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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. drew

    It makes some sense, I mean if you believe in an invisible man who records all of your deeds and settles up with you when you die you probably believe that God loves your country more than the others both are infantile beliefs. That's not to say that I don't love my country I can love it without God's approval.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  2. MemeInjector3000

    Believers, Christians, and others struggling with self-delusion, read this:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”

    –Epicurus (Greek philosopher, BC 341-270

    CASE CLOSED.

    November 3, 2011 at 6:14 am |
    • Truth Squad

      Pathetic and sad.

      I hope you wise up, because whomever wrote that nonsense has already realized the error of his ways and likely too late.

      Will Man judge God? Hubris.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • drew

      Great quote!!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  3. Dana

    I find that the non-religious tend to be more self-critical, thus they are more critical of the social groups within which they are a part (in the case of this article, their country.) It only makes sense that they might doubt whether they are part of the greatest country in the world, too. The Abrahamic religions have a bit of a narcissism streak. If you believe that you deserve an eternity of paradise by virtue of the fact that you believe in invisible dude A instead of invisible dude B or C or D, it only makes sense that you'd also think that whatever social group you are a part of is superior than those of others. That's the nature of excessive self-love and arrogance.

    November 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • heliocracy

      Exactly right.

      November 3, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Truth Squad

      It is the epitome of arrogance, self-focus and narcissim to think "They" are God and that no one could be above them.

      The Bible clearly talks about false humility, and there is nothing more falsely humble than pretending to think others better because of some subjective standard and rejecting the obvious nature of God.

      The reason you reject it is because it proves you are a sinner and you need to repent. You would rather deny God than admit that.

      I hope you repent.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  4. Derka Derka

    I believe in the flying teapot dammit! F U Bertrand Russel! And Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens for that matter. Trying to get all smartty.

    'Merica (and Jesus and Mary and God) RULEs

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

    November 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • ilovefarts

      YEEHAW! Preach on, preacher man! The only thing I like more than the Good Book is beating my wife and good ole' Murrica!

      November 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  5. Naija

    The best answer should comes from US intellectual who mostly do not believe there is some guy upstairs with nothing better to do than to want the whole word to say he is the greatest.
    I am a west African and I always ask the believers what happened to all my ancestors that know nothing about their religion before it was brought to the region or the ancestors of the newly discovered tribes of Brazilian Amazon.
    Funny thing is the more educated you are,the more likely you are to believe in any god,thus the more unlikely you are to be patriotic to a fault.

    November 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Naija

      The more Unlikely you are to believe in any god

      November 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Dana

      Eloquently spoken, Naija.

      November 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  6. APOSTLE JOB

    see facebook job.Bradshaw@live.com see his notes and its amazing from joplin to galvenston 274 churchs have been closed and got christian posted on the sign out front why waste your time for christ is 24 7

    November 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  7. Pamela Haley Design

    I think the concept of linking Religion to Patriotism is proper in the sense that if one doesn't think critically. Anything which contradicts what comes first is thrown out. They don't question the Bible, they don't question God and, they don't question the Government. Whoever is in charge is "right." I think of the phrase "God Bless America" as a selfish one. God would bless the world if he existed. There are far too many contradictions and loopholes not to question "the way to Heaven." I just try to be good to everyone regardless. Live your life in a considerate manner and don't condemn anyone for your own self centered assumptions. Even if there is not God, there is certainly Karma. Everything you do will come back to you; good or bad.

    November 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • todd in DC

      Nice try, but I dont see too many republicans claiming that Obama (or Clinton for that matter) was ever right – yet he is the President.

      November 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • pamelahaley

      Todd, The President is black. Of course they question him. I Should have specified White Texas Christian presidents.... and dead ones.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  8. kayaker247

    Both Christianity and the American government have credibility problems. But I still believe in the later. God, the tooth fairy and the monsters under your bed have no place in my American government. Appreciating that sentiment will go a long way to restoring our government’s credibility.

    November 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  9. ThinkWhatYouAreTold

    So is God's grace anyway? How do you measure that? It must be blind faith. Endless wars, unemployed, corruption, greed, ebbing world status, pollution, and staggering debt obviously count for nothing. If America was blessed, we should be ashamed at how we have wasted it.

    November 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  10. Rightthinker

    Let's see...

    A magazine called "Christianity Today" crunched numbers from a poll and discovered – Well... Heavens to Betsy, what do you know?!....
    God fearing people are patriotic, right-thinking, true-blue Americans!!!

    And –

    Non-believers are American hating, subversive, dog eaters with communistic tendencies who drive foreign cars with "green" bumper stickers and who see Sarah Palin as a shallow, vapid, uninformed, immature, egotist who quits when the going gets tough – Rather than as the contemplative deep thinking leader, with the vast knowledge and understanding of world cultural, political, religious beliefs that are needed to run the most powerful country in the world. Go Sarah!
    Anyway – They probably thought and still think Obama, based on one speech – scant experience – is qualified to run the country – Just as many others thought and still think W was a good President.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • kayaker247

      I'm a "non believer" as you put it and I love this country. I hope your comment is sarcasm, otherwise you're part of what I would call "the christian problem".

      November 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Derka Derka

      Yeah Sarah Palin isn't stupid! Who cares if you don't know what Paul Revere was riding around for, or what role the vice president serves in congress. It's all a bunch of goddam liberal crap anyway!! Go Sarah!

