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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. neoritter

    I can tell you as a Catholic, a lot of the Catholics I know are some of the most patriotic. I think that comes not necessarily from religion but from the fact that Catholics were seen as being pawns of the Pope and to prove that we were Americans we tended to want to show our patriotism, like for example flying the American flag or the relief services that Catholic groups (Knights of Columbus) gave to soldiers during WW1.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  2. Al

    "I am grateful to be an American." A much better sentiment (and one I agree with) than "I am proud to be an American". And grateful to those whose work has given me reason to be grateful, from our founding fathers to those who have fought do keep our freedoms.

    December 5, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  3. Bob

    Of course evangelicals would think this is the greatest country in the world. They've never let the facts interfere with their beliefs. That's why they still think genetics and stem cell research and all of modern medicine that came about as a result of evolutionary biology are liberal lies, but one, and only one, neolithic creation myth is true. God help them.

    December 5, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  4. Ruth in Ohio

    I am 63 years old,my generation did not take God out of school or the pledge of allegiance ,we did not take respect for our teachers out of school,we were not their friends and I preferred it that way,I was there to learn .Patiotism was taught in school,by our parents and our uncles who served in World War II. Our grandparents made sure we were at ther Memorial Day parade,and they did not get their report cards if they did not attend the parade...I am an American and very proud to say I am Catholic,it was what our parents were responsible enough toteach us as children.....I feel sorry for this next generation!

    December 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Ryan

      I suppose that you are agreeing, then, with the premise of the article. The point was that Christianity and Patriotism are conflated concepts in America, where there is a tendency to be either both strongly Christian and patriotic or neither, and what I gather is that you believe it should be both. I think there's an implicit caution though, that while being both separately might be a positive thing, conflating the two concepts is dangerous, and many in "Christianity Today" seemed to suggest that it even bordered on heresy. Love for one's country and love of God are not the same thing. You can certainly have both, but that's different than saying they are one construct.

      As a clarification: your generation not only didn't "take God out" of the pledge of allegiance, but, in fact, it added God to the pledge of allegiance, when it was not previously there. That is one example, I'd argue, of a way in which the distinction between God and country has been intentionally blurred. Two questions then: Is it really part of being Christian to believe in the supremacy of the United States? (I think that answer is self-evident) Is it really part of being American to be Christian? I'd say the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion mean that you can only be both independently of each other. I'm inclined to worry more if people are NOT taught that.

      December 5, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  5. Gregory Faith

    You Love the place that you were born at. Be it China, Russia, India or the United States. Just how you show it, is the question. A believer and a non believer are the same when it comes to this subject. Don't ask, just believe we all love where we live. No matter where that may be. I hate polls, they are really never accurate. Those questioned are really never straightforward. Trust me I've asked a large number this and get different answers when I question them sometime later about the same subject months later. Garbage in, garbage out.

    December 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  6. David Rand

    Maybe American's lack of responsibility is the new source of lost Hope. We all agree that we need to reduce our national spending yet no-one is willing to sacrifice themselves. It is always "Them others" that need to pay the price of a successful change in this nation.
    – Why shouldn't all americans pay a little more towards Social Security to shore it up for the next 50+ years
    – Can we really continue to live longer yet not expect to increase the retirement age...Yet no-one wants to pay more for medicare?
    – Heathcare costs go up 10% a year...totally uncontrollable...yet we put no limits on how much gov't should pay to keep a citizen alive in the final years of life?

    December 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  7. David Rand

    Do you need to believe in God..to love one's country?
    Do you need to be a Christian to be a Patriot?
    Silly

    December 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • snowdogg

      TOTALLY AGREE !!!

      December 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  8. Travis

    I wonder how much of that difference is due to an unwillingness to speak about things based on faith instead of knowledge. As a rationalist, I have to say that since I haven't lived in other developed nations for any extended period of time, I don't know if life in them is better or worse than life in the US. I believe that the US is most likely one of the best countries to live in. It might even be *the* best, but I don't *know* that for sure.

    It seems to me that religious people are more likely to take things "on faith", and thus, more likely to say "Yes, this is the best country in the world!" even if they have never personally lived in another country.

    December 4, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  9. reconmarine

    It doesn't matter what religion you are. You either love this country or you don't. And if you don't please find a new one as it makes no sense to remain in a place where you believe you are being oppresed. You want to see oppression. Move overseas.

    December 4, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  10. jesse

    it really saddens me that 62 % of people think this is a christian nation. I am one of those people that believe America is the greatest nation in the world. That is becuase American is an idea. An idea of equality for all. Not just in law (which we are muc closer to) but in mind. An idea that we are not any type of nation but rather that the world is a nation of people and that when we are all on the same side we can accomplish greatness.

    December 4, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Jon

      Saying "One nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance isn't exactly helping your point though. The US is run by Christianity whether you like it or not sadly. A president will never win if he comes out as an Atheist or a Jew. Most people in the US don't use reason, they use God. I know, it brings tears to my eyes also.

