Thursday, September 16, 2010

Greater love for his country hath no man than this, that he damage it to save money

Two bumper stickers next to each other on a car I was driving behind yesterday: "God Bless America" and "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less."

It's not really surprising to see this combination, I suppose. The "drill here" movement consists mostly of conservative (or right of center) people, and the same crowd is more likely to want to say "God bless America." Not because people on the left hate America (although some might) or don't believe in God (although perhaps less of them do) but because people on the left are more likely, I think, to see no reason why God would not, or should not, bless all the world. He made it, after all (allegedly). From a religious perspective it makes no sense (that I can see) to think that God would or should prefer one country to any other, unless one believes in the kind of providentialism that sees imperialism, slavery, genocide, and terrorism as expressions of God's will. In that case, one might see the USA's superpower status as evidence that God prefers the USA to other countries. But what would that imply about God's attitude toward Sudan or North Korea, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan? There are people who think that God allowed slavery in the US because He is biased in favour of white people, but this has to be filed under "crackpot ideas" along with the idea that He allowed the 9/11 attacks on a financial institution and the Pentagon because He hates, not capitalism or militarism (which would make a sick kind of sense), but because He hates American tolerance of gay people. This makes no sense.

"God bless America" makes sense if it's not taken to exclude "God bless France," "God bless Sudan," etc. etc. But then why say it? Maybe because you love the part of the world that you know and want to express this love, without meaning thereby that other parts of the world are less worthy. That seems OK to me.

But then, if you love this part of the planet, why would you want people to drill more for oil here, especially when we have been reminded so recently and so forcefully what damage this can do? Well, we know the answer: so we can pay less for gas. Someone who thinks this way cannot be loving America as a physical place. He (the driver was a young man) must mean something else. The freedom to drill for oil, perhaps. The lifestyle associated with the USA, perhaps, which heavily involves driving. The people who live in the US, perhaps, and their financial well-being.

So does "God bless America" then mean something like God bless freedom, God bless driving, God bless our wallets? It isn't impossible that there is some coherent thought here. And I think only dialogue can discover the truth. But it's hard to resist the suspicion that the sentiment is no more articulate than this:

Some people laughingly reject this attitude as moronic. Others happily embrace it, without necessarily denying that there is something rather unthinking about it. Is its expression nonsense? I don't know. But there can't be much rational debate about it.

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