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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. eyesopened

    This nation just so happened to be founded on the word of God the same God who sent His son Jesus do die on our behalf that we may no longer be a slave to our sinful nature,or better yet curse of death. He who the Son sets free is free indeed. This is a spiritual gift we are mind body and spirit, so without the spirit intact we are gone, maybe thats why the human has gone out of their minds. anyway the gift is free its called salvation, take it or leave it. This is where our country stands on the freedom of our Christian nation, you can take it or leave it, we make it way more difficult than what it is. This freedom stems from the truth, liberty and justice for all. all who believe in the being justified and liberated, that they may know peace in their hearts and minds.Dont settle for lies and roumers of lies, you either fit the bill or you dont and if you dont you will know it on the inside and its not going to matter it dosent matter what anyone else thinks or says its your life or should I say your death, which ever one you choose to recieve. either way its the truth vs believing a lie. Dont be ashamed of this nation that many men and women suffered and died to protect this freedom and liberty and justification for all who desire to recieve it, BUT mark my words it will come at a cost as it cost the life of a man who over 2000 years ago loved you just the way YOU are. NOT perfect living in a not perfect world, but the difference is do you really believe you can do a better job with your own state of mind? seriously just take a moment to examine YOUR life as you know it, can you honestly say you dont need hope, love or peace and joy, the kind of stuff money cant buy, especially from the curse of death, being under the rule of satan himself as you chose it you are a SLAVE and since the beginning of time this is the freedom our nation stood to die for. there must be a spiritual truth before there can be a physical truth. Dont be foolish America choose life.

    October 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rick

      Non believers are slaves? What of those who need salvation? What are they, free?

      October 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  2. eyesopened

    alot of intresting points and one things for sure is, no matter what anyone says It dosent matter and that goes for what ever God you believe in,its called accountability,cant do it as individuales with our own lives and money and the government cant do accountability indirectly with the lives and money of others. The truth is it pretty much dosent matter right? if your life is going to suck and your one self absorbed hateful unforgiving end of the night empty wondering human, you cant blame it on the nation and a bunch of dead people, accountability, in order not to blame, one would have to be perfect OR admit that you are not. So basicly we are created equal it dosent matter what color you are what religious status your involved in or not involved in we all are equal, and when we use our brain to tell us this is not true or we disagree thats when we start lieing to ourself and start the judging part, and fall into the same self rightousness and hypocricy we claim everyone else is guilty of. In the mean time life is good right? NOT.....

    October 11, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  3. johndoe

    really

    October 11, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  4. shyboy69

    Whiney liberals are unpatriotic, non-church going, capitalism-hating, neer' do wells who aren't happy unless they are protesting something. To them you are stupid if you wave a flag or go to church. It's really a form of snobby elitism.

    October 11, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • RK

      Snobby elitists are those conservatives who slag liberals because they disagree with the narrowly defined so-called Christian values of those on the religious right.

      October 11, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Rick

      You are the one who sounds whiney, pendejo

      October 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  5. Sara

    Citizen of heaven, where there are many mansions... None of which are in foreclosure.

    October 11, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  6. Daniel

    Look at the hypocrisy of evangelicals. They have a superiority complex, both in the context of nation, and religion, which I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't approve of...
    Go to my blog at http://www.godlessgod.blogspot.com/

    October 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Glenn

      I find many (certainly not all) of the religious more interested in the role of god than the opinions of Jesus.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  7. af090391

    Hmmm, the most up and coming nations in the world are for the most part Godless, where as America is probably the most God worshiping developed country atm. And yes, we are still falling behind.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Doris

      I would love to hear what "up and coming countries" you are referring to. Korea? went from 10% Christian to over 50% Christian in 20 years. China? The people of China have huge a home church movement that the govt has not been able to crush. Brazil? Another country that has recently converted from a mixture of Catholicism and animist religions to pentacostalism.

      October 11, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  8. Christina

    I've read several posts and haven't seen anyone mention this correlation so here goes: Psalm 33:12 "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." Basically, the nation that honors God is blessed by God and becomes a great nation; by the same token, the nation that dishonors God suffers consequently. Christians who believe America to be a great nation base their view on the fact that America was founded as a Christian nation. This is according to historical records such as the pilgrims who signed the Mayflower Compact and the writings and practices of the founding fathers. Therefore, patriotism for Christians is being proud of this fact and committing to live by the moral and biblical standands that legitimizes the saying "God bless America"

    October 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Glenn

      Actually the non-religious, non-christian citizens of America have been around for centuries. The laws were created on the principles of "jstice for all". So to attribute all to Christianity and your god is a misrepresentation. It's how you prefer to view your country.

      October 10, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • kintexas

      Our founding fathers didn't come here to establish some Christian nation. They came here to make a buck like everyone else. Most of them owned slaves and those who weren't were basically indentured servants. The American experiment is built on the power of myth- just like religion is. Most of the narratives we are taught about our country didn't really happen the way we think. We are made of the riff raff from Europe . . . and we often act like it.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Doris

      Our forefathers came here to form a nation with religious freedom. A vast majority of Americans identify as Christians, thus making it mostly a Christian nation that allows other religions and belief systems to exist along side the majority religion. This what makes America great. This does not disallow Christians to pray and infuence the formation of laws and regulations that are supported by their religion.

      October 11, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  9. Hypatia

    CNN has officially drunk the koolaid. Now they have studies that prove unless you are an Xian jagoff, you can't be a 'good American'? Seem to recall there was a lot of this kind of jumping around and squalling durinh the Depression, too. Nothing like economic troubles to bring out the worst in everyone.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  10. Carly

    Seriously? So there's only one way to be patriotic? Love it or leave it? Any criticism or seeing your country in a realistic light means you aren't patriotic? That's insane.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • af090391

      Indeed. It is entirely unpatriotic to use your rights that our country so proudly stands on.

