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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.

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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. Dodney Rangerfield

    You won't ! They can't help themselves from butting in where they are neither needed or wanted.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  2. Electric Soul

    America may be exceptional, but unfortunately many Americans are not.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • truth be told

      yeah but many Americans are.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  3. truth be told

    We hold these Truths to be "self evident"... America is a Christian nation founded by Christians for Christians

    July 3, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • sam stone

      America is not a Christian nation. It was founded by Christians and Deists based on religioius freedom

      July 3, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Primewonk

      Article VI, Section 3 of the US Constîtution disagrees with you. And if you fundiots keep trying to make us a theocracy, I hope you are ready for a bloodbath.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Spoken like a true wonkiot

      July 3, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • America

      Standing strong on the word of God! Bible based , founded by Christians for Christians !

      July 3, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Mirosal

      Then please explain to us why there is NO mention ... ZERO ... of ANY deity in the US Consti'tution?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • One Nation Under god IS Divisible

      god
      ___ = 0

      1 nation

      July 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • truth be told

      God is as natural as the air we breath or the water we drink. God Is, that is known and accepted by all men of vision, integrity and Truth.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  4. Kebos

    America exceptional? It once was, and it had the opportunity to continue to be. But this is slowly slipping away. Being killed by a corrupt political process and evangelical whackos with their own agendas.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  5. Ben

    Lolz America

    What a $h!thole!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:45 am |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 3, 2012 at 6:32 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Sorry forgot my meds this morning...prayer changes nothing and atheism is not harmful...religion is

      July 3, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • truth be told

      For the difference between a wonderful Truth leading into a lie see the first breply to the wonderful Truth atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      July 3, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      Keep talking to yourself and pretending it works. Capitalizing "Truth" in mid-sentence does not mean the voices in your head are real.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • truth be told

      Gods Truth is real sorry about you

      July 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      We have been waiting for proof for over 2,000 years. So far, none has surfaced. An ent-ity who will condemn 5 billion of the current population to eternal fire is beyond evil, especially with no evidence to support the beLIEf.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • just sayin

      More people have been murdered by atheists in the last 100 years than were killed in all the previous centuries back to creation. God bless

      July 3, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Jesus is Lord

      and all the "proof" the world needs and much more than the world deserves

      July 3, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      Keep pretending, those killings were not done in the name of atheism.
      But, if you still must count those incorrectly, it doesn't compare to the 5 billion that your "god" will burn forever, according to your fairy tales. This doesn't count the people who have already died and didn't kiss enough @$$ to get to your fairy tale ending. Your "loving god" whose @$$ you kiss would be THE most evil ent-ity in the history of the universe, if he existed that is. Thankfully, it is all pretend.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:39 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 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  7. Brad4

    Americans are genetically superior, obviously.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • Jorge

      ROFL, obviously.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • Ted Ward

      You can tell because Americans are all fifty pounds or more overweight, not physically fit, wear dumpy XXL tee-shirts hanging out over baggy sloppy shorts, sport dumb-looking gotees or tramp stamps, and walk around in sneakers left untied. This is truly exceptional because evolutionarily speaking they should all be extinct by now.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  8. David

    The Europeans will soon be making one of the greatest announcements in scientific history with CERN. Sadly modern America is too broke, tired and politically dysfunctional from it's war to achieve anything close.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:36 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Not only that but the failed education system in the US also means most won't grasp the significance or care for that matter. By finally discovering the Higgs boson, a predicted particle of the standard model of Quantum physics, yet another "theory" of science is demonstrated to be entirely consistent with observations.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Hey ! Did you hear the one about the Canadian who minded its own f'n business?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Not going to happen, the ass holes can't help themselves from butting in where they are not needed or wanted

      July 3, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Ah...captain americas alias once again demonstrating its exceptional stupidity. It's the perception that America has too many bigoted idiots like you that is the biggest reason the rest of the world views your country as less than favorable. However I think that you are the exception and that most Americans are intelligent, good and decent people.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Not an alias Steve, it's CA's other personality here...just proof that it's schizo.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • truth be told

      These Canadians are out of place on this story and in this country. Your average guest does not try to run the household.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      truth be told: Freedom of speech bothers you...doesn't it? Get over your arrogance and ignorance loser. An international news station means it is read the world over and given that we are you closest neighbors who are in a far better situation than you are and your countries biggest ally, you might wish to rethink your opinion on the matter. Xenophobia and religion are diseases. You need mental health help.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  9. John T. Cullen

    It is exceptional that we do not have civilized health care like the entire rest of the industrialized world. It is even more exceptional that about 2/3 of the US public think this is both wonderful and normal. I don't really know too many other ways in which we are exceptional, other than our capacity for self-delusion, and for the 1% to use the brainwashed masses as convenient tools for fattening their bottom line.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • Tbear

      I agree with you and not in a cynical way. The ability to be wrong on something so fundamentally obvious to the rest of the world is truly exceptional and from my perspective greatly disturbing and perplexing.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:48 am |
    • Kebos

      Agree. Good post, John.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Baffling, isn't it? We have Universal health care here in Canada and could not imagine life without it. What gets me is how the poverty stricken republitards are fighting against this and then they have the audacity to whine when they lack services.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

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

      July 3, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      you won't ! The ass holes can't help themselves from butting in where they are neither needed, wanted or invited.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Dodney aka CA aka no-one: You're a complete idiot! In case you have missed it, your country is in serious trouble...you might take a lesson or two from us. This is an international website and we will remain commenting regardless of how much hate you spew. Don't like it, take it up with CNN or go spend your time at a news station that supports your childish rants-FAUX news would be good for you.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      which part of we don't need ya are you having trouble with

      July 3, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      What part of international website are you not understanding? I understand that you do not have adult comprehension skills, but the word is rather self explanatory...international means numerous nations. Suck it up bozo, we're never going to stop commenting and you will never stop being a loser.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      which part of you're an ass hole are you having trouble with. We don't need your help. Nosy neighbors are never help. You really can't help yourself from butting in.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Mirosal

      Dodney, if you cut off ALL ties to canada, the US ecomony will never recover, They are our biggest trading partner, and if you'd do your homework, you'll see that the Canadian dollar is stronger than the US dollar. Where do you think a LOT of the oil we inport is coming from, the Middle East? Think again.. IF you can think at all.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Mirosal: Dodney aka Captain Ass never made it past Buybull School...expecting a one-brain-celled creature like this to comprehend anything is like expecting a slug to. The fact is that right now we are in a better position and we have always been allies with your country. Thankfully not all like this creature...there are people like you who opened their minds and left their imaginary friends behind with their childhood.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      No one is cutting off Canada you ass hole, just the nosy neighbors that reside there. The majority of Canadians are decent God fearing people that mind their own business.You want these butt in morons to do your thinking for you that's your loss but don't make it national policy.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Mirosal

      captian ass .. aka dodney... the "morons" are doing something right, their dollar is growing, they rank higher in health, happiness and longevity than the US, and they are a lot more secular in their gov't. You'll never hear about "faith based debates" from any Canadian office seeker, and for good reason. They know it's futile, useless and a waste of time. Study a little WORLD history, not just US history and learn about other places on this planet, other than the windowless basement that your mommy has chained you to.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      All you mention have little or nothing to do with the butt in ass holes we have before us.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • HotAirAce

      We unfortunately had to make use of the Canadian health care system a few days ago when my wife fell and mashed her face. She was in an emergency treatment room within 20 minutes of getting to a hospital. She was examined, stiithed up, had a CT scan and released in 3 hours total elapsed time. Total charge – $13 for parking (because I paid for a whole day).

