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. Hiyama

    I agree with the Christian Today article. Besides as a Christian if God doesnt judge America then he owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorah.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  2. Hiyama


    January 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  3. Bergerdrum

    I love my country and I DO think it still is a great nation (with room for improvement), and I probably would fly a huge flag over my house ... if evangelicals hadn't already hijacked the flag and patriotism and claimed it their own exclusive domain. As it stands now, I have no wish to be identified with evangelicals whatsoever, and so I avoid such public displays. For the most part, my views I keep to myself, and live and let live. I wish more people did so.

    January 3, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  4. The Pope

    Who cares. Religious people are self-righteous turds.

    January 3, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  5. Martin

    My guess is that some of the same reasoning that leads someone to reject religion can also lead them to reject patriotism. Atheists often point out that it's irrational for someone to believe in a certain religion just because they were born into it. That same reasoning suggests that it's irrational for someone to believe in the superiority of a certain country just because they were born into it. You could argue whether it's the atheists, Christians, or both who are truly biased but in any event this would explain the pattern of opinion.

    January 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Santa Claus

      I see that good reasoning goes into your explanation, but, being a skeptic, I can say that I am more devoted to my country than I am to any religion. In my case, I am more patriotic because my loyalty is not divided between the U.S.A. and a religious group. This article appears biased in the way that it classifies less-religious Americans as "less-patriotic" (that is a generalization that insults a lot of people). Maybe another survey should be conducted. I respect all opinions, yet I will not be arbitrarily shoved into a category that I certainly did not choose.

      January 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. Monbois

    Of course there's less patriotism among the less faithful! If you're ignorant, gullible and arrogant enough to believe that you are a member of the One True Religion on Earth, you're likely to be just as ignorant, gullible and arrogant enough to believe that whatever country you live in is also the Best Country on Earth! I'm sure radical Muslims in Iran believe Iran is the Best Country on Earth, whereas those with less religious fervor are probably more willing to take an honest and objective view of their country's successes and failures. Every country on Earth has shameful blood on its hands, most certainly the United States, so no country can claim to be the Best Country on Earth. That exhaulted status should be reserved for the county with the most freedom, equality, justice and government transparency. Sadly, once again the United States falls far short of many other countries, especially in northern Europe. Still, the U.S. is a much better place to live than poverty-stricken third-world regimes headed by petty dictators who plaster photos of themselves everywhere in order to be worshiped as gods.

    January 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  7. jeremiah

    world is all mess up we all need jesus as our lord and savoir

    January 2, 2012 at 4:04 am |
  8. Calvin White

    It's praying time!!!

    January 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  9. Kirk Ellis

    The anwer is in the World Peace book – available at Barnes and Nobles.

    Virtuous Clarity of Vision is the Realistic norm.
    Morality in Action is a scientific, soulful process.

    With the human equation ethical, value evaluations can be used to give ratings. "We The People are now in charge again."

    January 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  10. Christine

    I do wish that those people will realize that the USA is NOT a Christian nation. There is no reason why ANYBODY in the USA should be a Christian, and no reason that the USA's laws should be based on Christian values. Govt. is to be NEUTRAL on religion.

    January 1, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. mARK

    What about polling people that have been outside the country. I have a feeling that many evengelicals have never left America or may be even their state. Do they really have an infomed decision?

    January 1, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  12. hhi

    How about taking religion out of the equation, and saying those who think outside of themselves are more likely to be patriots.

    January 1, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  13. greg

    how are americans good christian anyway?
    the vast majority supports capital punishments (violating the ten commandments) yet go to church on sundays.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:46 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.