Progressive Revival

Progressive Revival


America, the Exceptional

posted by Paul Raushenbush

Recently I wrote that God, faith and religion were almost entirely absent from the McCain/Obama debate. Thursday’s match-up between Palin and Biden was similar.  This is surprising from two candidates who have talked a lot about their faith on the campaign trail and whose religious commitments have been the subject of a much speculation.  It was also oddly reassuring, and supports the perspective of David Gibson who calls Palin a “Religionless Christian” 

He writes:

Who’s afraid of Sarah Palin? And her faith? I’m one of those who thinks all the hand-wringing about her supposedly ideological right-wing faith is way overblown. Could she be a right-wing religious ideologue if in office? Perhaps she’d follow the script if that’s what she was told to do. But what really emerges from a review of her statements about faith and policy is that there really isn’t much connection…I’m not sure how Palin’s “values” connect with public policy, if it all.

This was strikingly true in her approach to homosexuality and gay marriage.  In the end, Palin and Biden agreed that civil unions were ok and gay marriage was not.  This may not be as progressive as many of us would like, but certainly better than what her home church preaches – that you can “pray your gay away.”

All of this makes those of us looking for a sane religious perspective by our politicians breath a little easier.  The most authentically religious reference of the evening was in Governer Palin’s closing statement:

“But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights.”          

Andrew Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism wrote a superb article on The Huffington Post regarding Palin’s reference of America as the Shinning City on a Hill, including the reminder that it has much deeper roots than the late President Reagan. He writes:

In a debate filled with eminently forgettable blather, here we have a statement of genuine importance — a text that demands analysis. Where to begin? Perhaps by noting the origins of this world view to which Governor Palin refers. The conception of America as the “city upon a hill” was not the handiwork of Ronald Reagan, or indeed of any other paladin of the Republican Party. Rather, John Winthrop, founding governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, first voiced the conviction that God had summoned the people of the New World – or at least those settling in New England – to serve as a model for all humankind.

Speaking in Boston Harbor to a small assembly of Puritans preparing to disembark from the ship Arabella in 1630, Winthrop announced that “The eyes of all people are upon us.” Should the members of his community fail in their anointed mission, a dire fate awaited them: “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

I strongly encourage all to read his entire post.  Bacevich raises the important question of whether America is a special place in God’s eyes and what implications that holds for our foreign policy. His article evoked a personal memory associated with interviewing the late pastor and prophet William Sloan Coffin in 2004.  This was during the beginning year of the Iraq war and the slogan ’God Bless America’ was on bumperstickers everywhere.  Driving up to Coffin’s humble home in Vermont I noticed his bumber sticker.  It read: God Bless the World, No Exceptions.   



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