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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. JudgeDB

    Nothing special here in the US anymore. Our educational system has been gutted by greedy bureaucrats, lazy parents, and religious fundamentalists. On top of that we have a broken patent and copyright systems that stymie any scientific or cultural advancement in this country. Our military might be elite, but they aren't going to die for free once we collapse under the debt caused by a decade wasted in Iraq. Mexico will probably be a paradise compared to the US within the next 100 years.

    July 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Huh?

      So, "one decade wasted in Iraq" is going to cause the collapse of the US? That's complete alarmist non-sense. Just because you are alive to have seen that war, does not mean it will be the defining event that results in the collapse of this country. We've survived far worse. Lastly, the mountain of debt is created by ridiculous social programs that suck the will out of anyone to progress. Make people earn their keep, and watch society flourish.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • sharkfisher

      Feel free to leave here and go the country of your choice at any time. If the U.S.A.is not special to you LEAVE. If you don't LOVE it,LEAVE it.!!

      July 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @sharkfisher,

      what if you love it, despite its faults yet still believe it can be better?

      July 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  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. Is it any wonder the poor remain poor by vesting their hope in a God that does not exist, while the wealthy steal the very society the poor died to create?

    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."

    We need to stop being distracted by the manufactured threats we are offered every day, and recognize that the impending collapse shall not be from forces abroad, but only from our own complacency.

    We shall fall as Rome did, from the deceit and treachery of the enemies within.

    July 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Which God??

      William, you said it better than I could have. Corporate greed, the few holding the many in monetary hostage, the dumbing down of our society, rights being eroded away (can't complain during an election, WTH?). the gimme gimme generation with the attiude of what's yours is mine too.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Judaism comes from the Sumerian Religion

    Ah yes, things in the name of the Gods

    July 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. Rey

    It's not the race, but the journey my friends. Let them who run ahead stay exhausted while those behind enjoy the walk together.
    "They can keep number one as long as they realize in the end we are def the #2"

    July 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  5. skeptical

    What about overthrowing England during our revolutionary war or freeing slaves through the civil war, or overthrowing Hitler or landing on the moon, or the invention of the plane, assembly lines, Apple Computers, Internet, etc. etc. etc. for a country with such a short history the USA is exceptional....many believe, including me, that it is because God has blessed this country...not perfect, but amazing all the same!

    July 2, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I happily refute the notion of a divinely inspired American exceptionalism – which is really the issue here.

      Religion is certainly a factor. Among other things it motivated people to believe they were 'superior' to the natives, destroy them and their cultures and take their land and its bounty. This is the engine of American 'exceptionalism'. The colonists took what wasn't theirs and inherited the vast natural resources of most of this continent. They also didn't want to share with their countrymen.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why would you believe that "God blessed this country" and not others? We have been here all of 200 years and you think somehow or another that's because God suddenly decided we were worthy and other nations and civilizations weren't/aren't? How ridiculous! Do you really believe your god recognizes political borders? States? Nations?

      Absurd.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Tom,

      Indeed so. As I posted earlier, the concept of divinely inspired American exceptionalism is very worst form of collective narcissism.

      It's a group think version of "it's all about me, I'm so special".

      The United States has accomplished great things. It can accomplish more great things and will, once people realize the rest of the world has caught up.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Alice

      We would not have won the Revolution without help from the French. If we had truly been exceptional, we would have freed slaves to begin with, rather than wait for half the country to secede and then fight to keep them in the Union. I think the notion of American exceptionalism as the idea that God has chosen us and us alone as his favored nation, has done great harm. If we had continued to view it as an aspiration to be better, the way the Puritans did, we might have made better decisions. But by using it as a rubber stamp that God approves our every depraved action, we fell so far from what we had the potential to be. And if we continue to use it this way, if we refuse humility and honest evaluation of our actions, we're never going to live up to our potential.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Alice,

      Well said. I particularly liked your reminder about the debt owed to the French for winning the revolution, and Burbon France paid dearly for their opportunity to blacken the English eye by helping unleash democracy on the world.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  6. ME II

    Is it reasonable to say that US was exceptionally unique and, while still unique, has essentially 'raised the tide' on which most countries now float.

