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. John


    November 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • .....

      GARBAGE ALERT – click the report abuse link to get rid of this sick TROLL!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  2. steama

    The God Gap is because myths like 'god' are withering in the information age. The Patriotism gap was caused by george bush and the current crop of republicans in congress.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • enlightened

      you're an idiot

      November 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  3. Chaz

    Sure, there's a correlation between BLIND patriotism and religious conviction.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Ezra

    I'm sure that radical Islamists think that whatever theocracy they live in is number 1 also. America will never be number 1 if we don't throw off the shackles of myth and religious dogma and educate our children better.

    November 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Pharsalus

    Several of these comments are disturbing. Apparently, according to some, the concept of God is relegated to the simple minded. Their idea of a more perfect union is one in which we can throw off the shackles of traditional religion. If one does not understand the correlation between the success of these United States and it's predominant religion, protestant Christianity, there really is no hope for our education system. You may disagree, in good faith, about the existence of God, but to claim that Christianity has been a detriment to our country is rather naive.

    Of all the various thoughts the architects of our nation had concerning religion and the state, one seldom talked about is their comprehension that if we ceased to be a Christian nation, the ability to have a free nation would diminish. This is not some mystical concept. The Bible is a fantastic guidebook for self-regulation within a community. It provides governance without the monetary cost of secular government. We are beginning to see the insupportable nature of a morally bereft society. The lack of self-regulation compels the government to expand and control more.

    By all means though, continue with your fervent efforts to dismantle the Christian faith. If you somehow think that the end product will be some liberal utopia described in that famous John Lennon song, "Imagine", you are sadly mistaken. A lack of control on the community level will always lead to control on the state level.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Daniel Huddleston

      PHARSALUS, I commend you on your comment, how so very true. How a nation acts towards God has always been a major factor in the blessings of that nation. Wise words are hard to come by these days and least there are still a few that know the truth of a matter and say it....Thank you!!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • joe

      lousy argument. Slavery was also a benefit to the country too, doesn't mean we should go back to it.

      Religion used to serve a purpose. It gave the scared up right monkeys huddling in the back of the cave the courage to step out and tray and explain their world. Doesn't mean we have to go back to it.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Andrew

      I see rather little in the bible to act as moral guidance that isn't done by hundreds of other religions. You don't need the bible to know killing is wrong, for example. Yes, historically, Christianity has been the dominant religion... does that mean that it still makes sense, or that it isn't currently hurting us? Considering how evangelicals are among the most likely crowd to flat out deny science, from evolution to global warming (to cosmology to basic geology as well), and considering how poorly we as a society rank in terms of education... the overly religious nature of our public right now is not doing us any favors.

      Lets not also forget that violent crime statistics in highly religious areas are not lower than in more secular areas, so the idea that we really need Christianity to be good is pretty damn bunk.

      October 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • JP Penn

      Sir, you forget to mention that some of the most bigoted, self-righteous, closed minded and hypocritical people on the face of the earth are morally bankrupt Christians hiding behind their bibles. No one can argue that religious doctrine throughout the ages has, at some time or another, been used to justify destruction, mutilation and the ruthless plundering agianst those who don't believe as they do...in other words, the other. Christianity in itself has never been the problem, rather it is the perversion of its true essence by pseudo-christians who use the religion to assuage their fear of those who are different and the things they don't intellectually understand. Almost all "western" religions do this. To equate religious fervor, or lack of it, with the state of the union is absolute horse s–t!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  6. MIke smith

    Evangelicals are not Christians, They are Bircher types trying to legitimize their whacked-out beliefs and sought the cover of religious fervor to hid behind. There is no gap .

