November 22, 2012
FROM THE ARCHIVES: PURITAN NATION:
Thanksgiving and American Exceptionalism (Mark Tooley, 11.24.10, American Spectator)
The left-of-center Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution have released a post-election survey showing nearly 60 percent of Americans believe God has assigned America a "special role" in human history. Over 80 percent of white evangelicals believe in this special role for America, as do two thirds of minority Christians. Majorities of white Mainline Protestants and Catholics also agree. Two thirds of the religiously unaffiliated disbelieve in any special role for America.
Probably the surveyors were discomfited by the results, especially that the devotees of American exceptionalism were not confined to white evangelicals but were nearly as numerous among minority Christians, which presumably mostly means blacks and Hispanics. American exceptionalism essentially originated with the ancestors of Mainline Protestantism, who were America's earliest European settlers and America's primary religious pillars for most of our history. A half century of leftward drift by Mainline church elites unsurprisingly has dampened their confidence in exceptionalism, but most still adhere. Likewise for most Catholics. The survey frustratingly does not provide a detailed break-down, but almost certainly most religiously active Mainline Protestants and Catholics are more prone to American exceptionalism than the nominally affiliated.
Much and perhaps most of American exceptionalism originated with the Calvinist English religious dissenters who settled New England, the first wave of whom landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. With Thanksgiving, America celebrates those dissenters' founding holiday. Later waves of Puritan immigrants conceived of their American adventure as an "errand in the wilderness." And some metaphorically likened their new civilization to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, with special blessings but also special obligations, always under both God's gracious care and sometimes severe judgment. Subsequent immigrants were not always as religiously devout. But the Puritan conception of America on a special mission from God that would benefit not just Americans but all peoples was reinforced by the heroic and spiritually animated struggle for American independence. Later immigrants, though far removed from the British Protestant tradition, still often comfortably embraced the notion of America as a sort of Promised Land, especially when compared to the travails of the old country. The Calvinist conception of American exceptionalism expanded to include other Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
[originally posted: 11/24/10]Posted by oj at November 22, 2012 12:38 AM