You have felt, doubtless, at least those of you who have been brought up in any habit of reverence, that every time when I in this letter have used an American expression, or aught like one, there came upon you a sense of sudden wrong — the darting through you of acute cold. I mean you to feel that: for it is the essential function of America to make us all feel that. It is the new skill they have found there; — this skill of degradation; others they have, which other nations had before them, from whom they have learned all they know, and among whom they must travel, still, to see any human work worth seeing. But this is their specialty, this their one gift to their race, — to show men how not to worship, — how never to be ashamed in the presence of anything.John RuskinFors Clavigera, vol I, 1871, letter 12
I love this and I think it extends beyond the confines of religious matters. Though it did start here, it's a characteristic so admirable that it later spread to the rest of the world— the unwillingness to accept any authority but that of one's own conscience.