An American Drubbing

I have been addressing, from time to time, the tomfool notion of American exceptionalism.

The central point I have made thus far is that the genuine exceptionalism displayed by the Founders consisted of the fact that they knew that Americans were not exceptional, which was exceptional. They built a form of government that sought to take the venality of all our current and future statesman into account, which was a marvel of prescience.

Having said as much, repeatedly, I want to come at this beast from another angle. Before doing so, allow me to state some of my bona fides. I love apple pie, I own a Winchester 30-30, and I have warm spot in my heart for red-checked tablecloths. I am a loyal son of the Republic, and wish to demonstrate my good will in this matter by giving American exceptionalism a good, old-fashioned American drubbing.

I wish to do this by using metaphors from the shock and awe war locker, but of course, humility requires me to leave to the reader any determination of whether I have actually succeeded in doing so. Some readers, I know, think of my writing as more of a schlock and awwww kind of thing. And one sees their point, of course.

So when Herod shows up en fête, in that glittery robe, and the people all cry out that it was the voice of a god and not a man, there was — even then — a course of action he could have taken that would have headed off the hungry worms. That course of action would have been to give glory to God (Acts 12:23). We, being not very quick on the uptake, have not responded that way, but are doing our very best Herod imitation, standing there on the stage like a freshly minted nominee at the Republican National Convention, luxuriating in the transcendental permanence of the glory that is descending upon in the form of ten tons of confetti.

When I write against American exceptionalism, some ordinary patriots are sometimes unsettled. “Aren’t you grateful to be an American?”, they ask. Of course I am. Very grateful. But this generates what should be an a question. Grateful to whom? I am a Christian first, which means I am grateful to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a Christian first, and since Jesus told His followers to disciple all the nations, presumably including the one we live in, this means that we must be grateful to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And by we, I mean us. Americans. Our elected representatives. Our foundational documents. If we don’t want to perish in the way, we must kiss the Son.

“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV).

This exceptionalism you speak of — should we be grateful for it? Grateful to whom? You think it is sufficient for everybody to gin up a few grateful-lite vibes on Turkey Day?

We are one of the most blessed nations ever to exist, and because of the blight of American secularism, we have created a vast sinkhole of ingratitude, hubris, and conceit, from Virginia to Oregon. And it will not fix it if we urge everybody to thank their private gods, however they conceive him/her/it to be. The reason that won’t do is that those gods are not the living God. They are all dead, every mother’s son of them. They did not give these blessings to us, laboring, as they do, under the burden of non-existence. Why do we want to fix this problem of our ingratitude to the living God by urging everyone to say something nice to their little bobble-head idols? This is not just perpetuating the problem, it is gilding our insouciance problem and leaving baskets of fruit in front of it.

The living God is jealous for His name, which is Yahweh.

In the name of God we will set up our banners (Ps. 20:5). Some trust in chariots, and some in horses. Some trust in destroyers, and some in submarines. Some trust in drone strikes, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God (Ps. 20:7). If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to one of those bobble-head things, won’t God see this? Won’t He deal with it (Ps. 44:20-21)? Oh, Lord God, deliver our people! Save our nation, and do it by means of Your name (Ps. 54:1). Purge our sins, especially the root sin of secularism, for Your name’s sake (Ps. 79:9). Do this, our God, for Your name’s sake (Ps. 109:21). But somehow it has come to be the received wisdom — even among Christians — to look for salvation without a Savior, for some mighty act deliverance from the heavens, signed “Anonymous.”

And we can stand around afterwards, sure glad that we were delivered, and doubly glad that we don’t have to thank anybody for it.

Look. The exceptional things we have (in truth) been given can be counted as blessings from the hand of the only true God, who requires us to name Him as the only source of any such blessings. The quite ordinary conceit we have displayed, sharing it with Ozymandias, is our refusal to do so. The longer we have gone on in this vein the more the sham has become apparent. Is America exceptional? Well, why don’t you ask one of the millions of Americans who were chopped up in little pieces in the womb because the ghouls on our highest Court found the right to such wickedness hiding under a penumbra? Is America exceptional? Well, the reply comes back from the dead child. “I really am not in a position to know . . .”

Those who refuse to honor God as God, and those who refuse to give Him thanks are turned over to their lusts, their foolish hearts being darkened (Rom. 1:21). In this process, spiraling downward, we have proven ourselves to be up to the challenge of being as ordinary as the dirt from which we were all made. Gratitude, rightly placed, is extraordinary. Ingratitude . . . well, that’s another matter.

