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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. woodofpine

    "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" – Dr. Johnson

    The second to last refuge is religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  2. cda76er

    Mock away atheists, but you are simply rebelling against the God whom you already know in your hearts. I only hope you stop your denial and seek Him before it's too late.

    October 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Clint

      Blah Blah Blah, don't you people ever change your format. Same old BS over and over. Saying it over and over doesn't make it true.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  3. cda76er

    Jeff Williams – I know plenty of people who were raised with "the scientific method" who became believers as adults, including myself. If you would ever open your closed mind and be willing to go to a Bible-believing church you would find them too.

    October 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • matt

      Like me. I was born in an agnostic family and became a biochemist. I was an atheist who thought "how can I possibly understand religion without attending any church"? So I went to about 100 churches, synagogues, you name it. Guess what? I'm now a catholic who attends church every Sunday. Did I have to forget my degrees or join the evangelical fringe? Nope. I'm still in my lab doing what I do best.

      October 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Scrollman

    A free e-book to the first 3 requests. My novel, The Fallujah Scrolls examines what would happen if Christian dogma was proven to be manufactured after the fact. scrolls2010@hotmail.com

    October 9, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Duh, that's common knowledge that even most Christian theologians believe.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  5. DD

    Kind of stupid. Ask anyone around the world, and if they are happy, they tend to name their own country as the best. In my experience patriotism has little to do with religion. Try asking people who are unhappy!!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  6. SCAtheist

    Patriotic ex-Marine atheist here!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Food for thought

      @SCAtheist – A couple of quotes to consider:
      "Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons."
      "Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country."
      -Bertrand Russel
      No disrespect intended; but, as a declared atheist, you obviously are a thinker...thought you might appreciate something to think about.

      Cheers

      October 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  7. trixen

    God doesn't explain the patriotism gap. I'm atheist and I'm as patriotic as they come.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  8. Susej

    The reason this country is so great is because of science and technology.... Not because of Christianity.

    Eskimo: I did not know about Christ and sin, would I have gone to heII?
    Priest: No, not if you did not know..
    Eskimo: Then why did you tell me?

    Religion: FRAUD

    October 9, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • pirate

      So what, the religious are brainwashed anyways – they are used to overdoing it. Atheists I would guess are just as patriotic in many ways but see other countries with clearer eyes than bible thumpers who are least likely to have traveled anywhere beyond the next county for their hoedown! America is great in many ways. Its a great place to live. Its worth fighting for, but cmon people, its just where you happened to be born!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • elgeevz

      Why indeed!

      October 10, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  9. msadr

    I know 3 atheists. All 3 are complete idiots. And I'm pretty sure one of them is certifiably insane.

    October 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • TheMostWise

      Either the 3 atheists that you know are idots....or you're an idiot......the later is more likely.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  10. msadr

    Atheists have a "less favorable" view of everything so it's not surprising they'd have a "less favorable" view of the USA. Must be hard to be positive about something when you see no reason to even exist.

    October 8, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Philojazz

      As you wrote, msadr: "Atheists have a 'less favorable' view of everything so it's not surprising they'd have a 'less favorable' view of the USA."
      But, actually, this is not true. Atheists actually have a MORE favorable view of many things. Such as, Atheists view ATHEISM much more favorably than "religion". Atheists also view RATIONALITY and SCIENCE much more favorably than they view blind faith, and unwarranted belief in ancient "traditions", many of which conflict with reality. You should be careful of what you post, msadr, as you are not making sense. Hey, maybe you should hang out more with your Atheist "friends"!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • yesiamajerk

      msadr – actually we see no reason for you to exist

      October 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  11. cda76er

    WakeUp – Why do you conclude that it is more likely that all religions are false instead of considering that one is right and the others false? I suggest that this is simply a presupposition on your part which probably came from the type of education you received. Can you answer my arguments specifically? Do you deny that you have a religious belief system?

    October 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Wake-up

      @cda76er – Sorry, tried to respond, but the filter keeps rejecting my post. My suggestion – dedicate some time to the study or probability, informal fallacies, and logical positivism; the benefit will be much greater that the time you dedicate to Iron and Bronze age myth.

      October 8, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Oh snap!

      I'll say it again...Oh snap!

      October 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  12. disjustin

    The Idea of God and Jesus, Moses and Mohammed and other faiths has been used for good, social control and mainly evil..!!.It is a myth, non-scientific...and it is global...because humans need something other than themselves to believe in!!!!

    October 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • pirate

      Or use to create all of history's major wars!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  13. themadjewess

    'fanatics will do anything ' says Regis.

    You mean like Wall St rioters defecating on NYC PD Cars?
    I agree, radicals and fanatics will do anything.

    October 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  14. The Concerned One

    There is no such thing as god.
    All religions are false.
    There is absolutely zero proof of god's existence.
    You don't need a religion in order to do the right thing.
    Most of the hate, war, and intolerance in this world is because of religion.
    Free up your mind.
    "god" is within you.
    You are god.

    October 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • cda76er

      What about your religion? Don't delude yourself – you have one. You have many beliefs that cannot be scientifically verified which form your belief system. The idea that religion is contrary to science and reason is itself a myth. Science deals with the objective world. It cannot account for, much less explain the subjective world of human experience. This is where religion comes in. The question is: Which religion is right? As with science we use observation (including the study of sacred texts) and reason to answer this question. Doing this has convinced me that the God of the Bible is the True God. See my post below.

      October 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Wake-up

      @cda76er – The fact that "The Concerned One" may or may not hold irrational beliefs is irrelevant with regard to the truth of his assertions. When you state “Which religion is right?”, you presuppose that at least one of them is “right”. As most religions are contradictory, we’re left with two rational options: One religion is true and all others are false; all religions are false. It seems obvious that the latter is the more likely.

