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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. random

    i'm guessing the non-religious people are better informed and don't live in a bubble.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:06 am |
  2. Kat

    How do those of you who are anti-religion and somewhat anti-country get up in the morning, Religion is bad, or is it just Christian's? This country is horrible.....what a bunch of sad people.

    October 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Max Powers

      why does it have to go straight to "horrible"? I think this country is average, among developed countries. I'm not patriotic, but I don't "hate America". God isn't bad either. I think something has to exist to be bad. What this poll really shows is that people who follow religion blindly and loyally, also follow other talismans such as the flag blindly and loyally. It's a pathology, but I don't think anything will change it.

      October 5, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • sddreamer

      Religion isn't bad - but pedophile priests are a church that protects pedophile priests is bad. America horrible, but it has done horrible things in the world - just ask the widows and orphans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact is that to blindly agree with everything is foolish at best and a tragedy for the country. Question everything and be skeptical of the answers - if you can actually get any answers from the churches or the government.

      October 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • luke

      no religion is pretty bad, killed millions of people for no other reason than they are different, nothing wrong with believing in god and living the best life the can but the second you start cramming it down other peoples throats that's when you cross a line. I am loosely religious but very patriotic.

      October 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • youknow

      Kat has obviously never traveled outside of the US.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  3. chaz

    could it be that people who are more susceptible to group think are more likely to be;
    a. extremely religious
    b. blindly patriotic, regardless of the actions of their country and the schmo-hawks running it?

    October 5, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  4. David

    Whey are evangelicals the most war loving group in the USA? The hypocracy and arrogance is enormous. But then if you think that confessing/accepting Jesus' as your savior one time is all you need to do to be saved, mass murderer before and after or not, I guess it is not so surprising after all. Some evangelical preachers/leaders were saying "you are not for Jesus if you are not for the war in Iraq" during the the lies and distortion ramp up to that big mistake. Go back and read your bible teachings from Jesus.

    38Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

    43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • David

      Evangelical display:
      1: Arrogance: We are the chosen. We are in the last days to bring back Jesus. (The arrogant have said this since just after Jesus' death).
      2: Arrogance: America/Americans are exceptional.
      3: Hypocrisy: I am a Christian, meaning I follow the teachings of Christ.

      Translation:
      1: I want my "rapture" now! I said the words that I accept Jesus as my savior, so now I will be "caught up." I want war in the middle east because the sooner Armageddon comes, the sooner I get my rapture! So let's go make war over there, since we think Armageddon happens in modern day Northern Israel. Oh, Jesus is totally against war? – don't bother me with details. I just want my rapture.
      2: America can make war all over the planet. We are chosen and always right (even when there aren't any WMDs). God is on our side, so we will always win. Oh, 10 years later we still aren't winning in Afghanistan – well the ways of God are mysterious. But he still wants us over there bombing those inferior goat herders.
      3: David said it well in the email I am replying to. Somehow evangelicals have so distorted Jesus' teachings that they think "accepting Jesus as their savior" one time means they are done and rapture/heaven guaranteed. Never mind the other thousands of teachings and admonitons of Jesus. Kill, kill, kill, accept Jesus, kill, kill, kill, then get caught up and go to heaven. Convenient, isn't it? At least the old Catholics had to pay indulgences. The evangelicals only need to pay lip service. It is all saved by grace, meaning your are not accountable for any of your actions once you do your "accept Jesus" thing. No wonder they are so quick to war (evil).

      October 5, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  5. Samsword

    I don't believe that our country is profoundly better than any other, but I do think we have it pretty good here. (Having spent considerable time in South East Asia, I should say there are privileges we enjoy, that citizens of other countries do not. But they likewise have qualities I wish we had more of.) I am very grateful for men and women who have served in fireman, police, and military positions, that have given much for our comfort and protection. I also recognize that "our country" has done some terrible things too. (Our treatment of the Native Americans for example. Black Slavery. Vietnam massacres, etc.)