    Perhaps, the US's exceptionalism has been in making itself less the exception than the rule?

    July 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • ME II

      I.E.
      Democracy
      Free Markets
      Universal Education

      July 2, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • ME II

      Sorry Democracy, is probably better described in a US sense as,
      Consti.tutional Representative Government
      and
      Equality Under the Law

      July 2, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  7. Bruce

    A country that has a major poltical party that wants to end Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid so the super rich doesnt have to pay taxes is not exceptional.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • the best three locations for atheists

      @gop'er
      The innocent, the honest criminal and the mental patient with hope for recovery are my neighbors.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Donny Iris

      Yes, I hate the left, too!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • ME II

      @Bruce,
      Just curious, but if we could provide the same benefits without the taxes and federal bureaucracies, wouldn't that be better?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  8. the best three locations for atheists

    1. In a grave preferably with a self inflicted wound and before they can influence innocents.
    2 . In a maximum security prison preferably in solitary confinement so as not to corrupt honest criminals.
    3 . In a hospital for the criminally insane preferably restrained and gagged and in solitary confinement to allow other patients the possibility of recovery.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @best three,

      very loving. Nice example of 'love thy neighbor' there!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • RFBJR

      @3: Love it!! lol

      July 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Interesting post retard troll. Upon consideration of continuing to be an atheist... or being a good christian like you ... atheism wins. Thanks for playing...

      July 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • the best three locations for atheists

      the innocents, the honest criminals and the criminally insane with hope for recovery are my neighbors

      July 2, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Donny Iris

      Perfection.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • the best three locations for atheists

      @lucifers evil twin
      Why would Christianity be an option for you anyway?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      As are the atheists. But I have to conclude that with that kind of post you are merely trolling.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • the best three locations for atheists

      Facts are never trolling

      July 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That's good. When are you going to post some?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @best three,

      I see only opinion, not fact in your trolling – hateful opinion in a fact-free post.

      Have a nice day.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • the best three locations for atheists

      This is America, one nation under God, you can be wrong if you want to be.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You can be a moron, too. Good thing for you, clown, or you'd be out of here.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • onehippypoet

      Tom Tom the pipers son
      Stole a pig
      And taught it to think like it does
      Now its an atheist pig
      at a deli in NJ
      One on rye Tom Tom

      July 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      To 3 Time Loser, who do think is more likely to be put in a mental hospital or prison – an adult person who fervently believes that he has imaginary friends and conducts his life as they tell him, or a person who does not have imaginary friends?

      But of course, religion has enjoyed a 2,000+ year "free pass" so it's ok for adults to believe childish myths.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Did you hear the one about the Canadian that minded its own F'n business?

      July 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      You won't . The ass holes can't help themselves from butting in where they are not needed or wanted.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      No – can't wait to hear it! Well, actually, I don't care if I ever hear it, but I'm sure you will disappoint.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How many different screen names do you have, captain ass hole?

      July 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • onehippypoet

      Tom Tom the pipers son
      Stole a pig
      And
      Then stole all kinds of screen names
      Then blamed everyone else for it
      Poor stupid Tom Tom

      July 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ah. So there's one of them, as I thought. Any more aliases you want to reveal?

      July 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Johnny Blammo

      Interestingly enough, Christians are overrepresented in those places and atheists are massively underrepresented. We keep ourselves out of jail and psych wards and suicide far better than religious people.

      Now guess which of the three HeavenSent, who made the statement under yet another false face, belongs.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • oxymoron

      TomTom / thought

      July 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I must really upset you.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      You are a joke.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Rodney,

      no surprises that you don't get any respect.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I wonder why you'd bother to respond to my posts if you really believed that, Dod.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Which God??

