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. Steve

    No surprise evangelicals believe that the USA is the best country in the world as these are people who blindly believe anything sold to them with the hucksterism of a snake oil salesman. The reality is that there is no "best" country; each has good and bad points. Like everything else, you make your choices and live with them.

    October 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  2. Kassandra

    CNN should be ashamed to promote this anti-American drivel. Separating the populace with religion is a moral crime.

    October 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Ardnassak

      Unfortunately, Kassandra, not everyone recognizes sarcasm.

      October 29, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  3. Kassandra

    Wow! So Thomas Jefferson's advice to "take no note" of established religion to achieve a better republic and that if we did we would "make one half the world fools and the other hypocrites", means nothing now? One nation "under God" was added later, not in the original. So now the most religious zealots in the nation get to dictate the litmus test for patriotism? Well I can tell ytou this, "When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag carrying the cross." For all you God fearing Bible thumpers , are you aware the US now ranks alongside Mexico, Turkey, and Chile in wealth inequality and industrial poverty of all the so-called industrial nations? Why are you wilfully blind to your nation's ever increasing pathologies? Do you think the murder of aprroximately a million innocent people in Iraq makes your country the greatest? I can assure you this, if you allow the oligarchs to manipulate you with your religion, you have lost your republic.

    October 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  4. boocat

    "If our "rights" are "God given" why do all countries with a "bill of rights" have a different number of rights. And why do some countries have no rights at all? Is it because God is bad at math? GET REAL!!!!!" – George Carlin

    October 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Andrew

      Boocat and Skipper are ignorant fools. Our forefathers would be ashamed at this current generation and their lack of any strength or wisdom. They are an embarassment and all they think are negative things. They are sheepish in all their ways and trust what television tells them. They are easily convinced of worldly things never giving a thought pas themselves. I do fear for our nation if future generations are to be more like these people. They are cowards and have a veil over their eyes now. Like Noah did in his day, we as Christians pray that the Lord forgives our nation for the foolish ways of it's inhabitants. When a television show such as Two and a Half Men is the cornerstone of entertainment, the stupid and unwise have become many. Atheists and agnostics are foollish people and lack depth of thought. They wilfully turn away from God. They may never know what true joy is.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  5. Skipper

    That is because the non-religous are also the non-sheep who can think for themselves....

    October 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • jfk1971

      You do not have to be an atheist or an agnostic to be able to think for yourself. You can be either and still love this country and all the good it stands for and represents. You can also be a very religious and very patriotic person and yet have a mind of your own. Or, you could be one of those non-religious/non-patriotic people who prefer to hate or look down on anything that other people happen to believe in. If you are going to look down on something simply because it is not perfect, you will be looking down on everything your entire life. What a sad, pathetic way to go through this world. Embrace the good, deny the evil, make things better.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  6. Sinister? Hardly

    I'm not even going to tell you the mental makeup of people. I've always disagreed with Evangelicals because I feel they get too political, and there are plenty of passages in the Bible of what Jesus said of the Pharisees, which I believe the modern Evangelical Movement has become. That aside, here's the question – The poll is wrong. How many people "polled" have left the United States? It's easy for a person to have – I won't say narcissism, but that can be a factor – the belief that they live in the pinnacle of society. "How can anything be better than where we are right now?!" sort of mentality. The same reason that every generation has believed they live in the "end times" – "How can society possibly be more advanced, wicked, corrupt, or in need of Jesus right now than ours! We must be the final generation!"

    These people aren't stupid, uneducated, rednecks (well, okay maybe Evangelicals, but that's besides the point), they just do what all people do. Ask a Canadian if he lives in the best country on earth? or a Brit? I bet you get a similar response.

    October 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  7. borysd

    Patriotism is the battle-cry of the wealthy to get the poor to die for their profits!

    October 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Kassandra

      "When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag waving the cross." Sinclair Lewis

      October 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  8. srichey321

    Somewhere back in ancient history, it was found that the side that believed in a higher power had the advantage during war. Why? Really simple - the warriors that thought they were going to die and go to some sort of heaven were much braver.

