Not Because It Is The ‘Greatest on Earth,’ But Because It’s Mine

I’m not a flag-waving American. I don’t think that my country is the ‘greatest country in the world,’ and I cringe at phrases like “God Bless the USA,” simply because if I’m going to ask God’s blessing on people, it seems a pretty small vision of God’s kingdom to ask that blessing only upon the land that happened to issue my passport. Still, I’ll admit to being pretty fond of my blue and gold US passport, and even to having gotten a little misty-eyed when it gets stamped and I hear that (New York accented) “welcome home!” at JFK International Airport.

Look, I’m not into illusions about America, Americans, or our history. I’ve read A People’s History of the United States more than once, and other books which have left me with little in the way of naive patriotism of the ‘greatest country on earth!’ variety. To anyone who wants to pick bones about US foreign policy as it has related to economic interests, I invite you first to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman or anything, anything at all about the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala.

I have less patience with generalized criticisms of (US) Americans generally, such as: Americans are fat, Americans have no fashion sense, Americans don’t know how to eat well, Americans don’t care about other countries, Americans are ignorant, Americans are lazy, Americans are racist. I’ve heard all of these and more in my time overseas as well as at home, sometimes even from fellow Americans who clearly felt themselves to be exceptions to the rule in each of these categories.

(My answer to each of these charges is, quite simply: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Well, kidding. Sort of.)

In some circles it is pretty much fashionable to be at least casually anti-American, even if you are American. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s some article telling us why the {Dutch, Swedes, French, Japanese} do {food, work, parenting, clothing} better than we do and a few times a year, it seems, there some book coming out telling us how to {eat, parent, work, dress} like the {Italians, Dutch, Germans, French}. I find this not a little annoying, and, yes, spectacularly American, in both the best and worst ways.

Best: because what is pretty cool about the US is how many cultures and nations and ideas have shaped it.

Worse: because what’s not so cool, at least, not to me, is how anxious many of us seem to be that we’re doing it wrong (whatever ‘it’ is) even as many others of us refuse even to consider that we may, in fact, be able to do it better (whatever ‘it’ is.) Because there’s always more to learn. (Healthcare non-system, I am looking at YOU. Although maybe it’s getting better. Is it?)

But for all this–biting criticism of the healthcare non-system, tax code, foreign policy and so on notwithstanding–I am, as I said, happy to hold a US passport and to call the USA my home. I love my country with its faults and probably because of them. I’ve even eaten at American fast food restaurants overseas AND ENJOYED IT, though I rarely, if ever, eat at such places in the US. Why, then, when I’m overseas? Because for better or worse (usually, if I’m being at all objective, worse)–it tastes like home. As C.S. Lewis wrote, far from leading necessarily to arrogance or aggression, patriotism properly ordered can be a place from which to understand other people from other places not as benighted fools who don’t understand what is truly good in life but as people who love what they love just as we love what we love:

“How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs – why, good luck to them and let them have it.”

{You may also want to see…this alternative, Christian, patriotic song of peace which I wrote about late last year.}

6 thoughts on “Not Because It Is The ‘Greatest on Earth,’ But Because It’s Mine

  1. Patriotism properly ordered is the right phrase, Rachel. I remember years ago talking to a poastor friend of mine about patritism – I think the Fourth of July was coming up – and he said he thought patritism was a Godly pursuit. I asked about German soldiers manning Jewish death camps during WW2. He stopped and said, “Mybe not all the time.”

    Properly ordered means ordered within God’s kingdom. Anything else is out of order.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  2. Some good thoughts there, Rachel! I wish some of the people who react to all patriotism with knee-jerk condemnation would understand what you mean about “patriotism properly ordered.”

    1. Thanks so much, Gina! I think patriotism is, in a way, only ‘natural,’ as natural as the affections a family has for its own. No one says that it’s arrogant or dangerous to love your family with a special affection. That’s how I feel about my country. I love it because it’s mine! Marilynne Robinson has some great thoughts on patriotism and so much of her writing shows a deep love for America and our founding and shaping values. I am not a fan of the sort of knee-jerk criticism of patriotism that comes out from many quarters. There are many things about our history that we can and should rejoice in and be very proud of, even if our final citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.

  3. A very good piece, as usual. We’ve certainly got to keep it all in proper perspective. Insofar as I can gather from Scripture, my U.S. citizenship (which I too appreciate) will end with my last breath,whereas my heavenly citizenship lasts forever.

    Hey, d’yatink deh’ll be an angel deah ta welcome me home wid an awtentic Noo Yawk accent..?

  4. PS: Grandpa is now in happy possesion of a VA medical ID card!

    It seems to me that this program is an example of our country getting it right. So far everyone that I talk to who’s already in it says that the care they are getting is excellent. This includes your old “American Girls” playmate, a veteran of the USN.

    Just don’t tell anyone that it’s a taxpayer funded nationwide government healthcare system, because we know that they are bad and don’t work. Except for the VA, which is good and does work. How and why that is, I cannot say.

    But I’m thankful for it. That snap decision at age 17(!) is now paying off in a way I could not have foreseen back then.

  5. I’m an American who has lived out of the US for almost 10 years. I can fall into mild anti-Americanism myself. I suppose it’s partly because I do see the wonderful things about the countries I’m actually living in, and I want to make sure the people around me know that I don’t think I’m superior to them, I genuinely do appreciate their countries. I suppose I am self-deprecating (US-deprecating?) because I know there can be an envy/resentment toward my country, and I don’t want it directed at me? Although there are many wonderful things about the US, I am less likely to emphasize those things when talking to non-Americans.

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