      Very brave words from a Twerp behind a keyboard. Such a brave, lonely little Twerp You relly need a good asskicking!,and your god wouldn't save you. Nor would prayer.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Chris

    This is crap! Others may be ahead of us in some areas, but only because of us. Europe would be a disaster if they didn't have the option of leaning on our security guarantees. The world enjoys relative peace and prosperity because we've secured open trade lines across the world. We've provided incredible assistance to many countries even when they downright disrespect us, and our humanitarian gestures are without equal.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • nd

      dats d typical American lie and evident propaganda.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  10. jigs

    America is by far the greatest country in the world, and no other country even comes close.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Joe

      What makes America great is it endless appeals process...

      July 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  11. wizzzard in the sky

    HDMI<>

    July 2, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  12. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Dear Mr. Gilgoff,

    thank you for posting an article here on the notion of American Exceptionalism. This is an important topic – particularly today, when the evidence should cause people to contemplate on the idea.

    The United States is clearly a remarkable country. It's geographical isolation, vast natural resources and the political system established on a foundation of English common law with a strong dose of enlightenment thinking make it so.

    The existence of the United States as we know it lends some credence to the idea of exceptionalism, but the concept that American Exceptionalism is divinely inspired is the very worst form of collective narcissism. It is irrational, egotistical and a reflection of the protestant reformation hangovers that permeate the fabric of this society.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Joe

      In 1969 the world watched the US land men on the moon, the world considered the US exceptional, and in many way it was. Today the world watches Southpark and the US is considered a joke.

      The 2 most common US signs overseas are McDonalds and Subway, we are exporting the great americans values of convenience and obesity.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Joe,

      I'm not sure I understand your point. It seems to be that the free market has spoken. The world wants McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks. They want to watch South Park, Family Guy and the Simpsons. These are what the United States produces today.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • ME II

      "Today the world watches Southpark and the US is considered a joke."
      Really, the world uses a low budget animated show to evaluate the country. Does that make the US a joke, or the one doing the judging?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Which God??

      Nicely said GOPer.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  13. Melissa

    Exceptionalism is in the eye of the beholder. Americans tend to think they are alot more exceptional than they actually are. It's rather aggravating actually. If someone told you daily how great they always are, you'd eventually punch them in the face, but Americans think everyone else should just accept that Americans are the greatest, whether its true or not. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Thinking you're exceptional is arrogant.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • ME II

      Exceptionally arrogant? ;)

      July 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Melissa, Indeed so!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Amanda Jones

      I've never heard anyone say "Americans are exceptional".

      July 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • ME II

      @Amanda Jones,
      Not sure if this was your point, but it is the country that is consider exceptional not the individual citizens.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Melissa

      The US is no more exceptional than any other country. Nearly every other country in the world has had its time in power, including the middle east. The US is no different. No, exceptional would be Greece, and Rome. Their power surpassed even the United States. And frankly, so has Persia, Egypt, Russia, and even China all at one time surpassed the US. Like it or not, the US is NOT exceptional. They are just the current big boys, but that won't last forever.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  14. John

    Here is a novel concept how about doing what was done in the past that made the US exceptional such as teaching the fundamentals like reading, writing, math, science and other subjects that actually have something to do with education instead of the liberal hog wash of social engineering.

    Children do not need to learn about alternative lifestyle or some liberal minded teacher of how the world should be those are opinions not education.

    No wonder private schools and religious schools as well as home schooling show far better results than the unionized liberal garbage that is taking place in today’s schools

    July 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I doubt you've been in a school since you were a student.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Joe

      In 1969 the world watched the US land men on the moon, the world considered the US exceptional, and in many way it was. Today the world watches Southpark and the US is considered a joke.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @John,

      I'm all for teaching science in schools. Are you? Think carefully before answering.

