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. gager

    Another religious writer who does not understand the term "god gap".

    September 29, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  2. tensai13

    Yep, longer posts longer than a car bumper sticker response are censored or blocked. Jesus save me – from your followers.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  3. JamieIRL

    Wow, the responses to this article that I've read are the most reasonable, normal words I've ever seen in response to any article on the internet. I read a lot of internet news, congratulations. Let me go ahead and ruin it by saying that it must be because the teabillies are asleep. !!!!!!!!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Sardonicus

      Stepping on your own dick doesn't necessarily ruin the comments for the rest of us. Initially it's just painful to watch you do it, then it's pretty funny and we'll laugh at you.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • maniacmudd

      your post is just what we would expect from a conservative christian, but it's ok, you can go to church on Sunday and ask for forgivness and your halo will be returned....

      September 29, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • tensai13

      Risus Sardonicus – You seem to be obsessed with "suck" and " dic*s" and so I am thinking you are one of these deeply repressed Christian gays we hear so much about. Just asking.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  4. JOey

    I think its interesting how many agnostic and atheists take the time to read and comment on the CNN belief blogs. It seems they are just looking for someone or something to attack. Each person has a right to believe what they want, but to attack that and show no respect for their beliefs only demonstrates a lack a character. I personally feel that deep down every living person feels they are accountable to someone or something. Perhaps denying the existance of a higher power is a way to rebel against that accountability or just trying to supress that they are indeed living a life that is not acceptable.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Sadly Joey, it goes both ways...we are attacked by christians as much as christians think they are attacked by us.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • JamieIRL

      That's interesting because I hadn't said a word until I sat here feeling "attacked" by you.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • JamieIRL

      Also how offensive and ignorant can you be regarding people that think differently than you? Really, we're just trying to "suppress that our lives are unacceptable"? Is that right? Do tell us how you're morally superior due to your beliefs in god. By your logic, the only thing keeping you from being an immoral psycho is your fear of a god. Meanwhile I do it without worrying about whether or not I go to fairytown when I die.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • ljheidel

      All too often, Atheists or agnostics are treated with contempt, disdain or outright hostility by the Godified. Thus, the hostility you sense. In saying what you do, that "denying the existance (sic) of a higher power is a way to rebel against that accountability or just trying to supress (sic)that they are indeed living a life that is not acceptable" is at very best patronizing. I'm an Athiest and I live a good and upright life. I pay my taxes, I obey the law, I "do unto others" because this is a fundamental tenant of being a good human being. I'm also a good, patriotic American who believes the United States is the greatest country on earth. However, I don't take it as a matter of *faith* that some imaginary feudal monarch who lives in the clouds will make that so. We have to work for it, struggle for it, die for it. Just being American doesn't make you better. You need to make yourself better.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • ljheidel

      Most of the Atheists I know, including myself, have no desire to attack anyone for their beliefs. Conversely, it seems that many Christians are scared of Atheism and completely ignorant about it. Those Christians who attack Athiesim also seem to be the types that are scared of the Other: racists (and crypto-racists), anti-Semites, nativists, etc.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • maniacmudd

      not acceptable to whom?? You? I do not walk this earth with a need to feel accepted by you. I am my own man and need no sprit to lean on. I have my moral standards, (I do not need a book to tell me how to be moral), and I do not cross my moral beliefs. I wonder if you could say the same about what you are forced to believe?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • HeavenSent

      JOey, could it be that they are spiritually dead, wells without water, dry bones aka in today's terminology just plain miserable?

      Jesus' teachings are intense.


      September 29, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • ljheidel

      @HeavenSent: So is mescaline. But that doesn't make it the path to truth.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Brent Slensker

      BELIEFS are NOT to be "respected" OPINIONS are. Beliefs are to be CHALLENGED/re-examined on a daily basis. If you believe in some wild-a zzz hooey you should EXPECT to be called on it and not simply "respected" for it!

      September 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  5. tensai13

    One Nation under NO "gods". Just curious why are my posts always censored on this site?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Sardonicus

      Posts that suck are deleted. Your post obviously sucked, so away it went.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • tensai13

      Yeah but this post sucks far more than my long version posts – it's banal and yet here it is posted so Risus where is your argument? Answer – nowhere.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Sardonicus

      " so Risus where.."

      w tf is a Risus? Well, keep up the sucky posts. Good luck.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • TSIndiana

      It's because the moderstors are censures, with an agenda that is not the same as many of the readers. The intent is to lead the sheep, not inform them.

      In my community a judge and attorney use their positions in control of the church to hide their wrongdoing and fraud. They slander and defame persons all the time...in church and on the walk outside of it. The judge was even disciplined by the Supreme Court in 2003 for this "ex-parte" communications, one of only two, but it did not change a thing, He is the Chairman of the board and I will not go to the church I was a member for nearly 50 years.

