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. tensai13

    The uber-patriotic Nazis with "Got mit Uns" (God is on our side) stamped on their belt buckles and who marched off to wage war and murder their neighbors also believed fanatically that Germany was number one. The more extreme the dogma such as Christianity or Islam, the more murder and mayhem.

    October 26, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  2. DC

    Most cynical, CNN-blogging, atheists would die neither for God nor country, so there is indeed a God gap.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Sam

      When facsism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a bible.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  3. TheMostWise

    The most patriotic Americans are those who politely permit others to practice their beliefs without the unsolicited interruptions and inducements to listen to the mythology of a preferred god who is touted as a god who is less of a failure than all the rest....The more religious .....the less patriotic....The god myths ruin...democracies and governments....The best government is one that recognizes no gods ...at all.......not even to patronize the idiots who believe their majority presence gives them..."divine considerations"......They don't...

    October 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  4. Aradia

    Why do you think so many people risk death and arrest to sneak in? Oh, so they can then turn around and make demands while waving the flag of their beloved homeland, the rank, filthy sty they fled from.

    October 25, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Kay

      But what does that have to do with religion? More important, do you seriously think that only the US has illegal immigrants?

      October 25, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Sam

      Didn't jesus say that in the bible somewhere?

      October 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  5. rancholazer love

    Wow folks on this board are talking about "god" like he living down the hallway from you. Humans don't have the brain power to understand "god" (if there is one which there isn't). Religion is one evil mind controlling sum bi*ch.

    I for one like my brain non washed thank you.

    October 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  6. cdub

    Give unto Cesar what is Cesar's and give unto God what is God's. Country is not about religion as religion and Christianity spans the globe. The only time I believe that there was a single "blessed" country was when he promised the Jewish people a promised land, aka Israel. That may still ring true today but I doubt it as we all belong to God through our souls and the vessels in which our souls are confined.

    October 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  7. shiningsea

    This is the greatest country I know of. Those of us who have lived here our entire lives and wish to remain can't say much else.

    October 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • G.I. Joe

      Th GODmyth wasn't being condescending....he was just telling the truth.

      October 27, 2011 at 6:38 am |
  8. NW

    What holds this country back as being the "best" is the view of the self-righteous who think they are the "chosen" people. Other successful countries don't mix politics and religion. So you are able to follow your religious belief and live together as a society with different view points. They can coexist independently.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  9. b4bigbang

    @TheGodMyth: As it is written in the Book of Speculation, Opinion chapter one: "and the word came to the [false] prophet TheGodMyth and verily the word says thus:
    "There are no religions, just mythologies that haven't become extinct. And they are all just as true as one another. And they are all just as false as one another. And they are all just as real as unicorns and UFOs."
    This is true because TheGodMyth proclaims it !!!

    October 25, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  10. search

    Its amazing how ignorant people can be no one was there when life began how can you be so dogmatic? Listen not every intelligent person or scientific mind hold to the belief that there is no God. Many are hoping and (praying) that there is no God so they will not be obligated if he has standards to live by them, admit it to say there is no God is more of wishful thinking than being liberated or smarter than those that do belief. Keep in mind that evolutionist have not been able to demonstrated how the cell evolved or became selfreplicating1

    October 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Kay

      I understand that you don't understand how atheists think. But what I don't understand is why you simply don't admit it. Don't admit that you don't understand how atheists think, rather than pretending you do and making statements based on *YOUR* assumptions, not on what atheists actually do or do not think.

      After all, like it or not, atheists live by standards just like everyone else. Understand right and wrong...good and bad...appropriate and inappropriate. Don't need the threat of some "afterlife" to be good. (And do *you* need the threat of hell in order to do good? If you do, that's pretty darned sad.)

      And, like it or not, atheists don't hope or "pray" that there's no God. Why? Because it's not a "maybe" or "I hope" thing to them. It's not a matter of "faith". Indeed, it has absolutely nothing to do with faith. Faith is what *you* do. It's *NOT* what atheists do.

      And, to atheists, the fact that "evolutionists have not been able to demonstrated how the cell evolved or became self-replicating" ONLY means that...gasp..."evolutionists have not been able to demonstrated how the cell evolved or became self-replicating". *YOU* are the one needing to explain the unknown by using God as your explanation. Atheists, on the other hand, are content to explain the unknown simply by acknowledging that we don't know everything yet. No magic needed. Just acknowledgment that we don't know everything yet.

      October 25, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Sam

      We haven't invented flying cars yet either.

      What's your point?

      October 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  11. JJJ

    Atheists and agnostics have nothing else better to do so they sit on this belief blog and wait for CNN to put a story that is supposed to be about religion, when in reality it comes up questioning religion has a whole. Atheists are ruining the foundation of this country, get a real job ya jackwagons!!

    October 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • justathought

      RELIGION IS LIKE A PENIS...it is OK to have one, It is fine to be proud of it, But PLEASE, do not whip it out in public and start waving it around, and PLEASE do not try to shove it down my children's throats!

