Tag Archives: Christian exceptionalism

Christian Exceptionalism

Does President Obama believe in “American exceptionalism?” This has been a subject of debate between liberals and conservatives for months and will no doubt continue until he is out of office. Conservative pundits on the one hand claim that because the president made a particular statement, and because his policies represent a desire on his part for the country to be socialized like many of our European neighbors,  he cannot possibly believe in American exceptionalism. Liberals on the other hand (yes, the left hand) claim the President does believe in American exceptionalism and has, in fact, employed the phrase in affirmation more than George Bush or even Ronald Reagan [1].

The phrase from the president that has the conservative pundits so outraged (as if they weren’t glad to hear it) comes from the April 4, 2009 press conference in Strasbourg, France when the President was asked if he subscribed “to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world”. His answer, in part, was as follows:

“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I am enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world…. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality that, though imperfect, are exceptional.[2]”

What is American exceptionalism? Fundamentally it is the view that America is qualitatively different than other political states. America, because of it’s jurisprudence, moral superiority, economic power, and overall love and defense of liberty (I snicker slightly as I type this),  has the right, and even the duty to dispense this superiority across the globe.

President Obama no doubt equivocated somewhat in answering the question about American exceptionalism, regarding it as some sort of pride or esteem of one’s country and its history, not as a right and duty of America to lead the world.

My goal in writing on this subject, however, is not to take sides on whether President Obama believes in American exceptionalism, and whether he is Satan if he disbelieves it. Rather, as usual, I will use this debate as an occasion to advance my exclusively Christian philosophical agenda.

Though I don’t think this was the President’s intent, he did stumble upon some truth: Every worldview believes in its own superiority. So, indeed, the British believe in British exceptionalism (to the degree they are truly British), likewise the Greeks and the Americans. Even the “love everybody equally, except for  Christians, ’cause they’re haters” crowd, with all of their guise of humility (“I’m not better than you, nor you me”) believe in the superiority of thinking as they do (which is self-refuting on its face, nevertheless, it is their confession).

To the degree that one doubts the superiority or exceptional nature of his own beliefs, to that degree he doubts his own beliefs. If I believe 2+2=4 as truth, I believe it is superior to 2+2=39. If I begin to say 2+2=39 is also true, I am not only denying the superiority of 2+2=4, but denying 2+2=4 altogether because they cannot both be true.

Scripture claims exclusivity to it’s truths. As Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Christ claims to be truth, so that his words are truth:  “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” His “words” are not only the audible words he spoke to the Pharisees that day and during his time on earth, but all of Scripture, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17) All Christ’s words, all Scripture is truth. In logical form: all a is b. Now, if we combine this truth with Christ’s words, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad,” (Matthew 12:30) we may add to our formula no c is b — c representing anything that is not Christ’s truth — anything that is not Christ‘s truth is not truth at all, but opposed to it. All a is b and no c is b. All Christ’s words are truth, and nothing else is.

Allow me to point out the obvious: this makes Christianity exceptional.  Therefore, America is only exceptional to the degree it practices Christianity in it’s jurisprudence, moral acceptance or rejection of certain practices, in its economics, and in its overall system of liberty. Conversely, to the degree America rejects Christian principles, it becomes not just non-exceptional, but polluted,  poisoned, corrupt and destitute of any goodness. This may be said of any state, any philosophy, and of every person individually.

The wisdom we have must be the wisdom of God — wisdom as God defines it. The knowledge that we have must be the knowledge from God — knowledge as God defines it, or else it is not truly wisdom or knowledge. We are to “cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The wisdom and knowledge we have from Scripture that we receive by the grace of God alone through regeneration of the Sprit, the propitiation of Christ, according to the calling and election of God, is superior to the wisdom and knowledge of the rest of the world which Scripture describes as “foolish.”

So there is no cause to accept in any form the dribbling irrationality of the wicked. Rather we should hate it: “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalms 119:104).  We have the best knowledge, the best wisdom, the only truth; a nation built on these will be exceptional. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” Let‘s act like this is true. May we as Christians proclaim with confidence God’s truth to a people who view it as foolishness.

-Ben Murch

[1] Robert Schlesinger wrote an editorial for U.S.News with the catchy title “Obama Has Mentioned ‘American Exceptionalism’ More Than Bush” in which he makes this case.

[2] Full transcript here.