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Analysts have debated for decades about the relative influence of the various factors that shape American foreign policy. National interests, domestic politics, economic interests, and liberal ideology have each been nominated as the major source of the peculiarities of American conduct in foreign affairs. But although numerous scholars stress the importance of realism, idealism, capitalism, or liberalism, almost no one has thought that Protestantism-the dominant religion in the United States-is worthy of consideration. Certainly in the twentieth century it has seemed abundantly clear that one can (and should) write the history of American foreign policy with no reference to Protestantism whatsoever.
This essay will present the alternative view. It will argue that American foreign policy has been, and continues to be, shaped by the Protestant origins of the United States, but with a twist. For the Protestantism that has shaped foreign policy over two centuries has not been the original religion but a series of successive departures from it down the scale of what might be called the Protestant declension. We are now at the end point of this declension, and the Protestantism that shapes foreign policy today is a peculiar heresy of the original religion, not from the Protestant Reformation but rather what might be called the Deformation. Today, with the United States left as the sole superpower, this deformation enjoys its greatest global influence. But because it is such a peculiar religion, and indeed is correctly perceived by all the other religions as a fundamental and fatal threat, its pervasive sway is generating intense resistance and even international conflict.