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Patriotism and the 'God gap'
Surveys suggest a 'God gap' in views on American patriotism.
September 28th, 2011
07:19 PM ET

Patriotism and the 'God gap'

By Dave Schechter, CNN

(CNN)– “And may God bless the United States of America” is a popular closing line in speeches by presidents and presidential hopefuls.

Does a higher power, if one exists, “shed his grace on thee,” as the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” proclaim?

And if so, does this make the United States of America the greatest country in the world?

Christianity Today crunched data from a Pew Research Center poll that asked more than 1,500 Americans for their views of the United States.

“Nearly all Americans think they live in the best country on Earth. While a majority of Americans believe there are other countries just as great, nine in 10 say no nation is better. Within this high view of America, there are differences between different religious groups,” the magazine noted.

To this end, Christianity Today suggested the existence of a “patriotism God-gap in America.”

Among those surveyed, evangelicals were the most likely to think the United States is No. 1.

“Other Christian traditions were less enthusiastic about America's position in the world, but they still saw the U.S. as one of the best on the planet. About 40% of other Christians said the U.S. stands alone as the greatest country; around 55% said it and some other countries were equally great. As with evangelicals, only a few said there were greater countries in the world.”

“Those with no religion, however,” hold a much less favorable view, according to the magazine.

"Only one in five of those without religious beliefs said the U.S. is the best country in the world, an equal percentage agreeing that 'there are other countries that are better than the U.S.' ”

Not everyone is enamored with equating religious conviction and patriotism. Consider these excerpts from the comments that followed the Christianity Today article:

“To call yourself a Christian evangelical and still think that America is the greatest is ironic to say the least. God is not about country. God is about love and everyone is equal in his eyes, including the rest of the world.”

“What's really sad is the widespread perception among evangelicals that there is some kind of link between America's standing and the work and purpose and success of God's kingdom. There is not. Two words: wrong kingdom. I repeat: wrong kingdom. It matters not a whit what America's status in the world is. The kingdom of Jesus Christ does not depend on this in any way and will continue regardless.”

“When our astronauts look down at the Earth it doesn't look like a classroom globe with lines on it. All of those lines are drawn in the minds of human beings. I am grateful to be an American. But sometimes I think that some elements of conservative Christianity really see their religion as patriotism, their scripture the Constitution and God their servant to gain their personal aims. This whole Earth is the object of God's love and concern. And to claim that any one nation in today’s world is more favored than another may be promoting a Christian heresy.”

Flying the flag is among the easiest ways to display patriotism. Is it also an expression of religion?

In an article titled “Flag Desecration, Religion and Patriotism,” Temple University associate law professor Muriel Morisey suggested that for proponents of a constitutional amendment, “the American flag is the equivalent of a sacred religious icon, comparable to Christianity’s crucifix, Judaism’s Torah and the Quran of Islam. No court has designated patriotism as a religion for Establishment Clause purposes, but in every other significant respect it operates as a religion in American culture. Regardless of the religious beliefs we profess, we simultaneously practice patriotism.”

That said, a “God gap” may exist in the flying of Old Glory as well.

A Pew poll taken March 30-April 3 suggested that 78% of religious people display the flag on their clothing, in the office or at home, while 58% of nonreligious do likewise.

Evangelicals were the most likely to say they displayed the flag; those Americans unaffiliated with religion the least likely.

As to the religious identity of the nation, 62% said the United States is a “Christian nation” in a survey of 1,000 adults done a couple of years ago for Newsweek, while 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey also done in 2009.

And earlier this year, writing for the CNN Belief Blog, Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero analyzed the religious affiliations of those elected to serve in the 112th Congress and concluded: “Is this a Christian nation? No way, says the Constitution. But U.S. voters are telling us something else altogether.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Courts

soundoff (2,100 Responses)
  1. Larry

    Going way out on a limb, but my guess is that many of these evangelicals have never traveled to other countries or opened themselves up to other cultures. I doubt they have passports. They revel in their closeted, close-minded ignorance. It's safe and comfortable and child-like. The U.S. is a great country, but I don't see Canadians storming our borders. Ditto the French or Germans or Brits. No, the evangelicals like to "keep it simple" and to close down any debate. Once they loudly tell us that they are "Christians" and "Patriots," the discussion is over.......