      November 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Rightthinker

      To kayaker247:

      The positive Palin comments are most definitely sarcasm.
      The Obama comments are my opinion.
      The world is still suffering the effect of bush's incompetence and will continue to pay for decades to come.
      Party partisanship is not the American way. We need to elect the person most capable of running our country – not merely to keep the "party" in power.
      The best president will do things that will please and displease both parties – because they are necessary.
      The average voter is like a small child, if they were to choose the dinner menu it would be chocolate milk, ice cream and candy every night. That's what the would vote for – but what they need is a balanced diet which, yes, includes vegetables – they won't want them, but they need them. – Right thinking doesn't mean republican or religious doctrine.

      Just venting,

      SB

      November 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  11. Nikki

    It goes without saying that patriotism and religion have the same mechanisms that stimulate devoted behaviors.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  12. Aurelio

    Define patriotism. Do patriotic people just believe the country is great or do they do great things for their country? What if you do great things for the entire world does that count negatively against patriotism?

    November 2, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  13. timestickin

    U.S.A is #1 why do you think packed with people..

    November 2, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • pamelahaley

      China's packed with people

      November 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  14. Josiah

    Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
    Genesis 1:26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
    We not only have God the Father but we also have God the Mother.

    November 1, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  15. godott

    Follow the gourd!

    November 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • hippypoet

      the sandle!

      November 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Brad

      It's a shoe!

      November 2, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  16. godott

    They shouldn't allow people who have never been outside the US to answer a survey like that. Your opinion doesn't matter if you haven't even been outside the US to see another country.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Aurelio

      It goes both ways. You cannot answer how US ranks among other nations if you have never been elsewhere. With that said, I think US ranks rather high, but have you been to Sweden? What about any tiny Caribean island, living as a fisherman? I bet that's a pretty good life.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  17. KeepYourIdols

    There's a good reason for this gap. People who are gullible enough to believe there is a magic man in the sky are also likely to buy into the myth that America is still great. The U.S.A. is a festering pit of greed and selfishness.

    November 1, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Paul Ohio

      I feel sorry for you. You should accept people from all belief systems. You do not need religion to teach this. Perhaps being "enlightened" means you are a dick I suppose. Walking around knowing you are intellectually superior must be hard. It must be how Einstein felt among mortals. Since are you are self enlightened, self serving person who dislikes 85 % of the world population. I am sure you are hugely successful in life and holding this burden of superiority is a daily struggle.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • JimmySD

      Magical thinking has destroyed a once great country.

      My toe jam proves that I am a patriot.

      Scientists are only in it for the money.

      Conservatives don't need to worry about getting bashed for having an education.

      PITCHFORKS RULE!

      November 1, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • zhuk

      I think this notion that America is the greatest country in the world is strongly tied to religion because religious people in this country believe that somehow we are "god's chosen people". They believe that we are better than the rest of the world. We have to get over ourselves and realize this country is greatly flawed but the good thing is that we can fix the problems ourselves. Maybe take a look at what some other country are doing and learn from them.

      I realize it's hard to think outside the box when you been taught to believe that there's a magical man upstairs watching over us and making things happen on earth. The sooner we get religion out of American politics, the sooner this country will be great again.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Derka Derka

      If you have one delusion, you're more than likely to have several more. Well said.

      November 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  18. sftommy

    This is all about vanity of the individual, Gods will is done regardless of country, religion, even species. Personal faith and instinct towards good beats any religion, any government, any day.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Aurelio

      I couldn't have said anything better 🙂

      November 2, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  19. Richie

    I agree with Kam.
    I don't think that being unpatriotic can reallitically be equated to belief in a god or gods. I mean, religious or not, the real issue is ignorance of the world. All anyone, religious or not, needs to do is to take a look at the rest of the world, and look at the hard statistics. Yeah, sure, you can say "America is the best country in the world!", but that might only be because you have no idea what it's like in the rest of the world, and the only place you DO know is your small slice of America. Personally, I think that it's simply the fact that statistically, most americans probably don't have a very accurate understanding of the outside world. Most, I assume, just watch the news where terrorists are running about and killing people and whatnot, and they automatically think, "Well, we haven't got that here in America, therefore we MUST be better!". But realistically, yes, America is a very significant step of "better" up from some other countries, but to flat out, in all ignorance, say that it is the "best"? "in the world"? Perhaps such a claim would require information about OTHER countries? I think so. Ex. 1. Denmark

    November 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  20. Kam

    Through my experiences and observations, I have noted that my friends who are devout Christians and huge American patriots unfortunately never travel outside of the U.S. Therefore, they do not have anything to compare America against. My friends and I who are not Christian, or who claim a less-disciplined Christianity, travel the world all the time, doing amazing humanitarian work and seeing different, cultures, religions, languages. Therefore, we have much to compare the U.S. to. This is not to say that ALL Christians don't travel, nor does it say that ALL non-Christians travel more. I'm just merely stating a pattern that I have seen through my own experiences and observations. I also don't think that there is a "best" country. We all have different social, environmental, and economic problems, and histories, so how one country works with issues obviously will be much different than how another country works with issues. You can't compare apples to oranges.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:08 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.