So the faster the extraordinary blessings fade, the more some people want to fix it by defending that damned phrase. But without repentance, evidenced by the confession that Jesus is Yahweh, and our only possible hope, every use of that phrase is just thumping a hollow jug harder and harder. But hitting it won’t fill it.

Take a lesson from Emerson’s comment — “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Steve Reed

    This is one of those sermons that needs to be shouted.

  • Eric the Red

    I’m not sure America has ever been exceptional in the sense that you’re using the word. At the time of the founding, in most states, abortion was legal until the time of quickening; anti-abortion statutes didn’t begin to be passed until the late 1800s. There was that miserable institution known as slavery, followed by a hundred years of Jim Crow. In most states the age of consent for sex was ten, and that didn’t start to change until the late 1800s. And all of that is even before we get to sweat shops and company towns and child labor and various and sundry other abominations. The specific vices may differ from one age to the next, and lip service to Christianity may have been more pronounced in an earlier era. But if you’re using godliness as a proxy for exceptionalism, I doubt you’re any more likely to find it in 1813 than in 2013.

  • Eric the Red

    And if you are seriously arguing — as I hope you are not — that giving lip service to godliness is a sufficient substitute for actual godly living, I’m not sure even that was different 200 years ago.

  • Roy

    ETR, While the list of sinful acts is no doubt accurate, I don’t know that our dismissal or perversions of God’s blessings means that the blessings didn’t or don’t exist. That may even be a part of the point.

  • katecho

    Eric the Red wrote:

    “I’m not sure America has ever been exceptional in the sense that you’re using the word.”

    Doug drubs the tomfool notion of American exceptionalism. But Eric takes it as an opportunity to ponder whether America has ever been exceptional. Eric isn’t convinced. Perhaps it is a postmodern deconstructionist thing, but does Eric somehow think Doug is arguing for American exceptionalism? How can Eric have it so backwards?

    Doug wrote:

    The exceptional things we have (in truth) been given can be counted as blessings from the hand of the only true God, who requires us to name Him as the only source of any such blessings.

    America’s historic blessings and freedoms have been exceptional, accompanied with our gratitude to God for them. As our culture faces a “new normal” of lower expectations, defaults, and oppressive secular statism, it is necessary to erase from history any recollection of those prior blessings. If people associate America’s blessing with a return to Christian faith, that would be disastrous for the secular state. This seems to be what Eric is attempting to anticipate with his carefully worded examples of various sins and inconsistencies in America’s past. It’s a revisionist agenda to cloud and disconnect us from our Christian heritage and blessing. Christians are obliged to be guilty and ashamed of our past. The answer to this guilt is not delusions of our historic exceptionalism. The answer is something that secularism cannot offer. Gratitude and forgiveness.

  • Eric the Red

    Katecho, if you weren’t so bound and determined to disagree with me, even if you have to misrepresent what I said in order to do it, maybe you would have noticed that I was mostly agreeing with Doug’s conclusion. He and I arrive at that conclusion by different routes, but for once we end up at the same place.

  • Seneca Griggs

    I have believed that “American exceptionalism” was simply the blessings of God on a nation who had a solid cadre of devout believers who have indeed honored Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It was never a “Moral Majority” but it does appear to be a dwindling minority.

    But there is still a core of God fearing men and women in these secular states who continue to pray that God might, for His Glory, bring a revival of the heart to hundreds of thousands of people.
    And I think God has continued to bless us to some extent because of His faithful children.

    Elijah believed he was the last man standing but God assured him there was another 7,000 that had not bowed the knee. There are, perhaps, more of us then we know who continue to look towards God in faith and hope.

  • BJ

    Amen! Why is this insight not pouring out of the churches? Maybe too many of us are busy looking for the secret rapture escape hatch, hoping Jesus will fix it without us.

  • Andrew Lohr

    And another baby said, “It’s above my pay grade.”

  • Robert

    The godlier parts of America historically are more lilely to be rural than urban. Most of the things that Eric laments were the products of the industrial revolution plus mass immigration of the extremely poor, different ethnicities fighting for their share of the pie, plus the fact that facotiry owners and mine owners didn’t think Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy applied to them. Except for rural poor Blacks, there was far less fighting in farm towns after the Civil war than in the mining towns and the cities with the Pinketons,, etc.

