I have been addressing, from time to time, the tomfool notion of American exceptionalism.
The central point I have made thus far is that the genuine exceptionalism displayed by the Founders consisted of the fact that they knew that Americans were not exceptional, which was exceptional. They built a form of government that sought to take the venality of all our current and future statesman into account, which was a marvel of prescience.
Having said as much, repeatedly, I want to come at this beast from another angle. Before doing so, allow me to state some of my bona fides. I love apple pie, I own a Winchester 30-30, and I have warm spot in my heart for red-checked tablecloths. I am a loyal son of the Republic, and wish to demonstrate my good will in this matter by giving American exceptionalism a good, old-fashioned American drubbing.
I wish to do this by using metaphors from the shock and awe war locker, but of course, humility requires me to leave to the reader any determination of whether I have actually succeeded in doing so. Some readers, I know, think of my writing as more of a schlock and awwww kind of thing. And one sees their point, of course.
So when Herod shows up en fête, in that glittery robe, and the people all cry out that it was the voice of a god and not a man, there was — even then — a course of action he could have taken that would have headed off the hungry worms. That course of action would have been to give glory to God (Acts 12:23). We, being not very quick on the uptake, have not responded that way, but are doing our very best Herod imitation, standing there on the stage like a freshly minted nominee at the Republican National Convention, luxuriating in the transcendental permanence of the glory that is descending upon in the form of ten tons of confetti.
When I write against American exceptionalism, some ordinary patriots are sometimes unsettled. “Aren’t you grateful to be an American?”, they ask. Of course I am. Very grateful. But this generates what should be an a question. Grateful to whom? I am a Christian first, which means I am grateful to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a Christian first, and since Jesus told His followers to disciple all the nations, presumably including the one we live in, this means that we must be grateful to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And by we, I mean us. Americans. Our elected representatives. Our foundational documents. If we don’t want to perish in the way, we must kiss the Son.
“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV).
This exceptionalism you speak of — should we be grateful for it? Grateful to whom? You think it is sufficient for everybody to gin up a few grateful-lite vibes on Turkey Day?
We are one of the most blessed nations ever to exist, and because of the blight of American secularism, we have created a vast sinkhole of ingratitude, hubris, and conceit, from Virginia to Oregon. And it will not fix it if we urge everybody to thank their private gods, however they conceive him/her/it to be. The reason that won’t do is that those gods are not the living God. They are all dead, every mother’s son of them. They did not give these blessings to us, laboring, as they do, under the burden of non-existence. Why do we want to fix this problem of our ingratitude to the living God by urging everyone to say something nice to their little bobble-head idols? This is not just perpetuating the problem, it is gilding our insouciance problem and leaving baskets of fruit in front of it.
The living God is jealous for His name, which is Yahweh.
In the name of God we will set up our banners (Ps. 20:5). Some trust in chariots, and some in horses. Some trust in destroyers, and some in submarines. Some trust in drone strikes, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God (Ps. 20:7). If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to one of those bobble-head things, won’t God see this? Won’t He deal with it (Ps. 44:20-21)? Oh, Lord God, deliver our people! Save our nation, and do it by means of Your name (Ps. 54:1). Purge our sins, especially the root sin of secularism, for Your name’s sake (Ps. 79:9). Do this, our God, for Your name’s sake (Ps. 109:21). But somehow it has come to be the received wisdom — even among Christians — to look for salvation without a Savior, for some mighty act deliverance from the heavens, signed “Anonymous.”
And we can stand around afterwards, sure glad that we were delivered, and doubly glad that we don’t have to thank anybody for it.
Look. The exceptional things we have (in truth) been given can be counted as blessings from the hand of the only true God, who requires us to name Him as the only source of any such blessings. The quite ordinary conceit we have displayed, sharing it with Ozymandias, is our refusal to do so. The longer we have gone on in this vein the more the sham has become apparent. Is America exceptional? Well, why don’t you ask one of the millions of Americans who were chopped up in little pieces in the womb because the ghouls on our highest Court found the right to such wickedness hiding under a penumbra? Is America exceptional? Well, the reply comes back from the dead child. “I really am not in a position to know . . .”
Those who refuse to honor God as God, and those who refuse to give Him thanks are turned over to their lusts, their foolish hearts being darkened (Rom. 1:21). In this process, spiraling downward, we have proven ourselves to be up to the challenge of being as ordinary as the dirt from which we were all made. Gratitude, rightly placed, is extraordinary. Ingratitude . . . well, that’s another matter.
So the faster the extraordinary blessings fade, the more some people want to fix it by defending that damned phrase. But without repentance, evidenced by the confession that Jesus is Yahweh, and our only possible hope, every use of that phrase is just thumping a hollow jug harder and harder. But hitting it won’t fill it.
Take a lesson from Emerson’s comment — “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”