      October 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Kay

      Atheists and agnostics have jobs, just like you. And there's a difference between "religion" and "faith". I have seen faith bring amazing comfort to people during terrible times. And I have seen religion create those terrible times. But what most amazes me is how "people of faith" like you can be so darned mean-spirited...without apparently giving a thought as to what your God thinks about your own words and behavior. Do you *really* think He's proud of your nasty remarks???

      October 25, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Sam


      Hilarious. I'm stealing that.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Sam

      I'm not atheist. I believe that good and evil are real things, just like love and hate.

      I think there's SOMETHING. Some rational explanation. i prefer to think of it as "The Force". There's a light side and a dark side, but it's not silly like Christianity. The universe is orderly and logical. Religion is illogical. The proponents of "intelligent design" believe a story so unintelligent, it's baffling that it has survived into the 21st century. Shows you the power of parents. If your parents had stuck to the Santa Claus story, you'd still believe that too. Flying reindeer, virgin birth. What's the difference. It's easier to understand how racism is passed down from one generation to the next, isn't it?

      October 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  12. thespectatorssport.wordpress.com/

    I have to admit, it was the Christianity Today article that put it best: “God is not about country. God is about love and everyone is equal in his eyes, including the rest of the world.” God is personal; to each his own God. A country should not be affiliated with religion; governments should be secular for the sake of ALL their citizens (unless, of course, in Saudi Arabia's case, where I doubt a single non-Muslim lives). Patriotism should not be equivalent to religion: as I stated, a religion is personal, a country is for society.

    October 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  13. vel

    Patriotism is a lot more than blindly saying the US is "teh bestest". A patriot thinks very well of their country and always wants it to be better, not some hidebound delusion that so many conservatives think it should be. Patriots aren't Butcher Bill from Gangs of New York, worshipping the flag and hating immigrants, but a forward thinking individual who realizes that their country got where it was because of the original ideals, not the hatred and intolerance of a few.

    October 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  14. JFritz

    I am a non-religious, liberal citizen who loves this country and the ideals of the very urbane, very enlightened eighteenth century deists who founded her. The "patriotism" gap spoken of here represents no real idea of patriotism, but the decidedly unholy alliance between evangelical Christian churches and the conservative Republican party, and the average church joe doesn't even realize he's being manipulated by the jingoist garbage he's fed. Some years ago the NY Times ran an article about Houston that described it, to paraphrase, this way–the churches support the ideals of big business and the Republican party, and the party supports anti-abortion and enormous profits from megachurches. The whole anti-abortion issue is really a political one–rally the troops and make anything that we say is sin "Anti-American."

    October 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  15. F S

    This article is a pathetic joke. Thinking we are number 1 in everything is ignorance not patriotism.

    October 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  16. Reasonably

    I'm agnostic and a true patriot. Questioning your government is not only our right, but our obligation and anyone (including Presidents – remember when Bush said this?) who say that to question your government is unpatriotic needs a lesson in patriotism. We are not sheep – well, some of us – the rest watch reality shows and vote for the flavor of the month.

    October 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • G.I. Joe

      Don't forget they talk to wooden statues and think its really Jesus.

      October 27, 2011 at 6:41 am |
  17. Todd

    Patriotism, is pride in your country. "I am proud to be an American"
    Nationalism, is the idea that your country is superior. "USA is #1"
    A true Patriot will see problems in their country and work tooth and nail to fix it. Be it a Liberal or a Conservative idea on the problem and how to fix it.
    Someone who is a Nationalist is lazy in the idea that their country is #1 and superior and dismisses what the rest of the world is doing.

    Now in the US we have a lot of anti-patriots who just hate America just for the sake of hating it. They go well country X does it this way, Country X doesn't have any problems. Ignoring the problems there. While just festering on all the problems that our country has without looking at the good in it too.

    USA is a big country it has a lot of things going for it. Many resources, large population, low population density, a strong economy. It has a lot of good things, but it has its problems some countries have solved the problems, their solutions may or may not work in the United States.

    October 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  18. hey

    better in terms of what?

    October 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  19. Li Tai Fang

    Do not confuse nationalism with patriotism.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  20. TheGodMyth

    They really need to change the heading of this section from BeliefBlog to Mythologies. Belief shows WAY too much respect for these people. There are no religions, just mythologies that haven't become extinct. And they are all just as true as one another. And they are all just as false as one another. And they are all just as real as unicorns and UFOs.

    October 21, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Skegeeace

      Well believers might support myths, but they're a whole lot NICER and less condescending than YOU.

      October 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • tom clements

      Why are any atheists on the belief blog? You belong on the non-belief blog with the other 2% of the world.

      October 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Kay

      Well, shoot, Skegeeace...that wasn't very nice of *you* 😦

      October 25, 2011 at 10:08 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.