In 2008, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly released a survey on how Americans view their country’s relationship to God: “Sixty-one percent agree that America is a nation specially blessed by God,” it revealed, “and 59 percent believe the United States should be a model Christian nation to the world.”

These are the kind of results that inspire many Americans—and make others shudder with fear.

Ever since Europeans came to America, the idea of the United States as a land of special blessings has animated America’s soul. John Winthrop, the Puritan governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, famously drew upon the Bible to describe the early New England settlers: “We shall be as a City upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.”

Subsequent generations have voiced similar themes to propel America’s narrative: their country was thought to have a “manifest destiny;” to represent “an empire of liberty;” to offer the “last best hope on earth;” and above all, to embody “American exceptionalism.”

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