Friday, November 18, 2011

Exceptionalism is Not Hope

The Church Without Christ, where “the deaf don't hear, 
the blind don't see, the lame don't walk, 
the dumb don't talk, and the dead stay that way. . .”
                      -- From Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood.

This summer, I heard it reported that a congressperson on a junket (the purpose of these always escapes me) to Iraq demanded of an Iraqi governmental official that Iraq repay (in cold hard cash) the American people for their financial outlay for the war against Iraq.  I cringed at the rudeness: a guest in their ‘house’, this representative of me betrayed the fundamentals of being a good guest while in the land of hospitality.  Think about it this way:  Why would you, as a guest in someone else’s home, demand that they repay you for tearing down their old house, when they didn’t ask you to?  Even if, in your opinion, it needed tearing down?

A few weeks ago on NPR, I heard so-called Middle Eastern experts opining that the hypocrisy (named as such by them all) of U. S. policies on nuclear weaponry and treaty violations is justifiable because that hypocrisy serves our national self-interest.  Again, I cringed.  Are we really so vacuous that self-interest is deemed by definition to be the justifying motivation for any and all bad acts?  Can we really so neatly parse out our personal from our collective morality?  Apparently we do.

Finally, I listen to candidates for the highest office in the land, from all sides, speak about American exceptionalism, express or implied [Fn].  And again, I cringe.  Am I really living in a perpetual football stadium environment, where I must chant we’re number one over and over again in order to verify my worth?

I suspect that many of those offering up their feel-better-while-doing-bad-things bromides are people of faith of one sort or another, many of them Christian.  But such cavalier sentiments that our power position in the world is its own moral compass is indeed the profane Church Without Christ, and as envisioned by Flannery O’Conner, is guaranteed to be the place where the deaf will not hear, the blind will not see and the lame will not walk.

How can they do otherwise when we continue to insist on an Alice-in-Wonderland defining of reality where we claim moral high ground while sinking to any level deemed necessary for our self-defined self-interest.

I am tired of cringing.  I am no self-hating American; but I am an American who looks in the mirror with eyes wide open.  And whenever I do peer into that glass, Jesus is always standing there, looking back, asking me if I have made the world a better place today, if I have loved neighbor today.

So here’s my answer to exceptionalism today: I do not have to be the best in order to do my best.  And the only exceptional, truly unique, stand-alone in greatness, being I have ever met, the Lamb on the Throne, claimed not the first place as his rightful spot, but the last.  In Him, and in Him alone, is my hope.  For Him, and for Him alone, I will do my best.  With Him, and with Him alone, I will find the greatness of being, whether I am first place, or last, or somewhere in between.  It matters not to me, because it matters not to Him.

Would that it mattered not to us.

[Fn]  Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is exceptional (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. Wikipedia: Exceptionalism

No comments:

Post a Comment