      A good many people who post here are anti-science. Once could argue that's a issue with the current socio-political landscale in the United States.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Cindy

      America is not exceptional anymore. It is a country where "anythng goes" and "if ti feels good do it". We have no morals, no class, nothing. We are a divided people. Black, white, gay straight, atheist, Christian, etc. We have no tolerance or acceptance of anyone who believes different than we do. Each of us feels we have to shove our beliefs and lifestyle down each others throats. We can't be Just "Americans", one people. I pity my children and grandchildren that have long lives ahead of them in thes cesspool that once was so great.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Cindy

      Forgot the biggest division-democrat and republican. Our leaders don't care about what's best for the American people. All they care about is pushing their parties agenda and getting votes.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Cindy,

      the only thing that Republicrats and Democans care about is winning elections to gain "power". They have forgotten that the purpose of being "in power" is to govern. Everything they do is about winning and point-scoring. They seem to have forgotten the whole point of the exercise.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • HeavenSent

      I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV, the propaganda you spew about Christians ... that only atheists believe. Jesus created all, even the scientists that try to uncover His truth.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Heaven Sent,

      thanks for noticing my, ummm... 'propaganda'.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  15. Stephany

    Has anyone seen the new forever stamps. Freedom, equality, justice and liberty, all with forever slashed out.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • MM

      Forever is crossed out on all images of stamps, the same for those with a currency amount. That is to discourage reproductions. The actual stamps lack the slash.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @MM,

      I think it was humorously intended. It was pretty funny, though it needed to be tightened up a bit. "Freedom" and "Liberty" are indistinguishable.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  16. m.s.mohamed ansari

    RUSH SAVE GLOBAL ECONOMIC TSUNAMI

    M.S.Mohamed Ansari 13 April 2009

    All press and Media Arabs leader and G20 leader at. Headquarters of All association
    AND ELECTRONIC VOTE. CONTROLL BY CONGRESS.
    A TO Z + 8. QUEEN + 8
    Royal wedding. And royal security force 10 generation total cost $ 57 trillion
    Each every politician rolling 8 years only just like chess board Game.
    But queen family rolling 10 generation y

    GLOBAL ECONOMIC COLLAPSE REASON WAR. Improve Economy only 6 points. Peace, prayer
    Liberty, Unity, friendly And simplicity.

    I am also Happy to kill osma bin laden
    Turing point of global Economy. Islam not allowed to be Terrorist and Terrorist people are not a Muslim
    1. Please avoid war. Day by Day war cost increase $ 3.5 trillion
    2. Global economy and food price every Day increase
    3. International job less unemployment Y. All businessmen effected business.
    4. Global financial crisis every CNC manufacture. New technology energy product Effected FDI investors.
    5. Every Day OPEC Oil Price Increase
    6. World poverty problem. Bankrupt 170 Bank overalls 87000 Branch
    7. Each every single man Effected
    8. Ignore future Death million of already Death
    9. Million of People Wounded
    10. Global environment climate will be change this will lead Global Agriculture problem

    Copy.
    A. International criminal court. B. white house. global human right association .C.IMF
    D. euro union. E. united nation F.ALL international famous press and media