    The end result? Common sense had to be bred out of the gene pool.

    October 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Marc Benarrous

      very interesting post, I agree they were braver, and stupider.

      October 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Kassandra

      Obviously you have never been in combat. There are no non-believers in combat. So your argument goes up in toast. Everyone "gets religion" when faced with imminent death.

      October 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  9. Dumb Conservative

    Ponzi Scheme: The Republican Party will constantly take your money and give you nothing in return.

    October 28, 2011 at 6:14 am |
  10. Dumb Conservative

    Who ever said that a conservative is a patriot? Just because you have a 9th grade education, and constantly wave a flag every chance you get makes you patriotic? A Liberal is much more patriotic, a Liberal cares about his fellow American ( see health care) a Liberal cares about the planet ( which would make him, by default care about America), a Liberal cares about the sick, what does a conservative care about? Oh that's right keeping his gun( little man syndrome), waving a flag ( which was made in China) and supporting a tax breaks for the rich( which most republican voters are not).

    October 28, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Norm

      parenthesis are not patriotic

      October 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  11. eamon

    Those who need a god to believe in are a sad lot. If god exists then why bother to believe in it/him/her?

    October 27, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • Colin B

      so youre trying to dismiss centuries, even millennia worth of belief in a higher power that every civilization throughout history have believed in and still do to this day...maybe not as much as they did 100 years ago but still it plays a role, sometimes as subtle as it may be, it still has an effect on people. As to the question of " If god exists then why bother to believe in it/him/her?" is a simple answer, it gives people comfort to believe in God and having an idea of life after death, without which people might not do some of the things that have gotten them recognized as good people going out of their way, even to the point of dying for something that you are skeptic of. You sound like someone whose atheist/agnostic, so of course you'll try to dismiss any idea of there being an existence of a higher power. Churches, Synagogues and whatever it is muslims call their places of worship WOULDNT of survived as long as they have and have had as much an impact on peoples everyday lives if people didnt want to believe in something that I believe is one of the greatest questions/mysteries of life. And those are the faithful who try to understand and become one with whatever deity his/her faith represents. So the question I pose to you sir, is what is it that you believe in? To be someone without faith I would dare say is comparable to a person who has no conscious as to what is right and what is wrong, they act purely out of the interest of themselves and dont care for the lives or well being of others and are ignorant to what has been around for over 2000 years by trying to say people who believe in God are " a sad lot," you my friend are apart of that "sad lot," of the unfaithful.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Marc Benarrous

      Colin B is an idiot, why is it that people like him think that because Atheists/agnostics do not believe in god that the are immoral? knowing the difference between good and bad needs no higher power! We (as atheists) arent saying that people dont WANT to believe there is life after death and an invisible man in the sky, we are however saying that it is totally stupid to need to believe. If people believe and get something from that- Great more power to them- but realize that it the good religion does is purely psychological and has no real meaning.

      October 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • SteakandEggs

      You know Colin, they also threw giant rocks at women who supposedly cheated on their husbands for a few thousand years, should we reinstate that? The fact that one belief has been around for a long time does not make it correct. People thought the Earth was flat for a while, but that changed. The bigger question is if we are born with a sense of morality or not, and if not, where does it come from? Does it need to come from organized religion? No.

      October 28, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Melissa

      WOW Colin you are an idiot. To not believe in a higher power is just that nothing more. I do not have to believe in a higher power to be a moral person, I am accountable to myself. I know right from wrong, I help others and have been faithfully married to the father of my children for 22 years. Some people do not need to believe in a higher power to make themselves a good person, some of us can do it all on our own.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  12. l

    The FBI and DEA fabricate evidence, steal from suspects and use murder to close bad cases.
    After two wars spanning ten years, the U.S. Military has become proficient in its use and concealment of torture. Torture is also being used by the DOJ (Department Of Justice) to help fabricate evidence and punish dissent.

    The FBI and DEA use sleep deprivation, drugging, humiliation, psycological stress, stress positions, threats of violence, threats of death, etc... Suspects respond better to suggestion and hyptotism which in turn make for higher conviction rates.