      "The church" in my small community is a place to hide evil and make it look like one is "Godly" while refusing to give the "honest services" of the public office.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • clevercandi

      Undoubtedly, someone has reported your comments as "abuse".

      September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  6. maximusvad

    If it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, the Bible demands that she be executed by stoning immediately. (DEUTERONOMY 22:13-21)
    If a man dies childless, his widow is ordered by biblical law to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir. (MARK 12:18-27)
    Um yeah....you people believe in this stuff ?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • JamieIRL

      Most Christians haven't read the Bible, that's a fact.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • Sardonicus

      Took one of those imaginary scientifically-verifiable atheist polls, did you?

      "Most?" Pfft.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Ham1

      Maximus I've just read your books of the bible noted several times over and believe you may have simply skimmed them versus actually reading and comprehending. Mark reads in my opinion that the brothers of the fallen 1st brother took the wife in but never left seed (had intercourse), so on till the last died. When asked who she belongs to, God reply's only the 1st was truly married to her under oath to God, even though it speaks that she did not have intercourse with any of them. Deuteronomy reads quite plainly that a wife who is unfaithful in marriage to another man was to be stoned. I agree the way the bible reads compared to today's english can sometimes be a hard read, but if you spend time you'll see the truth in the translation. Have a great day brother.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  7. gary

    god mania! Only real Americans carry a Colt or Smith & Wesson with god's face carved in the handle.

    USA is Toast.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • TSIndiana

      The Jews have their God... it is a Federal Reserve Note that the sheep pay interest on every day. That's why it is a "note", it all carries interest, every frickin day. They crucified Jesus after he threw the money changers out of the temple.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  8. ken

    US history has always been taught with America being the men in the "white hats" anybody who opposes us in the "black hats." Films, literature and television underscored the American hero premise constantly post WWII. American exceptionalism made a lot people feel secure about the American role in the world. When Korea, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Woman's movement all came to the fore some people believed their world was being threatened. The fear of losing one's emotional, spiritual and physical security has been a driving force in conservatism for 50 years.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • maniacmudd


      September 29, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  9. Cow

    Those who compare Christianity to pagan religions have obviously never studied or compared it to other religions. Either that or they are just plain ignorant.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • gary

      religions are cults, cultivating tribes. all deities and demons are pretend.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • amoralyethighlyethical

      And if you studied primitive religions, you'd realize that Christianity is unoriginal.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Nate Mullikin

      not even creative actually

      September 29, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Evn

      What is your comment really saying? Christianity is better than x. If you don't believe that you never compared it to x, or if you have and you don't see that Christiantiy is better you're too stupid.

      What prompted you to write it? Most likely deep rooted insecurity, coupled with religious phobia similar to ethnocentric fears of foreigners.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      I am a Pagan Patriot with a "Made in America" American flag displayed every day on my house. I did not join the flag buying frenzy after 9/11 because I ALREADY had one proudly displayed on my house. Of course I am old enough to have been raised BEFORE Viet Nam and Watergate diminished our national soul.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Come on now gary when posting this baloney response "religions are cults, cultivating tribes. all deities and demons are pretend."

      The true answer is that you are lazy, don't want to give up your sinful nature and will bash Jesus who tells the truth about life and the hereafter. It's too much of an effort for you non-believers to grow up and take responsibility for your lives.


      September 29, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • maniacmudd

      Heaven Sent just stepped in it....

      September 29, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • TSIndiana

      It seems rather odd that "Christians" seek to define themselves as different than other religions who have a belief in GOD, rather than see and embrace the similarities and points that all agree on. Jews seem to want to provoke that feeling of "our religion is right and yours is wrong" so that Christians will allign with them. My belief is in GOD, not secularism with a purpose of dividing mankind. Jesus became violent only once...when he threw the money changers out of the temple.

      Make a US Treasury Dollar and get this fiat, debt based, Rothchild controlled FED money system off our backs. We don't need Jewish control of the US monetary system where all money created pays interest to banks.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  10. Josiah

    “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”
    ― Stephen Colbert

    September 29, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Evn

      Believers are puzzling people to me. You do good – or the right thing, or however you want to describe it – not because it is right, but because it was commanded by (insert your diety) and then you run around thinking better of yourself. You missed the whole point – skip the fiction and you'll finally be able to open your eyes.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Evn, you wouldn't have anything to write or think about if it weren't for Jesus' truth.

      How's that for reality for you?


      September 29, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • maniacmudd

      heaven sent stepped in it again.....

      September 29, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  11. Nate Mullikin

    Tribal passion is a human instinct that kept us alive. If we can hold it together there will come a time that 'Terran' will be the hill to die on. It is the cruel and indifferent bigotry of religion and patriotism that is so abhorrent to thinking persons and why we balk at jack-stepping in the parade.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  12. JustPlainJoe

    Patriotism should never be confused with irrational zeal. One can love one's country and still be realistic as to its faults and work for its betterment. Blind patriotic zeal, fueled by the fires of religious fundamentalism, is a slippery slope that can easily lead to totalitarianism or theocracy. Perhaps the data reveals that the less religious are more balanced in their world view.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • Hear Ye

      Fully agree with your comment, as would any 'thinking' person.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • HeavenSent

      So, how long have you been anti-social?


