Isn’t it interesting that while everyone is the world is shocked and appalled that Americans would abuse violent criminals in a prison in Iraq, no one is overly surprised that a group of five masked Islamists would kidnap and decapitate an American civilian? Although America is denigrated by the rest of the world as being arrogant because we think we are better than everyone else, clearly they think we are better than everyone else, too. Why else would they expect us to live by a higher standard?

American exceptionalism is the idea that America is a superior nation than others and, as Michael Barone points out, it has a long and distinguished history. And Michael Massing notes that the vision

goes back to Abraham Lincoln, who spoke of the United States as the “last best hope of Earth.” John F. Kennedy urged us to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship” to promote liberty. Ronald Reagan cast the U.S. as a “shining city on a hill,” illuminating the world by its example. And George W. Bush has repeatedly proclaimed his belief that the U.S. — led by Providence — has “an obligation to unleash freedom in the world,” as he put it in a recent speech.

The fact is, Americans have traditionally acted different morally than other nations and the reason is simple – we have lived, in a broad sense at least, according to Christian morality. Even though not everyone has been Christian, generations of Americans have grown up with a Christian worldview and a foundation in Judeo Christian ethics. Other nations have not.

This leads me to make two observations:

1. We were right. Since Christianity is true and the Christian worldview adheres to reality in ways the Muslim worldview, for instance, does not, our ethics were superior. We lived closer to what is actually “good” and “right” than they did. We still do, to some extent, as evidenced by today’s events. America at its worst (the prison scandals) is not as bad as Islamists at their normal (beheading innocent civilians.)
2. We are going in the wrong direction. America is losing the moral high ground. As we jettison the Christian worldview and embrace moral relativism, there is no longer a strong basis for “good” and “right.” For example, on the basis of what national standard are we condemning the guards at Abu Ghraib? After all, who are we to judge? Isn’t that our mantra? What moral absolute are we using to condemn these soldiers? “Do what you want with your own body and make your own choices?” “Whatever feels right to you is the thing to do?”

The fact is, by kicking God out of the public sphere, we have systematically removed our only solid foundation for ethics. We should not be surprised that our soldiers are looking more like the enemy, even if they haven’t got all the way there yet. You can’t celebrate what we would formerly have called depravity in our pop culture (see just about any movie or television show, for instance) and expect kids to reject it. We have cut off the limb we were standing on. As C.S. Lewis said about horses, “you can’t castrate and then bid the gelding be fruitful.”

Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries