My Humble Nation
by Pastor George Van Alstine
The Winter Olympics are over, and the Canadian hosts have a right to be proud. That’s why a few words in the closing speech by John Furlong, the CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, really impressed me:
“And finally, to those who have watched us all over the globe, we hope you enjoyed these Games and the telling of our humble Canadian story.”
What a striking comment! Certainly all Canadians feel pride, after taking a record number of gold medals and winning the final event in a dramatic overtime victory over the Americans in men’s hockey. But the last word was about national humility.
I thought to myself, “That’s the trouble with the USA; we have no national humility.” I tried to imagine an American leader standing up and talking about “our humble American story.” It just doesn’t seem to flow easily off of our lips. We’re so used to thinking of our nation as number one in everything. Red-white-and-blue pride seems as American as apple pie and baseball.
The truth is we have a lot to be proud about. Economically, we have risen to the top since the Industrial Revolution. We have been able to maintain a representative democracy that protects individuals’ rights better than most other governments do. Our military might is unmatched by any other nation. And the standard of living enjoyed by the average American is the envy of the world.
But there are some things we haven’t been very good at. Health care is getting a lot of attention right now, as a reform bill is being debated in Congress. Currently, the US is spending 15% of its Gross National Product on health care, considerably higher than any other major nation. And yet, we rank 14th in preventable deaths; France is at the top with only 65 per 100,000 population, while our figure is 110. Meanwhile, the percentage of our people who are in prison is the highest in the world by far, at 738 per 100,000 population, compared to the second highest, Russia, at 611, Cuba at 487, Brazil at 191 and India at 30. We are number one in another dubious statistic – arms sales. Over the past eight years the American percentage of the world’s arms sales has risen from 45% to 56%. These shortcomings probably contribute to the results of a recent study on the level of satisfaction and hope among young people in various nations, which showed the US to be only number 11 in optimism among its youth, with the top six being India, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Finland and China.*
Our past history as a nation also gives reason for both pride and humility. In 1776, a creative new form of government, which affirms personal freedoms and open opportunity, came to a world that knew mostly inherited monarchies, class systems of privilege, military coups, and dictatorships, and it has been maintained successfully for over two centuries since. The rapid emergence from a loosely-bound alliance of thirteen ragtag colonies into the greatest economic and military power in the world is an awesome accomplishment. But along the way, we ruthlessly rolled over the native populations, taking their land and leaving them crumbs. And for the first century of its existence, America built its economy on the backs of slaves, whose descendants are still struggling to become full partners in the nation’s success and affluence.
Unfortunately, American pride seems to be the only allowable patriotic expression. Exuberant self-confidence is the American way, and self-doubt isn’t tolerated by “true Americans.”
That’s why it was so refreshing to me to hear Mr. Furlong talk about “our humble Canadian story.” I thought, “That’s what my country needs.” It occurred to me that some people insist on calling America a “Christian Nation,” yet there’s nothing Jesus emphasized more than humility. It seems that the Christian citizens of our nation should be the first to call for national humility. The Book of Proverbs contains the familiar warning:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:17-18)
I believe the brashness of the USA is due to the fact that we are only a little over two hundred years old, which makes us a political adolescent. We’re just acting our age. I hope that some time before I leave this earth my nation will grow up enough so that a candidate for President can make a speech in which he refers to “our humble American story,” and his poll numbers actually go up.
* This is from a study done by the Kairos Future Institute, based on interviews of 22,000 people, 1300 from each of 17 nations.