      December 4, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  11. George

    America was founded by Christians to be a "city on a hill," to be a light in an otherwise dark world. Atheists want to tear down our country. They want to destroy our morals and make America just another country in the world. They do not believe in American Exceptionalism.

    We need to get our country back to God and the God-given principles that it's people adhered to until very recent times.

    December 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Oneatatime

      nope. built by freemasons. they were not christian.

      December 4, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • hankers

      You can practice whatever morals you want, but stay out of my bedroom! That is what freedom is all about.

      December 4, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • George

      Since when is that what freedom is all about? That sounds more like license to me.

      December 4, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Josh Harris

      "America was founded by Christians to be a "city on a hill," to be a light in an otherwise dark world. Atheists want to tear down our country. They want to destroy our morals and make America just another country in the world. They do not believe in American Exceptionalism.

      We need to get our country back to God and the God-given principles that it's people adhered to until very recent times."

      Are you trolling, or is this really what people think about atheism? I am appalled at the narrow-mindedness I find on public forums these days. I was brought up atheist, and was told that "christians" and other religious "zealots" (my parents' word, not mine) were/are horrible people bent on destroying everything good in the world. I, however, did not grow up sharing the beliefs to which parents attempted to indoctrinate me. I find that, even though christians do not believe the same things I believe, they are generally not horrible people and are not looking for an excuse to persecute me for my lack of faith.

      Anyway, in response to your points: You are wholly incorrect when you say that Atheists want to destroy your morals and tear down our country. Atheism isn't an agenda, and it isn't a "hatred" of god and all things moral as some assume. It is a way of thinking that rejects faith-based belief systems on the basis that they don't rely on empirical evidence and logic to draw conclusions. There is no moral implication to being atheist, and there is certainly no anti-American scheme involved either.

      A final note: American Exceptionalism is a belief that is counter to the doctrines set forth in the bible. I have yet to see a single entry in ANY bible that talks about America being qualitatively better than any other nation.

      December 4, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • snowdogg

      "American Exceptionalism"... do you want to define that term?

      December 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • George

      @Josh Harris

      Atheism is not an agenda? Are you serious? Just look at the numbers of atheists who troll this BELIEF blog and attack the religious who beleive in traditional morality. A Christian can't make one post in praise of God without an atheist making a blasphemous comment. You do understand making blashpemous comments is hateful, don't you? Every religious discussion is derailled by atheists, and it always ends up arguing atheist vs. religious rather then about the theme of the article.

      December 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • George

      @snowdogg

      I could define "American Exceptionalism," but I'll let that be your homework for today. There are plenty of conservative sites where it is defined.

      December 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Josh Harris

      It's not atheists who derail discussions; it's generally people who find fault in things they don’t understand, and don’t want to take the time to “step into someone else’s shoes”. I am not here to derail discussions, and I certainly haven't, and won't say anything blasphemous.

      People tend to confuse having a differing opinion with having an agenda. Atheism isn't a single point of view. People are atheist for different reasons, and to that point, people who are atheist can also have differing agendas. I know conservative atheists who adhere wholeheartedly to the political views of the far-right, I also know atheists who have a wholly liberal viewpoint. Religion or lack thereof has nothing to do with political view or the ability to contribute to a discussion on any subject. The confusion (and/or derailment) comes in when someone who purports to be an atheist (or Christian) expresses an off-subject agenda or an opinion in such a way as to make others think he/she is speaking for the entire group.

      I am an atheist, make no mistake about it. I am not, however, hateful toward religious people or offended or upset by anyone expressing praise of their chosen god. I am also not an exception to the rule when it comes to atheists at large. Believe it or not, we aren't here to destroy what is good...we just don't believe in God. I understand that under the belief system of Christianity, that condemns me to hell or whatever the equivalent is in any given denomination...but it doesn't change the fact that I have developed a personal moral compass that doesn't seem to disagree with many (if any) of the moral obligations of any good Christian person.

      @snowdogg:
      American Exceptionalism has different meanings depending on who is saying it. George is right, you may want to do a quick Google search to find out what it means.

      December 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Josh Harris

      Ok, I misspoke (typed): Religion DOES have something to do with political opinion in the majority of situations. It does not, however, ALWAYS connect to political views.

      December 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • George

      @Josh Harris

      You should realize that you are not typical of the atheists who have dogged just about every post I make. Simply saying "Merry Christmas" gets the most blasphemous and nasty replies. I mean, the are so bad, I don't even want to repeat them. And if that doesn't happen, atheists try to derail conversations by posing "questions" that are designed to initiate a debate over the existence of God. But these debates never get anywhere. I am not going to change my mind about my religion, and I doubt seriously that I will change any atheist minds. And this is a "Belief Blog" after all.

      December 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  12. Real christian Perspective

    Christianity Today hit the nail squarely on the head.

    December 3, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  13. triPAUD

    That quote from Christianity Today was true.

    December 3, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  14. Jubilee

    If you've traveled to other parts of the world you probably don't think the US is #1. They are certainly up there but take a country like Australia for example, stronger currency than the U.S., lower budget deficit per citizen than the U.S., lower unemployment percentage than the U.S., less crime than the U.S., less concentrated poverty than the U.S, healthcare for all citizens unlike the U.S., and we are better or equal to them how? Being able to kill a lot of Iraqis doesn't count.