    I think our country is defined by the priority of our ideals, which also defines our culture. Here in America, the ideal we put at the top is Freedom. This sometimes comes at the expense of some other ideals such as Unity. Whereas the Chinese would put Unity at the top, sometimes at the expense of Freedom. Which is why sometimes there is a clash of cultures. Occasionally to the Chinese we appear as wild, unlawful, and unruly; likewise we occasionally see the Chinese as tyrannical and oppressive. I personally believe that a balance between the two is probably most correct.

    I do believe in a just and good God, but I don't think He sides with any one country or people (or probably even religion, but that's a discussion for a different time.) I think He helps people who are trying to perpetuate general goodness.. in whatever country or capacity they are in.

    October 5, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • fred

      I take it Jesus was flat out wrong then and the Bible needs to find its way to the trash bin? I am the way the truth and the light, no one comes to the Father but through me. Only those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. My sheep hear my voice and I call them by name.

      October 5, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • tallulah13

      Nice post, Sam. I don't agree about the god thing, but the rest of it was nicely said.

      October 5, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • Your god is a fossil

      You are correct Fred, Jesus (if he ever actually existed) WAS wrong and the bible SHOULD find it's way to the nearest trash bin.

      October 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • remember

      In reply to Fred: Do you know that Jesus said that? were you there? did you speak with anyone that was there? Lets' be honest, everything in the Bible was hand chosen by the catholic church. That was hundreds of years after Jesus died, long after the people who knew Jesus had died, long after the people who had originally written the things told to them about the life of Jesus had died. That's a nice little saying, but lets be honest, after 2000 years can we really believe anything verbatim?

      If that weren't enough, have you looked at all the other teachings in the new testimate? most of them seem to indicate that it doesn't really matter if you believe, everyone is going to heaven because he takes all sins away. Not just the ones who believe in him...

      Still 2000 years, written by people who didn't know him, and edited hundreds of years later to fit the goals of the greedy church? You should definitely believe verbatim.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  6. lastofall

    The one has nothing to do with the other. Patriotism is of this world, but our Lord´s kingdom is not of this world. They that are of the world speak of the world, and the world hears them; but they that are of God hears God´s Words. We which do believe have set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth. And by the way, God is no respecter of person´s.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  7. John

    Religious people tend to think in terms of black and white, while people who actually use their brains see that there are shades of gray. Repeating the mantra "America's the best!" is definitely something a non-thinking person would say without realizing that it's a nonsense statement. The thinking person would understand that America is best at some things, and not as good at others.

    October 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Amused

      It is refreshing to read intelligent and logical comments about such a basic concept! I agree!

      October 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Larry L

      Excellent comment! Religion can be too much like nationalism and cause people to blindly accept a behavior without question. Some people expect their faith to be based in logic and their government to support their values.

      October 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • fred

      What? So you think there is no right or wrong? Just shades of right / wrong, good/evil. Just a little bit pregnent are we?
      How about the concept of God. Is there or is there not a God. You cannot say there is a God sometimes. Oh its not God it is 30% god you know the grey zone god..................

      October 5, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  8. John

    Correlation does not equal causation.

    October 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  9. dugee

    If I see someone wrapped in a flag and waving a bible, I cross to the other side of the street and try not to make eye contact.The evangelicals in this article are almost as freaky. They don't understand what they believe, they just believe.

    October 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  10. 1CalNative

    I think that more often the non-religious have spent time thinking about theirselves, our country and our place in the world, whereas religious folk, especially evengelicals blindly follow their faith and what it says of America. If we are honest with oursleve, America is not always the best place or doing the best work in the world (Iraq, Guantanamo etc...), so we can say that America is not the best at all times.

    I see the "best in the World" classification as a bit pretentious, but admit that America is the place I love, have the great hopes for and will work the hardest to keep it the best place in the world, even if it sometimes falls below expectation.