      September 29, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • maniacmudd

      heaven sent, how long have you been a hypocrite? Didi your god teach you how to be so rude and vile. I do believe you are filled with your Satan!

      September 29, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  13. Victor81

    Someday perhaps, when we learn how to share this planet, we will have begun to understand there is no need for divisive, primitive beliefs in a parental creator, or other political divisions that paint artificial lines on our on earth for a few to prosper while the rest of us compete for her bounty.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Too late Victor. You are the end generation that will be cut off from the vine.


      September 29, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  14. Dina

    Evangelicals are followers, that's all. They need the daddy figure of Christ, they need the comfort of wrapping themselves in the family "flag".

    September 29, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • Nate Mullikin

      or Allah or Shiva or Thor or Ra...

      September 29, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Dina, you mock Christians that love and follow Jesus' truth but you never think about how you non-believers love and follow satan. You don't post about it because you're all egotistical while assuming your thoughts are your own as you pick and choose from the world what peaks your curiosity. What puppet masters are pulling your strings?


      September 29, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • maniacmudd

      I am SOOO glad that "hell sent" is here to tell us what we think.... thats a good doggie!!!

      September 29, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      Yo! HeavenSent! I pull my own strings! Not all that is non-Christian is of your devil!!!

      September 29, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  15. Glenn

    The Taliban love Afghanistan too, much like our Tea Party fundamentalists love America; They want it THEIR way, and everyone else be damned! It's becoming obvious to me that the Tea Party fundamentalists actually have contempt for the America the rest of us love, and they are trying their best to scew it up!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 am |
    • Nate Mullikin

      Afghanistan. One Nation Under God.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. At least the T's read Jesus' truth.

      And you? What mishmash of craziness are you dear too?


      September 29, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  16. Justin H

    I am grateful to be an American because of the freedoms I have as a result. But as an atheist, I am often made to feel like I am un-American, or that I have fewer rights and freedoms than others.

    I do not see America as the greatest nation on Earth, and in many ways I think we have fallen behind other nations. Unfortunately, I think one of the biggest roadblocks to American regaining her greatness is the view of American exceptionalism held by some. If people are not able, or willing, to see the country's flaws, how can we ever hope to change those flaws.

    I will admit that may feelings of patriotism to my country are somewhat tempered by the alienation I sometimes feel as a non-religious person. But I still love my country and would love nothing more than to see it reach it's potential.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  17. Adam

    Patriotism, like morality and values, has no need for religion.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:24 am |
  18. Scott

    I wonder what the link is like between religious people and die hard sports fans. I know some people that will be in a bad mood all week if the local football team loses. The only reason they root for that team is because they live or were born near the team's city. Similarly, religious people choose which of the countless proposed deities to worship in a similar fashion by just adopting the one everyone else in the area worships. I wonder if atheists are less likely to have extreme bias toward their local sports team. I wonder if this "clingyness" that religious people exhibit in the form of patriotism and fandom is psychological or physiological, in the same way kleptomania or addiction is. Are some people more susceptible? Is an addict or die hard sports fan more likely to cling on to a deity, sports team, or country?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Dan

      Interesting. I hadn't considered the relationship. I, and all the other atheists I know, aren't overly interested in sports teams, if at all.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:52 am |
    • Nonny

      I'm an athiest, but I'm also a pretty die-hard sports fan.

      There is no one mold that fits everyone. You should already know that.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  19. Katie

    I love my country but I don't believe in religion. You can be patriotic and non religious, in case you didn't know.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:21 am |
    • Nate Mullikin

      The report didn't say you couldn't or that you were weird for it. It dealt with majorities and percentages. Internalizing is at the heart of religious and tribal fervor. Don't give in to it.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  20. 48dave

    The phrase is "enamored of" not "enamored with". I would think that a basic knowledge of grammer would be a requirement for employment for news writers.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:01 am |
    • Jon

      LOL. So says someone who mis-spells "Grammar". Go cast stones elsewhere.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • JJ




      September 29, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • LawdJeebuz

      Good God man....learn how to spell before yourself before calling someone else out. Reminds me of these religious hypocrites that tell everyone else how to live but don't even follow their own rules.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • SR

      The phrase is actually "enamored with". And rhe word is 'grammar'.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • Nate Mullikin

      Yep, 48Dave, you are a meddler. Are you religious two, to, to..also?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:52 am |
    • HeavenSent

      As the world turns ... with all the wanna bee unemployed critics on this blog.

      Thank you Jesus for my well deserved retirement.


      September 29, 2011 at 8:02 am |
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About this blog

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.