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. IDK

    In the words of Penn Jillette "I don't know." And no I don't believe in god.

    October 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  2. brin3m

    so which religion's prayer is "needed"?

    October 20, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  3. Jim

    Lib history teaches that white, southern democrats left the dem party over the lib embrace of civil rights. While that may be true in some cases, what is often not actualized by the left, was it's public turn against God and Country. The last dem President who had Military service and really believed in any religion was carter.

    October 20, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • brin3m

      and your point is?

      October 20, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Cactus Wren

      How seriously shall I take an assertion by someone who doesn't know how to spell "liberal", doesn't know how to spell or capitalize "Democratic", doesn't know to capitalize proper nouns, and thinks "its" should have an apostrophe in it?

      October 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Thanks for the reminder, with a new election looming, that born-agin' rednecks who proudly proclaim that 'god-is-my-co-pilot' have been two of our worst presidents of the last 100 years. I'm talking about Dubbya and Carter. Both presided over extremely harsh recessions, depressed consumer confidence and reduced world-wide respect for our great nation. But I think the public has finally caught on to the shysters who play the god card for their own benefit... Perry's popularity nose-dived when people reaized that, like Carter and Dubbya, he is kind of a doofus.

      October 21, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Sam

      "Perry's popularity nose-dived when people reaized that, like Carter and Dubbya, he is kind of a doofus."

      sssshhhhhh. Not so loud. People in Texas don't know he's a dufus, and he still wants to be Governor after he loses the nomination.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Sam

      ok, not fair.

      Its vs it's always confuses me and the spell checker.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  4. Byz.

    I believe is simply a matter of atheists / people without a religion on a whole tend to be more skeptical than their religious counterparts, it isn't about patriotism, it is about one group seeing the flaws more than another, glass half empty, if you will (not to say, of course, they are pessimists, just that they are more likely to be critical).

    October 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • brin3m

      your belief of athiests is unfounded. they are very upbeat people. motivated and intelligent. they are secure in who they are and simply don't believe what you believe. done. they also agree that they like you should not be forced to partake in a religious action that they like you can not support (sharia law comes to mind)

      October 20, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  5. JEN


    October 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  6. brooksjk

    My new book, The Four Pillars of the Kingdom, is set to be released soon. It is, not only a response to some of the metaphysical arguments of the so-called New Atheists, but also a call to believers to take their faith serious in a very real way. You can find a few excerpts from the work at my website, The Immaculate Conservative, here:


    Please read and let me know what you think!

    Joe Brooks

    October 19, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Joe: Conservatism is not compatible with Christianity. Christ said "do good to those who persecute you," "if someone hits you on the cheek, turn and let him hit the other cheek, too," "be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves," and "judge not, lest you be judged." Christ's teachings are all about love, tolerance, forgiveness, and non-violence. Christ would not be welcome at an NRA convention or a Tea Party rally. Conservatives who want to call themselves Christians really ought to obey what Christ said. Christ also said, "it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven." Guess some people find Christ's words kind of scary. 😉

      October 19, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Jim

      So Alex, since you are judging against the Tea party, and obama is a VERY rich man – you two will have a good time not in Heaven together?

      October 20, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • Cactus Wren

      Reported. This is a forum for discussion, not advertising.

      October 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Sam

      Whatever you do, do NOT go to a tea party wearing sandals.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  7. Opposition Researcher


    October 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  8. jayc

    After hearing all the GOP debates, my conclusion is that the only one who can win Obama is Hillary ...

    October 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  9. George

    It just shows that those who are duped into believing the world is 6,000 years old and that a book that was constructed with a lot of back-room deals at the Council of Nicea is the inerrant word of God, are also either uneducated enough or inexperienced enough to believe that America is somehow exceptional.

    October 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  10. InTraining

    to Kweg Yung
    and just because you don't believe in something doesn't mean it isn't real. Jesus does not teach His followers to kill those who don't believe in His instruction. Rather, it instructs to go out and teach those who will listen.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • brin3m

      "will listen" that's the point! so many evangelicals are trying to convert those who won't listen and then they judge and condemn them. very unchristian. they are supposed stop preaching and move on........

      October 20, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  11. Gene

    1 Samuel 8

    October 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  12. Matt

    Interesting. I am an Atheist, but I cannot think of one nation that is "Greater than us". Who would it be? While there are surely some countries that have the highest happiness index, or better education, better health, etc, no nation has achieved our level of greatness in total. We have the best military, the best land, the best comedy, the best entertainment.... the list goes on. There isnt one country that comes to mind that actually has it better than us.

    October 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Bruce


      Which is the greater nation–the nation that expends more resources than it actually has to field the best military in the world, or the nation who allows another nation to do so and basks in the (relative) safety that the militaristic nation provides without expending their resources?

      In my opinion, the latter is the greater nation and the former is a chump nation. I'd say on that count alone, Canada is a greater nation than their southerly neighbor...

