It seems that in the latest battle of empty rhetoric between liberals and conservatives, the term, “That’s un-American” seems to be quite popular. Tom Hanks fired a barrage at supporters of California’s Prop 8, saying anyone who supports any form of discrimination is “Un-American” (I wonder how he feels about laws against Polygamy). The Mormons responded saying that criticizing their vote was equally “Un-American.”
As usual, there are people using a term without actually defining what the term means and their justification in using the term. We saw this with the Iraq War II, people who supported the war said anyone who didn’t support it was Un-American and vice versa.
What does it mean to be “Un-American” and is that necessarily a bad thing at times? I’ll be the first to admit that what it is to be an American is quite subjective and changes throughout history. At our founding, to be an American meant that you supported endowed rights by a Creator and opposed any form of tyranny that sought to neglect these rights. Though the original Americans weren’t completely libertine in their view of human rights (because they believed we were accountable to ethics via reason – classical deontology), they still believed that humans were allowed to do as they pleased so long as it was in an ethical manner. A little over one hundred year ago, to be an American meant you supported the expansion of the United States via conquest of the Native Americans. It meant that you believed in the spirit of the “free man” or the “autonomous spirit.” As time has progressed, however, this has ceased to define what it is to be an American.
What does it mean to be an American in the modern day? If we base it off the ideals of America, set forth by the Founders, then it means to be someone that seeks to exercise one’s God-given rights while doing so in a responsible and ethical way. In this case, those who support unethical actions and say such actions should be legal would be Un-American. Alternatively, if we base our belief of what “American” is based upon the majority view of the culture, then it means to be a libertine in view of ethics, to desire a completely secular view of government that doesn’t even see the law as absolute. In this case, those that attempt to enforce absolute ethical codes as absolute laws would be “Un-American.”
My question, however, is quite simple: What does it matter if someone is Un-American? I fully admit that I am currently un-American, by both standards provided. Certainly I love this nation and the freedom it provides, but both viewpoints are built off faulty views. Rather, I seek to be a good human being, and I seek to actualize this by being a good Christian. Being a good Christian and supporting the things I do because of my beliefs will often times make me a very Un-American person. To this, I ask, “So what?”
If I am shown to be unfaithful to the flag of the United States, I must ask what the consequences and ramifications of this verdict should be. I am Un-American, but does this make me wrong? I am Un-American, but does this mean anything I say should be ignored? Or does it mean that I’m simply upholding an ethical standard while the rest of my Americans choose to ignore it? Would anyone care to be called Un-Roman or Un-Soviet Union? Of course not, in fact we would pride ourselves on not buying into their ideals and culture. Thus, when American society becomes corrupt and the ideals do not match with Scripture, we should equally take pride in being labeled “Un-American.”