Is America Worth Celebrating?
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Today is an American national holiday, the Fourth of July or Independence Day. Today, we Americans, citizens of the United States of America, are supposed to celebrate our nation, its independence from Great Britain, its freedoms and good works at home and abroad.
But this year (2022) more than most in recent memory is a troubled one in the United States. Influential commentators like Ross Douthat are arguing that American society and culture has become decadent. Recent polls show that about one third of Americans think we may need a civil war to overthrow the government. Many more, a higher percentage, apparently think our government is not for us but against us. About half of Americans think what happened on January 6, 2021 was not a crime; our Congress is investigating our former president and others for possible seditious crimes. Our country is more tense than it has been since before the Civil War of the 1860s—according to many historians and scholars.
Historians are now revealing much about America’s past that most Americans have never heard about, such as our overt and covert military interventions in countries to overthrow governments, some of which were fairly elected by their citizens. Questions are widely being asked about American foreign policies and foreign affairs as well as about the always growing gap between the rich and the poor within our country. We are becoming increasingly aware of our country’s horrible treatment of the indigenous peoples who lived in this space before we took it away from them and corralled them into reservations, possibly attempting to commit genocide against them.
As an Anabaptist I have serious qualms about any war, especially wars against established authorities. From a Christian perspective, did our Founding Fathers really have the right to violently separate from Great Britain? The vast majority of Americans think so, assume so without question or critical thinking. But look at Canada; did we really need to have a War of Independence in order to throw off the tyranny of King George III?
From a Christian perspective, rooted in the New Testament, ought Christians to ever celebrate a war? Did Jesus ever call on his followers to rebel against tyranny or did he and his disciples and followers who wrote the New Testament call on Christians to persevere in persecution and love their enemies?
I consider myself an American patriot insofar as America lives up to its ideals, the “better angels of its nature.” My country’s ideals of freedom are what I think of when I sing patriotic songs and salute the American flag. (But I do not want that flag or any national flag displayed in the worship space of my church.) With theologian Greg Boyd I believe and argue that there is no such thing as a “Christian nation.” “Christian nationalism” is an oxymoron.
My dilemma about calling myself “evangelical” is similar to my dilemma calling myself an “American patriot.” I hold onto both while feeling agonistic about both identities.
I was raised to think that America is the greatest, the best nation on earth. It could have been; it could be. But in its current state, its current cultural climate, that is difficult to believe. Our current culture has, I believe, become decadent. (I agree on this with Ross Douthat and others.) Our popular culture has become obsessed with sex, extreme individualism, power, wealth (even those most Americans have little of that), dominance over, even hatred of those not like us—both within our borders and outside of them. We point the finger of blame at Vladimir Putin for wanting to dominate and control countries around Russia, possibly even to re-create the Soviet empire. But we need to look at ourselves and how we treat countries we don’t like (Trump’s “sh*thole countries” and countries whose governments we can’t control or that do not toe the line to our influence).
There is much to celebrate about America and much not to celebrate about America. I celebrate America as a set of ideals that empirical America has sometimes lived up to and sometimes not lived up to. If it were up to me, I would make “America the Beautiful” our national anthem and always sing “God mend thy every flaw.” That is my prayer for my country: “God bless America and mend its every flaw.”