  • DanielBlowes

    The narrative the enemy sold to Adam and Eve was that they are the victims of God’s pride and deceit, and whilst they were busy buying that, they became the victims of the enemy’s pride and deceit, or Eve did and Adam the victim of her folly.. But even that narrative is a sub-plot; the metanarrative is, as revealed at The Cross, that God is the victim of US, and as The Victim has the power, the right, to forgive us.. America, that great big blustering loudmouth nephew of Great Britain, finally got it’s victim narrative back on Sept 11 2001: ‘we are no longer just that country who sat back and watched Europe tear itself apart until the opportune (istic) time to step in, WE are the victims!’

  • David Smith

    At least for now, the term “American Exceptionalism’ is so soiled, by neoconnery and other America-as-messiah idolaters, that it should just be flushed. If we’d like to be truly exceptional, we’ll “. . . do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God.” And then we’ll tend to our business and not think about how exceptional we’re being!

  • Jill Smith

    As a Canadian who loves her native land and who has been a legal alien here for over 25 years, I am always amazed by the handwringing over American are viciously anti-American in a particularly sniffy way that blends moral superiority and envy. At a trivial level, I have never yet told an American that I grew up in Canada without being told how lucky I was to come from such a beautiful and wonderful country. Can you imagine how far an American would have to travel in Canada to find so gracious a response? And this comes from even from people who would disagree with every Canadian social policy, and who wish we hadn’t inflicted Justin Bieber on the world. Americans are mocked for a solipsistic world view. Well, better to be insular and view your neighbors charitably than to be quite so malevolently well informed. I find Americans as a people to be generous, patient, tolerant, forgiving, and curiously humble about their many virtues. And I think that these traits, distributed so generously and so widely among a people, make a case for e exceptionalism. Abortion is a hideous moral evil. But it exists in almost every other western nation where it does not excite the repugnance and horror that rightly give so many Americans an outraged conscience. As a liberal believer in the power of government to remedy social ills, I can’t share your dread of creeping statism. But even the excesses of government have stemmed from a concern for justice and charity that Americans should find praiseworthy. This is a country where the same people who complain loudly about the Muslim immigrants next door would run over with money and food when the dad gets sick and can’t work. Yes, there have been military interventions that were wrong or just wrongheaded. But as the daughter of a Canadian soldier who spent three years in a prisoner of war camp, and as the mother of a half-Jewish child, I have nothing but gratitude for the Americans who fought and died in a war that was “none of their business.” If a belief in American exceptionalism has resulted in harm where good was intended, the result doesn’t vitiate the belief. When Americans see video clips of dead children in Syria, I think there is an instinctual moral response informed by an awareness that the blessing of great wealth and strength is accompanied by great responsibility. I have heard this instinct dismissed as evidence of deadly and idolatrous national pride. Perhaps it is no longer possible or prudent for America to see itself as the world’s moral police force. But when this instinct is felt among the American people (as opposed to government, but sometimes even then) it arises from a desire to “do justice”. It may be colossally foolish to try to stop a drunk in the street from beating up his wife, especially if you are out-classed and out-gunned. But the decision to try is nonetheless a noble one, and one that I think God expects of us. And we don’t do away with the heroism of the impulse by pointing out that the rescuer has his own moral flaws. Summing up, I think that of course we have to be careful not to confuse a foreign policy or a party platform with the will of God. Of course love of country must not be idolatrous. But I see nothing wrong in an exceptionalism that says, “We were called to be the shining city on a hill. At times we have been a beacon of freedom and justice throughout the world and we have inherited convictions about liberty, mercy, and fairness that still inform our national character and our debates. We see the hand of the Almighty in our history, and we want to be sure [possibly more than any people” on the planet] that we are guided by the better angels of our nature.” Call this emotional rant a paean from a flaming liberal who has been treated with such grace and kindness as to make me love my adopted home.

  • Jill Smith

    The first line should have said, handwringing over American exceptionalism. Many Europeans and unfortunately many Canadians are often viciously anti-American etc.

  • Joe Kmetz

    I beg your pardon if this comment turns out to be too banal, but what would we say to a country that seems to be quite atheistic/pagan, yet seems to be doing alright morality/economically/socially (Of course, all are presuppositions. Indulge my advocacy of diabolism for a moment)? Best example I could produce would be Sweden.

