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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. ArthurP

    They why does 'God' keep allowing his chosen ones to keep cutting scientific and social advancement off at the knees.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Paulie

      Nothing can stop the advancement of science. If you are afraid of religious people there are pills and stuff for paranoia - since you believe so strongly in science as an answer to everything.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • John Morrelo

      We have something the rest of the world doesn't have – freedom. I'd say that's something to be proud of.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Scott from NH

      @John Morrelo, the rest of the world doesn't have freedom?? So, I was trying to explain to this German exchange student how she couldn't drink here 'cause you have to be 21, how she couldn't drive fast, take her top off at the water park or the beach, drink or sleep at the beach, she has to let the TSA grope her or go to jail, and the fact that we arrest Indians for taking photos of bridges is because freedom isn't always free.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Of course you are free. I mean it is not like you have warrant-less wire taps on internet phone calls and emails or have to show your papers to prove you really are Americans if demanded to by the police or have road block hundreds of miles from any border to check your papers or .....

      July 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • just sayin

      God is the author of scientific and social advancement. God bless

      July 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • ArthurP

      So 'just sayin' that means the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory are Gods work and therefore correct as is the social acceptance of woman's rights specifically the right to choose whether she has an abortion or not.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • that's not what he said

      you ignorant wretch, your English is worse than your Spanish

      July 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  2. ObamaUntil2016

    Isn't it a short hop from "exceptionaism" to "supremecy"? and isn't that the thinking that started WW2?

    July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • ObamaUntil2016

      Did I mention that I'm a complete idiot?

      That's why I like Obama!

      July 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Paulie

    In Italian the word "Cristiani" means person. If you werent a Christian back in the olden days - you werent even considered human.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  4. whatever

    America certainly has its issues but anytime the rest of you countries would like to stop sending your people here, feel free. We're tired of paying for them because YOUR country couldn't provide any semblance of freedom, safety or opportunity.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Scott from NH

      huh? 20% of the illegal aliens have left in the last 2 years, and our visa processing centers are laying people off.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Scott

      Since you are also from a family of immigrants, why don't you go first?

      July 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  5. Scott

    America is exceptional and is the most adored nation that has ever existed on the face of the earth. Since America began, we have gone from a world without modern medicine, transportation, and technology, to cures, freeways, and the internet superhighway. We were and will always be the best country on the face of the earth and the only country that welcomes it's citizens from other countries of the world. Citizens, like us all who can come to America in hopes of a better life with freedom to chose which religion we want to go to, freedom to choose our leaders, freedom to agree or disagree. I am proud to be an American and yes, we are America, and we are exceptional.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Now if only they could convince the pesky 50% or so who do not accept creationism the USA would be such a beautiful place.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Scott from NH

      Well, if you think we are the only country that welcomes people from the outside then you clearly have not been to Sydney, Toronto, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, etc. Sydney and Toronto have a larger percentage of foreign born than any city in America.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • jeffison

      The most adored? You don't travel much outside America apparently. The belief that we're adored by the world is outdated and delusional. Wake up and smell the coffee.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      "Since America began, we have gone from a world without [yada yada yada]"

      Man, I wish we did a better job of teaching critical thinking in the schools. This is the "post hoc ergo proper hoc" fallacy. You should look it up.

      Just as an example, it was Nazi German that invented the autobahn, and it's hard to see how that resulted from the fact that it happened after 1776.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  6. wrong side of the bed

    I love the US,but you really gotta get over yourselves.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • hippypoet

      lol, yeah, we really aren'y worth the hype!

      most of us are fat stupid and believe we are smart which is the worst....at least if we knew we weren't smart we may appear as humble in our fat stupidness.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • jeffison

      Sorry, just following god's orders here. Our destiny is global domination, don'tcha know. American exceptionalizm...coming to your neighborhood soon. Got any oil? ;)

      July 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      You are either with us 100% or you're dead sucker

      July 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  7. queuebert

    The belief that one's country (or religion) is exceptional, is the cause of many a human life. No nation needs to be seen as exceptional and its citizens needn't worry about that; trying for personal excellence is a much saner, and less blood-stained, path to greatness.

    Also, the subtext under the link I clicked to get here: 'Whether or not you think it's true, the idea that America was "chosen" by God to lead the world...' seems fairly ridiculous. Does anyone think this is valid any more? I thought Manifest Destiny was just an excuse to kill off the natives and now that it's no longer necessary, nobody gave it any consideration. Please tell me this isn't an issue people are actually still divided about.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Scott

      You need to educate yourself so that your argument at least seems credible. Start with the Declaration of Independence.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • queuebert

      So, which of my two points was that supposed to address? The one about believing your country or religion is exceptional leads to war, or the one where I asked if people still believe in Manifest Destiny in an admittedly dismissing manner? Because it doesn't seem to address either.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • queuebert

      Err, I meant to have said "is the cause of the loss of many a human life" there.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  8. A dose of reality

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • E

      Well Put!

