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Exceptionalism through time
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Despite fights about its merits, idea of American exceptionalism a powerful force through history

This is the first in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Monday, we examine areas in which other countries lead the way.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – It’s safe to say the first European arrivals to New England wouldn’t recognize today’s debate over whether America is exceptional.

Though the United States wouldn’t be born for another century and a half, the Puritans arriving in the early 1600s on the shores of what would become Massachusetts firmly believed they were on a mission from God.

In other words, they had the exceptional part down pat.

Fleeing what they saw as the earthly and corrupt Church of England, the Puritans fancied themselves the world’s last, best hope for purifying Christianity - and for saving the world.

The Puritans never used the word “exceptionalism.” But they came to see Boston as the new Jerusalem, a divinely ordained “city upon a hill,” a phrase Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop used in a sermon at sea en route from England in 1630.

“They were reinterpreting themselves as God’s new Israel,” Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero said. “They were essentially playing out the biblical story.”

To modern ears, that literal exceptionalist thinking could sound at once both exotic and quaint, which makes the idea’s staying power and influence throughout American history all the more remarkable.

Photos: Faces of citizenship

Nearly four centuries after Winthrop uttered the words “city on a hill,” President Barack Obama finds himself responding to charges from Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he has insufficient faith in American exceptionalism.

“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said at a campaign stop this year. “You have an opportunity to vote and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”

Obama has pushed back on that claim, saying in a recent speech that “the character of our country … has always made us exceptional.”

Though the particulars surrounding the idea have changed, the bedrock belief that America is exceptional when measured against the arc of history and against all other nations has helped forge the nation’s defining moments, from the American Revolution and the country’s dramatic expansion west to the Civil War and both World Wars.

More recently, arguments about American exceptionalism have helped elect and unseat presidents – and have fed a debate about whether the phrase still has any meaning.

'An asylum for mankind'

For New England’s Puritans, exceptionalism was a religious idea with big political repercussions.

They thought the Protestant Reformation, which had been set into motion a century before, hadn’t gone nearly far enough in rooting out the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Puritans saw the pomp and hierarchy of the Protestant Church of England as too much like another papacy.

My Take: How I constructed 'The American Bible'

In New England, Winthrop and his fellow travelers established a theocracy that they hoped would be a model for English Christianity.

“They had to succeed to bring about this promised apocalyptic history that would culminate in the second coming of Christ, hopefully to New England,” said Deborah Madsen, an American studies professor at the University of Geneva.

“To fail would be to fail the world on this grand, transcendent scale,” said Madsen, who has studied the idea of American exceptionalism throughout U.S. history.

With the stakes thought to be so high, there was intense social pressure among Puritans to adhere to a strict moral code.

Everyone looked for signs that they were among the elect destined for heaven and kept a watchful eye out for neighbors who might be backsliding. The starkest example: the Salem witch trials of 1692, in which 19 people were hanged in Massachusetts for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

“If the members of the community fulfilled their part in the work of sacred history, not only would the individuals find salvation, but the whole community would be saved,” Madsen said, summarizing Puritan thinking. “But if any individual failed to live up to this grand destiny, the entire community would be denied salvation.”

Being God’s chosen people, it turned out, wasn’t all roses.

America exceptional? Not by the numbers

As new arrivals and subsequent generations enlarged colonial America, the Puritans’ faith-based ideas were gradually secularized.

By 1660, it had become clear to the Massachusetts theocrats that they wouldn’t be exporting their ideas abroad anytime soon. That was the year the British monarchy was restored after a decade of rule by the Cromwells, putting an end to Puritan rule in England and re-establishing the Church of England as a political power.

And with new Enlightenment ideas making their way from Europe about a rational universe knowable through reason, the Puritans’ quest for perfect religious institutions gave way to a colonial quest for perfect political institutions.

My Faith: Why I don’t sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’

The democratic ideas that made up this new political exceptionalism owed plenty to Winthrop & Co.

“Puritans had mapped out the relationship between church and the community that included the seed of democratic participation,” said Madsen. “The idea was that everyone had rights but also responsibilities.

“By fulfilling their responsibilities and respecting the rights of others, they would achieve happiness through the social contract.”