    September 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  2. Jilly

    The hypocrisy of Christians is that they cherry pick at Torah, the front section of their bible. The 'gracious unto thee' is such an example. The destructive nature of God Creator in Torah, generally doesn't suit Christians, even though they have wages more wars than any other

    September 29, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  3. Buddhism > Christianity

    In other words, religions dumbs people down, some religions more than others

    September 29, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  4. Jerome

    Can anyone define what is meant by 'best' in best country in the world?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  5. OldSchool

    It astounds me how this country changed so drasitically. You people not only set the fire, but will burn in it. This country was founded with God. Can you all not see the course that America took once you all threw God out? You have literally set this country on a straight path to Hell. You people actually scare the living Hell out of me and am actually very ashamed to even be speaking at you. Good luck; you will need it in the end. But hey; you all have Hollywood to save and protect you, so you shoul d be ok. NOT!

    September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      See ya. Don't wanna be ya.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Good luck to you, too, in the real world. You'll certainly need it.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • HellBent

      Yup, this country has changed drastically. Women can now vote, people of all races have civil rights, we dropped the slavery thing a long time ago, despite recent economic turmoil, our economy is still considered to be the strongest in the world, we're the world biggest peacekeeper (when we're not lying to start wars...). Yup, we're going to hell in a handbasket alright.

      Is you're glass always half empty?

      (Oh, and we weren't founded as a christian nation or on christian principles. In fact, the author of the declaration of indepence was about as close to an atheist as you can get)

      September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Larry

      Well, aren't you supposed to be understanding and hopeful about we fall souls? Isn't that what Christ taught? Instead, you are judgmental. Isn't there something about "Let he who is......."

      September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • TRH

      Please repeat this phrase: Secular Republic...Secular Republic....Secular Republic

      September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Tex71

      OldSchool is a perfect example of why this kind of brainless goose-stepping is a problem for America (and the rest of the world). True religion is not the problem. The phony religion called Fundamentalism is the problem.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • hmm

      People still actually believe in a literal hell? Wow. Thought that went out with the Dark Ages.
      You know that's not even in the bible, right?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • I'm Right....Get Used to It.

      I can't wait until america is destroyed and something good is started in it's place.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • hmm

      I'm Right....well, you can always MOVE. No-one is keeping you here.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Steve in Denver

      Nobody threw God out. You are welcome to practice your religion, as are the rest of us. You don't have the right to impose your religion on us; the founding fathers made that quite clear. Congress shall make no law repecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. In other words, this is a secular nation where the founders had religious beliefs, but prohibited a state religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • RapierPoint

      Hellbent – you are incorrect – while Jefferson wasn't what one would call a Christian, he was certainly not an atheist. He had deep beliefs in a single deity and very complex views on religion, but he was not an atheist.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Mick

      God is printed on our money, crammed into our Pledge of Allegiance, and invoked in presidential speeches. America never "threw God out"; he's force fed to us every day.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • MomOf3

      Where is that road to hell...it's not on my GPS or in VZ Navigator???

      September 29, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • HellBent

      @RapierPoint

      Deep beliefs in a deity? Care to provide an example? Here are some that fly directly in the face of your as.sertion:

      -Question with boldness even the existence of a god – Letter to Peter Carr

      -To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise – letter to John Adams

      I never said Jefferson was an atheist – he himself said so. But I said he was about as close as you can get. His writings that I have seen show absolutely no "deep" belief in some sort of deity.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • HellBent

      Correction/clarification – Jefferson said he was not an atheist.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  6. Emmersome Bigguns

    If having faith gives one hope, then all the better for them.
    For a lot having faith in Hope and Change left hem lost and soulless.

    Ohhhhh snap!

    September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • hmm

      Ooo hoooo. So clever!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  7. Jilly

    Does a higher power, if one exists, “shed his grace on thee,” as the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” proclaim?

    Messed up! This is from Torah...

    The LORD Bless thee, and keep thee;
    The LORD’s Face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;
    The LORD’s Countenance lift up upon thee, and give thee peace.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      What is messed up? What the heck are you talking about?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Jilly

      Read sonny read. "as the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” proclaim?" – Its not from a song, Its a Priestly blessing, a commandment from Torah – idiot

      September 29, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Jilly

      Numbers 6:22 And the LORD spoke unto Moses saying: 6:23 'Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons saying: On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel; ye shall say unto them: 6:24 The LORD bless thee and keep thee; 6:25 The LORD make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; 6:26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • hmm

      Jilly....it's also in the SONG. They weren't quoting the Torah. They were quoting America the Beautiful! Why call people idiots?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Jilly

      Ok ok got me. Retards

      September 29, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Yeah, there's a ton of crossover of a LOT of music, lyrics, scripture, in all kinds of various songs for thousands of years. Why are you making a big deal over it. Retarded idiot.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Jilly=nitwit.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Haley Nicole

      So uhhh, there's this thing...uhhhh..... if you call someone an idiot, uhhh.... Yeah, you kind of start to look like one. Also, using the term "retard" is openly offensive. Here's one for you; You are a MORON. <- See what I did there? I'm not being offensive or bashing on your intelligence completely. Just what you said up there. You called a complete stranger an idiot. How primative.

