Edward R. Schaffer
American society was originally founded on a Messianic myth. America is the first post-Reformation society that recreates the Garden of Eden story. The early Puritan settlers came to the new world in order to construct the Kingdom of God on Earth. The New Zion of the American wilderness had to be constructed out of the self-help of extraordinary individuals who had unbounded faith in a personal God who, in turn, had a "calling" for them.1 The Puritans had a special covenant with their God.
In the early years, this sense of a common calling was strengthened by the widely held conviction that the reformation being carried out in the American commonwealth was actually a decisive phase in the final chapter of God's plan for his Church in this world.2
The messianic spirit of Puritan Calvinist Christianity would largely exhaust itself within a century of the founding of Plymouth colony, but its theme of special purpose remains an important part of American religious identity. The idea that America has a special mission and is guarded by God's special providence continues to be a central theme in what Robert Bellah calls American "civil religion." Bellah argues that the providential religious place that American colonies held in world history was the basis of the earliest sense of a national community in America, and preceded the Revolution by a generation of two. He sees the results of