      What a crappy system- NOT!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      have you heard the one about the Canadian that minded its own F'n business?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Jorge

      Yup, the United States is exceptional in the same way Greece was exceptional as it rose to power by conquest of native inhabitant nations and the establishment of an enslavement economy to serve it's needs and build it's early infrastructure (Manifest Destiny), in the same way the descendancy of Romulus & Remus were exceptional when they imposed "Pax Romana" on the rest of Europe and the Eastern world while they suffered their own inner corruption and decadence (School of the Americas, enablement of right-wing despots during the Cold War, My Lai), in the way the Turks and the Moors dictated culture and religion for millions in the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean, regardless of their heritage and birthright (overseas military legacy of winning "hearts and minds" at gunpoint), exceptional the way India created entire underclasses of society based on traits such as race and ethnicity over which those born into them had no control (Jim Crow Laws). I could go on and on, but that that would keep pointing out just how "exceptional" and humanistic *snicker* the U.S. has been throughout it's history.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      you won't the ass holes just can't help themselves from butting into other peoples business

      July 3, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Kebos

      Those who insult others through inflammatory remarks directed at the person and who do that under an alias are known as 'creepers'. Ignore them, they add no value to the integrity of the arguments most others post.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  10. Jay Reardon

    The U.S. is "exceptional" all right. What a bunch of propaganda. Love how we "removed" the Native Amercans (read KILLED - probably 2 million or so) and gloss over all the horrible things we've done in other countries. The fact that this article is written by CNN's "religion" writer tells you all you need to know - i.e., American "Exceptionalism" is an exercise in fantasy just like the existence of a Magic God who blesses only Amerika.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • whalebiter

      I hope to God you're not living in the US if you think that way. Tell me you're not.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • tallulah13

      Why, whalebiter? Millions of natives WERE slaughtered, by European colonists first, then citizens of the brand new United States. Whether you want to believe it or not, this country was indeed built on the blood of those who first lived on this continent. You can love America and be proud to live here, yet still acknowledge history.

      The most exceptional thing about this country is our freedom to express our thoughts. It seems to me you don't welcome thoughts that don't agree with your own. How very un-American of you.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • whalebiter

      sure buddy,

      i acknowledge some of the things you said but i'm also proud of the things we have done in the world. i was trying to point out to our friend how negative he is toward a country is he's benefiting from.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • Thinker22

      Each and every country on this planet was born through wars and revolutions. I feel sorry for those pointing on America for its history but turning a blind eye to the rest of the world.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:33 am |
    • Kebos

      Whalebiter's America is only occupied by those that tow the party line. Freedom of speech – and thought – need not apply. Yet another example of how America is slipping towards being a nation of unexceptional.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  11. Janice Dee

    watch the movie Monumnetal, I work with refugees from around the world and they tell me the US is exceptional. Wether we modernist USA'ers like it or not we are living a life planned out by the Puritans and (dare I say it) biblical prinicipals.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • nisroc00

      Interesting because in my personal opinion Canada, UK, Australia are that beat the USA in every way. The USA started dying after Reagan. The USA is from the the country that it could be.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      As a person who grew up in the US and lived in many great cities and now lives in J.apan, I can tell you the J.apanese are beating the pants off of the US in terms of education, food safety, low crime, long life, health services, middle class income, retirement, happiness quotients and about a dozen other standards. Of course Tokyo, where I live, IS the most expensive city in the world, taxes are super high and it would be considered socialist by most of America.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • tallulah13

      Actually not, Janice. The Puritans maintained their British citizenship. Those that led the way to the creation of the United States (and indeed, those who founded our government) were more influenced by a movement called the Enlightenment than by your bible. The Enlightenment promoted science and reason over religion and supersti.tion.

      The men that wrote our Const.itution were wise enough to understand that to allow religion into government was detrimental to the freedoms that we as citizens of this country enjoy, and they were "enlightened" enough to know that every citizen deserves the right to speak their mind or worship (or not) the deity of their choice without fear of reprisal.

      The Puritans were among those that burned "witches". Our nation is not based on that type of unjust, unfounded and indecent fanaticism.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • truth be told

      America is a Christian nation, founded by Christians for Christians.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Mirosal

      Then I'm sure you'll be able to point out just how many times "god" is mentioned in the Const'itution, the framework by which ALL of our laws are based? If this was truly a "christian" nation, don't you think "god" would have some mention in that docu'ment? So, how many times is "god" mentioned?

      July 3, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • just sayin

      The wonderful President, George H W Bush once said an atheist is not a patriot and should not be a citizen of America, we are one nation under God. President Bush was right. God bless

      July 3, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Mirosal

      G.H.W. Bush was a consu'mate liar. He was once the Director of the CIA, so lying was second nature for him. Then he said no new taxes ... a year later.. guess what.. NEW and higher taxes. Just a typical politician. If he were such a great man, why did he not get a 2nd term?

