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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. marxylot

    has anyone evr opend thier mind nuf to wonder if the creator created then he is all powerfull..no doubt...but as our genes r in our families, so his r in us. the god-satan thing is a loveaffair..ongoing. im 'knowing' that sumday they will open their minds enuf to work together to create peace, and therefore an eternity for all mankind.no judgmnts,just saying. mrxylt

    September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • humanbean

      "Can you understand the words that are comin outta my mouth!"

      September 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • FeedsDays

      This is really hard to read. In fact it hurts my eyes and my brain. Please try writing the words out next time. Thanks.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      What are you saying. Learn the King's English! Nobody can understand what you are trying to say. Are you a retard?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Look, any idea that looked human or so described could not be divine. Dogmatist may say "he" took human form to make himself more accessible to humans. That is crap, any image in our appearance was a created by humans who led primitive villages and commanded strong armies. The fact there are several "gods", Israeli,Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Greek, etc. shows the christian fantasy god was only one more false fantasy, not a unique universal ruler.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  2. Kevin O.

    Um it's like this. The patriotic diety lovers are idolators who don't follow their own holy book. They engrave images. They follow men. They gather in public even though the spiritual bond is a personal one. They are hypocrites. They fight because and blame becuse they want to remove the speck from another's eye without removig the plank in their own. They are pigs. This is not judgement if it's true. Is it true?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • BG

      Is what true? I have no f'n idea what you're trying to say... Pigs, planks, and spiritual specks?

      Sure. I guess it's all true. Whatever. Feel better?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Relictus

      Amen, Kevin! I doubt that many readers even understand the Bible well enough to recognize what you are saying. But I do – well said.

      November 13, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Rev Wright ? Is that you?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Yes, although not speechles pigs, unfourtunately! Look that human like dogmatic pig, Newt Gingrich, he has a first name pigs get :)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

      December 27, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Right on, thanks for speaking out! Happy New Year :)))))))))))))

      December 27, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  3. The Dude

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8C-qIgbP9o&w=640&h=360]

    September 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Kevin O.

      I enjoyed this video. This is hard for a lot of people to digest. There are a great number of us who truly enjoy surveying the pain of this world. Yet at the same time I can see a child born with a cleft pallete who views him/herself for the very first time and they do not know what they are looking at, until you see a smile cross their new face. And they are truly in awe. I have a great disdain for this world. Much innocence has been lost and after watching a piece of work called "A Serbian Film" I was pushed over the edge and hope all of humanity comes to an abrupt end. There is no innocence and very little left to redeem here.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Greg

      That really is a great video.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Todd

      I agree that the movie was good. Altruism is always good. So's cherry pie.

      Kevin – you're a puss. Man up and make something better instead of whining with despair.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  4. Jon

    What this article describes as patriotism is in actuality jingoism. There's a huge difference. Journalists should do a little research from time to time.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      Agreed.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • humanbean

      That's exactly what it is in every sense of the term. Great post!

      September 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • nilsjames

      Exactly

      September 29, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Journalist do research? Surely you jest! Here at CNN? Surely you jest!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:35 am |
  5. Ric

    Jesus said: "My kingdom IS NOT OF THIS WORLD, if it were so, my followers would fight." The prince of THIS WORLD is Satan. This world must be sanctified by fire before it can become like a New Jerusalem, filled with love and peace, where swords can only be used to till the earth and the lambs and the lions can rest together, etc. etc. My point is that God has plans for the whole world, not just what the US was five hundred years ago, or what we now understand to be the USA, or whatever it will become or it will be a few hundred years later. His plans are eternal and infinite. The US as we have known it is a wonderful thing and one of the greatest things humanity has ever had and seen but it is however temporary and finite. Whether the religious fanatics want to accept it or not. God loves Latin America too, and Africa, and Asia and so forth.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • The Dude

      There is no God Ric. Free your mind.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Bill

      Yea, Ric. Loosen up. There is no god.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • humanbean

      This is one of the main problems that I have with people like Ric. They're delusional in the fact that they think some mythical guy is going to come save us all in the end. And in the process they sit around and pass the buck, praying and waiting for the end.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • TransHuman1

      You're a special guy, Ric. And by special, I mean needs to wear a helmet kinda special.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • sardukar

      ..and how do you know what JC said 2000 years ago huh ?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • oceanswell

      right on Ric!

      September 29, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • LOL

      I am not the least bit interested in living in Jerusalem, the old or the new. All they do is shoot each other there.
      As for the sanctification through fire: would you please show us, be a good role model, self immolate. I am sure we will all follow you, in good time.
      "sanctified by fire" and "love and peace" and those (other) religious fanatics (not you of course).
      The Stuff you pack into one small paragraph.... mindboggling, the contradictions - laughable, the nonsense so dense – fantastic. The idiocy of all of it – Priceless!