  • Robmac

    I really appreciate Jill Smith’s remarks, for understanding that America, though not without faults and it’s share of mistakes, does put a premium on trying to “do the right thing.” We do that collectively, and are tough on ourselves when we flunk. We have also gone to bat for those who need help at the expense of our wealth and lives. That takes moral courage.
    I think those who like to crack wise about American exceptionalism are mostly envious, and many would likely be the first to complain if this country finally did go home and not bother with anything unless its totally in our self interest. That would be a darker world: America is the light on a shining hill. If all other countries aspired to the same “exceptionalism” this could be a much better place. Think God would frown on that?

  • Jill Smith

    Using the Scandinavian countries, I would say a relatively homogeneous population, a shared commitment to common values of peace, order and good government, a psyche that is inclined to put the welfare of the group ahead of the individual, a universally high level of education, and the residue of a shared Lutheran past. Most of these are not virtues necessarily, but they tend to produce stable and productive societies. Canadian schoolchildren achieve in the top 5 worldwide on standardized tests for math and reading. Are the teachers better? The schools better funded? The children smarter? Of course not. But Canadian schools don’t face the challenge of teaching a large and permanent underclass, or of assimilating immigrant children who are economically disadvantaged. So it is easy to explain social, economic, and educational success in purely secular terms. Either God bestows blessings even on pagan cultures, or the kind of success they enjoy is not what God means by his blessings.

  • katecho

    Eric the Red wrote:

    At the time of the founding, in most states, abortion was legal until the time of quickening; anti-abortion statutes didn’t begin to be passed until the late 1800s.

    This is a carefully worded distortion of history that deserves further exposure.

    Any righteous law will address the guilty, but at the same time guard the accused against false charges by requiring a proper standard of evidence. In the case of a charge of abortion, there must be evidence that there was a living child in the first place. Such evidence is easier to acquire today with pregnancy tests and sonograms, but in that century, the earliest evidence available was the felt movements of the unborn child. This requirement limited the law’s reach in that day because of principles of evidence and due process. However, Eric wants to paint it as though the majority of states somehow explicitly and positively protected a right to abortion prior to quickening. This was simply not the case.

    For a really interesting treatment of this topic, check out the paper titled, “ABORTION: WHAT THE FOUNDING FATHERS THOUGHT ABOUT IT”, by Duane L. Ostler. It can be found here:

    Eric is factually in error to suggest that there were no anti-abortion statutes until the late 1800s. The paper above contains a history of such laws, including natural law sources, common law sources, and the “concealment laws” specifically against the covering up of illegitimate children by “destroying or murdering”. There was discussion of these by several Founders because the concealment laws placed the burden of proving innocence on the mother of the dead child. See chapter 3.

    Here is an extended quote from chapter 5, which is worth a read in the original paper:

    Citing [William] Blackstone, James Wilson stated that “human life, from its commencement to its close, is
    protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first
    able to stir in the womb. (1 Blackstone’s Commentaries, 129) By the law, life is protected not
    only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases,
    from every degree of danger.”[81] Reading this, it almost seems that under the British common
    law, abortion was criminal only after outwardly observable ‘quickening’ or stirring of the infant in
    the womb (roughly almost half way through pregnancy), and not before, because that is when
    life ‘began.’ Indeed, that is how the Roe court interpreted it. As we shall see however, the
    common law rule was not based on philosophical notions of when life began as claimed by the
    Roe majority.[82] Instead, the rule was solely one of evidence. The point of the rule was that a
    criminal conviction for abortion became possible only when movement of the fetus could be
    verified to a court of law, which in that day was at ‘quickening.’ Prior to quickening, proof
    sufficient to put someone in jail for life or execute them for abortion was simply lacking.
    Obviously then, the common law rule was actually designed to protect the unborn from the
    moment that fetal movement could be verified.