That egalitarianism helped lay the groundwork for the American Revolution, though Madsen notes that “the terms of reference had changed from salvation to democracy.”

America’s revolutionaries were keenly aware that their calls for democratic government in the face of English rule were exceptional for their time.

“Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 in “Common Sense,” which helped galvanize colonists toward the Revolutionary War.

“Freedom hath been hunted round the globe,” Paine wrote. “Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger. … O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

The Puritan vision of America as world’s godly beacon had been replaced by the image of the nation as the world’s workshop for political and social progress. America’s founders wanted to break with what they saw as the corruption of European politics and society, where a person’s status was mostly a matter of inheritance.

By contrast, the founders proposed in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

While other republics had come and gone, many of the founders who signed the Declaration - and, later, the Constitution - wanted the American Republic to endure forever.

This was city on a hill 2.0.

Manifest destiny

Reading the founders’ paeans to American exceptionalism - about aspiring to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Constitution puts it - can put a lump in your throat.

But their vision excluded huge swaths of the population, like women and slaves. And other applications of the idea had their own dark sides.

Take Manifest Destiny.

As the nascent United States strove to expand westward in the 1800s, its leaders faced major problems, including how to justify taking land that belonged to Europe or that was occupied by Native Americans.

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Manifest Destiny – the idea that it was God’s will for the U.S. government to occupy North America or all of the Americas – offered a big part of the answer.

“A civilization that has the sanction of God is always the ultimate justification,” said the University of Geneva’s Madsen. “The idea was that God had made it manifest that the U.S. should expand. … It’s not much different than the idea of American exceptionalism.”

Like many facets of exceptionalism, the notion of Manifest Destiny wasn’t entirely new.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth of England had established herself as a divinely ordained monarch whose reign had been presaged by the Bible. That mythology, which inspired Puritan exceptionalism, had helped English plantation owners justify forays into what is now Northern Ireland.

In the same way, Manifest Destiny helped justify the United States as it laid claim to European land and forcibly removed tens of thousands of American Indians. Many asserted that the campaign was meant to civilize or Christianize the natives, making good on America’s “chosenness.”

And the American image of a continent brimming with virgin land – which denied the presence of American Indians there – synched nicely with long-held exceptionalist visions of an unspoiled and utopian New World.

“Our manifest destiny (is) to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions,” American newspaper editor John S. O’Sullivan wrote in 1845, arguing for the annexation of Texas, in what is believed to be history’s first mention of Manifest Destiny.

It’s hard to know how much America’s leaders truly believed in the idea versus how much they employed it for purely political ends. Manifest Destiny certainly had high-profile critics, including Mark Twain, who declared himself an “anti-imperialist.”

“If you’re a cynical person and you see something like the Mexican-American War as a land grab, you can say this idea of Manifest Destiny was construed to create a moral tissue for a war of aggression,” Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich said.

The westward expansion was driven largely by Southerners who wanted to farm the land and expand American slavery.

But abolitionists like Frederick Douglass also appropriated American exceptionalism, arguing that the nation’s “peculiar institution” was evidence that America was falling short of its Christian mandate.

That abolitionist line foreshadowed a key argument of 20th-century liberals: If America is exceptional, it’s because of the decisions we make around justice, not because of innate “chosenness.”

By Douglass’ time, American exceptionalism was so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that it transcended religion. Abraham Lincoln, often described as a deist - believing in a distant, uninvolved God - was nonetheless a hearty exceptionalist.

“He believed that America was leading the way in history toward democracy and equality,” said Dorothy Ross, a history professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. “At that time, Europe is still steeped in monarchs and failed revolutions, and America was still the only mass democracy in the Western world and believed that it was leading the historical way.”

Even the relatively unreligious Lincoln came to see the hand of God actively participating in American history through the Civil War.

“He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, referring to God. “American slavery,” Lincoln said, was something that “He now wills to remove.”

The first president to say it

Despite its centuries-old influence, the term "American exceptionalism" didn’t emerge until sometime in the past 100 years.

