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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. Janet

    In the Cathecist of the Catholic Church, war is an offense to God. So if you're a war loving, gun toting, GOP Christian, you're in the wrong line of life!

    November 27, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  2. Norman

    There are two things I detest: Blind Faith, and Blind Patriotism. Is the USA the "greatest" country? No. It's decent, more decent than many. If you include countries in which people care for one another through national health service and fully funded public education by pooling resources for the common good, countries in which all people can marry the person they love, countries in which racial bigotry is fairly minimal, we fall far, far short of considerably more advanced countries like most in western Europe. One does not need religion or patriotism to be a good person.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  3. James Briggs

    It seems at the very least Conservitives are confused How can America have the worst possible government that never does anything right and this be the best country in the world.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  4. Bill Kilpatrick

    This isn't news so much as a water-cooler talk invented by a writer who ought to be employed by one of those magazines where half the stories are top-ten lists. The idea that zealously religious people are also zealously patriotic is a no-brainer but it doesn't mean much. Equally facile is the correlation between religious zeal and the knee-jerk conviction that America is the greatest country in the world. Is it really a bad thing to be more thoughtful in replying to polsters? If one group hesitates before blurting out an answer – and the other group doesn't – maybe it's because the question deserves a moment of deliberation. I'm not sure I feel safer surrounded by happy grunters whose reply is more a matter of conditioning than anything else.

    November 25, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  5. Da King

    Only God knows how many hearts in this country belong to Jesus. Those soles will join him 1000 years after the big sleep.

    November 24, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • jwas1914

      What do you understand about the 1000 years?

      November 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Why do all those fish have to wait 1000 years?
      Or are you referring to part of the foot?

      November 25, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  6. TheJanitor1

    Why does CNN post so many blogs and "news" articles aimed at degrading goodliness? Is CNN the lips on Satin's mouth?

    November 22, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Jack Satin is an awful singer.
      Why would CNN want to speak for a character from a terrible movie starring Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

      November 25, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  7. Bkelly

    I believe it's not very realistic to think science is some how correct when our knowledge of the universe could probably sit on the head of needle used by electron to poke holes in space and time. Science is just another religion with its leaders, preachers and untouchables based on theory and hypothesis.

    November 22, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Ignorant rant noted.

      November 25, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • bananaspy

      Using verifiable evidence with demonstrable results through rigorous testing to prove things?! The nerve of science! Back when science was used to demonstrate the earth was round, the flat-earthers scoffed as well. "The earth is very clearly flat or we would fall right off!" We easily poke fun at their views now, but not the true scientists of the time who fought against the general perception of the world and discovered things that will benefit us for the rest of our existence.

      November 27, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  8. supernaut1988

    people of faith dont care to educate themselves about the real world,.........blind faith, blind patriotism, sweet ignorance

    p.s. atheist here who still happens to think the U.S. is No.1

    November 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Da King

      I am sorry that atheists can't get to know God. You really do not know what you are missing. The number of saved believers dead and alive is a small percentage of Americans. Jesus will be back for them in about 1200 years I am guessing. God has worked mightily in this country and he especially loves those who know what he has tried to do for us.

      November 24, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  9. mfx3

    Funny, all I hear evangelicals say is that America is morally bankrupt, on the wrong path, not what it used to be, etc. Doesn't sound very patriotic to me.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  10. Chris

    The reason atheists see America as the best at a lower rate is that we are free thinkers. Not content to simply follow orders, we can clearly see the failings of our country, and how lack of cohesion will lead to China and others usurping us. In the meantime, we've got groups still running around trying to stop abortion.... aka, control other peoples decisions, instead of working on the economy or basically anything that actually provides a value to the majority of society.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  11. Scot

    Tax the churches and then you will see how well the divide works out !
    It is rediculous not to tax these mega churches when they preach what the party of hate wants just to get more money for those inlightened pastors !

    November 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  12. trevor

    There IS a God. We (as a species) or this planet wouldn't have ever existed, if it wasn't for God. I don't think that God loves or favors the US over any other country, I know he loves the rest of the world equally. Yes, I do believe God does shed his grace on thee, but I also believe he sheds his grace on the world as a whole. I don't think there should be a " God gap", I think that statement should stand the rest of time, like it always has.