      July 3, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  12. Jason

    If the bible says thou shall not kill and then the self proclaimed Cristians kills I don't know let's say a million Iraqis, what does that say about Cristians? Was Hitler any worse than Bush or Obama? Both kill innocent people without remorse and then say they're Cristians. If there is a God the aforementioned will go to Hell

    July 3, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Dudley

      Jason, finish your math homework. Now. You already screwed up the semester, now you're going to flunk summerschool too.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Jason

      Actually I am in Summer school going to college on the 9/11 Bill thanks to the taxpayers. Got a B in D.E.'s and now I'm doing linear algebra.

      A genocide has happened and the world will remember. Read some history books

      July 3, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • whalebiter

      this guy has no idea how badly he discredits himself when he says something like that. do you even know where you are right now, Jason?

      July 3, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • Thinker22

      Jason... You should read something about wars and history in general. You'll be amazed to discover that people are being killed in ANY war. You'll be amazed even more when you'll learn that no one even the US, has the magic weapon killing armed militants only.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:36 am |
  13. Reality

    Exceptional? Yes indeed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    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 11:42 pm |
    • John T. Cullen

      If I consumed simllarly large amounts of ___ I would no doubt share some of those same hallucinations.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  14. Chad

    America CAN be exceptional once again.

    IF

    if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7

    July 2, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • John T. Cullen

      If we turn off Fox News, and stop electing creationist and corporate stooges to public office (e.g., Boehner, McConnell, Romney, etc) then we would see the shining light of reality instead of corporate lies. 18 Chronicle, Boston 6 in the 9th Inning.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:01 am |
    • John T. Cullen

      If we turn off Fox News, and stop electing creationist and corporate stooges to public office (e.g., Boehner, McConnell, Romney, etc) then we would see the shining light of reality instead of corporate lies. 18 Chronipede, Boston 6 in the 9th Inning.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      Chad, your thinking is more in line with Iran, not the United States. If you want a theocracy, you should move there.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • sam stone

      Wow, Chad, a quote from an iron age comic book. Good work, indeed! Put a star on your forehead for the day.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  15. Andreas

    The US had great potential once, it lost it. Look at any statistic, especially the forward looking data such as education, what type of jobs ate being created, the lack of political leadership, particularly the ineffectiveness of Congress, poverty rates, violence, distribution of wealth, globally the US ranks as an "also ran". Name one area the US leads or is in the top 5?
    Sad but true......

    July 2, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Yes we are exceptional. No the opinions of anonymous Chinese trolls don't matter.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      It's easier to name things that US ISN"T top 5 in.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • John T. Cullen

      If you become ill, you want to be anywhere except the USA or Bush's favorite place, Communist China.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  16. Jimmy

    America is a cess pool of total ignorance, Jesus worship, violent crime, sh!tty suburbs, Wal-Marts, and prescription drug abuse.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      What a terrible place. Hope you don't live there. Do you?

      July 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • ninja guy

      Rosetta.are u so lonely and bored u have to comment on everyone else's comments to disagree? Because your getting nowhere..

      July 2, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      Answer the question, child. Do you live in the U.S.?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      China is a cesspool of 1984 government, no religion allowed except government appointed, no freedom, no vote, no trust in their fellow citizens, 1 in every 10 people are paid thugs who will trap you in your house if you upset the wrong official, organ donation is not always voluntary, forced abortions, mind control, propaganda, fake food, fake everything, a fake economy based on foreign inventions and stolen technology.

      Should I go on? The US is a joy in comparison.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Majav

      Exceptional summation of a mediocre population that generally thinks they are literally God's gift to mankind. Americans don't spread democracy, they spread Walmarts and smart phones that make people stupid. Whoopie.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  17. Jack

    Hi everyone. All are welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  18. Dave

    In the history of humanity, America is but an insignificant blip.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • ninja guy

      Agreed as is all nations.they come and go.and when they go they always take the stupid with them.a nation based on Christian ideology is only destined to fail.any religion really.but when people learn from there mistakes they can keep this chaos at bay.look at China its been around for 4000 years.but they never had Christians slowing them down.imagine if the world had never seen Christian scientific repression.wed be 1000 years more advanced....

