July 4, 2018

Pride in America

American flag
It makes perfect sense why someone who an immigrated to a country as an adult would be proud of his or her new home. After all, he or she chose to undergo this difficult process. As for those of us who are only here because we were born here or because our parents brought us here when we were children, I have a much harder time understanding this sort of pride. It is not because I still think that pride is "sinful" or anything; it is just that I've always had a difficult time understanding the point of taking pride in something that was entirely out of my control (e.g., where I was born, my race, anything my distant ancestors might have done).

When I look at the United States, I see an extremely complex picture. There are many things I love about this country. There are aspects of our past that are inspiring and plenty of things about our present that I'd be reluctant to trade away. There are also many things I hate about this country. These include the dark aspects of our not so distant past as well as some of what we are doing today. There is too little nuance in either patriotism or cynicism for me. We cannot allow the bad to obscure the good or the good to distract us from the bad. We can, however, celebrate the good while resolving to keep working on changing the bad.

When I started writing Atheist Revolution in 2005, I did so with an eye on the interface between religion and a variety of socio-political issues in the U.S. In fact, the first post I ever wrote contained the following sentence: "I will use this blog to organize my thoughts on religion and politics in American life." When I referred to "politics" in that post, I was thinking about something much bigger than elections, political parties, or candidates. I was also thinking about our day-to-day experiences as atheists in a predominately religious country. While I have gone back-and-forth over the ensuing years about how much or how little to write about politics, I think it is fair to say that I have not deviated too far from this plan.

For me, some of the important questions about the United States still concern how atheists are regarded and treated by our religious neighbors. This could be framed as more of a social matter than a political one right up until the point at which our religious neighbors start passing laws and using state power to enforce them. At that point, I don't know how to divorce it from politics. We have made some progress since 2005; however, I also think we have a very long way to go. Bigotry directed at atheists is still too socially acceptable, church-state violations are commonplace, and the degree to which atheists have political representation remains pathetic.

Whenever I think about taking pride in the United States, I find myself realizing that many of the things in which I would most like to take pride seem to be those that are most often under attack (e.g., the separation of church and state). This highlights one of the important paradoxes about activism and progress. No matter how much progress we make, there always seem to be those who are determined to reverse our gains. The struggle to improve our country never ends.

Happy 4th of July to those of you who are celebrating it.