Jonathan Merritt penned an interesting blog post for Religion News Service on Christians, patriotism and the Fourth of July.
Many of us, including Merritt, believe the United States is an exceptional country. America exemplifies many virtues worth celebrating. Certainly, thanking God for the blessings he has showered down upon this country is more than appropriate. It seems, however, that some on the religious right go further when they speak of American exceptionalism.
According to Merritt, the religious right is using faulty theology. They believe that God has somehow granted special blessings to this country that have been earned by a faithful people. They see the United States as having been founded as a sacred Christian nation.
Yet Merritt enumerates several flaws in our country that argue against some special, favored-nation status. He notes a high murder rate and a high rate of executions. He also mentions an education system that does not compare favorably with many other industrialized countries. Certainly many other flaws could be cited.
The strategy seems to be to make it difficult for anyone to criticize our country, thus making it extremely difficult to work for solutions to problems that could improve our country. Merritt says, "An ideology that is constantly used as a tool to quiet those who want to deal honestly with our problems is a broken one." Critics are often labeled unpatriotic and ungodly.
Merritt makes what he sees as a major distinction between American exceptionalism and America as an exceptional country. The concept of American exceptionalism as understood by some Christians sees the United States as favored by God and fosters arrogance and triumphalism.
Others see America as positively exceptional in a number of ways. However, they see the United States as a recipient of God's blessings and are filled with gratitude and humility for God's free gift of his grace and goodness.
The Founding Fathers did not claim to have created a perfect country. Rather, they allowed for amendments to the Constitution and stated that we all needed to work to form a more perfect union in their preamble to the Constitution. We should all be thankful for the blessings we have received as Americans and dedicate ourselves to working to make this a better country for all. Instead of basking in the glow of being a favored Christian nation, we would do better to try to be Christian to all those in need in our land.