      September 29, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • peakarach

      Ric, If there is an imaging GOD could you please explain it to me on how and when and where was GOD born and what does GOD look like and where can you someone find GOD and can you call,text,email,fax,etc GOD at all?

      November 6, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Relictus

      If the prince of this world is Satan, then we should make sacrifice to him, for we are of this world. But there is neither God nor Satan, and no one hears our prayers.

      November 13, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Farrow

      > not just what the US was five hundred years ago

      Ric, I am not going to make fun of you like some of these people have done . . . however, there was no US five hundred years ago. The US only came into being in 1776, which was 235 years ago.

      December 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You are a communist. It is clear.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      It is a false fantasy. Get over it.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  6. James

    I'm An Atheist Heres Mine I have been Thinking About This Country All day http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUtM6LKyt44 [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUtM6LKyt44&w=1280&h=720]

    September 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • The Dude

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUtM6LKyt44&w=640&h=360]

      September 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • BG

      It seems that not everyone is enjoying the "delightful setting of the city they call home." If you think Norway is such a delight, move there. I'll bet you can even pick up the language in a year or two... or at least enough to say "Please don't ra pe my sister" in Norwegian.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKBo5a-wzos&w=640&h=360]

      F'n idiot leftists. You have -no- clue.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Atheist change when pain is applied.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:38 am |
  7. Kristina

    The god gap does not exist because Christians are viewed as extremists, most Americans are Christians, but Evangelicals are considered extremists by most. I'm proud to say I'm a Christian, but even more proud to say I'm NOT an Evangelical. I don't understand how any group, such as the Evangelicals who are so consistently mean spirited and intolerant can call themselves Christians. As for the greatest country I'm sure that God would not consider one country greater than another, but I'm thankful and proud to be an American. What are they basing "greatest" on anyways?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You actually have to live in another country for a while to know how unbelievably great the USA is. The people of the USA are so spoiled they can't understand how blessed they are.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  8. The Dude

    PATRIOT, n. A dangerous tool of the powers that be. A herd member who compensates for lack of self-respect by identifying with an abstraction. An enemy of individual freedom. A fancier of the rich, arousing odor of boot leather.

    PATRIOTISM, n. 1) The inability to distinguish between the government and one's 'country'; 2) A highly praiseworthy virtue characterized by the desire to dominate and kill; 3) A feeling of exultation experienced when contemplating heaps of charred 'enemy' corpses; 4) The first, last, and perennial refuge of scoundrels.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • BG

      That 'no thanks' letter you got from Merriam-Webster must really sting. Not even the courtesy of an interview? Too bad.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Spark up another one, just like the other one.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  9. Ron

    Patriotism in my view holds us back as a species. Enduring screams of globalist or NWO whenever you think beyond country. It's pathetic how stupid people can be.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Good and evil. You have to pick a side.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  10. Nick

    What is meant by 'No 1'? There are plenty of objective metrics put out by people smarter than you or I that measure a country in all sorts of areas – education, quality of health care, corruption, military strength, GDP per capita etc...

    Am I commie relativist to think that those metrics should speak for themselves?

    My $.02 – who cares how 'great' this country is? This is my country, where I was born and where my loved ones live. I've got no other country, so I'll do my best to make it the nicest place to live that I can.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • LOL

      I agree with your general statement, you grew up here, it's "home" and we make the best of it. It is a great country, sure.
      But equally sure would I like to have the health insurance of germans and definitely their 35 hr work week and 7 weeks of paid vacation. Those are objective metrics. In comparison, we suck.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You are so soft that you are a marshmellow.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  11. neil

    Not surprising. All three concepts require a suspension of disbelief. The more fanatical the believer, the greater the lack of critical thinking.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • SecularBob

      ding ding ding good answer 10 points!

      September 29, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You speak crap Sir!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:46 am |
  12. oldesalt

    I am an atheist but I fly the American flag every day. To me the flag does not represent the U.S. government but instead, it represents the 300,000,000 American citizens that try to make this great country what it is.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Sah

      oldesalt, well said.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • MrHanson

      Yes but mankind is an accident, so what is so significant about those men?