    December 3, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Jon

      I'm going to go with the simple answer. Nobody dreams to be an Australian. Almost everyone dreams to be an American.

      December 4, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • bob

      @Jon
      Really? Australia happens to be a nation of immigrants – people from all over the world have sacrificed much to get there. It has a higher standard of living than the US, lower infant mortality, longer life expectancy, much better beer etc.
      The USA is a great country – it could be greater. Australia is a great country – it could be greater. Patriotism is loving your country so much you want to make it better.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  15. Let's do the Math

    As per article:

    "while 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey also done in 2009."

    Obviously, it doesn't includes the other beliefs (Islam, Buddhists, Taoist, Scientology, pastafarian etc.).

    What is left for atheists?

    I just couldn't help to LOL if I hear atheist claiming (drastic) rise on their numbers. LOL!

    December 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Let's do the Math

      Sorry forgot to mention the Jewish (they can be considered a part of etc. any way).

      December 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • fred

      The number of atheist has increased. What concerns me most is the christian children that fall of in College. That number of Christians that stop attending church after college is 80%. It take a stong Christian to make it past the philosphey classes and liberal pressure from the top down at our colleges.

      December 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • We can also try physics

      There's nothing in atheists that increases but their egos. It has bloated into the size of a space blob but their number and also their brains has remained in the size of a quark.

      December 3, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Recovering catholic

      @Fred and @George
      I'm one of those "good Christians" who " fell off" as you might put it, when I went to college. I also went from a conservative to a more liberal individual. I didn't leave the church because of a liberal agenda or any other naive notion you might have. I left because I came to realize I was being fooled by, well fools. I began to understand and learn that religion is more culturally and politically significant than morally significant, and, more often than not ( nearly 100 percent of the time) it is the shepherd's flock that condones and accepts the immoral actions of it's nation, it is not not the conscientious objector. Jesus would be appalled by today's "Christian" nation of America. He said follow god and respect life. Not follow two billionaire oil moguls (bush-Cheney) into Babylon for a massacre. 50 percent of those killed in Iraq ARE women and CHILDREN the blood is on both of our hands. The people of the mid-east will not soon forget this. Repent not for yourself but for the actions of the true movers and shakers, our world leaders. Your american media is a joke! Your weekly Sunday prayer sessions are a joke! your christian moral compass is broken and can't be fixed until you act like a true American citizen and participate for real and see who is truly destroying this nation and it's moral commitment to social progress, your unquestioned unchecked elite. It's called managed democracy and your part of the problem. On a side note, none of the major founders, and few of the 30 or so less important founders were starkly religious. They were deists at best, do you know what this means? They believed in a god that gave life and then became hands-off human affairs. This means "god's work is in our hands" to quote the late social reformer and great American president, JFK ( we share same initials, I'm tickled). The reason we have failed to push these boundaries of even greater social justice is not because god no longer sees us in favor, it is because the citizenry has become apathetic and static. We stopped caring about how interwoven our government and corporations had become as we did in the progressive era. We stopped being democratic participants and became consumers. We are all at fault. it's just really easy to blame someone even more when they say something absolutely ridiculous like " god did it or it's the people who don't go to church". democracy and, economic and political morality are not in decay because of the atheists or Christians it is because we as citizens are failing our democracy, to the point where it has become an oligarchy of tyrannic ambitions.

      "war is terrorism magnified 100 times"
      -Howard zinn

      Life is the supreme virtue.
      -Albert Einstein

      Grow up children, the problems never start with the bottom feeders, never stop looking up. Keep yern' in

      Book suggestion for those who believe in humanity and it's capabilities and past accomplishments: the phenomenon of man by Teilhard de Chardin a former Jesuit priest turned biologist, anthropologist, and philosopher. Really a great read.

      December 7, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  16. Matt

    "evangelicals were the most likely to think the United States is No. 1."

    Well, that makes sense. Once a sucker who'll believe made-up nonsense, always a sucker...

    December 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Pk

      Where is your proof that it's made up? Atheism is a belief system that requires faith because you cannot proove there isn't a God. It's easier, though, thinking there is not a higher power that you will have to answer to someday.

      December 4, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  17. fineart

    There is no gap when speaking about the All. The only gap there is, is when human kind turns it's back on what has been trying to save it. Google, Nag Hammadi Scriptures and learn the truth.

    December 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  18. ans

    No big wonder why patriotism and evangelicalism go hand in hand in. Both are rooted in faith without question asking.

    It's a great misnomer to call those who readily recognize their country's deficiencies as "unpatriotic". As with all things, it's only through recognition that we can improve this country that so many "unpatriotic" people love.

    December 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  19. palatot

    Bigotry and jingoism go hand in hand and both do very well in America. Witness the success of FOX and the take over of the Republican Party by the religious right.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  20. borisjimbo

    Maybe those seculars just aren't so jingoistic about their country?

    December 2, 2011 at 6:49 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.