    JUSTICE IS IN PERIL. SAVIOUR OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE ALONE CAN PROTECT HUMANITY

    From. Mr.M.S.Mohamed Ansari,
    154, Angappa Naicken Street,
    Chennai – 600 001.
    Tamil Nadu,
    INDIA..
    To , The Hon’ble Chief Justice,
    The Supreme Court,
    United States of America,
    Washington, D.C.
    Fax no: 213.547.8080
    Dear Sir,
    Sub: Prosecution of previous President Mr. George W.Bush, for violation of International Code of Conduct.
    Mr. George W.Bush, the previous President of United States of America, initiated a war against IRAQ, without obtaining the previous sanction of United Nations Organization (UNO) on the pretext of having nuclear weapons, even though the then IRAQ government openly exhibited to the whole world that it has no nuclear weapons.
    According to the CNN WORLD report, in the war 6, 75,000 civilians killed, 7500 troops of USA and its allied forces killed 3 25 000 people wounded and $ 3.5 Trillion Dollar spent for the war. This spending of $ 3.5 Trillion Dollar is the main cause of action for the present economic crises prevailing all over the world.
    After winning the war against IRAQ, the United States of America’s President Mr. George W.Bush, also admitted the same fact, and he openly stated that the Intelligence agency misguided him.
    Later on, even the United Nations Organization (UNO) also certified that the IRAQ has no nuclear weapons.
    Then it is the bounded duty of the United States of America and its allied forces to withdraw from IRAQ.
    But instead of withdrawing from IRAQ, the United States of America and its allied forces formed a government in IRAQ, under their control and administered the entire IRAQ, and its peoples.
    This indicates a clear violation of duty by the President of United States of America Mr. George W.Bush and also a clear case of violation of the International Code of Conduct for UNO members.
    Thus Mr. George W.Bush attracts prosecution for the above said offence.
    Thus I hereby pray this Hon’ble Court initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. George W. Bush, and give him maximum punishment for
    a) initiating the war against the IRAQ
    b) killing its innocent IRAQI peoples civilian 6, 75 000
    c) Killing troops of USA and allied forces and 7 500
    d) The present economic crises.
    e) 3 25 000 civilian and coalition 39 000 wounded
    Dated on this day of 13th day of April, 2009.
    Yours truly, (M.S.MOHAMED ANSARI)
    COPY TO
    The Chief Justice, the International Court of Justice, The Hague, Netherlands.
    The Secretary General United Nations Organization
    The Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, IRAQ.
    His Excellency Mr.Barack Obama, the President of United States of America, White House, Washington D.C.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Donny Iris

      Hey, how about dropping du morte!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  17. NativeBornUSA

    I'm just a big closet case gay man that worships the devil. My wife tries to stop me, but I can run out of my trailer faster than she can and she can get into the gun shed fast enough. We have meetings here in our trailer court and everyone here knows that us white trash can rule America some day!

    July 2, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  18. ArchieDeBunker

    Of course the "progressives" (tee hee) will never admit this, but the decline of the U.S. is directly proportional to the rise of socialism. LBJ's "War on Prosperity" which began in 1964 began the creation of a whole class of people who don't believe in self-sufficiency – after all, why should they work hard to support themsleves when they can rely on the government to steal from their neighbors and give it to them. Now, the unending supply of other peoples' money has dried up, so the dip stick Democrats are simply printing more and borrowing from everywhere they can. Ours is the first nation in history to offer a free education to children who refuse to learn. And whether the "progressives" (tee hee) believe it or not, the main root of poverty in the United States is NOT the fact that a few rich people have all the money – it's that the vast majority of the poor are poor because they chose to be poor – by refusing to educate themselves!

    July 2, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • wizzzard in the sky

      I'd like to add.....The poor that is uneducated have the most children. This helps get more of the votes for a social republic.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 2, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      As long as you pray to Lord Satan!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • hear o Israel

      The Lord our God the Lord is one.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • NativeBornUSA

      You're right hear o Israel, God and Satan are one and the same! Bow to Lucifer, Lord of the Earth!

      July 2, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!!.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Hey Suess, face the facts, you're spiritually dead.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  20. ArthurP

    Topher: "Where did those lesser forms come from?"

    ==========

    They are the result of a continuous chemical process called 'life' which started with the first hydrogen atoms creating the first hydrogen molecule.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • question

      Where did the hydrogen come from?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Rey

      Hydrogen came from a distant galaxy far from our solar system. Many scientists have reasons and speculations to believe there is a planet known as, "Cosmic Cali" that takes a detour into our system every now and then (light years of course). When this planet skims by the sun the solar flares ignite the planet, as of it were passing the olympic flame. The hydro molecules scatter into space where it's temperature are cold as death, forming a vapor/liquid known as gen. When hydro&gen combine together in the process of chemical bonding the planets become distorted, spinning, & tilting around the large fire(sun) in celebration.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:54 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.