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. gary

    god is pretend .. just a myth. And 99% of "Xtians" are hypocrits with no idea of what the bible says and they don't obey it's teachings. It's just a popular tribe to belong to.

    October 16, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  2. Sean

    Religion is dying because people are waking up to the fact that it is mythology and the religious have been lied to all along by those in charge of religious organizations.
    People are losing their patriotism because the greatest country in the world is also lying to them.
    You cannot PROVE religion, but the political system CAN be fixed, but Americans are now too lazy, weak and scared to start another REAL revolution.
    Put that in your i-pod,Blackberry,kindle or whatever else enslaves you to keep your mind off of the government.

    October 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  3. HenryB

    I like this country. It is a great place to be. I am free to do what I want. But to insinuate that we are somehow made special by God is nonsense. We are no better or superior to any country. We are not exceptional as a nation. It is probably best that we start facing the fact that we are no longer the "big dog".

    October 16, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • como1

      No other country in the history of mankind has given others money as freely as the US. The lives of our soldiers and our treasure are buried aorund the world trying to control rogue countries and organizations. Read up and learn what it is to be an American Citizen.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Sean

      I certainly agree with that statement....Rome is beginning to fall

      October 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • gary

      @ como1 ... most of our military actions have been to maintain our economic interests, not our freedoms. Much of what we've done is plain imperialism. Little of it has been 'noble'

      October 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  4. texasgoat

    Who cares...............

    October 16, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  5. John

    Regardless of how people strive to separate themselves from others, at the end of the day they are still just average human beings, all wrought with the same weaknesses, the same frailty and most importantly, the same ultimate destiny. So adorn yourselves with crowns and gowns all you care to, cast dispersion on the beliefs contrary to your own and hold vigil in your towers to heaven. When your time on earth is done, the farthest journey you're going to make is six feet below ground.

    Those who claim most to be the victors are the very same who fear being last. There is no race, no chosen. You're the ones who make the choice. It's your destiny. So stop casting blame on some ethereal being for this world is not filled with sin, but human beings. If you want to see the face of your God, look in the mirror.

    October 16, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  6. Robert

    I have no religion i believe that we are in a uncontrollable world where any thing can happen and we just hope for the best.Science has brought me to no religion. America is the best country in the world though and we shall all be thankful to be born and a part of this country.People who say they don't think this country is great is because they haven't seen other country's lifestyle. We may not be the most perfect country but we are among the best.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Doh!

      Be thankful to whom?

      October 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  7. Bobby

    @ Elaine Connelly

    Elaine do you have anything better to do? I've seen you reply three times now, and no one wants your pitty. Quit trolling on CNN. It's what god wants you to do.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  8. Shawn Irwin

    "Nearly all Americans think they live in the best country on Earth." This study would carry some weight . . . . only if you asked people who have actually been to many other countries. Short of that, it is nothing but verbal diarrhea.

    October 16, 2011 at 3:02 am |
  9. Kay

    One thing that often gets overlooked is that a lot of atheists reject theism because they reject all forms of idolatry. Some of us, myself included, go on to reject patriotism as just another form of idolatry.

    October 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Elaine Connelly

      You will regret that someday. If you do not love this country, then leave. Go overseas, perhaps one of the Muslims that is implementing Sharia Law in the UK will take you as his 3rd, 4th whatever number is next, wife.
      Being patriotic is not being simple minded, it's a rather complicated matter, that is if you have half a mind. Obviously you do not.

      October 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Bobby

      Yes revert to your name calling... Good ol' American spirit. What ever you can't comprehend you go straight to name calling. I'm sure that is what your Jesus died on the cross for.

      October 16, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Mighty7

      This Elaine lady is one solid, class A imbecile.

      October 16, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • Robert

      I am a Christian, but I do agree that extreme patriotism is idolatry. I've lived in several countries around the world and America's not the best. America is the best at some things, but the sheer arrogance of proclaiming your country is the greatest one ever and none other could even approach it in glory is just idiotic and ignorant.

      October 16, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • @Mighty7

      Sharia Law is real. Look it up. No joke.

      October 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  10. dave

    And what about praying for the President? Yes, thou shalt, says Scripture. https://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/14/pray-for-the-president-yes-thou-shalt/

    October 14, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  11. Don F.

    I wonder just what is meant by great? Is it military power? Economic power?, intellecutal power/prowess? Or does it mean a great place (land of opportunity) for those who live here, Or does it mean a great place to live one's life and raise one's family?

    The article doesn't say, and I doubt the survey asked, but depending on one's reading of the question the answer could be very different.

    The idea of a great nation (broadly defined across multiple dimensions) has its roots in the doctrine of manifest destiny. Destiny has little meaning in the absence of a belief (pre-)destinating being.

