At the risk of being labeled “unAmerican” and “unpatriotic” I need to rant against the persistent, poisonous, and paternalistic messages – both explicit and subliminal – about US exceptionalism. Let me state up front: I am glad to be an American but wish I could be prouder in this age to claim my citizenship. I have had the luck, benefit, and privilege of traveling around this world and seeing amazing and wonderful things to celebrate about every place on earth. We have many things to be thankful for in this country, but a God-blessed-superiority is not one of them. And the ignorance that most Americans have about the global community is egregious and and affront to the Great Commandment.
While not an “America: Love it or leave it” trope, this is not a “trash the USA” rant either. It is not about shaming, but about awakening. It is because I love the country in which I live, and the church in which I serve, that I want to see our country regain a sense of identity worthy to claim. I would love to see a cultural shift from arrogance to humility, from acquisition to equity, from entitlement to empathy, and from selfishness to servanthood. I would love to see an emerging reality based in a vision for the common good.
How many people woke up this morning in regions torn by war and violent strife? There are 33 active areas of conflict where multiple lives are lost each day. How many can you name? How can we pray for people when we don’t know what they are going through? How many people starve to death in our world every day? (Approximately 25,000) How many people are undernourished and unsure about when they will next eat? (Approximately 854 million people). Where are people experiencing recovery from earthquakes, droughts, floods, snow emergencies, extreme temperatures, cyclones, and fires outside the U.S.? Where are the most damaging human rights violations occurring? (Do both of us a favor and read the 2023 World Report on Human Rights https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023).
How big a problem is human trafficking worldwide? In the U.S.? What is the real impact of gun violence? How widespread is domestic abuse – here and around the world? Rape, assault, and oppression of women? (Check out Safe Horizon https://www.safehorizon.org/). A Council on Foreign Relations 2019 survey indicated that only 6% of residents of the United States can score 80% or higher on a series of questions about global issues. The next worst score among developed nations was 44% of Russians (almost 8x higher than in the U.S.) A majority of Europeans (58%) can score 80% or higher, mainly due to news services that report global issues as frequently as local issues. In the U.S., while millions of lives were forever changed by earthquakes in Syria and Afghanistan, Americans were treated to an unrelenting stream of spew from Marjorie Taylor Greene calling for civil war. The Zombie Cyclone Freddy attacking Madagascar and Mozambique not once, but twice over an historic 39-day period, remains relatively unknown by over 8 out of 10 residents of the United States.
You may have heard rumors that some political leaders were calling for a commitment to “make America great again,” but they did so by claiming we could only do that by closing our borders, minds, and hearts. They defined greatness by being better than everyone else, looking down on everyone else, despising other cultures and languages, hating strangers, rejecting refugees and immigrants, not taking seriously health concerns, and making friends with some of the most horrendous purveyors of human rights violations. Now, granted, these people were politicians, not Christians. Were they operating from a sense of true Christian values (or decent human morality and ethics, for that matter) they would have noted that greatness comes from compassion, generosity, tolerance, leadership, mercy, justice, and kindness, not hate and division. They would remember that great people feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, make education, healthcare, employment, and safety available to everyone. What makes a community, culture, or country exceptional is that it provides an alternative to the selfish, arrogant, destructive, and divisive practices that define bullies and deviants. Greatness depends on humility, sacrifice, courage, and commitment. It isn’t about being “better than” others, but simply “better.” Should citizens of the United States truly desire greatness it can only come through a complete reversal of our current cultural values.
I am grateful you are writing again and saying such important things. Since my sentiments are very much in alignment with yours, it is a joy to read your thoughts. I also know that both of us are fighting against an overwhelming tide. Yet, without these voices from the edge, the most debased will take over. I know the animal world is not peaceful—scorpions will be scorpions after all—but we humans have taken that “we have to kill to live” necessity to a “we want to kill to destroy” level. And the lack of intellectual curiosity about the rest of the world from most who live in the US has become in itself a destructive agent.
Thank you for these words.