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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. bspurloc

    so gee a christian taliban outlet is pushing the idea that non christians HATE amercia.. what else is new.
    1500 people surveyed of MILLIONS of Americans made this article. WHOM were these 1500? most likely from a christian taliban red state..... polls dont mean crap especially when the queries is less than .00001% of the population and the poll taker is 10000% bias against some takers

    September 29, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Guy Noir

      One doesn't need a poll to see that atheists and liberals are anti-American. One can simply read the comments that follow online articles.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • BK

      No. The people that 'hate America' are the ones that refuse to believe there is anything wrong with it, thus allowing those problems to compound year after year until we have become the laughing stock of many other nations. Someone who loves America is someone that follows the founding father's ideal that citizens speaking out against the government is a good thing.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Paul

      "One doesn't need a poll to see that atheists and liberals are anti-American"

      No, they just need a sixpack of cheap beer and an empty space on their wall where a high school diploma should hang.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Nathan

      I feel like such a tool but ... like^^^

      September 29, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Nathan

      Crap just skip over paul when you read mine.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Eviscerated

      WOW! Someone is paranoid and anti Christian. You probably see conspiracy in everything. A Sad sad life you live.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • Ya No

      guy: One doesn't need a poll to know that absolute generalities such as yours are of no real value.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  2. JeramieH

    "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." – Shaw

    September 29, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  3. MikeB

    And which faction is pushing the gap?
    Obama lied to us during his campaign and we believed that he would be a unifier. All we've gotten from him and his faction is derision, divisiveness, segregationism by class or some hyphenated status, and on and on ...
    The efforts to divide our nation are greater now than they have ever been.
    This nation was a melting pot. Not that everyone was to become the same grey substance. But that we could blend and mingle with a mutual respect for one another.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Absol

      Replace all instances of "Obama" with "Tea PArty" and you're right.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • MikeB

      Absol – The Tea Party didn't lie to us in 2008.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  4. zip

    Stand at our northern border and look into Canada. If you think the people on the other side of that imaginary line are somehow less than we are in the eyes of God, you are one sick puppy. It is the mindless sheep in the United States that think America is the chosen land that eventually are going to doom us. Hell, they are right now.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • bspurloc

      u r an even sicker puppy if u think there is this god to have eyes to look out on... which god anyway? since intolerance of others religion is a devout christian taliban idea

      September 29, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  5. Debi

    I take issue with the assumption that patriotism is defined by how highly one regards America in relationship to other nations. I believe that there are many nations that better serve their citizens in education and services, do not participate in large scale armed conflict and keep their budgets essentially balanced. There are many nations with equal or greater guaranteed individual rights. I think you can have a realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the US and still be a great patriot. I was born a US citizen. I love this country and I am all in. I will vote each time I have the opportunity and educate myself regarding the issues on the balot. For a life time I will work in a way that benefits my neighborhood, my community and my country.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  6. kimsland

    Yes I would agree that America is the most patriotic and religiously christian country in the world (generally the entire world laugh at your exaggerated patriotism by the way)

    I'm not interested in waving any country flag outside my home or on my car, I find it strange that Americans think their country must be beautiful or something? Quite obviously they haven't traveled anywhere.

    And that religious stuff is just pathetic. I don't honestly know why anyone with any intelligence would put 'in god we trust' on their money? I mean what's that about? Too many things to laugh about that one.

    Anyway, that's why I don't live there. I don't even know why migrants try to go there, I wouldn't.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Nathan

      What country do you live in?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • Ryan

      I'm glad you don't live here as well. I have travelled, a lot, both on personal trips and the mlitary, and I always come back to the US. It is the greatest country in the world. I loved Australia, and Hong Kong but would not give up my country for anything. I've visited countries that, when told I was an American, people would get all snooty with me. Countries like that I can do without. I go somewhere I respect that country and culture. Every place has it's good points and it's bad. I don't know where you are from but I wouldn't want to visit there. Even when I visited Vancouver years ago, I was not impressed. I was pulled over by the police because I had Texas license plates and was driving around looking for a place to park. I had to get out of my car, give them my ID (military), drivers license, and insurance while they searched my car. Suffice it to say, as soon as I was free, I left and will never go back.
      The US is the greatest in the world.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  7. Nathan

    So yeah I'm hoping "secular" was not a choice. It all depends on the wording of the question and choices pretty much.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  8. Joshua

    Actually as a Christian person I would say that america is a godless monster fast approaching destruction, and it will be amusing to see it happen.

