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Every year different voices of the Religious or Evangelical Left tut-tut the ostensibly rabid nationalists who mindlessly celebrate the anniversary of their oppressive nation. ”American Exceptionalism,” which supposedly is the invention of the Religious Right, is the original sin demanding constant repentance.
This year’s lament comes from progressive Southern Baptist Jonathan Merritt, son of a former president Southern Baptist Convention president, and author of a new book bemoaning religious conservatives. Frequently appearing on cable television, he is one of the prominent faces of a new evangelical generation that reputedly rejects partisanship of the Right for “nonpartisan” positions of the Left.
“What makes this party unique from others is that the birthday girl—America—thinks she’s better than everyone else,” Merritt noted of his country’s Independence Day, in an essay nonchalantly called “America the Arrogant.”
It’s essential mythology for the Religious Left that American Exceptionalism is defined by hubristic superiority wielded by conservatives as ideological justification for American imperialism. That American Exceptionalism is actually much subtler and richer, subscribed to by Americans across the spectrum, and often motivating America’s loftiest aspirations, somehow evades these caricaturists.
Merritt quotes left-leaning columnists Michael Kinsley and Richard Cohen in slamming the evils of American exceptionalism. But these commentators are as ardent in their exceptionalism as anyone on the Right, having lectured for decades how America must save the world, or model for the world, their own liberal vision of the Great Society.
Somewhat generously, Merritt grants that America is special and great for its generosity, its freedom, its prosperity, and its democracy. ”This is a wonderful place to live, and many citizens of other nations are clamoring to come here while our citizens largely stay put,” he admits. Merritt calls America “exceptional” but denounces “exceptionalism as
“bad theology” for supposedly claiming that America has “achieved special standing with God.”“
Merritt warns against “exceptionalist politicians” who intimidate their adversaries into silence about America’s flaws lest they lose patriotic credibility. He cites America’s not so exceptional qualities such as a high murder rate, high execution rate, and a failing education system. Interesting list. Most of the “exceptionalist politicians” he rues likely agree that public education is often a scandal. As to murder rates, they are falling, but nobody defends them. Nor do the cartoon stereotypes of flag waving hyper patriots truly, widely exist much beyond the relished nightmares of coastal Leftists.
In a key argument, Merritt asks how you would react to a “neighbor” who “made no bones about the fact they thought they were better than you,” “thought they were specially blessed by God and you weren’t,” or required constant reassurance from you about how amazing they were?” Even accepting these rather distorted expectations of American exceptionalists, the answer really depends on what you might need from your reputedly difficult neighbor.
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