Some historians say it’s unclear who coined the phrase, while others credit Joseph Stalin with doing so in 1929, when he admonished American communists for suggesting that the United States’ unique history could make it immune to Marxism.

In his reprimand, the Soviet leader decried “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”

Ironically, American intellectuals and eventually the broader public came to embrace the term, especially in the years following World War II, even after communists used the Great Depression as evidence of Stalin’s alleged "heresy.”

Just like President Woodrow Wilson had done in World War I, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman justified American involvement in World War II largely on the basis that the country had been chosen to lead and transform the world.

After the Second World War, “the United States had emerged as the strongest country,” said Johns Hopkins’ Ross. “Social scientists began studying things like national character and what makes America unique.”

American affection for the idea grew during the Cold War, as the U.S. attempted to distinguish itself from the “godless” Soviet Union.

“Our governments, in every branch ... must be as a city upon a hill,” John F. Kennedy said in a Boston speech just before his inauguration in 1961, citing John Winthrop by name.

In the ’60s and ’70s, however, American scholars and others began challenging the idea of American exceptionalism, mostly from the left and especially after the Vietnam War, which liberals criticized as a costly exercise in American hubris.

Historians began to see exceptionalism as a scholarly construct, a way of interpreting American history rather than as accepted fact.

Ronald Reagan illustrated the partisan gap around the idea, speaking of America as a “city on a hill” and attacking President Jimmy Carter for allegedly showing weakness on the world stage, including in the Iran hostage crisis.

“We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so,” Reagan told the first annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974. “We are today the last best hope of man on Earth.”

President George W. Bush employed similar rhetoric in his global “freedom agenda,” even after initially pledging a “humble” foreign policy.

Despite greater Republican than Democratic support for the idea (91% vs. 70%) , a 2010 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans subscribed to the notion that the U.S. has a “unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.”

Boston University’s Prothero criticizes that definition of American exceptionalism, which he says is how most American politicians use the term today.

For John Winthrop, the shining city was an aspiration that depended on the righteous behavior of the Puritans, Prothero says, part of the social contract that laid the groundwork for democracy. Whether the city would in fact shine was an open question.

If the Puritans dealt falsely with their God, Winthrop had said in his 1630 sermon, there will be “curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

In contemporary American politics, by contrast, Prothero says the idea of exceptionalism has been stripped of its conditionalism, becoming “a kind of brag.”

“Today, it’s ‘of course God blesses America,’ ” he said. “It’s presumptuous.”

Others have attacked the idea as little more than the kind of nationalism felt by citizens of countries all over the world.

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” President Obama said in France in 2009, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

But the president has since sounded a different tune. In his Air Force Academy commencement speech in May, Obama repeatedly expressed support for American exceptionalism.

“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Obama said. “It's one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.”

In fact, Obama appears to be the first sitting president to publicly use those words, political experts say. Given their place in the modern American political lexicon, nearly 400 years after Winthrop first gave voice to the idea, he is unlikely to be the last.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Europe • Mitt Romney • Politics • Protestant • Religious liberty • United Kingdom • United States

soundoff (3,068 Responses)
  1. The Right Left

    The word exceptionalism is nothing new. Travelling to other countries, I hear them say they are exceptional. The French think they are exceptional becuase they broguht domecracy to the modern world. When I meet the English, they think they are exceptional becuase if it wasnt for them we would not speaking English and using Magan Carta as the basis of our consitution. When I was in Greece, some of them thought that they were the exceptional people, without them they would not ba word called deomcracy. And the argument continues. The word "Exceptionalism" is just a feel good word. It does not re;lfect the current realities, i.e. us falling into 25th place in education, 37th in math, largest debtor nation with no clue how to grow the economy except the simplistic argument; to give the rich even more tax breaks, take chicken or a goose to our doctor in exchange for medical advice. Preety soon we will be claiming exceptionalism telling the Chinese that if it wasnt for our exceptionnal pride and stupidity they would not have become as prosperous and rich.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Paul

      I like to paraphrase Douglas Adam's comment about a puddle in reference to American Exceptionalism. " Imagine if a puddle were to wake up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything is going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise." Americans are the puddle. We are so nice and comfy with our past accomplishments, so fat and happy with our everyday nonsense, that we are completely ignorant of the fact that the rest of the world is passing us by.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  2. Newmoon2

    The USA has just about run it's 'exceptional' course. No empire (yes, we're an empire) has been able to maintain its supremacy for more than about 200 years. The Ottoman Empire lasted 600 years but was only at its peak for about 200. Same for the British Empire. We've peaked...

