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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. Salvadore

    As an immigrant from Mexico I agree that the US IS THE GREATEST country in the world!!! that's why I come here!!!
    It will even be better when more people can talk Spanish and more Mexican immigrants come over.
    Viva los estados unidos.
    Viva La Mexico.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  2. James

    I think America is one of the greatest nation in the world.. Alas.. I can't say the same about my neighborhood or even my city! I can honestly say there are many other cities in the world where I've been that I would prefer to my American city. A lot of crime, people are not very friendly, racism is rampant by both blacks and whites equally... and infrastucture is borderline third world!
    Since a country consist of cities and neighborhoods I guess my logic is illogical huh? Also I don't live in 'America' but rather my street/ my town etc... I don't care about a murder in A'merica' BUT I care about a murder down the street!! !this article's question in a way is far too loose.
    I guess I just need to move from this h3llhole American city.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  3. Brandy

    The United States thus far has been blessed because of it's open regard for the precepts of God and it's support of Israel. Isn't it funny how a president who isn't God oriented, allows everything God is against, and plays roulette with our relationship with Israel and most certainly has caused a problem with our country. God's existence and reverance has everything to do with how our country functions. We have been blessed and super spoiled. You take God out of the equation as the Obama administration has, and you reap the consequences. No jobs, No money, collapsed government. All things that are in the bible if you take the time to read it.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      Brandy lives in her own little world, but it's okay, really... everybody there knows her!!

      October 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  4. Kevin

    I am an American would agree that there are countries just as great as the United States, although no country is better, in that no country is without problems. But, compared to North Korea or Iran or Libya, or Somalia, etc, I am very grateful to be an American.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  5. F VanDevender

    The one percenters want to turn all labor in the world into good little worker/cosumer units, all making low wages and all spending about the same and staying super rich and in control. Damm sounds like corprate communism to me

    October 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Howard

    The very religious are the ones who think this country is the greatest. Yet religion is what inherently holds us back from important freedoms.
    So it seems ironic to me.

    October 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Shawn-Z

    Well, yeah. People who blindly believe what they are told re: religion and nationalism are easily brainwashed and manipulated, but ultimately they are anti-American because they refuse to believe America can be better. They hold the entire nation back while waving their tiny flags and oppressing people in a free country. The United States is a secular, democratic Republic, not the backwards, oppressive theocracy so many "patriots" want. Real patriots support actual American values: freedom, justice and EQUALITY.

    October 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • urownexperience

      Wait a gosh darn minute! Are ya'll threatenen my guns and Bibles, Buddy?

      October 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  8. Matt

    This article and the conclusions drawn are completely flawed. Thinking that the USA is the best country in the world is not equivalent to being patriotic, and thinking there are countries out there that are better than the USA is not being unpatriotic. Patriotism is wanting what is best for our country and trying to change things for the better.

    October 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  9. Sarah Caldwell

    The letter from Christianity Today expresses my feelings, but I'd go further. Christianity was, for its first 300 years a pacifist religion. There is nothing in the New Testament that describes how Christians are to organize or govern a country. Contrast this to the New Testament, which has rules for kings and judges, and the Koran, which also assumes that Moslems will be in charge in some of the places where they live. To have a country of any sort, people have to be willing both to die and to kill to preserve sovereignty within its borders. Christians are called to die only for our faith and in serving others. Scripture never calls us to kill. Those who will not pledge to follow the orders of an earthly superior, in preference to God's, must have been called traitors before.

    October 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  10. Mary Lukins

    Higher education does not cut it here .. practical and logic make sense.. the well educated sometime loose site of what is iimportant.

    October 7, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  11. Guern

    Also 62% of Americans are stupid enough to completely ignore history and claim we live in a "Christian Nation"? If these people are so patriotic you'd think they'd get American history correct. Morons. If you have to take an exam to become a citizen of this country, I want one in order to vote. This blatant stupidity is obscene.

