If you asked my true religion, I would not answer anything practiced in a church, synagogue or mosque. My real religion is America, and I feel privileged that, among the world’s 7 billion people, I am one of the roughly 300 million lucky enough to be an American. This transcends mere patriotism. I believe in what this country stands for, even though I acknowledge its limits and failures. As individuals, we are no better than most (selfishness and prejudice having survived). As a society, we have often violated our loftiest ideals (starting with the acceptance of slavery in 1787). Our loud insistence of “exceptionalism” offends millions of non-Americans, who find us exceptional only in our relentless boasting.
But these caveats do not dim my love of country. I am still stirred by “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I think our messy mixture of democratic traditions, respect for the individual, and economic dynamism commands a unique place in human history. In most societies, people are marked by where they were born, their ethnic heritage or religious conviction. In the United States, these are secondary. Americans’ self-identity springs from the beliefs on which this country was founded, including the belief that no one is automatically better than anyone else simply by virtue of birth.
Our reverence for these ideals remains a touchstone….