The Myth of American Exceptionalism and Christianity.

Take a look at the CSPAN interview of Andrew Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.  You can find it at:  http://www.c-span.org/

Bacevich discusses the dilemma of the myth the U. S. is so exceptional its adventures into wars will be successful when the reality is they are mostly not successful. Bacevich is a retired military officer and West Point graduate.

If we look back to military adventures in my lifetime, most have not had a happy endings.  We all know them, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and others.  Yet, Presidents Bush and Obama refer often to the “exceptionalism” of the U. S.

The problem, as Bacevich sees it, is that once in a while a military adventure looks quite successful.  We know these, too, WWII and Desert Storm.  The problem is Desert Storm loomed large in Secretary Rusvold’s mind after 9/11.  He thought he could repeat it in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Added to that is the military’s need to use its vast military infrastructure or have Congress take it away.

Bacevich did not discuss religion, but I think it looms large in this myth of exceptionalism.  If enough voters think there really is a god, most conclude the god thinks about them individually.  If the god knows them individually, he knows the U. S. also.  The god has to think both “me” and “my country” are quite exceptional.

It seems to me a personal god and exceptionalism are inseparable.

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About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years.
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19 Responses to The Myth of American Exceptionalism and Christianity.

  1. Wanna B Sure says:

    Jon; re. …”It seems to me a personal god and exceptionalism are inseparable”.(As per the totality of your topic): As usual, you broad brush everyone with the narrow experiences of your youth, and later “main stream” contact. Applied pietism in both. Extreme in the former, and functioning in the later. Inherent within Calvinism is political involvement. A parallel to Calvin was Zwingli, who died in battle. Not all come even close to your subjective observations.

  2. Michael Ross says:

    “Bacevich did not discuss religion, but I think it looms large in this myth of exceptionalism. If enough voters think there really is a god, most conclude the god thinks about them individually. If the god knows them individually, he knows the U. S. also. The god has to think both “me” and “my country” are quite exceptional. ”

    “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves”(Philippians 2:3). This applies to nations as well as individuals. If this were our national attitude, how many offensive “wars of choice” do you think we would be involved in?

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Michael 2:46 “If this were our national attitude, how many offensive ‘wars of choice’ do you think we would be involved in?”

      Good question. It seems like out history would be different.

  3. David says:

    I don’t think most would say that the U.S. is exceptional because of wars that have been fought – certainly I cannot believe that would be the case for Obama. I think it’s a curious correlation that the thought of exceptionalism comes from war. I think some think that any war that the U.S. fights must be just because we are exceptional. Sadly that’s not the case.

    The U.S. is different than all countries and is exceptional. This doesn’t mean because you were born in the U.S. that any one person is exceptional. It doesn’t mean that all of our positions that we have taken over the years have been correct. Most European countries are a collection of individuals that share a common language and common heritage. I think the U.S. is unique in that it was founded based upon a philosophical ideal. The Declaration of Independence sets out that this country stands for the proposition that individuals have inalienable rights that stem from our Creator. These rights should not be taken away by any government. Many countries have adopted similar rights, but the U.S. came to be because of these philosophical differences with the Crown of England. That’s exceptional. We certainly have not always lived up to this philosophy. But it is the goal.

    I am always surprised that so many Liberals bristle at the notion that the country is exceptional. There is almost the begrudging admission by Liberal politicians so they can appeal to Joe Sixpack. I suppose it has to do with what they would view as the incompleteness of the Constitution. It is not a perfect document to be sure but many progressives think the bill of rights which is largely a list of negative rights is incomplete and should be a list of positive rights to such things as food, health care etc. I suppose this gripe with the Constitution and Bill of Rights leads them to think that we are not exceptional. Or perhaps it’s just reactionary to Conservatives who tend to champion the idea that the U.S. is exceptional.

    I am at a loss as to how religion is implicated. I can’t imagine many that think because God knows them that they think the U.S. is exceptional. Perhaps it has to do with the Declaration and the whole idea of inalienable rights that come from God. One wouldn’t have to believe in God to “believe” that a society without individual rights is a lousy place. I think the argument is a stretch.

    War is rarely good.

  4. Brad says:

    The myth of American exceptionalism is in fact rooted in the Christian religion at least from the right wing viewpoint. The view is that America is blessed by Christ above all other nations, and that’s why we can supposedly do whatever we want because we have God on our side where nobody else does (except Israel of course). Ironically, almost the opposite is the truth. America was (and I emphasize “WAS”) exceptional largely because of not being a theocracy and constitutionally having a separation of church and state.

    Whatever degree of exceptionalism America had is long gone because it has gravitated toward a big money centered dictatorship. The right wing still continues to believe the delusional fantasy of America as a Jesus blessed nation, and therefore they need to blame liberals and/or atheists for its decline when the real root cause of the decline is right wing economic policy that has shifted all the wealth to the top which has created the dictatorship we now live under.

    • dan says:

      “right wing economic policy that has shifted all the wealth to the top which has created the dictatorship we now live under.”