    There is evidence that employees from DoD, CIA and DOJ accepted bribes from Al Quida.
    How is it that the 9/11 terrorists could live for two weeks just two miles from NSA head quarters in Maryland, take flight simulator lessons on Jumbo jet trainers, could not speak English, and be on State department terror watch lists.

    October 27, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • Colin B

      "The FBI and DEA fabricate evidence, steal from suspects and use murder to close bad cases.
      After two wars spanning ten years, the U.S. Military has become proficient in its use and concealment of torture. Torture is also being used by the DOJ (Department Of Justice) to help fabricate evidence and punish dissent." WELCOME TO EVERY WAR THATS EVER BEEN FOUGHT THROUGHOUT HISTORY, torture is as much a part of warfare as is was before the crusades. During roman times, captured warriors were put through hell in gladiator arenas and those were public forums for torture, let alone what went on behind the scenes and that wasnt a secret people kept back then. You'll never get rid of torture for war criminals, at least now they try their best to keep in concealed from the public sphere. Just think, if it wasnt for some of the techniques used to us, USA, and other countries around the world youd have mass chaos because those that are going to commit horrendous act would never get known to those that have the power to stop it and save innocent lives that are being killed around the world just because of their color, regional tensions or what religion they claim. Just think, if torture of war criminals wasnt effective in stopping the heinous act of those we are at war with, how many more innocent lives would be lost because there was no knowledge of people in the process of committing another event like Sept. 11? If torture wasnt effective, we could look back on those who lost their lives in the WTC and feel as though we've failed the families who lost loved one by maybe allowing another event that could possibly be on a grander scale or be happening so often that just walking out your front door could be the last moment of life.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  13. Colin B

    I dont think God and country dont have anything to do with each other except for the idea that God created the universe and therefore Earth as well. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and to me country comes second only to God. Dont get me wrong, I love the USA and am proud to be an American, but people try to bring the religion aspect with everything way too much nowadays in the USA. I wasnt alive before 1988, but from what Ive gathered from history religion wasnt as much a public concern for EVERYONE as it is today. WIth religion being brought into many aspects of life, youre beginning to see separations between ourselves based solely on what faith we claim. For me, it seems like people are separating themselves between Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, atheist and most of all the muslims in this country are bearing the brunt of it, its almost like its the civil rights era all over again except instead of it being white vs black, its Christian vs muslim. To end my rant, "God Bless America" has been around before these idiotic problems started occurring. Having any item relating to Christianity, whether it be a Cross in your yard or the nativity story at a public building or naming some public area after a saint or a character from the gospel will have someone backlashing against it, and the same is true of muslims and theyre showings of faith. If it doesnt hurt you, leave it alone.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  14. Jean Lafitte

    I think it goes further than that ... Conservatives are more likely to believe in God and be patriotic ... while Liberals are more likely to not believe in God and not be patriotic. Anyone disagree?

    October 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • bdl1978


      October 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • John

      If you mean "patriotic" in the sense that one blindly subscribes to the belief one's country can do no wrong, I agree Conservatives are more "patriotic". If, however, you define "patriotism" as love for one's country, I believe there is no distinction between Conservatives and Liberals. Liberals are just as capable of loving their country as Conservatives, they just have different priorities, particularly in the social / economic realm.

      Patriotism is not the sole province of Conservatives.

      October 28, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Stephen

      Those who are most likely to believe that their religion is right and nobody else's can be are mentally prepared to believe that their country is always right and nobody else can be. Both positions are inherently closed-minded in nature, so I am not surprised that the two groups overlap.