    October 31, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  7. MiND


    October 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Jeannot

    Church and State. Rings a bell anyone? Anyone? Hello.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  9. thomas pereira

    You must understand the diversity of beleifs when it come to monotheisim with islam ,christianity and jewdism
    but that one god exists okey then if they could all agree to that then they could agree for peace and feed the hungry and so on. colors of a flag dont mean a damm thing and patriotism goes out the door when common sense is missing in todays world. They just remind me of gang colors. we ourselve must learn to sustain our selves
    before we tell anyone how to live. do as I say not do as i do I say not. But build a bond with your fellow man
    theres only one god thats it. the torah the koran and the bible same thing read them the answer is there in front of us.

    October 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  10. XIE XIE

    Its so simple. Get rid of interest rates, consumer credit ratings, and bank fees.Then, if you set a price for a home at "say" $100,000 and charge $1000 a month for 100 months, made no credit check rating prejudice, added no interest charges, and offered an allowance of 24 months of missed payments that the bank could just tack on to the end of the loan incase of hard times, then we would have more home owners than ever; a rise in jobs, rise in home values. We could do this across the board with cars, business loans, college loans, small appliance, We'd see an increase in wages, jobs, economic growth. We'd also see a 45% drop in taxes across the board. Why does everyone make it so complicated?

    October 30, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Americano

      All of that will happen, but, a global economic system will be set up first...

      October 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Ben

      So basically you are advocating a type of economic system that completely removes private economic incentive for investment. Interest rates are a vital and necessary financial tool that allow people to make time value of money decisions. If a bank decides to give someone enough money to buy a $100,000.00 house, they need compensation for their loan. That compensation, the only reason they give money out in the first place, is the interest rate (whatever that may be). If the house is literally worth $100,000.00 and the bank makes no profit, then you return the $100,000.00 over a period of time to the bank and they get... nothing. Except the happy-go-lucky feeling that they lost potential revenues by loaning money without interest. Interest makes the world go round. You're crazy.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  11. Matt

    It's funny, in a sad sense, that the article beings with "...if one [god] exists." Do we spend time and energy wondering if unicorns exist? leprechauns? sea dragons? Of course not. Yet, a majority of this country, in the year 2011 no less, actually believe (and many times, act upon such) in a concept that is so incredulous, so utterly without merit (as not an iota of empirical evidence exists) as the christian god (or muslim god, or any god). It's no wonder this country will never come close to its potential; a great majority of its citizenry are delusional. Beliefs? They're for the gullible. Beliefs and gods are a dime a dozen. I'll take facts and the logical conclusion therefrom (which includes the lack of facts) each and every time.

    October 30, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • mick63

      It has to do with our brand of "civil religion." In other words, people get brainwashed into believing that dying for our country is equated to dying for God = "God and Country." The U.S. flag covers the alter on which we worship.

      October 30, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • bdl1978

      What sickens me people who are overly patriotic. Why would anyone be so proud to be born somewhere? It doesn't say anything about a person except for that person just happened to be born in a certain location. It is just a completely empty thought and just plain stupid to be overly patriotic. I feel fortunate to live in America, but I am also very aware of this nation's corrupt history and the hypocracy and greed in government, and as result I find it difficult to buy into the hype. I also don't see any connection between God and America. It is the same narrow minded and bigoted mentality that causes people to believe in religion in the first place. My God is the best, my country is the best, yada yada. IF there was a god why would he be on America's side? Jesus was not American. Because we are America. Because it's the bible. Those are not explanations. People are just sheep and it saddens me.

      October 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      Rejecting God and unicorns isn't nearly enough, Matt. Facts have to be evaluated before a logical conclusion can be arrived at. This should be obvious. Question is, Matt, how good are you at doing this? You probably "think for yourself". Do you think sense or nonsense? Are your thoughts idiotic or intelligent?

      October 31, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  12. SoINoticed...

    I distinctly remember on many occasions having my fundamentalist youth group saying the pledge of allegiance to both the US flag and the Christian flag. This does not surprise me.

    October 30, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  13. Leigh

    Like someone else stated in their post, blind patriotism is not patriotism. It is merely an unquestioning adherence to a "dogma." A secular dogma, true, but dogma all the same.

