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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.

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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. M

    The concept of America is exceptional. But we must all remember, we are all just PEOPLE, Human Beings, everyone in *every* country, with all of our inherent flaws. And we must all remember we need each other to survive and thrive. And that *having* more does not by definition make you *worth* more.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      xactly.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • truth be told

      we don't need battyfunk

      July 2, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You're right. The CONCEPT of America is exceptional. No country promises so much in terms of the maximization of personal liberty. The problem is, people are afraid to be free. Drug and s.ex prohibition, illegal wars, inflammatory speech laws, income tax. These are all things that limit our freedom and take away any sort of "exceptionalism".

      July 2, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      awww, sounds like you're mad already, bro.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      good night, truth be an idiot. keep spreading the ignorance!

      July 2, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • truth be told

      we still don't need barffyfunk

      July 2, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  2. William Demuth

    How ludicrous!

    Throughout time, powerful men have fed the foolish bread and circuses to keep them complacent.

    While America does have the potential to most influence societies greater destiny, we are squandering our birth right.

    In any real quantifiable way, the US is far behind dozens of other nations. Be it Literacy rates, Child mortality, Higher education, or Economic equity we barely acknowledge tip of the iceberg we are about to crash into.

    We need to forgot the childish egocentric idea of divine providence and accept our destiny is not in the hands of God, but within our own.

    If we want an enlightened society, we must become enlightened.

    We are running out of time to heed Lincoln’s warning and act to assure future generations that the, "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    July 2, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • truth be told

      And Lincoln was a Christian

      July 2, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."
      - Lincoln in a 1924 speech in New York

      "My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them."
      - Lincoln in a letter to Judge J.S. Wakefield, after the death of Willie Lincoln

      July 2, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • truth be told

      1863 at Gettysburg, Lincoln became a Christian. One liners do not a lifetime make.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  3. America

    me....meeeee....MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

    July 2, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  4. Love Rhino

    I miss Lincoln. There's a guy who was literate and knew how to tap that brown sugar.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      i have a black fiance. she had me dress up like lincoln a couple weeks ago so she could "thank" him for freeing the slaves.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  5. Tomadzo

    I believe in America's exceptionalism, but not based on it's faith. Rather on it's ideals. America has always been a land where others have come to relaize their dreams that weren't possible in their own lands. America has welcomed immigrants since the Puritans (although the indians might disagree). People have always come to search out their future.

    My problem is many of those same people that use America's exceptionalism as a rallying cry, denounce the immigration of the latin American countries. Back at the turn of the century, people just came on a boat and were processed through Ellis Island.No papers, no real reason for coming, but now they are demonized for wanting a better life. The dichotomy of their words for America and their hatred of those that want to come undermine their arguments.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Confused

      No one denounces the LEGAL immigration from Latin American countries. And if you didn't have any paperwork or records at Ellis Island you were sent back.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  6. ChuckB

    A nation feeling exceptional can lead it to commit terrible crimes against humanity.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  7. Argonaut

    What a bunch of pompous garbage this pattern of thought is. No wonder everybody else in the world hates us.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Actually they don't.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  8. Rational Libertarian

    To achieve exceptionalism, we need to abolish income tax and legalize drugs and prost.itution.

    July 2, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • No it isn't

      Disagree, agree, agree.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Love Rhino

      At least implement the Fair Tax so the illegals get to pay tax on their milk just like us.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Income tax is an unfair tax which was only instated as an emergency war tax. A flat consumption tax on all goods and services is the only fair tax. Also, everything gets taxed. There is very little room for evasion or avoision (thanks Kent Brockman).

      July 2, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      A flat tax is anything but fair. The poor have to spend a much higher percentage of their income on "goods and services", than a wealthy person. This turns the current progressive tax system upside down.

      July 2, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  9. Scott Pilgrim

    Why do these blog comments always turn into religious people and atheists being insulting towards each other? Did I miss the memo?
    Anyways, no, we aren't.
    Education system is ****.
    Politicians are sell-outs to Wall-Street fat-cats who run the country into the ground for short-term profit.
    We value Reality TV over reading.
    Shrinking middle class.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • john the guy not the baptist

      To your first point, there are a group of christian bloggers/trolls that repeat ad nauseum their constant refrain that ahteism is dangerous to society and a number of agnostic/atheists that chose to rebut that premise, given the evils that religions have had on worlodwide societies. Hitchen's God is not Great is a good read on the subject. The christian bloggers, supposedly the turn the other cheek crowd, then proceed to tell us that because of our criticism of religion we will spend eternity in agony in their fairy tale hell, hard to accept that as a logical premise without a sarcastic reply, anyway.
      One great benefit of having a President who could actually keep church and state seperate would be to tax the immense wealth generated by all religions in the USA, they have been getting a free ride on the backs of the rest of the people for far to long.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • ChuckB