      October 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  8. JBG

    It really warms my heart to see so many people lately openly professing their lack of a faith and acknowledging the evil it has caused in the world. It makes me thing that one day maybe the believers will be in the minority and we can start fighting about stuff that really matters like how best to help the poor and the sick or how to provide food and clean drinking water to people who would otherwise have no access to such things. It amazes me that good Christian people think they are good only because they are Christian. You can be good without god.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Pokydoke

      No you can't, only self righteous evangelical Christians can be good. Just ask them, actually you don't even have to ask they will tell you.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  9. TRH

    Ethics and morality belong in politics and government. "God" does not. We were intended to be a secular republic by the founding fathers...I can't stress that enough. They may have prayed or been deists, but they were smart enough to know that worship or lack thereof should be a personal choice and has no place in public policy. They knew this by using the mother country as an example of what NOT to do. The catholic church practically controlled England and most of Europe for hundreds of years until Henry VIII and Martin Luther helped propel the Reformation. And all that did was exchange one form of religious intolerance for another. It's all nonsense. Then the Puritans brought their own brand of lunacy to North America, vestiges of which are still in our society today.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Iluvatar

      I agree that there was a lot of hypocrisy in the Roman Catholic Church, but that doesn't mean Christianity should be thrown out all together. Anyway, you say 'ethics' and 'morality' like they are absolute. If there is no god to determine an absolute moral standard, then basically, we can make up our 'rights' and 'wrongs.' What about Hitler? If there was no God, why was what he did wrong? Stalin? Osama Bin Laden? I hope you don't take what I'm saying as an angry defense, just saying. So if there are going to be 'ethics' in politics, who will determine them? The strongest, like Hitler? Or will we completely ignore morality and turn into a bunch of barbarians. Your thinking is like that of F. Nietzsche and all those other loons... this is what will happen if you toss God out the window.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  10. blazinbrazen

    Regardless of what you Christians or Atheists believe, America never was and still is NOT a Christian country...just looking at our laws can signify that. So don't go getting yourselves bunched in a knot, exhale and continue about your day...thank you!

    September 29, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  11. Tim59

    In 1991George Bush Sr. was running for reelection. He was asked at a campaign stop whether he believed that atheists were true patriots, true Americans? His response was that they are Not true patriots or true Americans. He was then asked if he'd like to rephrase that answer. Again he said, atheists are not true patriots or true Americans.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • pat

      At least he knew what he believed and stuck to his position. Wish more politicians did that.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • hmm

      Pat...so it's ok to stick to what you believe, even though what you believe is stupid?
      Sorry, that's not really a logical argument.
      Do you also hail Hate Groups for sticking to their racism?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Brad

      Politicians sticking to their irrational positions despite all evidence that their positions are idiotic and destructive is one of the biggest problems this country has right now. It's not an admirable quality at all.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  12. pat

    What this study really reveals is that people who have no religion or beliefs have no moral code as well.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • TRH

      That is complete nonsense. You surely cannot believe what you just wrote.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Dave

      I'd rather be an atheist and have "no moral code" like you claim I do (I guess you've never heard of secular humanism) than be Christian and have an arbitrary moral code that makes me think it's okay to boo our soldiers that are gay.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Tim59

      No, I think what this study shows is that Christians have not only been programmed in their thinking when it comes to religion but also in other aspects.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Baloney. It does nothing of the sort and your claim is ridiculous. Morality is not dependent on the concept of a supreme being who will mete out punishment or rewards.

      Some people know how to be good and do good without your religious mumbo-jumbo.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • hmm

      Wow. You are on a roll with the comments today. Not exactly sure how you gleaned that little nugget from the article...I see nothing of the sort!