      July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • jrobinson

      ...and this has what relevance to American exceptionalism?

      July 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • jeffison

      lol...exactly.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  9. Mark

    And...cue the irrational comments from atheists who came into this article KNOWING it would make them angry and now can't help but insult any religious belief that they can find. Oh yes...the more rational thinkers of the bunch indeed.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
      The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
      (a) Astronomy;
      (b) Medicine;
      (c) Economics; or
      (d) Christianity
      You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
      (a) historian;
      (b) geologist;
      (c) NASA astronomer; or
      (d) Christian
      I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
      (a) A gifted psychologist
      (b) A well respected geneticist
      (c) A highly educated sociologist
      (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
      I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
      (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
      (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
      (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
      (d) your average Christian
      Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
      (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
      (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
      (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
      (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
      I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
      (a) A victim of child molestation
      (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
      (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
      (d) A Christian
      The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
      (a) Architecture;
      (b) Philosophy;
      (c) Archeology; or
      (d) Religion
      What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
      (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
      (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
      (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
      (d) All of the above.
      If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
      (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
      (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
      (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
      (d) my religious belief.
      Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
      (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
      (b) A mafia boss
      (c) A drug pusher; or
      (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
      What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
      (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
      (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
      (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
      (d) All of the above.
      The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
      (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
      (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
      (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
      (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  10. ArmyCSM

    Man created god in his likeness.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  11. John Quincy Samuel Adams

    Be frank: manifest destiny = religious "dictated authority" to do as they pleased, where they pleased. Religion has no place in government, especially in the present day. Abortion, gay rights, the subtle racism present in the forms of the NAACP and EEO programs, all religiously influenced politics. You cannot push a country forward while it is on its knees worshipping a god (any god). I'm not saying to ban religion – I'm not religious but if believing some imaginary guy, a ghost, and his son makes you happy then so be it go crazy, but to say this concept of "exceptionalism" has ever come from anything but the will of a small group of people to rebel...you are insane. We, as Americans, go against the grain as often as possible – its how we have made our mark, continue to make our mark. Francesco's comment above is rightly true, and that fake doctor who can't spell resurrection or coming is nothing more than idiocy. The US needs logical, reasonable, non-religiously influenced people running our country, not some fanatic like Romney who cares nothing for the people, or some inexperienced individual like Obama who may have good intentions but fails because of his lack of practicality and experience.
    Manifest destiny...the phrase I despise most in the history of the world due to its use by zealots to do as they please...

    Bring American exceptionalism into a new age by demanding your government respect you, the people, by demanding greatness from your government at the threat of removing them from office, demand the return of the true United States. Then, you will see exceptionalism, you will see prosperity unbridled. You will see America, for the people, by the people.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • jrobinson

      Sure... and manifest destiny was DEMOCRAT idea. Andrew Jackson, baby... also the President who rounded up the indians onto reservations.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      please provide proof

      July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      TMR boy never says anything else. Don't expect proof.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • just sayin

      you are here. God bless

      July 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things,
      Proven

      July 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • ArthurP

      More is accomplished by two hands working than a thousand clasp in prayer.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Scott

      may God bless you brother

      July 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  13. E

    Yes thanks pioneers for encouraging the delusional thinking and belief in nonexistent deities we have today. Plus we are no where near the best country, Quality of life 13th, democracy index 19th, Literacy 47th, extremely large income inequality, and I go go on giving cold hard facts on how mainly because Reagan told the american public it was OK to hate the government, we stopped paying taxes, demanded more for free, and become the me first, faith based wacko nation we are today. Greatest country in the world try Sweden or Norway where everyone can read, little poverty, high happiness, and yes they pay huge amounts of taxes yet they are happier than us strange!

    July 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • jrobinson

      Then leave. Go. If I believed any of that claptrap about America, I'd be on the first boat out. Do it. Like right now.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • B

      A exceptional country doesn't brag about it nor push their moral values.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  14. Kingofthenet

    We are on a Mission from God...The Blues Brothers

    July 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  15. d nelson

    If you dont think America is exceptional, then vote left..If you KNOW America is exceptional, vote right....The very future of Ameerica swings in the upcoming vote...Do YOUR part ! ! !

    July 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • formerMarine

      RIGHT IS WRONG.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • E

      Yes vote against a delusional wacko who basis his actions on what a wacko saw at the bottom of a hat!

      July 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  16. bankkiller1

    Hitler said the same things. Nut jobs ALWAYS say that they are the "chosen" or "called" or "only". Even Bush said God spoke to him. That God would tell Bush to kill is amazing isn't it?