      So many Christians fail to understand their religion. If you believe in God and His Son, Jesus, the authority of scripture and that Jesus atoned for your sins by His sacrifice, then you will be saved. There is no correlation between this and morality. In Christianity it is this faith that saves you, not your actions; moral behavior and following God's law will not save you. This doctrine caused a lot of problems in the early church where the licentious hedonism (i.e., if you accept the new covenant, you are save, and, as such, nothing you do after this is sinful) of many Christians added to the Romans' low opinion of Christians. This issue has come down to us today with many child molesters hiding behind the cloak of the clergy using scripture to control their victims. At no time did the early church fathers believe that there were not moral pagans; however, in spite of their relatively sinless behavior, they were damned for not accepting the covenant. The worst sinner that accepts God’s offer will be admitted to heaven that is denied to the most moral of pagans. You all have it wrong; it is religion that is unhealthful for children.

      July 2, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  10. alohafalls

    I believe in Americas exceptionalism. Exceptional in the sense of the ideas that underpin our national unity, the ideals,constantly sought and imperfectly arrived at waiting for new champions to further their progress. Religion, might, technology etc. are only the edges of exceptionalism, it is rather the ideas that set America apart. Our strength is made up of generations who have sacrificedand new arrivals that have in their genes the thirst for success, ambitions that will not be denied or limited by who you are or where you come from. Exceptionalism can also mean we are prejudiced against ignorance, lapses in responsibility, stupidity and sloth. We are predjudiced toward the striver, thinker and leaders; the philosophers, those willing to sacrifice to improve and prosper. It is exceptional that all are invited to suceed to the best of their abilities.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  11. kwame zulu shabazz

    Hmm, lemme see. Annihilated Indians and stolen land. Slavery, KKK. Jim Crow. lynchings. Black Codes. Imperialism. Weapons so mass destruction. Yes, exceptionally belligerent.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Indians still here and thriving in the artifact and casino business, the land is still here improved and protected by EPA and others, meaningful work provided to third world immigrants, well regulated both by government (Mr. Crow) and civic organizations,quality assurance on a global scale and strength through science to get that job done. It is all beyond good, it is all exceptional. Belligerent?The only rag head belligerent around here is you and if you ain't careful it is all you will ever be.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • No it isn't

      Ronald – The ends don't justify the means. Just because you can invest your neighbors money better than they can doesn't mean you go and hold a gun to their head and take it.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @kwame zulu shabazz
      Funny how much you leave out.. even something as on topic to your rant as the Black Panthers. No you’re not bias at all.

      @No it isn't
      Both of you need to learn world history. None of those negative things listed are unique to America. However there are many positive things that are. For example America leads the globe in foreign aid many times over.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • No it isn't

      Tom Tom, when did anyone say they were unique to america? Exceptional means unusual, not typical, better than the rest. These are reasons why we are not. They certainly don't outweigh the reasons that we are but they certainly do balance things out in a bad way. There are things that are exceptional about this country but the overall status currently is not exceptional at all.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @No it isn't
      As with your other replies I’ve read.. you’ve completely missed the point.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • pervert alert

      Not only do we lead in foreign aid, American qu eers gave the whole world AIDS

      July 2, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  12. Reality

    From p. 31:

    Exceptional?

    Only because the USA is the Land of Milk, Wheat, Corn, Soy Beans, Rice, Oil, Coal, Iron, Natural Gas, Hydroelectric/Nuclear 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 the Bill of Rights and top of the line military units and you have a formula for exceptional success in making a better world.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • .....

      America needs to shed all bull sh it atheists

      July 2, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Reality

      The Freedom of Speech adds greatly to the USA's exceptional character:

      The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (references used are available upon request)

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

      Einstein was German, he defected to America just before WWII.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • saganhill

      ...............America needs to shed all its supersition, religion, and people with imaginary friends that want to force others to share in their delusion.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • No it isn't

      Reality – I didn't read all that religious nonsens you wrote but the problem with freedom of speech is that it is under attack. I would say that it is the cornerstone of our freedom and makes us exceptional but since the 80s (and perhaps before that) it has been limited more and more and it will continue to be limited more and more because as long as the people disagree with the speech that is being limited they'll gladly accept it's limitation.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @Greg
      (Plus, she takes in a lot of smart people like A. Einstein and E. Teller)
      Reading comprehension is your friend.

      @No it isn't
      You should actually read a comment before replying to it. You’ll look a lot less ignorant.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  13. Tamara

    Nothing is exceptional about a country whose citizens are forced into bankruptcy when they fall sick. Nothing is exceptional about a country where ideology reins over fact. Nothing is exceptional about a country where the 1% have everything and the other 99% have nothing. Nothing is exceptional about a country whose elected leaders are sell outs to Wall Street. And don't even get me started on the "exceptional' quality of education for our youth.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • Reality

      "The latest data show that a big portion of the federal income tax burden is shouldered by a small group of the very richest Americans. The wealthiest 1 percent of the population earn 19 percent of the income but pay 37 percent of the income tax. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent of the tab. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent—those below the median income level—now earn 13 percent of the income but pay just 3 percent of the taxes. These are proportions of the income tax alone and don’t include payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare."

      http://www.american.com/archive/2007/november-december-magazine-contents/guess-who-really-pays-the-taxes

      Obviously, we need more rich people to reduce my tax burden !!!