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

      You give a bad name to humans in general. That's pretty dark.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • rypay

      The religious right is leading it down that path.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Nathan

      If you're just trolling then please ignore this and the previous post.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • Mark

      wow imagine a Christian enjoying destruction!!! The most religious ones are usually the most sadist as well!!!
      The Agnostic Atheist movement continues it's climb.......:-)

      September 29, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  9. Brian

    "The fall of Rome was attributed to many things, but one of the last nails in the coffin for the great Roman Empire was lack of patriotism.".................................
    Rome started to fall shortly after Constantine converted it to Christianity. Christianity panders to the weakness of human nature, which is only obvious in this country.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Nathan

      Thats the correlation and causation stuff.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  10. thes33k3r

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
    -Sinclair Lewis

    September 29, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  11. Nathan

    The U.S. has a majority that identifies as Christian. I would hope that "Christian nation" was the most accurate description. If there was another option like "religiously unaffiliated" I think people would have picked that.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Paul

      The majority of this country being Christian means nothing. The majority of this country is also white, but that doesn't make this a white nation.

      Iran is a Muslim nation because Islam is written into their laws. Our First Amendment reads there's a divide, so no, this is not a Christian nation in the least.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Raidan Soma

      "I would hope that "Christian nation" was the most accurate description." -Nathan

      Actually, "secular nation" is the most accurate. In the same way that "One nation, indivisible" is accurate as "under God" would make this nation "divisible" by theists, polytheists, deist, atheists, etc.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Nathan

      That's what I (thought) I said. I'm hoping that the choices were all like "christian nation" or "islamic nation" and Christian was the most accurate choice given. I'm hoping "unnaffiliated with any religion" was left out.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Actually, Paul, this is a Christian nation. It's over 90% Christian, and if one looks around the globe, that percentage would have any nation defined as being of that religion. Being unreligious or anti-Christian yourself doesn't change the nature of the nation.

      And as it happens, this is also still a largely white nation. 2/3 is what's called a 'super-majority' in legislative terms. While our PC media love to paste non-European faces in their ads, that is largely a facade. This is a white, European nation with other ethnicities present.

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

      90% Christian? what are you smoking? There are alot more atheists, Jews, Muslims, etc.. than the remaining 10% of the population.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Nathan

      75% Christian. Says it right there in the article.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Sorry, rypay, while you may not like it, that's the fact. Muslims, despite their high profile, are a splinter of the population, and Jews are also a small group. You may not like it, but you live in a Christian nation.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Nathan, have you sourced those numbers? It's a survey by non-Christian academics whose careers are built on diminishing Christianity.

      You should know the source of your information before you parrot it simply because it suits your opinion.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Nathan

      Dude it says only 75% right there in the article. Just scroll up. The paragraph right before last.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Nathan

      I'm pretty sure people don't just rig a survey to suit their beliefs. That's generally frowned upon by everybody.
      Anyway the census says 47%. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/population/religion.html

      September 29, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Guy Noir

      "I'm pretty sure people don't just rig a survey to suit their beliefs. That's generally frowned upon by everybody."

      That was pretty funny.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • Nathan

      Glad to be entertaining. You missed the last part though. From the census. Or are they biased too? My catholic grandfather is a census taker so it might even be a smaller percentage of us Christians.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  12. Andy

    The answer is within your own story: '62% of American's believe this is a christian nation'. They believe that this is their country and they should be free to legislate their beliefs and take away everyone else's right to chose their own beliefs. The oppressed are less likely to say this is the greatest country than the oppressors, this is surprising?

    September 29, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Andy, who is talking about taking away anyone's rights to pursue their own beliefs? What are you on about?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Darn straight

      LOL. the "oppressed" liberals are the most vocal, obnoxious bums in the country.

      I laugh at your ridiculous spin...

      September 29, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  13. THINK

    The fall of Rome was attributed to many things, but one of the last nails in the coffin for the great Roman Empire was lack of patriotism. It seems that our still great country is starting to have less and less patriots. Patriots who believe in hard work that if you work hard in life, you can still make it in America. I don't really now how to approach this article actually, it just seems to depress me... all it seems to me nowadays is that people care only about themselves and their direct family. Same with government; most people want cuts and tax increases as long as it's not on them. Shared sacrifice is the key to patriotism.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Paul

      Lack of patriotism? Or it could be, oh, you know, people killing them?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • King Near

      I agree with that last sentiment. Gotta say though, I think the fall of Rome is more complicated. I mean, if the empire was collapsing, wouldn't that lead to a loss of faith in said empire? I'm sure the lack of patriotism had a role in crystallizing the fall, but I don't think it was THE cause.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Possessor of WAY more truth than you, ha ha ha

      What an absolute pile of crap. "Lack of patriotism killed Rome" HAHAHAHA. Now there's a new one. Ask ANY historian, and they will NEVER agree with that BS.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  14. RB

    This country was founded by atheist/deist freemasons like Jefferson, Washington, John Adams, and Paine. They all hated Christianity as any evangelical would see it, and this was before evolution "proved" it wrong. It was founded on tax revolts and treason, both things condemned in the Bible by Jesus and Paul. Let us hope they remove "In god we trust" and every other reference, and take a look at what the situation really is. Greed, and more greed, just like any other nation on earth.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Atheist freemasons? You crack me up. Try getting beyond the leftist dogma you've been reading and look at some primary source material. You have no idea what you're talking about, you're simply regurgitating something you've read elsewhere.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Possessor of WAY more truth than you, ha ha ha

      Hey Guy, your brain seems to be addled by too much ETOH, or whatever you drink up there, in the ACME Building. He didn't say they were ALL atheists, he said some were deists. Thomas Jefferson literally cut up the New Testament to suit his whim. He sure as hell was n o christian.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • RB

      Try Wikiquote for easy reading... None of any of the founding fathers had any respect for the god of Bible. Freemason is a secular religion, God is a figure of speech for them. For us Christians (not communists) it is the meaning of life.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Dr.K.