      July 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      ninja (turtle) guy – When the next war breaks out (and there will be one) you'd better think about whose side you want to be on.

      Or we'll save you the trouble of having to think at all. (probably not a big change there...)

      July 2, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • ninja guy

      Just a rittle ronry?

      July 2, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      No change at all.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Grimm Reaper

      I would hardly say the US Empire's foot print on history is "insignificant" Dave. It has on the other hand abused its position in the world, squandered its opportunities, and wasted so much of itself on very ethnocentric persceptions of the world stage. Also, as for the reference to America's ability to fight a major world conflict, depends on whom its enemies are. If it will be Russia and/or China, we will get are tails handed to us; that I am sure of.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  19. justathought

    Although it is not without blemish, America has an exceptional heritage, legacy, and hope. That is undeniable. What we do with it, how we preserve it, carry it forward, remains to be seen. America can not lose her morals, values, and still be the beacon of freedom, liberty, and justice that the world knows it as.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Dave

      You and most Americans are very naive if you think the world views you that way. Its pathetic actually !

      July 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      Most of the world, outside of America, is seriously fk'd up, as is their "view" of the U.S anyways.

      You want American isolationism? It can be arranged. It almost happened before.

      .. and the world was even more fk'd up.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Andreas

      There is no other Western country that holds prisoners without due process; other countries have experienced terrorism but no Western acountry has eliminated so many personal civil freedoms as the USA. Leave your emotions at the door and check the facts.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      Would I prefer that Mecca be nuked, Islam outlawed, and all Muslims deported over me having to take my shoes off before flying? You bet. But throwing suspects into Gitmo is a close second, and I'll still be happy to take off my shoes – for now.

      Unless you're talking about "personal freedoms" for terrorism suspects, in which case, f'k 'em.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Grimm Reaper

      I have travelled, worked and lived internationally and unfortunately our reputation is getting a serious waxing over the last few decades, especially since the Korean War. And, as for the comments that the rest of the world is F'd up: that is something only an untravelled, ethnocentric, arrogant and ignorant individual would say. Need to get more education and travel the world more. There are some incredible places on this planet that somehow seem to be moving forward, getting over themselves, while the USA is constantly beating her own chest.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      For a "world traveller" [sic] you can't spell for shít. Which means that either, a) you're an ignorant world traveler, or b} you're a 20-year old wispy-whiskered leftist wannabe with occupy/Marxist ideations and a better way to run a capitalist society upon which the entire world bases it's economy. My guess is c} you're ignorant + b) + you've been to Canada to blow weed and Cancun for spring break, ergo "world traveller [sic].

      So, (a+b+c) / Alinsky's Rules for Radicals = Just another ass hole.

      Of course you're clueless about "Islamic domination," yet oblivious as you are on the issue, you're pretty damn quick to call "bigott" [sic, again, lots of those with your posts, eh?] about something you refuse to acknowledge. And please, for God's sake, spell Tourette Syndrome correctly so that at least you're not insulting those with this condition in the process of sounding otherwise profoundly stupid.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  20. James

    As long as Americans think that America is exceptional, there will always be conflicts internationally and domestically. Internationally, because your leaders try to dictate to other countries. Domestically, because those of you who subscribe to this idea see all efforts to change policies that are more in line with those of the developed nations, as' un-american' and therefore not good. A paradigm shift is badly needed as the world is changing and changing fast.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Rosetta Stoned

      ... and not for the better.

      We didn't start the fire of Islamic domination. It was always burning. We didn't start the "Arab Spring" which is quickly turning into the "Islamic Winter."

      Go blame someone else for your ageless pathetic infighting. We tried to build schools and hospitals; the fools burned those down too.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Grimm Reaper

      Well, Rosetta -– not sure what you mean by "Islamic domination"? Sounds like dillusional ramblings of a paranoid madman that lets the bigott out of himself worse that a teenager amped up on suger with torets syndrome.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:45 am |
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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.