. I love the class, but I was aggravated by the end of the session. Here’s what I wrote: Dozens of American college students believe that America can do no wrong, that the discovery and settlement of the New World was (with a few mishaps) largely an excellent thing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the United States. It’s the only home I’ve known. I’m grateful that brave men and women traveled across the Atlantic to an uncertain future. I’m glad to know that they brought the Gospel with them. However, I am constantly conflicted about this picture of early European interaction with the Americas. I have encountered this struggle several times this school year during my US History and Western Civilization classes. How could so many intelligent young men and women not see the injustice, or upon seeing it, brush it away because the end result was the United States? How can those same men and women shiver at the thought of Machiavelli’s bold statement “the end justifies the means”? Finally my roommate wrote down several questions to ask me regarding my vexation. When I read them, I instantly had my reason. I can’t stand this America-does-no-wrong attitude because it is willful blindness. As citizens of the United States of America, we have closed our eyes to our faults.
Dr. Mitchell had this to say:
“American Exceptionalism all too often manifests itself in a blind and grating arrogance laced with jingoism. True patriotism, on the other hand, is rooted in a deep sense of gratitude, which gives birth to humility and acts of stewardship. Patriotism loves the good, though inevitably imperfect, gift we have inherited. It works with diligence and affection to improve that which is loved and to pass it on intact and perhaps even improved to the next generation. A patriot is a loving steward, continually mindful of debts to both the past and the future” (Patriotism vs. American Exceptionalism)
That’s exactly how I feel when I sit in a classroom filled with the nation’s up-and-coming leaders. I find myself trapped in a room with “a blind and grating arrogance laced with jingoism.” I react strongly, sometimes poorly, to this because it scrapes across my soul. It tears at my sensibilities and screams injustice. To claim that the US has done good is one thing. To insist that the US is always in the right makes me want to bang my head against the classroom wall while screaming, “The US is not perfect! It can’t be! We live post-Fall! You know that! You would say that! Children getting killed in machines before there were safety standards is bad. Slavery is wrong. The Mexican War was an act of aggression. It was wrong! I can give more examples if you want. Even conservatives have messed up! I promise!” Most of the time I restrain myself from this expression of outrage–if for no other reason than fear of being stoned by the future leaders of the US. I’ve heard stoning hurts, and I’m not a huge fan of pain or blood loss or death. So I usually remain quiet.
Lest you think that I have decided to hide behind a computer screen, I will share with you the story of my last session of Western Civilization. It was just Wednesday, only two days ago. We had finished discussing history and were briefly chatting about where the West is going. I was planning on keeping my mouth shut; really I was. I had opened my mouth one too many times (at least!) in that class, and there was no reason to stir things up on the final day. That’s when I heard it. It was enough to make me snap: “Did you know that India and China are sending missionaries to the US? That blows my mind!” I began scrawling notes to my roommate, who was sitting next to me. She read my scribbles and nodded. We would talk later. Then I had this crazy idea. “Can I rant?” I asked. She looked at me, paused, and to my shock, nodded: “It’s the last day of class. Go for it.”
My hand shot up.
Within seconds, my professor had called on me. What was I thinking? Too late now. I had to talk. I quickly premised my comment by returning to the remark about missionaries. Then I said something like, “Are we so arrogant as to think that another culture can’t share the Gospel with us?” I went on like that for a few moments, brain whirring too fast for my mouth to keep up. I was probably yelling. I was rather worked up. I closed my mouth, took a deep breath, and realized that the room was silent. My peers were stunned. I don’t blame them. What surprised me was my professor’s momentary silence. Then he spoke, restating my opinion in a question. He asked, almost asking himself, “Is it arrogant…?” As he turned my words over in his mind, I glanced at the notes I had written. That’s when it hit me. I had missed something I wanted to say. When he finished, I reworded my point: “I think it’s arrogant to think that we can’t learn something about Christianity from those who are willing to die for their faith.” When I had finished, the professor looked at my peers, a few who had raised their hands to comment on my claims. He paused then ended class by praying. Later I ran into him in the dining hall. He thanked me for disagreeing with him passionately and respectfully. I’m glad he thought I was respectful. I was afraid I had crossed a line.
Now, what was the point of that? Partially to point to a place where I see estadounidense arrogance. Mostly though, that story was to let you know that I will defend my views in person, not just behind a computer screen. However, since this is a blog, I will also speak from behind my computer. If you have any questions, comments, criticisms, or the like, I would especially like to hear them on this post. Please, comment below. I’d love to hear from you. =)
As always, Dios te bendiga.