“This is the greatest nation on the earth.” I heard that a number of times last night. And as a citizen of a country other than the aforementioned greatest country on earth, such a statement always sounds a little harsh. But I suppose that it is fair: America is an incredible nation, with international influence, extensive might, and an average standard of living that ranks high above most, if not every, country that currently exists or has ever existed.
I guess the real reason that such a statement rings in my ears is my familiarity with ancient mythology. In ancient mythology, the most classic motif, and also the most deadly, is hubris—proclaiming oneself to be in a better station in life than one really is. It was commonly an action of a mortal who claimed to be better than a god in some way or another. The end result was that the god would appear, show that he or she was far superior, and then kill or curse the mortal in a fitting way that would serve as a lesson to all.
As far as the statements spoken all across this country yesterday, are they hubristic? Yes and no. In one sense, they are not: America isn’t claiming anything that isn’t arguably true—it is a pretty great nation. In another sense, it is hubris, because there is a sense in which a declaration can be hubristic if it is somewhat true but ignores major factors in the process. For instance, the proclamation from a mythological king that his is the greatest country on the earth could be hubristic, not because it is untrue, but because it fails to recognize from where that greatness comes.
Now this is Texas, and three things were a part of this 4th of July celebration (and I would assume most celebrations in Texas): the Star Spangled Banner, Deep in the Heart of Texas, and God Bless America. I actually heard plenty about ‘God bless America’—a lot more than I would have heard at celebrations in other parts of the country. But here’s the interesting thing: there are two statements—‘God bless America’ and ‘America is the greatest,’ but the connection between the two is vague and often nonexistent.
A mythological king under the patronage of Poseidon who proclaimed that his nation was the greatest and then asked that Poseidon bless his city, with no mention of how his city got to be the greatest (by prior blessing of Poseidon) would be liable to lose his capital city to a Poseidon-induced tidal wave in short order. What about America? Is America professing her own greatness, and asking God to bless her, without accepting or proclaiming that it is God who has made her great? If you asked most people at that festival last night, many of the ones who cheered and clapped at the phrase ‘God bless America’ would tell you that America is great because it has hardworking people, dedicated military, etc. God’s blessing would be further down the list, if it appeared at all. But at the end of the day, I as a Christian must confess that it is God who not only can bring blessing in the future (as many are willing to admit, it would seem) but has also brought blessing in the past (as fewer, it would seem, are willing to admit.)
What do we as Christians do then, when the nation which we live in and love is standing on its pinnacle and proclaiming that it is the greatest, and beseeching God to turn an eye to its future without realizing that its tendency to fail to accept God’s prior provision—rather taking such blessing as its own work—might well lead it to suffer something less than blessing from God? On the one hand, we could simply ignore it, accepting that I have it right and most people have it wrong, and so long as I’m in the right, everything is OK. That would be easier—it’d certainly be easier for me! Saying the pledge of allegiance in America is probably some minor level of treason on my part. So sticking my head in the sand would be easy (and perhaps justifiable).
But if we really do love this country as much as we say we do, and if we really do profess that we desire to maintain the American way of life (which might need some adjusting as well…) so that future generations can enjoy the freedom and standard of living which we enjoy, then we have to work to protect that way of life. We sing salutes to soldiers who we say are protecting that way of life for us and trying to lead others to such a way of life throughout the world. So perhaps we at home should be willing to do the same thing, knowing full well that life as we know it in America, blessed as it is, comes only because of God’s favor extended to this nation, and if this nation would have any hope of seeing ‘God bless America’ in the future, they need to be willing to accept that God blessed America in the past and they need to work to make a nation that is less undeserving of God’s national blessings.
Fun Facts about American Patriotism from a mildly sarcastic Canadian:
On-board a military vessel is 'sovereign territory' and for all intents and purposes is considered the soil of the country which owns that ship. So although penned by an American author, watching an American flag fly over an American fort, the Star Spangled Banner was written on British soil.
While the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, the war for independence began on April 19, 1775 with the battles at Lexington and Concord.
The popular song This Land is Your Land was written as an antagonistic response to God Bless America by a communist-friendly songwriter.
Martin Van Buren was the first American president who was born as an American citizen, and he was inaugurated in 1837.
My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, although written by an American, uses the tune of God Save the Queen, the British national anthem (and Canadian royal anthem).
In 1812, America launched a war against Britain due to tensions between America and Britain and the American expansionist dream. The British repelled various American attempts to take British territory and succeeding pushing into the Chesapeake Bay and burning Washington D.C. With the Treaty of Ghent in 1818, the Americans lost their first war, failing to wrest any territory from the control of the British military and the local militia who would later form the country known as Canada.