      September 29, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      No it doesn't. Can you please point to where this is revealed?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • The Guy

      i guess i missed the part of this article where it says atheists have total disregard for laws and regulations.

      you're baseless accusation is spot on though. i mean, it's not like our government leaders caught in act of adultly have considered themselves christian or that priests have been raping children for decades. they have far too moral standards, don't they?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • HellBent

      Is the only think stopping you from cheating, murdering, stealing, etc. your 2,000+ year old text from which you cherry pick the commandments that you want to follow?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Brad

      Nonsense. Though your reply does show you seem to lack the mental capacity to comprehend the meaning behind a rather simple article.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • betsaroo

      What your comment reveals is that you're an idiot.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Doug

      1. no religion != no morality
      2. Seen any talking snakes lately? How about people rising from the dead?
      2. So the atheists buried at Arlington just joined the military for great pay, medical care, and travel opportunities?
      3. The really sad thing is that is if someone walked up to you claiming to have seen a talking snake or reanimated corpse, you wouldn't think twice about dismissing it. However, let that same claim come from inside a church building, you accept it outright without any sort of critical thought applied to it whatsoever. This is what scares me about when a George W. Bush or Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann fails upward to a position of power. Religion simply allows people to embrace lunacy far too easily.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  13. Andrew

    Lets not confuse nationalism with patriotism, I see very little patriotism lots of nationalism.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Tex71

      Thank you for making that seldom-seen but vital distinction. Allow me to add: Patriotism is living so as to honor one's nation – not your favorite social or ethnic part of it, mind you, but the NATION as a whole. Nationalism is the more common perversion of the patriotic spirit – the idea that our country is #1 (by right, by divine plan, or by any other nonsensical reason) and could never be otherwise. Patriotism makes a nation better; nationalism makes it feel better about itself as its people lose their spirit and their greatness.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  14. Aezell

    How would it surprise you that the same people who are dumb enough to think there are imaginary invisible people living in the sky from bronze age fairy tales, are also dumb enough to think that those imaginary friends are rooting for their country?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  15. Mike Urciolo

    Lewis Black once said that "Americans are the only people in the world who say their country is the greatest." Now – I've lived in three countries outside the U.S. (and not as a military person). Panama, Germany and Italy – and while I can say that America is better than those three, I wonder if it's merely because I'm used to living in America?

    A home town, to me, is nothing more than a starting point in a conversation – I think a home country is the same thing.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • I'm Right....Get Used to It.

      Yes....it is.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Doug

      "Better the pride that resides
      in a citizen of the world
      than the pride that divides
      when a colorful rag is unfurled."
      – Neil Peart, Rush

      September 29, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  16. sean

    That's because people with no religious leanings have a more realistic view of the world.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  17. I'm Right....Get Used to It.

    Two things. First, america is not the greatest country on Earth. It is a cesspool of greed and filth and the citizens are fat, dumb and lazy. Second, religion is a tool for manipulation and control...and it has worked like a charm for millenia.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • hmm

      I think I love you.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • 12345

      I used to hold this same feeling about America, however I have seen hope that we have our own rebellion brewing which consists of individuals (in this country) who care about the earth as a whole and are doing something to further peace. So I'm trying to not be so cynical. No, America is not the greatest country. Humans in general can be very stupid and selfish, but I do believe there can be good found in most people and we need to draw that out in some way and stop generalizing the whole population. The first step in creating peace is to stop criticizing/judging others so much and look for the good. I really believe that if we concentrate on positive things we'll start to move in that direction.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • MomOf3

      Actually, two millennia, but who's counting! 😉

      September 29, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  18. u r a nutjob

    So maybe if our elected representatives would stop acting like monkeys, throwing excrement back and forth and do something........................................

    September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      What does that have to do with anything in this article?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • SciGuy

      Isn't "throwing excrement back and forth" doo-ing something?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  19. coder

    religion and money are the two worst things created by man – people proclaiming to know the will of a god, whatever god that may be at the time – have used that notion to control other humans for their own purposes... Having faith in yourself is one thing, believing that adam and eve were the first two humans on earth 4000 years ago – is flat out ignorant and dangerous. The pedophiles the church creates, tracks and hides are a disgusting example of the self importance they believe they possess. Israel claims to be gods chosen people – yet no god has come to claim them. Muslims blow each other up over wither or not a prophet could read or not – their argument isnt about god, its about their self proclaimed prophet, and that's why they murder one another. King's change religious text to suit their own coffers.
    Kings, Gods, Money – all products of greed
    Greed which is the thru sickness of humans

    September 29, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • John Richardson

      Money is morally neutral. In any case, there haves and have nots back in the days of barter. Money didn't create issues that weren't already there. At worst, it's easy portability has magnified some. But it has also facilitated the growth of trade and the general well being.

      Religion is morally ambiguous.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Money is not the product of greed. It's required to trade products or services. Greed existed on it's own just fine without money.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • MomOf3

      Money is not required to trade goods and services. The barter system predates most forms of currency and is a perfectly useful 'tool' for getting the goods and services you need.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  20. John in AZ

    The United States may be the greatest country in our History...but that has ZERO to do with God, Christianity or any other voodoo.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:25 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.