    October 14, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  12. Dr.K.

    When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and waiving the cross – Sinclair Lewis (?)

    October 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  13. skip

    and this debate will continue ad nauseum until the human race extincts itself from this earth.

    October 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  14. Keith

    Amazing how many flag rules "patriots" keep breaking. Did you know it is disrespectful to display the flag stretched out parallel to the ground like in that picture? Go check the guidelines.

    So other great "patriotic" violations:

    Using the flag for advertising purposes - as in plastered on the side of Sarah Palin's bus.
    Laying the flag on the ground and trampling upon it - as in when GWB came out to a rally and trampled across a flag rug.

    And no, a "flag" is NOT strictly cotton or nylon hanging from a pole. It's anything that bears the image of the US flag. Like Bush's trampled rug.

    I have a hyper right wing loony "patriot" that lives around the corner from me. His pick-up truck has billboards mounted in the back proclaiming all kinds of right wing extremist lunacy. He also has his big tall flag pole in the front of his house, of course. Upon which he leaves his American Flag flying all night long without lighting. Another disrespect of the flag by yet another mindless hyper-patriot.

    October 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      well, since his lawn isn't lit at night, maybe you should sneak over there one night and put up a sign on his lawn stating the regulations about lighting, and how he's breaking them.

      although ya just *know* he's a big 2nd amendment fan... maybe not such a great idea, after all... 😉

      October 14, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Elaine Connelly

      Keith, I really feel sorry for you. You must have voted for Obama.

      October 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  15. marieoconnor

    Nationalism is the new "god" and/or idol in the evangelical community. As a former member of that mind set I can say this with surety. When one recalls what transpired during Franco's Spain, the idea of Nationalism is really not that patriotic nor "Christian"; it is actually quite frightening.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Robert

      I agree wholeheartedly

      October 16, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  16. mensarino

    I resent any group's attempt to hijack the flag for their own purposes. "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"~ Samuel Johnson

    October 13, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  17. Mike

    It's not rocket science. Patriotism and religion are both about unwavering faith and stubbornness of belief. On the other side of that are the skeptics: those who question what the people in power - be that government or Church - are telling us.

    Not surprisingly, if you dug deeper with these polls, you'd find a correlation with education as well.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • phlyer

      Contrary to what many liberals would like to believe, religion and faith are not the exclusive domains of ignorance and prejudice. The fact is that there are intelligent and not-so intelligent people on both sides of the issue. It's more a matter of humility and being open to accepting that man is not the center of everything. Regarding the source and meaning of life, everyone believes in something. Atheism is as much a matter of faith in a natural system that does not include God as religion is faith in God. When you examine all of the evidence with an open mind, there is actually more support for the existence of God than there is against. For an objective look at the evidence, read Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" and Josh McDowells "Evidence that Demands a Verdict", both written by people who started out as atheists.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • JJSB44

      I find it interesting that you use the word "liberals” as meaning some sort of unbeliever. May I suggest to you that Jesus was a liberal for all intents and purposes, and from the Jewish and Roman point of view, a radical who opposed accepted doctrine and patriotism…

      October 13, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Robert

      For their times Jesus, Martin Luther (not necessarily King Jr. but he was one too), Abraham Lincoln, Constantine, and Moses were all liberals. They don't seem to be non-believers.

      October 16, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  18. lebowski1776

    It's quite simple. If you don't believe in Freedom of Religion, you are not a Patriot of the United States of America.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  19. turtlemom

    Evangelicals are mostly uneducated and lack a world view. Non-religious, moderates, atheists and agnostics tend to be better educated about the pros and cons of other countries and our own. The poll shows that uneducated, ignorant people are blissful because they don't know better.

    October 12, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Matt Kazan

      Well said!

      October 12, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • chamade

      Yeah but evangelicals don't believe in science based polls and research so your argument is invalid. Get it?

      October 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • JJSB44

      I agree with that statement, but it is not just evangelicals, it is all religions. And it’s not because they are uneducated its it because they not intelligent. Anyone that would take any kind of information given to them as fact, and accept it with blind faith, is not a free thinker. They are not smart enough to question things around them and so they take the most simple answers as truths. God and Religion are the simplest of answers, and easily digested amongst the dim.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Elaine Connelly

      What on earth gave you that idea? You are clearly mentally challenged.

      October 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  20. evangelicals vs everyone ??

    What about non-evangelicals? Apparently, the country is:
    christians who are not evangelicals.
    the non-religious

    what about other religions? the various forms of christianity? "spiritual" people who are not religious but not non-believers.

    the tea party and evangelicals are not the only people in the country, contrary to what is trending.

    October 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Robert

      Here in America we don't take too kindly to other religions. NOW GET OUT YA GODDANG MUSLIM!

      October 16, 2011 at 7:46 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.