    July 1, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • RS

      We're not an empire. The British Empire was a monarch without representation. They occuppied whole areas of the planet against the expressed will of the majority of those who occuppied it. We may disagree with our government but at least we can express that. We do not have whole armies in any of the individual states there to keep them from seperating themselves from the Union and forming their own government. We did occupy Iraq...but we are not forcing them to accept Washington as the rule of law...and we're leaving....have left.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      We have armies all over the world. If you think we don't, you have not looked at the Defense Budget's allocations. We have military bases everywhere. The really ironic thing is that in at attempt to pursue power, in the end it will be seen to have bankrupted us, and destroyed us.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Dan

      We have about 20 good years left.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • bob witt

      Some peaks that are not the highest still give a great view.
      Front page news. No.
      But something all Americans should understand which side of the fence they stand.

      When comparing the USA to the rest of the world we have done much more good than bad. We have helped mankind further the globes march toward freedom
      When comparing the the USA to ourselves ,like looking in the mirror we have failed. With all the natural gifts and unique perspectives we could and should have done more.

      July 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The Roman Empire (Latin: IMPERIVM ROMANVM) was an ancient empire centered around the Mediterranean Sea, commonly dated from accession of the Emperor Augustus in 27 BC through the abdication of the last emperor in 476 AD.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  3. jeb

    American exceptionalism is a load of crap.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  4. keltic1

    Natural law has not been discussed much in the last 100 years. Nice to see thinkers rediscovering it.
    "Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can." Sam Adams
    I would say that seems very exceptional. Individual LIberty vs the collective slavery.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • setnommarih

      If you weren't raised as an american and didn't grow up here you have no idea about being exceptional, i.e. Emperor Obama and his minions. His close friends planted bombs, his AG thinks minorities cannot be racist or commit hate crimes. These people have no respect for America or Americans especially if you were exceptional and advanced on your own merit, they want to say everyone and everything helped you get there, that's collectivist, not individual freedom.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Aarrgghh

      Setno: you're an idiot, aren't you?

      July 3, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  5. Friendly-neighborhood-atheist

    WOW the author of this article needs to go back and do more research, he got a LOT wrong.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Aarrgghh

      Way to be specific....

      July 3, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  6. Wunk

    America is.....

    July 1, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  7. Thinker23

    "LAWS OF NATURE" are no more than our attempts to describe the behavior of the world around us be it planets, molecules, live creatures, quanta of light or societies of humans. One can similarly derive "laws of the remote control" by pressing various buttons, watching the channels switch and volume change and then making a table where all this is summarized. The "laws of the remote control" have as much to do with the actual construction of the remote control device and the TV it controls as the "laws of nature" have with the actual construction of the Universe. Further, the "laws of the remote control" can not prove that the engineers, technicians, designers, production workers and others who designed and built the TV - DO NOT EXIST. The same is true about "laws of nature" proving that the Creator does not exist.

    July 1, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Colin

      Great. You have just convinced me Lord Shiva of the Hindu gods exists

      July 1, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Thinker22

      Colin... Almost all of us agree that the Universe we live in exist. Almost all scientists agree tat it had a beginning commonly known as the Big Bang. This brings us to two possible scenarios:

      1. The Universe was CREATED by someone having the knowledge and technology to create Universes. This is what every traditional religion says.
      2. The Universe came into existence all by itself from nothing. This is what Atheism says.

      It's up to each and every one of us to decide which of these two scenarios is more plausible.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Where did you get your "thoughts", Thinker? In reading these forums, most atheists don't think that 'something came from nothing'. They simply don't think that not knowing how the universe started means a god did it.

      July 1, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      thinker23..part of the problem is the definition or your understanding of nothing. Saying that a creator made it is the easy way of saying you cannot prove anything and have given up. New research and study is uncovering that the "nothing" that the universe may have come from is far from nothing.