    October 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  11. Haley W

    I must be fairly backwards as a Christian, based off of some of the definitions of Christian on here. I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, however, I'm so far from perfect. 🙂 I have a ton of gay friends and support our gay soldiers. I admittedly sin daily. I don't flaunt my religion or make other people believe in it or attempt to convert. I'm not some gospel spreader. I do my thing...You do yours! 🙂

    October 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  12. Haley Hmm

    I don't think religion and patriotism are tied together. I know a lot of non-religious individuals who are absolutely proud of our country and a lot of religious people who are too. 🙂 It's probably not the best country in the world, obviously not the most tolerant, I mean look at these comments...but most of us are proud of our country. Religious or not.

    October 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  13. Paul Willson

    Patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel. Add to religion sickening . Remember seperation of church & state ? REMOVE national colours from ALL churches sanctuaries.

    October 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  14. Isolate

    I don't see why this would come as a surprise. Conservatives as a rule have bought into the entire package: religion, flag worship, a negative view of science and higher education, strict conformity to imagined social norms from America's Golden Age, whenever that was, guns for everybody, no foreigners needed or wanted, second-class citizen status for women and all other countries, and an intolerance for new ideas or change.

    They are the most strident supporters of people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum, who have learned to pitch their appeals to this sub-class. It's another reason I think it's time to divide the country in two: a progressive, forward-looking socially liberal North, and an ultra-Conservative South. It would make elections in the North far saner than they are today, and the South will never be exposed to anything that threatens its brittle Weltanschauung.

    October 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Kaitlin

      I love this comment

      October 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Lacie

      While I can agree with some things that you have said, I do take some offense to you lumping all Southerners in together. I am Southern and live in a place where people are friendly to each other. Neighbors are truly neighbors and help each other out. I am NOT ultra-conservative. I am not really conservative at all. I don't believe in religion. I think it does nothing for man. I know some people would disagree. I have an extreme dislike for people like Sarah Palin (as well as Mrs. Palin herself) and the thought of her in a true position of power scares me a great deal. However, splitting the nation in two didn't work before, and it won't work now. I do agree that a lot of ultra-conservatives live in the South, but I could also say a lot of ultra-liberals live in the North. I think we can agree that being "ultra" anything isn't good, but moderation and compromise are principles that we have seem to have lost as Americans.

      October 5, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  15. JeremyJK

    America is a great country with our share of problems and stupidity. But it is still a great place to live comparatively. God has indeed blessed this country in many ways and it is true that most of our Fathers were Christians and lived lives driven by that Faith. However, we are not God's chosen people and kingdom. We are on equal terms as all nations and our response to God determines our destiny (Jeremiah 18). But as Christians we need to understand that our allegiance is to God's kingdom first and foremost and to her King.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Isolate

      Why do I have a feeling you've never lived overseas for any significant length of time, learned a different language, or lived in a country with a different predominant religion than Christianity or no religion at all? It's a life-changing experience, and I recommend it to everyone.A person who has worked to fit comfortably into a different culture will never support intolerance in this one.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • JeremyJK

      Isolate,

      Why do I get the feeling that you don't know me and that you don't actually understand what I am saying or believe. No I haven't lived in another country ever. But Im okay with that because most people have not. I am sure it is a life changing experience that strongly impacts your world view. Given what you said, I think we have more in common than you realize. My worldview has drastically changed over the last several years for various reasons. I used to be a evangelical conservatist brain washed by Limbaugh and Beck. Now I am of Christ. I believe strongly in tolerance.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  16. Bob Townsend

    I disagree, There are supernatural influence in the world,. Good and evil. The USA was founded on the morals and principals taught in the Bible, and in an attempt to reject condemnation of their preferred life style, the masses have denounced God. The source of morals and concern for others, is no longer taught in our schools and every reference to Christianity is suppressed. I don't see Judaism, Hinduism, Muslim, or any other religion, being put down. The US needs God but God can accomplish his will without the US. This country is going down! By the way, what is the "common era" (BCE) ?