    July 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Paulie

      What you dont mention is Hitler only used God and Jesus as political aims. Eventually he did away with Crucifixes and crosses as he wanted to be worshipped as a god himself. There was no place for Jesus in the 3rd reich or Jews – especially wealthy jews.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      No place for Jesus in the 3rd Reich, eh? This would be the same 3rd Reich whose soldiers went into battle with belt buckles bearing the motto "Gott mit Uns"?
       
      Hitler's serious Catholicism is extremely well docµmented. Scope out nobeliefs(dot)com/nazis.htm for details.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  17. Paulie

    You are foolish to deny the possible existence of God as you cannot prove his non-existence. Religion? Created by people so feel free to criticize it all you want. It was created by people. Possibly the most flawed beings in all creation. No wonder aliens stay far away if there are any.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Alicia

      So, in essence, what you are saying is that, people over the span of 5,000 years have fabricated lies about a creator and for selfish reasons. Interesting.

      You are going to be either 100% right or wrong. I hope you realize that.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • jeffison

      You are foolish to deny the possibility that Santa Claus exists as you cannot prove his non-existence. Same goes for Zeus.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      God can neither be proved nor disproved. Personally I'm an agnostic, but the god of the bible seems utterly ridiculous to me. Just another book of ancient mythology, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive culture.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Paulie

      I cant prove it either way-–so why take sides? Isn't that what "they" want?

      July 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You CAN prove that any god that might exist can't be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and all-loving. Just put any 2 of those abilities in conflict and watch one of them lose. Can God change his mind? Yes? Then he either didn't know everything to begin with or has just made a mistake. No? Then he's not all-powerful, is he? Can he hide something from himself? Can he make a rock so heavy he can't lift it?

      July 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Joe

    Yes, America is exceptional all right. Exceptional at ignorance.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Paulie

      As if the other half the world living in 300BC like Middle East is so much more intelligent.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Joe

      Paulie, thanks for proving my point.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • fair good chance

      There were fewer ak47's in 300 bc

      July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Paulie

      What I am saying is Joe you need to leave your backyard and basement once in a while and see how the rest of the world lives. We are the luckiest people on the planet.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  19. jrobinson

    People who belittle the idea of American exceptionalism and try to reduce it to some sort of checklist of goodies or statistics do not understand what it is. Our exceptionalism comes from being a free range society. Free Range animals are stronger, healthier, more diverse, form their own ecosystems... virtually every biologist realizes this. But the free range is tough. There is no healthcare plan. No welfare. Predators, even. But what you also get after a few generations, is a breed of animal that is tough, independent, can thrive in almost any environment, and DOESN'T NEED YOUR HELP.

    The Left sees how tough it is, and their solutions to it is to build a zoo. There'll be free healthcare. No predators. Regular mating opportunities. Free food. But it all comes with a price, doesn't it? Yeah it's food – but only what they want you to eat, not what YOU want. Free healthcare – but they'll euthanize you and take your children away to other zoos at any time if it serves their purposes.

    The difference between being exceptional and un-exceptional is the difference between the free range and the zoo. This country used to breed exceptionally indenpendent, strong, animals. Now, we increasingly breed dependent, weak animals that need Obama's stash just to get by. It's a tragedy.

    July 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • jeffison

      "But what you also get after a few generations, is a breed of animal that is tough, independent, can thrive in almost any environment, and DOESN'T NEED YOUR HELP."

      How sad. It's cooperation that allowed the human community to survive for tens of thousands of years...not your pathetic survival of the fittest notions that always inevitably lead to war.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • jrobinson

      Yes, jeffson, cooperation – that's what meant by the animals "form their own ecosystems". They form really strong tight communities and support system. But the more that daddy govt has replaced that role, we have become further and further flung apart and are families and towns are decaying. To put it simply: before government took care of people, people took care of people – and they did a better job.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You're from the Somali Ministry of Tourism, right?

      July 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  20. jeffison

    Grandiose exceptionalism, is a collective psychosis, a delusional belief system that's created the disaster that is now America. Skyrocketing cancer in all ages, toxic soil, water, air, food, bodies, minds. A culture alienated from nature that depends on an illusion of a stable planet, moderate climate, and endless natural resources. Rampant child abuse. The highest murder rate in the world. Citizenry armed to the teeth. Trillions of dollars in debt. Supplying the world with arms. Leading the world in the creation of biological weapons of war. The most expensive health care in the world, that relies on cutting, poisoning, and burning, ignoring preventative approaches to health, under the thumb of big pharma and insurance companies. Corruption at all levels of government. Rampant religious psychosis. Terrified of women and gay people. Yay for exceptionalism!!! Good job!

    July 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • jrobinson

      Not only don't you understand what American exceptionalism is – see my post above – YOU are exhibiting a collective psychosis. Why don't you leave? Just go. If I were you, and I honestly believed any of that was true, I would be on the first plane out of here. So, go! What's stopping you? Go and find your socialist paradise; I think it will be an educational experience for you. And stop slandering the America – slander your new country instead and see how popular that makes you.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.