Can one be a patriotic American and not be an American Exceptionalist?
The answer, of course is yes, I would fit both descriptions, and here is why: While I admire, love, and honor my country of birth and residence, I consider this concept of Exceptionalism as an issue of pride, arrogance, delusion, and foolishness. America needs humility, not Exceptionalism!
American Exceptionalism, by definition, means the historical, political, religious, social, economic, and military uniqueness of the United States of America and its prominence as a nation above all others in those areas.
I have listened to the radio commentators drone on and on about American Exceptionalism. I have even, fists pounding the air, agreed with them, initially, on their word, but then as I became more of a person of my faith (Orthodox Christian), I began to see the futility of it. America has accomplished admirable deeds in the world – stood up to the militant atheism of the Soviet Union, freed entire nations of the shackles of political, social, or religious totalitarianism, fed hungry people. But if we start to fancy ourselves as a lone force for good in the world, then indeed we are making ourselves guilty of hubris.
That said, should we as Americans become good “world citizens” and subject ourselves to the dictates of some global body like the UN? Should we buckle under and make our country a Politically Correct, Environmentally Friendly myrmidon of the tribes that meet in Brussels, Durban, Kyoto, Istanbul and Copenhagen? Nope. (I am not saying that we haven’t done these things already.) Neither should we go the other direction and wield the World Policemen billy. (Because, for one, our ability to detect the real criminals has, over the decades, become exceedingly bad.) Nor do I see anything wrong with flouting international opinion each and every time it fails to coincide with the needs of this country. (Read: Real needs, not political desires.) That’s not really the essence of Exceptionalism; what the term really implies is the sordid belief in this country’s exaltation over all others.
Holy Scripture says, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:12).” Elder Herman of Mount Athos said, “Humility is the only thing we need; one can still fall having virtues other than humility — but with humility one does not fall.”
So, if humility is a great personal quality, then I would surmise that it would be an equally profitable national quality too.
Indeed, my first duty is not to country but to God. “The Church of Christ is the kingdom not of this world. It does not possess any of the attractions of the earthly world. It is persecuted and slandered. Yet it not only avoids perishing in the world, but grows and defeats the world! This happens everywhere, and here in our land as well,” said St. Tikhon of Moscow, in his farewell sermon to his American Missionary Diocese in 1907. St Alfred’s prayer says this: “We seek you, we follow you, and we are ready to serve you.” (The Orthodox Church has outlived most of the nations, empires, or city-states that it once called home. She is much more resilient than any nation, no matter how exceptional that nation feels itself to be. She would qualify as being a truly exceptional entity, but in her suffering, her perseverance, her faith.)
That said, would I defend my country if we were attacked? I certainly hope I would have the guts. But more importantly, I would say this, I do pray for this country (Save, O Lord, and have mercy on this land and its authorities…) and prayer must be her first line of defense. After all, this is not a political discussion, but a spiritual one.