    True patriotism is speaking out when you see something you believe needs to be addressed your community, whether on a local or nation scale. True patriotism is not only speaking out, but offering ideas and working with others (even compromising, gasp) to fix the issue. It is celebrating what is good in our country, too, because while we definitely have our problems, we are a good and great nation.

    Recognizing the US has problems is not slamming our country as long as you also work toward solutions, whether in large or small ways.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Jesus Fscking Christ

      Religion be one o dem problems yo.

      October 31, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  14. Daniel in Canada

    Answer: Patriotism and religion.
    Question: What are two grossly excessive activities in the US?

    October 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Dave Treleaven

      Right on Danny boy......they need to find better things to think about than the great sky daddy.

      October 31, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  15. Cat MacLeod

    Good study. Are irrational nit whits convinced of their own superiority eager to be patriotic? GOP figured this one out back in the 80s.

    October 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Mistaken

      There are irrational nitwits on both sides of the field. That is one of the big problems of the political system of the United States. You have one side going camping instead of getting a job while the other side is debating about abortion and other issues that have no relation to our economy. True patriots should think about the nation as a whole, not some issue that they personally think is wrong.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  16. badidea

    I'm not sure why thinking our country has some improving to do is equated with a lack of patriotism. Typical simplistic, close minded non-understanding by a certain segment of the population.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  17. tallulah13

    Blind patriotism isn't real at all. It's all for show. A true patriot is willing to speak out when the country is suffering due to misguided or plain criminal actions on the parts of our leaders. The word "patriotism" has been cheapened by politicians (mostly the republican party during the Bush administration) to something you can pin on your lapel, or a lie to use as a weapon against a political foe.

    October 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  18. Brian Swain

    Typical of anything from CNN the liberal slant misses one critical point. What makes America great is the freedom OF RELIGION! Our founding fathers clearly intended for this nation to be a Christian nation although not one particular brand of Christianity as well as a nation that was tolerant of other religious beliefs. The day that this nation or any nation turns their back on God is the day that nation ceases to be great. Independence from God is idolatry and results in slavery! As for me and my house we will serve the Lord (and I vote for those who feel the same way).

    October 29, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Kostya Kovalskyy

      They also clearly intended to allow practice of slavery in this country.

      October 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      Sorry, but the founding fathers most certainly DID NOT intend this to be a Christian nation. A good portion of them weren't even Christians... mostly agnostic. And nearly all of them spoke on the dangers of organized religion. Take your misinformed religious propaganda elsewhere. It sickens me.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Andrew

      Despite clear point of fact that that isn't true (For example, Jews were also allowed religious freedom, which is not a sect of Christianity) even if it WERE true, even if the founding fathers wanted some form of Christian theocracy (which they didn't), the idea that Christianity deserves some special place in a country is absurd. "I'm born from this country, thus I should give extra respect to the religion that most people in my immediate area subscribe to"? I'm sorry, but in the modern world, if you really believe a nation should be built upon religious beliefs, you describe one of the most odious types of places to live in.

      That'd make the US anything but great.

      October 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Jim K.

    Patriotism is loving your country; for many of us, that means doing all we can to make it a better place. For many, that has become the occupy movement, for others it is vollenteering at a shelter or listening to a child read.

    Blind love of your country, no matter what it does, is dangerous. Patriotism was talked about a lot in Nazi Germany. Who were the greatest patriots; those that followed Hitler or those that risked their lives to stop him?

    It is no coincidence that those with the most uncritical thinking approach to religion also have an uncritical thinking approach to their country. These are the folks that could some day take America down a very dark and dangerous road – one, like Nazi Germany, that we will not survive intact.

    October 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  20. LoatheIgnorance

    It is really ironic that the majority of americans believe they live in the best country on the planet when 75% of americans don't even have passports. So you've got a bunch of yahoos running around giving lip service to some idea they know nothing about.

    October 29, 2011 at 11:06 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.