      October 8, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  15. vintage274

    The equation of God and country is unsettling. I am baffled by this evangelical assumption that the Christian god favors America over all other lands. Aren't the Jews God's favored people according to the Bible? Oh wait - that changed with the followers of Christ. Huh. So the followers of God became the followers of Christ instead, and the Jews weren't good enough fans and were tossed, and then the Puritans came to America which somehow became the promised land of the Christians. Sounds like a football team that changes cities. Baffling to anyone with an inkling of logical thinking.

    October 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  16. HomieDaClown

    Science can fly you to the moon,
    but religion can fly you into buildings.

    October 8, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • themadjewess

      ISLAM can fly you into buildings OR leftists.

      October 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Regis990

      @themadjewess – Islam, Christianity, Judaism...doesn't matter what the mythology is...fanatics will do anything and everything to prove themselves right and non-believers wrong. So, kindly take all religion and shove it.

      October 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  17. littledebbieoatmealcookie

    http://goodflagbetsy.wordpress.com/flags-in-churches-is-this-ok/

    October 8, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  18. TheMostWise

    Science and Reason have been far better for America....and any country....than any god.....
    The "god idea" has bogged America down with its utter nonsense and irrational practices. Science and Reason are solely responsible for America';s ...and any nation's success and prosperity....Only hucksters are convinced otherwise.

    October 8, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • ketsui

      damn right, someday people will stop believing this fairy tale garbage and wake up, sadly 80% of america believes in these fairy tale religions because they cant build their own set of morals without them

      October 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • cda76er

      You are wrong to hold that religion is incompatible with Science and reason. You believe this because you were taught to think this way (as I was, until God opened my eyes and mind). The fact is that you, no less than me and other professing believers, are also a religious person. Whether you realize it or not, you have a belief system (which is a de facto religion) because you hold many basic beliefs that cannot be scientifically verified, such as being confident that your perceptions correspond to the world around us (which, by the way is a belief that is foundational for science) or that the laws of nature will keep working as the do now (another foundation for science). Moreover, there are countless things that every individual has to take on faith in order to live our daily lives because we either don't have the time or means to scientifically test them (such as the fact that the air in the room you are about to enter is not filled with poisonous gas or that the water coming from your faucet is not poisonous), or we cannot possibly prove them (such as having confidence that the person driving on the opposite side of the road from you will not suddenly cross over the line and strike you head on). You no less than I must have faith in order to live.

      Furthermore, iyou were truly willing to learn you would discover that there are many highly rational people (including many scientists) who are religious. Unfortunately, most people today have been duped into a myth that Science is the sole means to discover truth. But Science can only tell us about the physical or objective world. It cannot tell us anything about the "world" of experience. For instance, Science can now identify the brain functions that correspond with certain experiences. But this is only what these experiences look like from the outside. It is simply not possible for Science to go beyond this. So, Science is clearly not enough. Religion is needed to account for our personal experience. And it is my belief that the God of the Bible is the only reasonable explanation for why there is something rather than nothing, for why there are laws of nature, for why complex organisms exist, and for why we understand the concept of God. Theism is actually more rational than atheism. Theism has an explanation for all these things. But atheism only has blind faith.

      October 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Say What?

      @cda76er – Blah, blah, blah. Dude...seriously?

      October 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • TheMostWise

      cda76er,
      Atheism is a faith...just like 'baldness' is a hair color...... Does that sound right to you? Atheism is not a 'faith" nor a "religion"....for your information.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • What If

      cda, "Theism has an explanation for all these things."

      Yeah, if we had stopped at "goddidit" about Zeus sending lightning bolts, and Pele being angry down in the volcano, where would we be today? A-zeusists and a-peleists (a-theists) figured it out. That a "godiddit" as an answer to *everything* is not an acceptable answer.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """iyou were truly willing to learn you would discover that there are many highly rational people (including many scientists) who are religious. """

      You realize, of course, that these particular scientists were likely indoctrinated in their religious beliefs from an early age. That sort of programming is difficult to shed, even as a rational, thinking adult.

      Now, let's discuss the children raised with the scientific method who became religious as adults. Do you know of any? I don't.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  19. SM

    Practicing Christians are less educated and less knowledgeable about the outside world and life in other countries. So they can't imagine life in other places could be better than in USA. They are ignorant of the fact that world surveys doesn't put USA in number 1 position. If they are told of this they get angry. Here is one, note that this was for 2005 before the Irish economic slowdown

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_Index

    October 8, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • themadjewess

      I am sure that most Christians DO NOT believe that America is the best place anymore, not with our MUSLIM/MARXIST Prez.

      October 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • cda76er

      How many practicing Christians do you actually know? I would venture to say that you are saying this because you heard it from others (as I did). The fact is that there are many highly-educated Bible-believing Christians. My church is full of them. The truth is that our secular educational system is extremely effective at brain-washing kids that God doesn't exist or is irrelevant. The Soviet propagandists couldn't do it any better.

      October 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  20. Gamino

    USA...the worlds greatest most prosperous blessed nation over abundance in everything ...food clothing shelter..pleasure..I came fr Asia..but luckily met the Lord here..now am assured of gloryland..thnk u Lord..thnk u America......

    October 8, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • ketsui

      thank your parents for your life, not the lord. there is no such thing. be a good person because you are strong, not because some fake ass being is telling you 'or else'

      October 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """I came fr Asia..but luckily met the Lord here"""

      Wow, you ARE lucky. God only knows what god you would have worshipped in vain if you'd stayed in Asia!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:47 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.