      The dictatorship was created when you (if you’re old enought to vote yet) went to the voting booth and elected the current “dictator” into office. Our government is a reflection of the people since it is Of the People, By the People, For the People. As far as I know, Obama has been in charge of the “right wing economic policy” for 5 years now. Hows that “change” working out for you?

      • Jinx says:

        Ha ha hah ha!!!!1 Are you for real Dan?

      • Brad says:

        The right wing policy I am talking about started right around the time that the Almighty himself, our Lord and Savior Ronald Reagan took office. Remember Reaganomics? The trickle down theory where giving everything to the rich will trickle down on the rest of us. Well, something trickled down, but it wasn’t money.

        Obama’s problem is that he has caved into Republicans and Republican policy way too often.

        The big money dictatorship I refer to has been in place for a good long time, much longer than Obama has been president. Contrary to popular right wing belief, all of the country’s problems did not start when Obama took office.

    • David says:

      I don’t think you are accurate. Conservatives do not think of this country being great because of any one religion, but rather due to the nature of the Declaration and the Constitution. With regard to references to Providence – many have gone down that path thinking God is on their side. The Civil War was rife with this thinking on both sides. Lincoln tended to believe that the Civil War was God’s punishment for slavery. But Conservatives think that the country is exceptional because it provides for liberty. Some may say these liberties and rights are inalienable and endowed by our Creator. That’s a stretch though to say they think God is on their side. Rather one might say Conservatives – founding fathers – wanted to get on God’s side by making the rights he endowed protected from government.

      Atheists seem to get only to the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. Their delusion is that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to stamp out theocracy. There were a few more parts that were pretty important. In fact the first amendment and the Bill of Rights almost failed to make it into the Constitution.

      Your dogmatic recitation of Liberal talking points on the shifting of wealth to the top is interesting. How did the government “shift” wealth to the top? How come Democrats can’t shift it back to the bottom? Is there some theft going on that has been unreported? Tax cuts is not a shift of wealth. You have to own it before you can shift it. Letting people keep more of their money is hardly “shifting” wealth. I would be interested in an explanation.

    • Jinx says:

      That is how I understand it Brad, and that is what my christian nutjob sister believes.

      • Henry says:

        Jinx: “my christian nutjob sister”

        Typical rejection of diversity of ideas from the “us agnostic” crowd. Don’t agree? Then start namecalling to prove your point. Very scholarly.

        • entech says:

          Diversity of ideas? what diversity is permitted when it all has to pass through the sieve of scripture.

          I see what Jinx said as three separate things:
          the person is a Christian;
          a nut job;
          and her sister.
          As you do not know anything about the person it is presumptuous of you to comment. No where is anyone equating being a nut job with being a Christian, you just join it all up for your own purposes. I have a brother who is an atheist and on many occasions I think that he is a borderline nut job.

          Any excuse to attack the non-believer, you secretly deep down know that there is only the material world. When you are alone in the darkness of night you realise there are no answers coming and to defend yourself you attack “the atheist/agnostic” with extreme vitriol. Actually I don’t really believe that but could not resist, it is the sort of thing said about non believers with incredible frequency – you choose to reject, you refuse to believe, you know deep down because it says so in Fred second letter to the westboro church.

  5. Avatar of realist realist says:

    The problem with American exceptionalism began when the definition changed from “different from” to “better than”. This later definition has been promoted by the right wing to mean that we have greater latitude in just about everything we attempt to do. The original meaning was simply to recognize that the United States had a beginning unlike the older countries in Europe. I do not like the self-righteousness of the new definition. Other countries while recognizing our military and economic power, do not necessarily “like” the United States for exactly this reason. Why should we consider ourselves better than other countries? I believe it is the “might makes right” philosophy that a just breeds hatred and distrust in the rest of the world.

    • dan says:

      It’s strange how many illegals die trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S. It’s also amazing to me how many people still come to our “bland” country since we really don’t have much to offer when compared to nations such as Brazil, Colombia, Zimbabway…

      I’ve got a great idea. Let’s remove all national identity, tell ourselves how bland our country is and start speaking Russian. It’ll be great. Everyone will be happy. I can take what’s yours and you can take what’s mine. We’ll get rid of all our guns, stop eating meat, stop driving cars (Ozone depletion), do away with marriage (just get taxed for it anyway), get rid of all religion (good luck with Mohammed), we can abort the worthless tissue (even after birth if they’ll not be able to make a positive contribution to society when grown), we can euthanize the elderly since they’ll be too many of them around after retirement for our crumbling ecomony to support. Even if we did all of this, would the U.S. still be bland? Stallin murdered over 1 million of his own citizens, I’m sure that was a pretty exciting time for Russia.

      What would it take in the eyes of a progressive liberal for a country to be considered great???

      • Avatar of realist realist says:

        Hit a nerve, did I, Dan? Just because I think every country has it’s virtues doesn’t mean I don’t think our country is a great place to be. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. On the other hand, I am sure citizens of other nations feel the same way about their countries.

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