    November 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • supernaut1988

      you have no proof to back up your outlandish claims about the existence of god, and the fact that you and your kind speak in such certainties is troubling. you are not only holding this country back, you are hindering the progress of all man kind

      November 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • ToasterOven

      True enough Supernaut, complexity is not evidence for divine power. Religion always works in the dark and attempts to explain what science can't. However once science catches up, religion moves on to some other answered question and fills in the knowledge gap with divine gibberish. I wish humanity would move on and grow up. Romans used to pray to the Gods for rain. I can't believe there are still people out there dong this in the 21st century. So depressing.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Robert

      So if god sheds his grace on all nations equally, Why is there such suffering in most of Africa and the south east Asia. Do they not deserve his grace or that he can not give his grace to all nations. Or is it possible that there is no grace to shed since no gods exist?
      Either way your (or any other deity) would not deserve my worship since he would be neither omnipotent, all caring or non-existent.

      November 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  13. cpmondello

    The more intelligent, the more able to think for yourself. Sounds about right to me. Throughout history, religious conservatives have always longed for rulers, a dogma to follow, being told how to think, feel and dress. This exactly the kind of ideology any government longs for to crush their "enemies" whether it be the USA's "fear" of communism, (when "God" was put into the 'Pledge of Allegiance) or Hitler's ideology that states Jews were responsible all that is wrong in the world, with the help of the Catholic Church, (see 'Theologian's Under Hitler')

    November 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  14. archepoyle

    The Make-Belief Blog always gives me a good laff 😀

    November 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  15. Milton Platt

    If belief in the christian god is what causes patriotism, then are people of non-christian countries less patriotic?
    What a bizzare concept.

    November 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  16. raggmopp

    There is no greater human presumption than to read the mind of the Almighty, and no more dangerous individual than the one who has convinced himself that he is executing the Almighty's will

    November 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Scot

      Outstanding statement !

      November 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Da King

      You could read his book and believe and KNOW, if you are not too arrogant. But you are.

      November 24, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  17. hozo1

    this is about ritual .. highly religious people need a great deal of emotional support to continue to believe in what they can never prove ... which is fine. Throughout mankind, people of great faith have used symbols to continue to believe what they can't explain ... so whether God or Patriotism ... the need for highly fervent symbolism is what binds the community and keeps the faith going. The Bible is full of these examples from the burning bush to the parting of the Red Seas, etc. What cannot happen physically, needs cues to happen spiritually ... thus it is all about ritual.

    November 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  18. kayaker247

    many "christians" will walk off a cliff for a man claiming to be christ. it's an ignorance factor not a patriotism factor.

    November 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  19. Judith

    If God exists, he loves the whole world, not just our country. It is purely wishful thinking to believe God would single out one particularly nation for a special blessing. Frankly, I believe the very religious need the comfort of thinking God will provide special comfort for them and not for the remainder of mankind. Or maybe they just wanto to feel "special." We should all work for the beneift of the entire planet, not just our particular part of it.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Guest

      well said!

      November 20, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • ToasterOven

      I love it when people claim God is intervening in their life, especially with respect to trivial matters. The same God is allowing millions of children to die every year due to mosquitos, (a particularly baffling creation) . Such arrogance to presume God cares about the little details of your life and yet allows massive numbers of young people to suffer so incredibly. But God does work in mysterious ways.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  20. Nahmea

    You morons are really going to put any faith in a poll of 0.0005% of the populace? 1500 out of 300,000,000 speak for over 300,000,000 people? Really? Oh, and the poll's results also put the people the ones who put out this garbage look good, and no one at CNN bothers to think? And how were these questions asked? It is well established FACT that how you ask a question has a statistically significant impact on the answer. Show someone a vid of a car colliding with another car at a given speed. Ask half the audience (out of earshot of the other half) how fast they estimate the car was going when it bumped into the other car. Then ask the other half how fast the car was going when it slammed into the other car. You'll get two different answers. Wake up, sheeple. CNN is a marginal source of information, and it makes itself a laughing stock when it publishes snit like this.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • chmch

      Statistics is a pretty valid science though, which is how they extrapolate trends through sample and take into account mathematically, bias in questions, but in the end, you can't really change peoples opinions; they believe what they believe. I for instance, believe pointing fingers and name calling is arrogant and I'm much less likely to take seriously the opinion of a person who indulges in that boorish behavior.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:59 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.