    October 7, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Howard

      I think when these people make this claim, they know it isn't true, but they're preaching to those who won't bother to check the facts.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  12. Guern

    Religion has been used since the dawn of time to manipulate the masses. Religion has become so intertwined in our political system (in god we trust on our currency. gay marriage. abortion laws)...they are using issues of morality against you to get you to vote how they want and become passive sheeple. Wake up. It's a good thing people are less religious and less patriotic. To be successful you have to be your own worst critic, not constantly patting your country on the back and telling yourself you're the greatest.

    October 7, 2011 at 4:46 am |
  13. Seriously

    America is still a great country. Many of you on this post have the freedom to express yourself, go to Iran and do that. Then see what happens. There are many countries where the living conditions, the road conditions, the health conditions, the government conditions are far worse than the US. I wish all of you that criticize the USA would just go live somewhere else. No one is begging you to stay. But oh yeah when you go to another country and you are taken over by terrorists and dictators who treat you like crap, well then you will be so grateful when the US comes in and saves your butt.
    We may not always do things right but the US has more human rights than any other country, hell we go to the extreme. If you are gay try living in the mideast, seriously, they will just kill you!

    October 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Jimtanker

      Very true. I’m an American living in Kuwait and this country is horrid. Only 40% of the population of this country is native Kuwaitis and the rest are from 3rd world countries, or worse. While the Kuwaitis have huge amounts of money, they pay the people here who do all of the work barely enough to live off of and only 2 days off a month (for the most part). On top of that, any part of the country where it is not primarily Kuwaitis is a literal shathole. If these people were to wake up and strike for a week then this country would be crippled.

      October 7, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  14. Kei Yuuki

    Republicants and Tea Bagging pukes, use God God God, well, in Reality, they go against The Christian ways they harp on daily. If they Nominated Jesus for their party, they would kick him out within 24 hours.. They would call him a Liberal Socialist by healing the sick for free, feeding the hungry, for free and abhorring the super wealthy. Politicians use God and Jesus to gain Christian Votes, not because they are Christian, because REAL Christians know, Jesus would not support them.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Steve

      Wow, you sure know a lot about the future. Do you have a magical crystal ball that provides you with such accurate scenarios of "what-if". Or are you just trapped within the limits of your own distorted imagination.

      October 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Howard

      Steve, you may be the only one who read that and thought it had something to do with the future.
      However, what I took away from this is what would happen based on the past.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  15. Kei Yuuki

    Traveling the World, and living around the world is to different things. A Vacation is not living 3-4 months immersed in the culture. If you still believe the USA is #1, you are truely blind to what real freedom is. I have lived, a minimum of 30 days each in over 18 countries... the USA is NOT #1.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Lindsey

      Sorry Kei: USA is #1!!!!!!!!

      October 6, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Dan

      5% of the world population and 25% of the world's prision population?! We sure are #1 at something!

      October 7, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Howard

      Lindsey, we can be # 1. But to say we are now is just plain arrogance. if people would use their hands to help instead of to thump their bible, we may someday realize what other countries have already realized.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Kirk

      I know that the US is not perfect. We all know that. Sure other countries may have certain things better. There are problems, but I still feel that the US overall is the greatest country. And guess what, I lived three years in Italy, three years in Turkey and two years in Germany. There are so many little freedoms that we take for granted. Example: denying the holocaust is a crime in certain countries. While this is certainly a silly thing to do, it is your freedom to do so in the US. I will say that I feel certain laws encroach on my freedoms. For instance, I should be free to purchase an alcoholic drink 24 hours a day, seven days a week; however, there are place in the US where it is illegal to sell alcohol on Sunday. So yes, there are certain things about which I feel freer in other countries but those are minor compared to the freedoms here.

      As for patriotism, I've always thought it an odd thing. It's just a country; a place to live. The values and freedoms should be appreciated and fought for, but the country should not be worshiped. That’s basically what patriotism is, worship of country. I understand being proud of where you are from but patriotism goes way beyond that. Patriotism IS a type of fervor similar to religion. This article is interesting because I never considered the connection before. I think Michael in Citrus Heights is correct to a certain extent; however, there obviously exists brilliant people with excellent critical thinking skills who still have religion beliefs. For those people, religion goes beyond the rational. It is faith.

