Thursday, July 10, 2014

American Exceptionalism: the New Idolatry

"He [Jesus] said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Luke 20:25)
The notion of American Exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is somehow qualitatively better than other nations, is a hard one for me to wrap my head around. It's even harder to swallow, and even more destructive, when God gets dragged into it and people start advocating that it's God's will for the Unites States to have a Christian government and be a "Christian nation," and even to spread itself across the globe in the form of little uninvited democracies here and there. American Expectionalism becomes idolatry when we begin to count on our country for happiness, to trust it to take care of us, to always be there to save us. 
"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power." (1 Corinthians 15:24)
Norman Rockwell
Four Freedoms, 1942
People who advocate American Exceptionalism can't be blind to the problems facing this country that make it decidedly not Christian. America began with a revolution over what the colonists believed was unfair treatment by their king even though the Bible clearly states that we are to remain obedient to our governing authorities, even the unjust ones, unless that authority commands us to sin, wherein we are to obey God over man and take our punishment gladly (Romans 13; Luther's "Admonition to Peace" and "Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants").

America is a country that unabashedly legally kills its most defenseless citizens and then defends those murders by calling them a right. It allows its veterans to die waiting for doctors. It has the lowest education rating and the highest violent crime rate of any developed nation, along with the worst health care system, one of the highest rates of personal debt per capita, and a whopping $17 trillion debt of its own. It claims to be a "melting pot" of ethnicity, a refuge for the downtrodden and rejected from all countries, but the racism I have personally encountered, and the fierce anti-immigrant sentiment of much of the nation, beg the opposite.

It's impossible for anyone to live on minimum wage, leaving one to wonder what the "minimum" is for, and it's getting harder and harder for anyone to live on Social Security, leaving one to wonder what the "Security" is for, and then we complain that people need government assistance to get by. All the while, the large salaries, benefits, and retirement funds for our elected officials remain uncut. Those same well-paid elected officials make a bigger deal about hating and blaming the other than they do about their jobs of public servitude, and meanwhile the gap between the very rich and the average continues to widen to an absolutely ludicrous degree as we pay far more in taxes than our millionaire and billionaire brothers and sisters, and the poor have little choice but to stay poor as modern-day Horatio Alger stories usually end up in prison.

1950s Magazine Ad
Origin Unknown
Some blame the changing times and moral shifts. America used to be different, they say. When marriage followed natural law, when moms stayed at home, when kids walked to school unescorted and separated by race, when black men were lynched for talking to white women, when lives were threatened in regard to seat choice on a public bus... If we go back further into American's sordid past, we find an economic system deeply rooted in race-based slavery, and even our venerated founding fathers, who supposedly freed their slaves on their deathbeds (a gesture that would have meant a great deal more had it been done prior to their deaths) believed that while "all men are created equal," a black man was not really a man at all, but that he still counted for more than a woman of any color. This concept was only abolished after a barbaric Civil War in which civilians were targeted and the Constitution was stomped on repeatedly, and even after that, it took a century to establish equal rights for Black people. Further back still, and we find the contrived notion of Manifest Destiny as we displaced and decimated an entire native population in the name of God's will when in fact nothing could have been further from His will as it is clearly declared in Scripture: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31)

Well, nothing's perfect, right? America's made mistakes, corrected many of them, continues to make more, and the process goes on and on. Focus on the worst parts of anything, and it's bound to look bad. Look at Germany's past. Or Russia. Or Rawanda. Or present-day Serbia. Or ancient Rome. ISIS. That's exactly my point. Nothing is perfect apart from Christ, and America is no exception. No country should be counted on for salvation of any kind because each has its faults because each is equally riddled with the sin of this fallen world. We have to do our best with them according to their laws, and in America, that means voting for what's right and against what's wrong. But no government is a friend of Christ, and He didn't expect any to be. Jesus very clearly says,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
Likewise, Christians should expect no government to be a friend of ours.
"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
37 - 68 AD
Governments of every type have been throwing us to the lions for millennia all over the world, and they're not going to stop any time soon as the freedom from hearing, "Merry Christmas" trumps the freedom to say it. Governments are a necessary evil, and they are comprised of people who are just as sinful as anybody else (no more, and no less). The division of countries itself is the indirect result of man's sin: the Tower of Babel. The idea that God would prefer one man-made country over another is laughable.

         "Put not your trust in princes,
              in a son of man, 

              in whom there is no salvation.
          When his breath departs, 
              he returns to the earth; 
              on that very day his plans perish."
                  (Psalm 146:3-4)

All governments exist because God ordains them so. And I mean all, even the really bad ones (Romans 13). His has His reasons:
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!" (Romans 11:33).
All governments come to an end for the same reason. God has no preference for any earthly government and none will last into eternity. Christ didn't die for the United States. He died for the world: that is, everyone in it. I don't mean to sound as though I hate America, though I suppose some will call me un-American. That's fine. I don't hate America at all, though I don't share the same fierce pride that some display (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). I am grateful for the freedom and comfort we enjoy as American citizens, freedom that allows for the posting of articles like this without fear of censorship or arrest, for example, and I intend to use my vote to try and keep that freedom. Our soldiers don't fight and die in vain, but for us: their neighbors, and that act of love makes them heroes in my eyes and in God's (John 15:13Mark 12:31). I have no intention of moving to another country because every country has its faults. America is as good a country as any: better than some in some ways, worse than others in other ways.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
I am realistic, even pragmatic when it comes to government, and so is God. So long as I can serve God as He commands it under the government's watchful eye, I can be at home (Philippians 4:11-13). If despite my efforts to change things for the better within the parameters of the law, I can no longer do that, then God-willing, I will move someplace else. If not, I will try with the help of God to be strong enough to take whatever punishment the government has in store for me, even unto death. I would continue to be just as Christian even if, may God forbid it, the United States ceases to exist in my lifetime. But if you believe that the loss of our country or our freedom would be the end of your life, the end to all meaning and hope, you are worshiping an idol and not God (1 Corinthians 10) and you are wasting energy fighting the wrong fight (2 Timothy 4:3-21).
"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3:20)

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