Yesterday I finished reading Michael Medved’s The 10 Big Lies about America: Combating Destructive Distortions about Our Nation’s Past and Present. I gave the book a two star rating on Goodreads (you are a member of Goodreads, right?), and my feelings about the book really are captured in Goodreads’s description of its two star rating: “It was ok.”
I read this book because it is an important book to someone I love. I wanted to dialogue with the book, and I wanted to have the book in common with that relative as a foundation for future conversations. While it’s true I disagreed with much of the book, there were some things I did agree with, and much more I realized I still need to learn.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the reason I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, or even some of the worst talk radio hosts on the far left, is that they come across as hateful and fear-mongering. Michael Medved doesn’t strike me the same way – in fact, Medved is highly critical of Savage in 10 Big Lies – though he does sometimes slip into a mode of self-righteousness. Anyone who can’t see the truth right in front of Medved’s face is absurd or maniacal. My biggest criticism of Medved, which I also mentioned in a previous post, is his uncomplicated patriotism. Stephen Decatur, the early American naval hero, once gave the famous toast, “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” (Somebody later shortened this to “My country, right or wrong.”) Medved quotes Decatur appreciatively, and it seems to describe his position succinctly.
My own position is summed up in the title of a book by Donald Shriver, President Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary: Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds. Or as G.K. Chesteron put it in The Defendant:
To one who loves his fatherland…our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery. (Emphasis mine)