      For me the article holds true. I chose not to worship a god and I chose not to worship a country. Note: I have fought for my country and retired from the military after over 20 years of service. I believe strongly in the ideas and freedoms our country were founded on and obviously believe they are worth fighting to protect. This however is not what I think of as patriotism. This is a devotion to freedom not to country.

      October 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Kirk

      The freedom from fear of death or imprisonment for saying or believing the wrong thing is invaluable and extremely rare. In the United States, a person may say or believe whatever he wants without fear of prosecution no matter how ridiculous, crazy or wrong it may be. Even in certain European counties such as Germany and Austria this freedom is not fully realized. Again, going back to the denying the holocaust example. It is extremely ridiculous and I cannot imagine why anyone would do so but in the US one has the freedom to make such outrageous claim all they want. This single absolute freedom (perhaps actually two: freedom of religion and freedom of speech) alone makes the US the greatest country.

      October 7, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  16. Kei Yuuki

    Most Americans that say America is #1, has never set foot off the continent. United States is the most Unhappy Developed Nation on Earth. Big Business is trying to put Americans on the same footing as China wage and labor wise. This is only to mount higher and higher record profits, an nothing else.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  17. Rosemary

    Fronm the previous post it sounds like being religious and patriotic is a bad thing. Religon, for many, provides a moral compass, their values and a sense of responsibility to others. Patriotism is an extension of the very values that are formed from childhood thru faith. That is what is lacking in this country today. Faith and respect in and for others. Most people seem to be all about them w/o caring who they have to step over or on to get ahead. They belittle people who still believe and still have values and that's just a shame because if you know your history just about the fall of every great empire has started when the people have given themselves over to debauchery.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Howard

      Religion has no monopoly on ANY of those things.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  18. mike

    and this is why ignorance is so dangerous for our country
    stupid is stupid does... just like the tea party.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  19. Michael in Citrus Heights

    A "critical thinking" gap explains both the "god gap" and the "patriotism gap." People who lack the ability to think critically spend their days pledging alligiance to some god or some flag. America is a nation of followers, and because so many willingly accept and do not question religious nonsense and political ideology, it is not surprising that the country is circling the drain.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • PAT

      You nailed it.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • jamesR

      Your dismissal of those you disagree with is your excuse to not demonstrate your superior "critical thinking" skills. Read some history books and use your "critical thinking" to dismiss the contributions to science, philosophy, literature, etc., from people who were both "thinkers" and religious. Does your extreme intellect also allow you to conclude that all people who do not share your political ideology are blind sheep without brains who clearly do not have the capacity to sort through information? Are you capable of realizing that there are also people on the other side of your positions who just as quickly dismiss you as an illogical follower incapable of logical thought? I hope this mentality of superiority that you and many others on all sides have keeps you comfortable in your worldview and allows you and long life of never actually having to examine or argue your own beliefs....good luck, god bless.

      October 7, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  20. TAK

    Those most likely to think the US is the greatest country are also the least likely to have ever been to another country. Talk about making an uniformed decision. But that's how they live their lives. "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

    October 6, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • GodPot

      "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

      Hey now, don't go knocking the American dream! A chicken in every pot, a car in every driveway and a school system that will tell our children they don't have to care about anyone else in the world, or the planet for that matter since they will soon be raptured to the Super Six Flags Great America in the sky! Woo Hoo!

      October 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • faustus

      Funny, I have been travelled exstensively around the world. I think the US is the greatest country in the world. However, I won't hold it against people who believe their own countries is the best. Of course "Manerexic, jaded and psuedointellectual is no way to go through life either."

      October 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Lindsey

      Why do people like TAK always say that Republicans and Tea Partiers are stupid etc while the actual figures show a much higher level of average education for these 2 groups over Democrats?

      October 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • DarrellS

      Because education isn't everything. Knowledge without wisdom AND compassion is really pretty worthless in the long run.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
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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.