      Calling them atheists may be a bit of a stretch, but it is absolutely true that each of those men was highly critical of Christianity. Jefferson and Paine were particularly outspoken.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Guy Noir

      "Try Wiki for easy reading".

      That says it all...

      September 29, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Dr.K.

      ...and for that matter, it was Washington and Adams who oversaw the Treaty of Tripoli which reads in the very first line, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."

      September 29, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Brent Slensker

      @Guy
      Well Guy, let's see...Paine was most certainly an Atheist and the rest were pretty much Deists and many if not most were indeed Masons.... What "primary source material" are you referring to Guy ? You wouldn't be thinking of something you've read elsewhere. Some BS written by Davey Barton??

      September 29, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • West

      Guy, I'm not sure you know much about it either. RB may overstate the case, but it's a fact that Jefferson was a deist who denied the resurrection and the divinity of jesus, and you can find all that yourself in the Jefferson Bible, which he authored. The larger point RB makes is probably correct: that Jefferson (and many of the other founders) would feel little familiarity with (or sympathy for) today's radical right-wing christians and their agenda to bring biblical law to this nation. If we go that direction we're not much better than the taliban.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • Guy Noir

      "their agenda to bring biblical law to this nation"? What the smack are you talking about?

      September 29, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  15. Raidan Soma

    Iran is an Islamic nation. Turkey is a secular nation with a strong Islamic heritage and culture. The USA is also a secular nation but with a strong Christian heritage and culture. The fact that American respondents to poll questionnaires seem to be both politically and historically illiterate does not negate these truths. Though I am unqualified to make such a claim, obedience to ideologues espousing boastful rhetoric may account for their cognitive dissonance.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  16. Paul

    I would actually take it as a compliment if I wasn't in the group that pretended my country was the best "just because".

    America is my favorite country. I love it's ideals, it's laws, and its values. But I'm not going to pretend everything here is better than everything in every other nation.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  17. Moo

    From reading this, it seems to me that the smarter someone is the more they realise this isn't the 'greatest' country on earth.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • SecularBob

      Oh my friend I was going to say the same thing. Too many sheep in this world.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Guy Noir

      This is the greatest country on Earth, and those who fail to recognize that are the sheep. Modern American liberalism is reflexively anti-American, without intellectual integrity.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Possessor of WAY more truth than you, ha ha ha

      Guy, you need to get out more. Obviously you have never traveled to Northern Europe. The US is fast becoming a Third World country, just ask all those who had to declare bankruptcy this year, because they have no health insurance. You can keep saying that, it doesn't make it so, and it is simply no longer true.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Guy Noir

      Possessor, have you looked out the window yourself lately? Entire nations in Europe are on the edge of bankruptcy! If there's anything that reassures Americans in this time of crisis it's, "at least it's not as bad at it is in Europe".

      That's the beloved cradle-to-grave nanny state that is killing them and wounding us.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  18. Codepwned

    Generally the more educated are not as religiously affiliated and are more well informed about our country and it's good and bad actions within it's borders and abroad. This is typically due to the more you think about things, the more you ask questions, and more you learn. Religious typically teaches, this is how it is, don't ask questions just have faith. The more religious a person is the more they tend to depend on others, or accept as fact what someone told them in passing without question.

    Does that mean you cannot be religious and well educated? Of course not. It's just the typical trend.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Guy Noir

      It's always interesting how people who consider themselves educated are so ignorant of religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  19. Michael

    I suspect there is an economic factor here that has been missed. Religious people are statistically poorer than non-religious people. This of course means that they travel less and are less likely to have visited another country. Those who travel outside the US are much more likely to have good things to say about other countries than those who only here bad things on the news.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Moo

      I'd say poorer people are statistically more religious than richer people.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Guy Noir

      So your thesis is, "the poor are stupid, and they need us wealthy, smart atheists to guide them in appreciating the inadequacy of this nation".

      If that works for you, have at it.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  20. Jadugara

    I mentioned earlier something that I think bears repeating... We MUST stop (or repeatedly expose as false) all the rhetoric, especially from our politicians and civic leaders, claiming that this nation was founded upon Christianity! The idea that our founding fathers intended the United States to be a Christian nation is utterly preposterous, and is in direct conflict with Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli presented by one of our earliest presidents in our own Senate, merely 20 years after the founding of our nation!

    September 29, 2011 at 12:00 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.