      I wish people would realize America is a country of change. We are not set in stone, and we consistently change over time for better or worse. People who stifle an open mind are the ones who hurt America and its growth.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  11. Traveler

    The same evangelicals who think America is the best country are the same people who have don't have a passport and have never been out of the country. They remind me of sports fans who think their team is the best despite the fact that their team rarely wind a championship. Before you say something stupid like "USA is #1" do some research and visit some other countries. The USA is a great place in many ways but we're not perfect and we're not better than other countries in many ways (infant mortality, literacy rates, crime rates, voter turn-out, unemployment, pollution, etc.)

    October 10, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • steve

      at 17 i have been to 15 countries. i am evangelical and i think america is number 1 because i have seen how bad things can be outside the US. i have yet to see desperation in America like Mexico, Thai land, or Uzbekistan. evangelicals go places and do research just as much as everyone else.

      October 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  12. lefty avenger

    They never seem to take these polls on the coasts. This poll looks like it was conducted in the bible belt and midwest. There are 2 americas: The West Coast with the East coast and parts of the north, then there is the red state bush christian lands, which make up the entire south and middle of the country. It's been this way for a long long long while. We don't see eye to eye, one wants Sweden and the other wants 1933 Germany.

    October 10, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  13. David

    If God is all knowing and loves America more than other nations, why did he/she not bless us with all the oil deposits. It all could have been sometime during the 6500 years of the Earth's history, right?

    October 10, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  14. Mattmchugh

    Just goes to prove that those inclined to embrace myths that inflate their sense of belonging will do it whenever they can.

    - mm

    October 10, 2011 at 6:12 am |
  15. AndyinOz

    From an outsiders perspective I do not think that it has a great deal to do with religion itself but it is more cultural, I have found American's collectively to be very patriotic, growing up being told that it is the USA all the way etc. Perhaps those that are inclined to have religious faith however are more inclined to believe those things about their homeland and in some cases the concept that the US was and is predestined for greatness and to maintain that indefinitely.

    October 10, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  16. mike from iowa

    Religious people are sociopatheic. They are accustomed to holding nonsensical beliefs, and their central belief is that they are so important that the entire universe was constructed by God for the humans. Based on the tendency to believe in religion, those believers are of course going to believe that they live in the greatest country on Earth, too. And of course the religious zealots will present this in a way that makes it seem as if religoin believers are somehow "better" than non-believers. Religious people are sick, twisted sociopaths.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  17. Horus

    Wait people actually believe America is the greatest nation on earth? Christ people it's not the 1950s anymore. The only thing we do better than anyone anymore is military action (forget about healthcare, R&D, social mobility, science investment, etc...) Remember folks that it's called the American dream for a reason; you have to be asleep to believe it.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Well, mentally, religious people are "asleep", they live in a dream-world of make believe and fantasy.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • PJ

      Very well said.

      October 10, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  18. Jerry1970

    Maybe it is not a "God-gap" but a belief gap. Maybe those that do not believe in anything religious have a hard time believing in anything, including their country.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • UncelM

      Maybe those people who don't believe blindly are intelligent and rational.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Glenn

      The principles of freedom, democracy and western law do extend beyond the borders just like Christianity. It's not something I would ever want compromised even in the name of God. Christians are forever hopeful for change which best suits their own interests..like any reigious group. Perhaps their numbers here in the US give them hope for a better Christian life.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Jim

      Well said Jerry. I've often found that people who have no religious beliefs are more comfortable with the corrupt and obsessed with the material. Consider the folks protesting on wall street.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • Noocrat

      "no religious beliefs are more comfortable with the corrupt and obsessed with the material."

      Interesting claim... how about from a lawful perspective. We make up over 15% of the population and less than 1% of the prison population. Weird.

      The point is, the non-religious tend to be more highly educated and more ingrained in academia. With that comes more worldly knowledge, rather than only knowing what's in your own backyard. So we know where America's best and we know where America's subpar, and at the end of the day are willing to admit it.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  19. Correction

    No nation on Earth has God's blessing.
    1 John 5:19, Revelation 16:14-16 and Daniel 2:44 indicates they are all in opposition to God.
    Jesus was not political and would not be drawn into politics.
    And this all makes sense compared to trying to justify what ALL the nations of the Earth, including the USA, have done that are offensive to decent people.
    I would be bothered as a Christian if I thought this was the best God could do.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  20. Clint

    I'm nothing (athiest, or religious believer, just a human...) and I too am very patriotic. I fly my flag 24/7 (with the appropriate lighting at night). When the flag becomes tattered, I dispose of the old one I/A/W flag regulations and then replace ti with a new one.

    I also have served in the U.S. military for over 22 years, and have put up with alot of the attempted forced religion that happens within.

    Religion has nothing to do with being patriotic or being a good person, thouhg many people will try to make you out as some horrible person for not being religious, even attempting to make you feel guilty in some way. In reallity, I help my community, share food from my garden with my neighbors, act as a neighborhood watch, and generally do more "good" on a daiy basis than the average so-called "christian".

    Someday I hope we can get beyond religion and just live our lives while we are alive.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Michael

      Maybe some day we can get beyond infantile "patriotism" as well.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Nice post, you sound like a great patriot to me. Take care brother and countryman.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      Thank you for your service, Clint.

      Signed,
      one o' them godless liberals

      October 14, 2011 at 9:40 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.