      October 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You speak crap Sir or Madame. The Old Glory is the flag of the United States. That means Gov't and people. Can I buy some of what you are smoking or is that still illegal in most states?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:48 am |
  13. Robert H

    A big part of what holds us back is precisely the belief that we are the best. If we believe that, then there's nothing we can improve, right? And sadly, we are far from the best. We all resist looking at the figures, but many countries in Europe beat us in quality of life - better health care, lower child mortality, less homelessness, etc.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Ditto

      Absolutely correct, Robert. If we shut our eyes to see what others do, we seem perfect, in our own bubble, and we recognize no need to look at alternatives.
      Many Americans I have met tell me they have been around in the world... in uniform. Nothing wrong with that per se. But it limits very much what you really see of a host country and how you understand it.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You suffer from low self esteem. See a shrink. You will feel better.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  14. The Dude

    I think that Atheists have a more realistic view about America because by and large they are not hypocrites.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    September 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Greg

      nice.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • TransHuman1

      Like it. I wonder sometimes, how far along the path to human immortality and space exploration we'd be if we weren't lulled into a false sense of complacency by a belief in the afterlife. If everyone came to grips with the idea that they were finite, I'm willing to bet there'd be a lot more research, dollars, and public pressure to find ways to stretch our time on this mortal coil as far as possilbe...

      September 28, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      I appreciate it, President Obama is great for keeping his religious beliefs apart from his pollicies, we need to re-elect him. That bible clause that making Africans dark was a holy curse, is so unfair and abusive ! the church actually spread prejudice with that ruthless part.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  15. Seenen

    It's a matter of education isn't it. How can you judge the US compared to other countries if you know nothing about other countries? Same with religion. Social conservatives are by definition closed minded just as liberals are by definition open minded to new ideas and other cultures. A good example is the health care debate. Conservatives say that we have the best health care in the world but by any objective standard of average outcomes we do not. We excel in cutting edge medicine but that is not affordable by the average person that is why wealthy people come to the US for treatment whereas a half million Americans go to India or Thailand every year for operations they can't afford here. The link between religion and nationalism is not surprising since they are characteristic of people who are uncomfortable with new ideas whether it be in science, music, visual arts or what have you. That is why most creative people in the arts and sciences are liberal.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Aaron

      Your opinion is based on a shallow understanding of conservatism. As for liberal multiculturalism, my biggest complainant is that it actually reflects a low opinion of other cultures. All values and cultures are given a token level of respect without actually really looking at them. In order to appreciate another culture, you have to be willing make some kind of value judgements about them. Of course this inevitably leads to the conclusion that some cultures are better than others.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, Aaron, it doesn't. And someone who is barely literate, dear, is hardly capable of making such a generalization. It's "judgment". It's "complaint".

      September 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  16. Evolusionism

    To the atheists speaking out here, bravo! This is the United States of America and freedom of speach is the first defence to our ideals.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Do us a favor and go back to school.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Cogito

      Why Tom?
      He makes an excellent point...and play on words.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. nutley

    keep your GAWD out of my love for my country, dbags

    September 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Evolusionism

      Please, refrain from devolving into name calling before our eyes... Scinece has proven that some humans are 'hardwired' for having their belief system to rely on and make better use of their lives with it than without it. Many people litteraly NEED their belief system, whether it be scientific theory, religion or the NFL/WWF! Most of the rest will find that need if only for a moment during extreme strife, such as impending death. Speak your mind, but be articulate and leave the verbal slurs off the web.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      Nah, this is a subject where a little hostility is well-warranted. Too often, patriotism and religion are considered the same thing (for some reason), and it's assumed that atheists could never be patriotic. Those of us who love this country and the ideals it was founded on have every right to be irritated when these illiterate jags try to hijack our country and call us "un-American".

      September 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Evolusionism

    Patriotism, by the way, has nothing to do with believing your country is the best, but in supporting your countries ideas/ideals or working within the political system to build support for changes which take the country back to its ideals. It can also be to fight to keep your country free from foreign rule and tyrany from within, as well as terrorism etc... No where in any definition have I found anything sating that one must believe their country to be the best over all others in order to be a patriot.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Benzin

      There is a fine line between patriotism and nationalism and the latter is often labeled as the former. I believe that is what the article refers to.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • André

      Seeing that most Americans agree that their government has been hijacked from them, I would say Americans are doing a VERY bad job at "supporting your countries ideas" as you say.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  19. Ian

    This is complete nonsense. I'm a devout atheist and have a deep love for America and consider myself to be a patriot and American above all else.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • SecularBob

      I think you may be missing the point. Its a good thing that we as Atheist question everything including if our country is "number one". Religious people tend to be sheep (sorry but it is true).

      September 29, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • msadr

      A devout atheist?!!! LOL! That's hilarious. Exactly what is your devotion to? nothingness? LOL!

      October 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Farrow

      >A devout atheist?!!!

      Devout has many meanings. One can be a devout vegetarian, a devout CNN viewer, a devout Red Sox fan. Why not a devout athiest?

      December 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  20. Dr.K.

    Of course evangelicals never doubt that this is the best country on earth: there are other countries?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Of course, but not as good.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:50 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.