Exceptional

Over on Facebook, a theologian friend posted a question asking (I paraphrase) if others thought that American exceptionalism was a sin. Lots of interesting answers followed, many in agreement, clarifying why they thought it might be a sin, with more leaning towards yes. If reading these words sets you off – in either direction – hold on, that is part of the point.

One of the commenters pointed towards it being a sin because it is a lie. That makes sense to me, at least in the way that I see and understand American exceptionalism, because at its root the sin of pride is poised to leap in and co-opt, thus leading us further astray. Someone else pointed out American exceptionalism in the light nationalism, mentioning Gaudium et Spes. They also noted that St. John Paul II warned us about excessive nationalism; he certainly saw the fruit of evil that came from such a position.

NationalismThis all has me thinking because excessive nationalism, which is not to be confused with patriotism. I am worried about what grows out of such exceptionalism,  and it seems like a runaway train to me today. My biggest problem with American nationalism is that is seemed rooted – as I mentioned earlier – in excessive pride. Also, maybe it is just me, but it seems inherently disordered through the lens of faith because God has loved each and every one of us into being, so how could one country be full of people who are superior?  However, while our way of life offers us many gifts, I do not think that this is it and that everything else is flawed in some way. How arrogant is that?

As God’s people I do think that we need to keep asking ourselves questions like this, so that we are engaged with the dynamism of our lives in Christ. If we can’t see – or even be willing to see – that a position infused with the exceptionalism sort of mindset is one that risks our humanity, then I fear we are lost. The idea that we are unlike any other and without equal implies a hierarchy that is not true. It is not a big leap from this point of view to great sins such as racism, sexism, and prejudice.

Another challenge of the position is that we reduce humans, denying them of their dignity, to a “group” that we oppose. Whether it is someone denigrating all “conservatives” or putting down “liberals” as if their was but one group-hive mind among them all is ridiculous at best, and sinful at worst. That’s bad enough, but the nationalism loads up all kinds of generalizations that are simply not true – and those are lies. And we know who the purveyor of all lies is, right? Some big contemporary lies might be that all Mexicans are flooding our borders to take advantage of our way of life is a lie,  all Muslims belong to a death cult intent on destroying our way of life, all Black citizens in addition to being lazy welfare users also want to kill our police.  We could all go on and on with examples, each one uglier than the next.

Are there truths in some situations? Yes, but no all can be all anything and it is a challenge of sin to think this way. Similarly absurd would be the notion that all Americans are the best people in the world and our way of life is completely without fault. That is the exceptionalism we see so much of on parade lately, and that is dangerous territory.

This gets me back to my last post, about what we might choose. As people of God, in particular for those of us who are Roman Catholic, we are asked to live in ways so that all may be one in Christ. Instead of slicing and dicing, choosing either or, we are invited to live holistically and in service to the other. That is not so easy to do if you are inclined to pigeonhole the worth and the unworthy, the good and the bad and so forth. For about the 804,482th time I refer to Anne Lamott’s great line, illustrated in the image below.

quote-you-can-safely-assume-that-you-ve-created-god-in-your-own-image-when-it-turns-out-that-anne-lamott-16-72-26So tell me readers, what do you think? Is American exceptionalism a sin? If so – why? If so – why not? In the end, I’m left thinking that sin easily springs forth from this mindset. for the reasons I mentioned and more. I’m curious in these days of so much talk of our nation’s greatness and failure how things look to you.

 

 

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Walls or bridges?

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Why haven’t you written something on your blog about Pope Francis and Donald Trump? As the Catholic blogger for the Times Union, don’t you have a responsibility to write about these things?”  The question arrived in the form of an email from an acquaintance and took me by surprise.

As it happens, I am not the only Catholic blogger on the Religion/Beliefs corner of the TU blog platform. My friend, former grad school classmate Walter Ayers is present in that space as well. And I do not bear any responsibility to do anything. It goes like this – the paper asked if I would blog on their platform four years ago and I agreed. If I stop blogging, the newspaper police burst through my door and drag me before my “blog boss” Michael Huber, who is the Interactive Audience Manager for the paper. In fact, I have so few obligations, I keep this platform up, my “home” space, and the newspaper blog is a mirror.

That reply to my acquaintance generated another question. “Don’t you care about what is happening?” Oh I do, trust me – I Continue reading

Laetare Monday

rejoiceIt has been a long winter, hasn’t it? And a long Lent, or so it seems to me. The weather was a real challenge this year; recent milder winters had lulled me into a cheery complacency about what snow and cold truly meant in upstate New York. And I say that knowing that those in the the mid-Atlantic states further south had it much worse! Hard to think about rejoicing, right?

Add to that, starting in October, and never (gratefully) with anything life-threatening, but I have been in the near constant care of doctors for one thing or another. I get it, I’m 56, and I have not always taken care of my corpus very well, but much like the winter, this all came as a startling and repeatedly disturbing challenge. Let it suffice to say that I think that I may finally be turning the corner into, God willing, some better health. That’s why I am calling this Laetare Monday!

Our Lenten journey is meant to be one of the kind of serious prayer and introspection that leads to change. This is not the navel gazing of my earlier years, when a faux seriousness pervaded my being, but was not very deep or authentic; I was Continue reading