    Accordingly, we can see that the comment from Wilson was an articulation of the strictly legal,
    evidentiary rule to be followed in the few abortion cases not already covered by the
    concealment statutes. Recall that the concealment laws pertained to abortions by unmarried
    pregnant women. Hence, the common law abortion rule of ‘quickening’ was to apply only to
    abortions by married women. And once again, in the contemplation of law, proof sufficient for a
    criminal conviction due to abortion required evidence that the child was ‘quickened’ and
    therefore alive and moving. In those days of limited medical technology, quickening or
    movement of the child (usually occurring around the 16th to 20th week of pregnancy) was
    practically the only way to confirm the child was alive. This has already been described in the
    statement from Dr. Benjamin Rush above, that movement of the fetus could not be outwardly
    detected until well into the second trimester.[83] Under the common law, anything done to
    purposefully stop the movement of the child from the time such movement was detected would
    be criminal. But even then a conviction may not rise to the level of murder since it was always
    possible, in those days when spontaneous abortion was common and medical technology could
    not prove the cause of death, that the abortionist’s efforts were not the actual cause of the
    abortion. This was seen in the Hallowell case, discussed above, in which the doctor had clearly
    attempted an abortion, but it was unknown whether he had actually caused one. For this
    reason, his penalty upon conviction, although severe, was less than it would have been for

    On the other hand, abortive acts prior to quickening would not necessarily “in the contemplation
    of law” result in a criminal conviction, since it would be impossible to prove whether the child
    was alive (and often whether the woman was even pregnant) when the act occurred. Hence,
    due process and fairness compelled the common law rule, which was all based on provable
    fetal movement. It again should not be forgotten that stillborns were common in those days,
    and therefore proof (especially for something as serious as a murder charge) was a significant
    issue in any criminal proceeding regarding abortion. Scholars have noted that “[t]he primitive
    nature of biological knowledge and abortion technology made it next to impossible to prove that
    the child was alive before the supposed abortion and that the abortion was the cause of
    death.”[85] Furthermore, “[e]arly writers on the law focused their discussion of abortion on the
    evidentiary impossibility of determining whether a woman was pregnant and of determining
    whether the fetus was still alive when an abortionist began.”[86] James Parker, who
    summarized the common law in New York in 1764, cited Lord Hale for the proposition that in an
    abortion case “it cannot be legally known, whether the child were killed or not.”[87]

    An early example of the evidentiary purpose behind the common law rule is found in the 1348
    ‘Abortionist’s Case’ in England, in which an indictment against a person for killing an unborn
    child was refused because “it is difficult to know whether he killed the child or not.”[88] A similar
    result was reached in Sim’s Case in England in 1601. One scholar notes that “[t]he judges for
    the case expressed concern about abortions and how difficult they are to prove.”[89] Indeed,
    we have already noted Jefferson’s observations above that cases of this kind are hard to prove.
    [90] Not surprisingly then, most of the few abortion cases in early England resulted in acquittal
    due to lack of evidence­­although there was one case in 1320 or 1321 in which “a person who
    caused an abortion was found guilty and hanged.”[91]

  • katecho

    On the subject of American exceptionalism, we now have proof:

  • Tim H.

    True, there was something like “exceptionalism” in the Puritan rhetoric of the city on the hill — but this must be tagged as one of the serious mistakes made by the Puritans and their secular successors. In modern times, however, the notion must be identified specifically with the neo-cons. And isn’t it funny that today it is always invoked — ALWAYS — with a view to the idea that Americans should go and kill other goyim to rescue/ for the sake of/at the behest of, jews. Look through the flattery to see the real agenda.

  • Jill Smith

    Tim, that really distresses me. Was that true in Serbia or Afghanistan? The neocons have thought we should go into North Korea as well; a few decades ago, some thought we should intervene in Rwanda. By what possible stretch of the imagination would those probably misguided ventures have involved killing goyim at the behest of Jews? I wondered if your perception carefully distinguishes between Israelis and Jews. I think criticism of Israel, and American support of Israel, is appropriate, justified, and necessary. Any foreign policy should be subject to scrutiny and debate. But when I see phrases like “the jews” in conjunction with “real agenda,” I feel creepy.

  • Jonathan

    Robert, for your argument about the rural parts of early America demonstrating more “godliness” than the urban parts, I was under the impression that slavery was mostly a rural phenomenon. Post-slavery lynchings were quite often rural too, as was the enforcement of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Most of the killings and land-grabbing from Native Americans were undertaken by those “godly” rural folk. And I’ve never gotten the impression that the frontier towns, whether they were cattle-ranching focused or mining focused or whatever, were bastions of morality.

  • DanielBlowes

    The victim always FEELS exceptional when they ‘take exception’ like the when the Protestants took exception to the Catholics or the Puritans to the Protestants etc..