Wednesday, December 26, 2012
December 26, 2012: Making My List (Again), Part Three
[Last year around the holidays, I shared a few items on my AmericanStudier wish list, things I hope Americans could do and be. In this most wonderful time of the year™, I wanted to do the same with a handful of new wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves. Please share your own wishes and hopes, and I’ll add ‘em to the weekend’s post and make sure the Elves get ‘em too. Thanks, and happy holidays!]
On the American community I wish we could recognize and include more fully.
If there’s one way in which I have occasionally been made to feel like an American minority, left out of many of our national narratives—don’t worry, I’m not going to go into one of those routines about how tough it’s getting for a white male these days; I have long since instructed friends and family that if I ever come within a million miles of that utterly nonsensical perspective, they should have me euthanized immediately—it’s as an atheist. In my Intro to American Studies class on the 1980s we watch a portion of Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech, and as part of that speech’s intro he approvingly quotes an anonymous entertainer who had said that he would rather his two young girls die as children, believing in God, then grow old and die non-believers in the USSR. Despite the Cold War-specific context, Reagan absolutely and unequivocally endorses the broader themes of the anecdote, making clear, at least to this atheist, that the man who was president for eight of my first eleven years of life feels I would have been better off dying as a child then living a full life with my particular spiritual point of view. (And yes, the speech was delivered to an evangelical organization, but the president is still the American president, regardless of where or to whom he’s speaking, so I still take that sentiment pretty personally.)
That was more than twenty-five years ago, of course, and I suppose there have been signs that this particular limit of our national definitions is broadening slightly. Certainly I was deeply gratified when Barack Obama, in his 2009 Inaugural address, argued (and the Reagan speech proves just how much it is an argument, not a given) that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers”; moreover, while that line and various other meaningless moments and details have contributed to the deeply sleazy line of right-wing attacks on Obama as a closet atheist (and/or Muslim) who only professes a Christian faith, for the most part Obama’s inclusion of non-believers in the national community went unremarked upon. Yet no one can listen to the president end every speech with “God Bless America,” or listen to both my son’s preschool class and my university’s honors convocation still including “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance, or witness the number of ballparks at which “God Bless America” has permanently replaced “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the 7th inning stretch, among many other daily and constant reminders, and argue that we do not still define ourselves as a religious people in ways that implicitly but unquestionably render us atheist Americans slightly less fully part of the national community. Again, I hasten to add that this kind of exclusion is far, far less weighty than others on which I have focused in this space—but nonetheless, until we can imagine an avowed atheist successfully winning the presidency, exclusion it very much is.
With it being just after Christmas and all, this post might seem unnecessarily provocative or argumentative. But AmericanStudies Elves, I’m not wishing for anyone to lose their own personal faith, for anyone to feel the slightest bit mocked in what they believe or obligated to believe as I do (or don’t), for any American community not to feel that its identity is part of who we are. Quite the opposite, I’m wishing that every such community, including one that does not believe in God, be recognized as just as definingly and meaningfully American. In his keynote speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, Marco Rubio argued that “faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.” So Elves, we’ve got a ways to go yet, and I’m hoping that we can make some progress in the year to come.
Next wish tomorrow,
BenPS. What do you think? Responses to this wish? Wishes of your own you’d share with the Elves?