      July 1, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  8. uh-huh

    I'd say 70% of the people commenting in this blog is actually insane.

    July 1, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  9. GRUDGE-DRIVEN AMERICA

    Let's chat about grudges. America is a very grudge-driven society. America never could knock that chip off its' shoulders. Grudge-driven America has forced itself into one long series of very bad mistakes & these nasty grudges America is carrying are costing trillions & are forcing America down the pan. You have no healthy outlook if you're carrying nasty grudges. GRUDGES SPELL DOOM.
    Have you noticed that politics is also grudge-driven?
    Who else is grudge-driven?

    July 1, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • Mafia Don

      Me & my boys are grudge-driven!
      Double shucks!
      Stop making me so sad!

      July 1, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  10. Bootyfunk

    christians. you are in a cult. cults are not good for you. leave the cult. think for yourself. be happy.

    July 1, 2012 at 4:39 am |
  11. Elemeno Qwerty

    It's rather impressive how crazy and obsessive our young new troll is! One rarely sees someone successfully acheive both total psychosis and top-level schizophrenia by age eighteen.

    Thirteen of seventeen posts so far by one neo-nutsy teeny-bopper, and many more to come. I bet he's really popular at his job at Chick-Fil-A.

    He's living proof of why it is a really bad idea to let religion get into education.

    July 1, 2012 at 3:51 am |
    • Flamespeak

      I would prefer if you didn't assign age and occupations to someone's intelligence-level, if you can. Plenty of intelligent people have had low-paying service jobs and were all young at one point, and some of the most powerful people in terms of wealth and occupations have been downright stupid as well.

      July 1, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • Elemeno Qwerty

      Age is based on his own statements. Job was fictional, but probably not too far from reality.

      July 1, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • looks like

      Elemento now has to prove Job was fictional. We are waiting

      July 1, 2012 at 6:32 am |
    • Mirosal

      Prove your "god" is real compared to Zeus, Ra, or Odin. We're waiting.

      July 1, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • great intellect my ass

      Mirosal has started its day : schedule : get up, whack off, spend day trying to look important on the internet, repeat. mensa my ass

      July 1, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • Thinker22

      Elemeno Qwerty: Insulting your opponent is a clear proof that you can not produce anything better. Insults in a debate are similar to a (dirty) white banner of surrender saying "You're right and I hate it but I can not do anything about it". Try to remember it next time prior to insulting others.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  12. Christian

    Loils like this quack is talking about some other things that nobody cares about.

    July 1, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  13. Reality

    Exceptional? Only because the USA is the Land of Milk, Oil, Coal, Iron, Natural Gas, Hydroelectric Power and Coal. (Plus, she takes in a lot of smart people like A. Einstien and E. Teller). Mix that in with the Consti-tution and Bill of Rights and you have a formula for exceptional success in making a better world.

    July 1, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Al

      Exeptional success making a better world?

      Right, like invading countries that never attacked you and leaving over 100,000 dead people (Iraqis) there because.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Reality

      Our War on Terror and Aggression:

      An update (or how we are spending or how we have spent the USA taxpayers’ money to eliminate global terror and aggression)

      The terror and aggression via a Partial and Recent and Not So Recent Body Count

      As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "

      o 24) Mon Jun 4, 2012 10:18am EDT
      BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car outside a Shi'ite Muslim office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 190 in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate.

      The bombing on a Shi'ite religious office comes at a sensitive time, with the country's fractious Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs locked in a crisis that threatens to unravel their power-sharing deal and spill into sectarian tensions."

      July 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Reality

      Other elements of our War on Terror and Aggression:

      -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles as of 09/15/2011/, 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      - Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed mostly due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

      - Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

      - Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

      - North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

      - Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

      - The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

      - – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      - Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols escaped the death penalty twice because of deadlocked juries. He was sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole,[3][7] and is incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super maximum security prison near Florence, Colorado. He shares a cellblock that is commonly referred to as "Bombers Row" with Ramzi Yousef and Ted Kaczynski

      - Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

      - Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

      - Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

      - The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

      The capture of Ratko Mladić: (Serbian Cyrillic: Ратко Младић, pronounced [râtkɔ mlǎːditɕ], born 12 March 1943[1][2]) is an accused war criminal and a former Bosnian Serb military leader. On May 31, 2011, Mladić was extradited to The Hague, where he was processed at the detention center that holds suspects for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[3] His trial began on 3 June 2011.