    October 4, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Haley Nicole

      Actually the people who founded our country were mostly "deists". They believed that by reason and observation they could become closer to God. They were not part of organized religion. 🙂 However, I get where you're coming from but this article is more about whether God and patriotism are connected.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Isolate

      The terms "BCE" and "CE" are used in international publications and scholarly papers which circulate in non-Christian-majority countries. That way everybody is using the same time scale. If Muslim countries wanted to press the issue, this year would be expressed as 1432 AH, (in the year of the Hijra) as the Islamic calendar begins in the year we would call 622 AD/CE, the year Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. The use of CE is a courtesy, nothing more.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Clay

      @Haley Nicole
      Actually, the people who founded our country were mixed. Just like the country. Do you seriously believe that the colonies, a mix of many religions, would sit by and allow one group to shape the nation? There were Babtists, Catholics, Deists... you get the point. I think the only religions that probably weren't represented there were the Asian ones and Atheism.
      Yes, America is not a Christian nation. It's not a Deist nation either. No one group has ever, or will ever, rule with impunity.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Ozymandias71

      "The USA was founded on the morals and principals taught in the Bible..." The United States, as a society, has spent the last 150 years slowly (and painfully) moving away from those 'morals and principals' such as slavery, suppression of women, oppression of ethnic and religious minorities – the list goes on and on of these 'morals and principals' that were once considered bedrock principles but are now denounced as discriminatory at best, bigoted at worst.

      The Founding Fathers were, in many ways, geniuses of their times, and they set an American ideal (all are created equal, and that all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) – unfortunately, it has taken 200+ years to make that ideal a reality.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Clay

      @Ozymandias71
      None of those were biblical, they were people twisting the bible to their own sick beliefs. Blaming Christianity for every extremist movement is like blaming Atheists for everyone who uses their beliefs to say "There is no God, therefore I'm not accountable for my actions."
      Slavery was around before 'christians' started justifying it. They took biblical passages referring to the duties of paid laborers to their bosses and conveniently overlooked the duties of the bosses.
      Suppression of women. The biblical stance on women was that husbands and wives were to submit themselves unto another. AKA: they're supposed to put each other first. The closest thing to this 'suppression' you refer to is that they couldn't be preachers.
      Oppression of ethnic and religious minorities. The Hebrews were ethnic and religious minorities in Egypt. And what happened to Egypt? The Ten Plagues. God doesn't not support racism.
      Don't refer to every extremist group as the whole religion, it's wrong and unfair.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Haley Nicole

      @Clay, I would like to point out "most" in my paragraph. Since this would be coming from a history textbook it covers the belief they found most prominant.

      October 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  17. JackieG

    Patriotism (my country is better than your country) and religion (my belief system is better than your belief system) are the causes of war, persecution and suffering. The Smithfield fires, the Inquisition, Pogroms, the massacre of the Huguenots and more are all the product of religion. Every war ever fought was started because someone thought their country was superior to all others and that gave them the right to rule the world. The world will be a happier place when patriotism and religion are put in their proper place.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  18. rh

    Pathetic. And you wonder why non-Christians are p'o'd about people like you absconding with patriotism in the name of *your* god.

    I am an atheist who proudly puts out their flag on patriotic holidays. My children say the Pledge of Allegiance minus the phrase added by President Eisenhower, which was never in the original pledge.

    It is a sad fact that too many Americans feel that they cannot be patriotic without insisting the US is Christian. It is not, and our Founding Fathers, including many Deists who shunned organized churches, were smart enough to figure that out.

    I'm not sure what scares certain Christians more, that the person next to you might be gay, or the person next to you might be atheist.

    October 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  19. Hoovervilles

    @all

    To repeat from an earlier post,

    Having a discussion with this most masterful religio-babller (Richard S Kaiser) is futile.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  20. Slumberjack

    There's certainly no supernatural force for evil at work in the world, just as there are no supernatural forces for good...but if that sort of evil did exist, the name for such a beast would be America.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Isolate

      Not "Dick Cheney"?

      October 4, 2011 at 11:59 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.