Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

American Exceptionalism and American Irrelevance

One of the genre’s of Science Fiction that I love is what is called “near future Sci-Fi”.  These are stories set to occur in the next 200 years or so.  What I love about them is that they “forecast” out not into some far off fantastic future, but into the coming decades and centuries.  In doing so, they let us look at what some of the trends in the world today could lead to.

In a book I just finished, the United States of America has become nearly irrelevant in world politics and society, even while holding to itself an image of American Exceptionalism.  The theory is this… that the more the U.S.A. clings to its concept of being an exceptional nation… a nation set above or better than other nations, the more it actually reduces its significance in the world.

The more we “rest on our laurels” of academic and technological achievement, the faster developing nations will pass us by, both academically and technologically.

The more we resort to military force (or the threat of military force) to achieve diplomatic aims, the more nations will view us more as a threat and not a benefit, and will isolate us.

The more wealth and economic power we move overseas, the less wealth and economic power will be identified as a part of the “exceptional” nature of the United States.

The “heavier” we are diplomatically, the more nations will realize that they are not as dependent upon the good-will of the U.S.A. as they once were.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Even we liberals get caught up in a brand of American Exceptionalism… a kind of smug paternalism that says that other nations will not thrive or grow unless we are there to “assist” them… and bring with us all of our preconceptions and often colonial attitudes to that “assistance”.

I’ve written about the dangers of American Exceptionalism before, but never in terms of generating our own irrelevance.  I’ve written about our hubris in believing that the meaning of all world events is found in the relationship of the U.S. to that event.  What I’ve been pondering of late is how this sense of American Exceptionalism is leading our nation to greater and greater irrelevance in the world.

Perhaps it is time for us, as a nation, to realize we are not as special, not as exceptional as we think we are.  Perhaps it is time for us to realize that other people in other nations around the world have as great, and often longer histories than we do.  Perhaps it is time to realize that people in other nations have dreams, ideals, and values that are of no less importance than our own.  Perhaps it is time for us to acknowledge that there is no inherent cultural superiority to the U.S.A.

Perhaps it is time for the United States of America to learn some humility.

Whenever I think of American Exceptionalism, I think of the speech given by Ronald Reagan where he talked about the “City on the Hill”, paraphrasing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (though second-hand, through John Winthrop).  Perhaps it is time we realize that Reagan got the scripture wrong.  He misunderstood what Jesus said.  The metaphor of the City on the Hill was not about that city being exceptional in its own right.  It was about the need for the city that all can see to behave in a way that inspires all of human kind.  What would make such a city exceptional was not what it was, or who founded it, or whatever ideals they might have…

It was how they behaved…

2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  (Matthew 5, NRSV)

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David

One Thought on “American Exceptionalism and American Irrelevance

  1. yes I agree

    The USA thinks itself so Exceptional it thinks it can support an all volunteer Army with the likes of KBR.

    I think the Universal National Service
    is the fix for this & I think both the majority of military & the UUA should agree. I think this is a very important discussion that should take place now.

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