      - the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

      - Bin Laden was executed for crimes against humanity on May 1, 2011

      - Ditto for Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011

      - Ditto for Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 5, 2012

      July 1, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      tl; dr.

      July 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  14. THE LAWS OF NATURE

    You're still in school you mothers!
    Which did you choose?
    1) Belief
    2) Pretty junk disbelief
    3) Plain ugly disbelief
    Answer 1, 2 or 3 & give a very brief reason.
    As warned, you're still in school you mothers!

    June 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Mafia Don

      3) I never did do my homework!

      June 30, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • THE LAWS OF NATURE

      What I am really all about:

      Well I see them every night in tight blue jeans
      In the pages of a blue boy magazine
      Hey I've been thinkin' of a new sensation
      I'm pickin' up good vibrations
      Oop he bop he bop

      Do I wanna go out with a lion's roar?
      Huh, yea, I wanna go south and get me some more
      Hey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine
      They say I better stop or I'll go blind
      Oop he bop he bop

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu bop
      (I hope he will understand)

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu he bop
      Oh he do he bop

      Hey, hey they say I better get a chaperone
      Because I can't stop messin' with the danger zone
      I won't worry, and I won't fret
      Ain't no law against it yet
      Oop he bop he bop

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu bop
      (I hope he will understand)

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu he bop
      Oh he do he bop he bop

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu bop
      (I hope he will understand)

      He bop he bop a we bop
      I bop you bop a they bop
      Be bop be bop a lu he bop
      Oh he do he bop
      Oh he do he bop

      July 1, 2012 at 4:29 am |
  15. THE LAWS OF NATURE

    THE LAWS OF NATURE PREVAIL OVER YOU DUMB MOTHERS!

    June 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  16. Mafia Don

    THE LAWS OF NATURE HAVE FED THE WORDS RIGHT INTO MY MOUTH!
    We're facing total crisis!
    I can only ever keep it dodgy!
    I know I'm doomed!

    June 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  17. THE LAWS OF NATURE

    If you're so sure you wanna keep it dodgy, then you're doomed!

    June 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • THE LAWS OF NATURE

      I can only ever keep it dodgy!
      Yes, I'm doomed already!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • THE LAWS OF NATURE

      We're facing total crisis!
      I can only ever keep it dodgy!
      I know I'm doomed!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Mafia Don

      * THE LAWS OF NATURE HAVE FED THE WORDS RIGHT INTO MY MOUTH!
      * We're facing total crisis!
      * I can only ever keep it dodgy!
      * I know I'm doomed!

      June 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    June 30, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Dan

      Religion is not healthy for children's butts and prayer makes you look like a fool.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Mr Chihuahua

    Hey Mr Gilgoff, are you being paid by word count? lol!

    June 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  20. THE LAWS OF NATURE

    Laws created God!
    Laws created Jesus!
    Laws created Believers!
    Laws created Islam!
    Your junk law cannot destroy God!
    Your junk law cannot destroy Jesus!
    Your junk law cannot destroy Believers!
    Your junk law cannot destroy Islam!
    THE LAWS OF NATURE WILL ALWAYS CREATE STRENGTH!
    Your junk law takes you away from all of the above!
    Strength in junk numbers?
    If you lack the mental capacity for the Laws of Nature, then you are doomed!
    The Laws of Nature DEMAND that I pray!
    What do you pray for?

    June 30, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Mafia Don

      I pray for absolutely nothing!
      I am absolutely nothing!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • dumb mother

      I mumble prayers at funerals.
      I never get invited to anything else.
      My heart is never in it THE LAWS OF NATURE.

      June 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • dumb mother

      I agree with Mafia Don.
      I am absolutely nothing.

      June 30, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Dan

      I pray (wish) for you to put your straightjacket back on.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.