      October 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Every patriot of every nation thinks that his/her nation is the greatest, just as most kinds think their parents are the best mom and dad in the world. "Greatness" can be defined many ways. In terms of personal freedom, Netherlands is probably number 1. In terms of scientific achievement and industrial capability, the U.S. is absolutely number 1. One reasonably objective measure of national greatness is how many people from other nations want to come and live in yours. The lines to get into the U.S. are pretty long, so that says much about the global view of U.S. greatness.

      October 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  13. Powercosmic

    Patriotism and Nationalism only lasts as long as the good times, its a very elastic sensation.

    Evangelicals are Patriotic because they above all others fear authority the most, they above all others fear discomfort. What they do not understand is that their Patrons, those wealthy individuals on Wall Street or in Big Oil, don't really care about them, if it comes down to a choice, their Patrons will put themselves FIRST, this is ALWAYS the case among sociopaths.

    We're about to see this played out right before our eyes, Evangelicals are going to get a rude awakening as we edge into the Depletion stage of our liquid fossil fuel party. In the depletion stage, what happens is that only the very wealthy will be able to afford what we take for granted today, like fill-ups at the gas station, or a 2 hr flight to mexico. We will all be left with a useless infrastructure that was used to enrich their Patrons, while the wealthy jet-off to better countries.

    But I sincerely think that even then, Evangelicals will still not "get it"

    October 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • jj


      October 17, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  14. steven harnack

    Well it just tells me that intelligent people don't believe in mythical beings and they also recognize that rabid nationalism is just as destructive to a peaceful world as religion is and when you mix the two as with rabid christian nationalists you get people who will see war as something that is as natural and desired as breathing. Stamp them both out and the world might have a chance to be a heaven.

    October 17, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • bob bob

      Well said.

      October 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  15. aModerate

    Nationalism is just as dangerous as religion. I feel empathy to fellow humans, but I don't really feel much patriotism for the continent that I happen to live on. Society is not exclusive to a geographic location and one culture does not have a monopoly on how to form an equitable society. How many wars have been fought between nations? How often do we have to de-humanize some one from a different nation in order to get our soldiers to fight. The fact is, we are all humans, and I don't think we should be in the business of placing one group of humans in a position over another group. We all deserve to have a better life, and hopefully the United States will recognize that and work to making this a better world for all of humanity, not just itself. Before you jump on me for being un-patriotic, you should know that I am a disabled veteran of the Iraq war.

    October 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  16. asfjja

    haha they define patriotism as thinking America is the best thats a major flaw in their study. Being misinformed does not make you a patriot

    October 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Steve wisconsin

    HEY GOP CHRISTIAN HYPOCRITES. If your Holy Party could spend so much time, effort, and money to make corporations people (Citizens United), why haven't you done the same for the "unborn" except to talk about it when you need campaign money?

    October 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  18. bdl

    God bless America and all the dumb people in it. America is God's favorite and he will protect us from evil because our faith is strong and nothing bad can happen if we pray hard enough so lets all join hands and say a group prayer because god is listening with his complex ears that allow him to hear so many prayers at the same time.

    I always love to hear brainwashed people give the same excuse anytime something doesn't make sense. "Because it's God."
    Oh ok when you put it like that you don't sound so f'n crazy now. you totally change my outlook and can I go to church with you now?

    October 16, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Brandon

      Rome used to believe the same thing.

      October 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      Good points! The hymn/song that contains the words "O Beautiful for Spaacious Skys" has more than one stanza. The second stanza includes the phrase "America, America, God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul with self-control..." In short supply these days! Also to be under God's protection also implies being under God's judgement as well. How many wars lately? Who is counting! Incidentally, Evangelicals correctly taught that patriotism is a form of idolatry (Jehova's Wittnesses still do, and refuse to bow to the flag) until the large number of Roman Catholics began entering the country who were perceived as having dual loyalities, being agents of Rome and opposed to democracy (some truth here). I'm not a beliver, but I was certainly raised to be one. Patriotism and religion share the common bond of fear and pride – two of the "sins" they preach about.

      October 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  19. Kweg Yung

    Just because you believe in something doesn't mean it is real... But what the hell, go ahead and kill anyone who doesn't believe the way you do. God's obviously not powerful enough to kill evil in this world. He really needs your help identifying and eradicating all non-believers! Kill them so they can be saved!

    October 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Robert

      I am a Christian and I don't believe that. I know hundreds of Christians, including several clergy and a few bishops, and I do not know anyone who thinks that way. Where did you get this idea from?

      October 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • HeadinUp

      Hey Kweg, why are you posting the exact same text as a reply to each of these articles?

      October 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  20. Jon P

    Where is this data from? I've looked through that report before and I'm not sure where the information is coming from. I see that question posed but it's answered in terms of political affiliation. Also under demographics, of those polled, I don't see where it shows religious beliefs. Also the word you're looking for is nationalism not patriotism.

    October 16, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Opposition Researcher

      Exactly. Nationalism.

      October 18, 2011 at 1:36 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.