      "Patriotism" is a funny word. If it means pride in where you are from, then I'm very patriotic. If it means believing that your country is infallible, then I hope we don't have any patriots. The USA has great ideals, but that doesn't mean everything we do is great. Some people would say that holding this view makes me "unpatriotic". I hope I'm never so "patriotic" as to believe that my country can do no wrong.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  15. MrHanson

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"

    Well for atheists our 'Creator' would be time, chance and natural selection. We really have no more rights than a frog or an earthworm.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Sam

      To be fair, it does say "men". Therefore, you have rights, frogs don't. All this time, I thought the creator was Zeus.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Joe Jones

      There's also the fact that that line was included by Benjamin Franklin, who was undoubtedly an atheist.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • hippypoet

      ben franklin was not an atheist... he believed in something greater then ourselves but not the christian god... my proof is the fact that ben was a freemason which by creed must believe in a higher power above the strength of man. The G in the symbol stands for god, but they are not a christian group... the g can be for any god, but it is only for god. just thought you might want to know.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Colin B

      "We really have no more rights than a frog or an earthworm." Ignorance...id like to put you on a hook and cast you out into the lake or use my cattle prod to zap you until you realize being a human being means you have rights. Whether you choose to accept that or not is on you, but youre an idiot for comparing the rights of a human to worms and frogs.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  16. brad

    When people say American is a Christian country, what they mean is that this is a Protestant country. Catholics, Mormons, and others have had a hard time finding room in the US. In 1960, Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy had to address a group of Houston evangelical ministers, fearing they would lose "their" country to the Vatican. Today, its Romney the Mormon "cult" member.
    The US is a good place for Calvinists, though. Pre-Calvin, people were assured of their salvation: receive the sacraments and defer to those who had authority to bind and loose. Having done away with these assurances, Calvin needed new ones. He defaulted to a position as old as the Sadducees: you can tell you're among the "Elect" if you are financially prosperous. (Notice the rampant prosperity Gospel of today. We also have the selling of indulgences by Protestants: "Send a check to my ministry and God will richly bless you.") John D. Rockefeller would read his Bible, teach Sunday school, and destroy the other man's livelyhood. Robber barons of the Calvinist ilk helped create a massive slave class of working people. This led to Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Sam

      Joel Osteen said that "God wants you to get that good parking spot".

      That's so comforting. I lean on that when I'm circling Walmart.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • bdl1978

      The founding fathers were not Christians.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  17. humblepie

    This country was founded on religious FREEDOM, not any particular religion. I myself am Christian. I go to church and a christian college however, I don't believe that the government and religion need to get hitched. God doesn't want a "Christian" government, He wants your heart and submission. I hate it when people use the excuse that America is "blessed" because we are a Christian nation. We are NOT and never shall be. Jesus didn't try and take over the government in place, in fact he even told the people to pay their taxes (Give unto Ceasar's which is his).

    October 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  18. HijodeElElyon


    October 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  19. Glades2

    As Billy Graham once said – when in New York City for a 1969 crusade – when Jesus Christ returns to establish His Kingdom on Earth, it will not be based on communism – or capitalism – so don't expect the American flag, or the flag of any other earthly nation to be raised on that day...

    October 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Sam

      I'm not Christian. I have not accepted Jesus as my personal lord and saviour. I've only been born once.
      Other than that, I'm a good person. I have "family values". I give to charity I don't steal, cheat, lust, envy etc

      I know. I know. I'm going to hell anyway.

      So, having said that, will my eternal fire be EXACTLY the same temperature as Adolf Hitler's or Jack the Ripper's? Seems like the lord could at least cut me a LITTLE slack.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Hello Sam


      In hell, someone else is in charge of the thermostat, you silly goose.

      October 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  20. brooksjk

    Each epoch has found in the Gospels what it sought to find there, and has overlooked what it wished to overlook. - Ludwig von Mises
    “One has to wonder, how many people, self-proclaimed Christians, many of whom we see in church with us every week, never really even made a conscious choice to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. How many people inherited their faith, have maintained it, and adhere to it publicly, but have never actually asked Jesus to be lord of their lives? How many of us are unwittingly destined to hear Christ tell us, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”
    My new book, The Four Pillars of the Kingdom, is set to be released in a week. 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 and the cover art on my website, The Immaculate Conservative:


    Please read and let me know what you think!

    Joe Brooks

    October 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Tim

      C'mon – shilling your book on a thread like this? My faith tells me to ignore your nonsense.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
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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.