The Worship of America

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

Even though I think religion itself, particularly Christianity, is to blame for the majority of the world’s problems throughout history, it seems to me that there is a religioun in America that often goes unnoticed: the worship of America itself. Nationalism has become an American religion. Growing up in America, I have always been very disturbed by the way Americans treat this particular country and especially it’s symbols.

As a child I was taught to stand at my desk every morning before school, place my hand over my heart, and recite a cult-like chant in which I pledge allegiance to, of all things, the American flag. Even as a child, I was struck by the Orwellian nature of this, though I didn’t know how to express it at the time. The flag is a symbol of America, but it is so revered that it is treated as a religious object, the same way certain icons are in temples and churches. If you didn’t know, there are a set of rules about what you should and should not do with a flag, which are often taught in places like the Boy Scouts. I don’t know all of them, but I have absorbed a few of them from cultural osmosis, and I do know you are never supposed to let it touch the ground and you are not supposed to wear a flag as clothing, or hang it upside down.

What’s even creepier than the fact that children are expected to essentially recite a prayer each morning to the religious icon of the American flag is the droning uninterested monotone with which an entire school does so. As I stood in class reciting the pledge of allegiance, hundreds of other students did it at the same time within my school, and within my state and country there were millions of children, all droning out the monotonous prayer at once, not really concerned with the meaning of the words. Most first graders don’t really know what the word “indivisible” means, but because we have this chant drilled into our heads from our youngest age, we are psychologically prepared to accept the words of the pledge as gospel truth when we are old enough to understand them. It doesn’t occur to use to question it because we were indoctrinated, just like we were with religion.

Indoctrination occurs everywhere. The most popular video games in America are almost entirely shooting games, specifically war games, and even more specifically a lot of those war games are set directly in the middle east, priming young people, mostly boys, to view killing middle eastern people as sport, not to regard them as human. Is it any wonder then, that non-white people and particularly middle eastern people are treated with such racism in America, or automatically assumed to be terrorists?

The national anthem is equally creepy to me. I know that every country has a national anthem, but the way you are instantly ostracized for refusing to stand for the anthem or refusing to say the pledge is terrifying. I tried on a couple of occasions as a child to abstain from saying the pledge of allegiance (think about that, for a moment, the weight of that: CHILDREN RECITE A PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. That is third world dictator type shit), and I was reprimanded by teachers and given looks of confusion by other students.

There’s also an attitude in America that we are the best country in the world. And I mean that literally. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “America is the greatest country in the world.” But WHY is it great? If you ask most people they’ll give you some platitude about “freedom,” as though we’re the only country in the world with a bill of human rights in our constitution. The vast majority of industrialized countries in the world have the same personal freedoms Americans do, but Americans don’t consider that. As a child, I was told by my mother that in China, no one is allowed to have their own personal property, and people have to stand in line in bathrooms to receive their share of toilet paper. I was told that America is essentially a utopia where people from all over the world come to to escape persecution and share in our freedoms.

That is, of course, bullshit. America ranks incredibly low on a lot of factors that we consider to be marks of a great place to live. We have terrible education scores, we are almost single-handedly destroying the planet, we contain an incredibly small amount of the world’s population and use a larger share of it’s resources than any other country.

The thing that has always confused me about America’s place in the world is HOW it’s allowed to get away with all the things it does. With contributing to climate change, with affecting the environment, with not allowing people to have the same personal freedoms (such as marriage equality or voting equality) that other countries enjoy.

I think about it like this: imagine a house full of people, and this house represents the world, and the people represent countries. If one person in the house is sitting in the corner starting a fire that’s going to spread and burn down the rest of the house, isn’t it the responsibility of all the other people to step in and stop the fire, or stop that person from lighting a fire? Sure, he could say “this is my corner of the house, I’m allowed to do what I like here,” but he shouldn’t have the ability to do something that can endanger the safety of everyone else in the house. So why is America allowed to run rampant and unchecked like a bull in a China shop? Why do all the other countries in the world not sit down and say “Look, America, we can’t let you destroy our planet. Destroy your own country if you want to, but once you’re affecting the rest of us, we have to put a stop to it.” How is America allowed to do what it does?

I know that there is more nuance to all of these things, I do. What I’m doing here is essentially thinking out loud, I’m shouting questions into the void and hoping someone will hear them and consider them. I’ve wanted to do a series about some of my controversial opinions for a while now, and I hope to continue doing these. I know it’s essentially just me ranting, but I like ranting, and I think ranting is useful. My opinions are not set in stone, they’re open to change when new information is presented to me, and I’m open to admitting I’m wrong, but I hope that someone will see the sense in some of what I’m saying.

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