      July 2, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • .....

      reduce this ass holes tax burden by deportation, end atheist bull sh it in America forever.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • saganhill

      We need to start taxing churches.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • No it isn't

      Reality, the middle class and upper class should be paying more. And the more you make the more you should pay as a percentage of income. It's a lot harder for a poor person to pay 10% of their income than it is for a rich person to pay 50%. Those who have benefited the most from the economic environment in this country should pay the most taxes. I am a middle class individual who would not mind a tax increase at all. I am in a 25% bracket and paid an effective tax rate of less than 6%. There is something wrong with that picture. I should be paying more. You should probably be paying more and Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, President Obama and others at the top should be paying gobs more. We have the lowest tax rates in the civilized world and they are lower than they've ever been in our history.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • ChuckB

      So if someone disagrees with your politics, they are an atheist? This is an interesting correlation that doesn't mean a thing other than exhibiting muddled and prejudiced thinking.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  14. albert

    From a Biblical perspective, the United States is the last world power. It is referred to as "The False Prophet" having a form of Godly devotion, but proving false to its power.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • albert

      And the irony is that this country will be a part of the destruction of all religion.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • gager

      albert, you don't destroy religion. You educate reason, logic, and critical thinking and then magical beliefs die.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Ted Ward

      Well, isn't that special....now sit down and have some milk and cookies, children !

      July 2, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • ChuckB

      Ah, the end of days. How many times has this eschatological old saw been dragged out? After waiting 2,000 years, it is about time.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  15. Gaunt

    "There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies."

    July 2, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  16. Ash

    Why do only crooks with a lot of money hidden offshore talk about exceptionalism!? Just like how young rich Whites talk about Tea Party!? Cut this crap, get real. Tell me one thing Morney has said that is useful to normal struggling Americans whose fortunes have dwindled over the last 2 decades.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • gager

      Actually crooks have very little money. It is the entrepreneurs that make money. And the opportunity is there for everyone.
      Don't blame the rich for your lack of money.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • ChuckB

      Entrepreneurs have their share of crooks.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  17. Trevor

    The only thing ths country is exceptional at is slowly turning itself into a third world country. Oh and the amount of adults who have imaginary friends.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  18. wrong

    come on america and washington is evil.. wake up blinded ones

    July 2, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  19. setnommarih

    mariner1–we have already been driven off the cliff by Emperor Obama and his minions, right now most americans are trying to climb up the face of this cliff and every impediment The Emperor puts in the way of business to grow is another american falling off the cliff again. Green "investments" won't do it, more EPA regulations won't do it, The new Obamacre tax won't do it, class warfare won't do it, acting like an Emperor won't do it, thinking you are above the law won't do it, thinking you are better than everyone else won't do it. So why pursue this interloper anymore? Dump the Kenyan, because if you are not raised here you don't know.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      Another Fox nut on the loose.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • WASP

      @set: yeah it's so much better to let the rich peoples pennies trickle down to us from on high. :p
      let's get the record straight, obama was handed a big pile of steaming _________ after bush jr. "war on terror" he paid no attention to american policy nor cared much about the fact his policies had put all these people out of work. obama was president when bush signed the "tax rebate" that no one in my family saw even a dime.........and you know why? because we didn't pay taxes at the end of the year we get taxes. trust me i called the IRS and asked about it. obama wasn't in power when bush was giving away billion dollar contracts to KBR and the likes of them. obama wasn't in power when our jobs were moving over-seas due to bush sign free-trade agreement with korea; which even the korean people were against it.
      if you did some fact checking you would find states like florida have seen a drop of 2% or more in unemployment due to obama's policies, he saved the auto industry which put more people back to work. bush had 8 years to destroy what was built by clinton, how about 8 years for obama to fix what bush and the republicans messed up? if you don't believe me look up clinton's national deficit standing at the end of his 8 years, we were paying it down; which means federal and local governments had a surplus of money. i remember north carolina asking it's citizens what to do with the extra money they had and requesting ideas on what to spend it on due to clinton's policies, how many states did that during bush's tour? answer............none.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 2, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • joe prov

      But it is honest.

      July 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Prayer changes things

      Honesty and Truth as well

      July 2, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • ChuckB

      Depending on prayer to solve your problems isn't very healthful or efficacious. Out of the millions of prayers, how many are answered? The number positively answered would be covered by random chance. Of course to explain this, the religious can come up with a sophist defense.

      July 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
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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.