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. I am Jacks broken faith

    We want nothing to do with religion anymore. The oppressive environment and continuous moral hipocrisy has cost a huge price to our collective social conscious. I hope that over time we will completely remove this terrible ailment and rely on rationality and integrity founded in self fulfillment.

    November 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  2. chad

    What we see in America today is blind nationalism, not patriotism.

    November 6, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  3. Nord Jim

    Beating one's chest and bellowing that the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth isn't patriotism. It's hubris. A truly great nation values justice for all its citizens and does not leave the many at the mercy of the few. It has the humility to recognize when it is wrong.

    November 6, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  4. lefty avenger

    God says: the lord helps those who helps themselves or is it: Man proposes and God disposes or is it: sink or swim?

    November 6, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  5. conspiracys4us

    Can CNN prove that they are an international global media company and consider writing about other religions other than American christianity.

    And I am sorry, even if he is a candidate for President, when someone hears the voice of God – or anyone for that matter other than their own internal voice – they need to go to the doctor. Those people in the bible had an excuse, they didn't have Prozac then.

    I am so tired of hearing about it already.

    November 6, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  6. Naseem

    Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) is a Blessing for whole universe(Quran). If USA wants blessings of GOD, then Americans need to embrace Islam.

    November 6, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • lefty avenger

      Everyone has a different name for God and with their name for God goes their possession of him. Everyone's beliefs in God conflict with everyone else. The world is a mess because of Greed but also because everyone hates everybody else because they believe in a different deity and think I am right everyone else is wrong and should die.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • nolapearl

      I disagree with you – and with the evangelical Christians.
      Patriotism has nothing to do with religion. Patriotism is about being loyal to the US. And that's what makes the US great – the ability to choose between Christianity or Islam or no religion at all. As a previous poster said, "religion was established to control the masses, garner power".

      November 6, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  7. Ian Weber

    Why do Americans have to always attribute their decisions to God (like it is their personal savior) ... well I guess it is because they've got someone else to blame when everything goes to sh&* (as it almost always does).

    November 6, 2011 at 4:50 am |
  8. jay

    Why is it that we are beginning to blame the church so much and question its ways? Do we believe we have gotten too smart for faith? Standing on are high horse with are Harvard and Princeton degrees. Pushing the boundaries of what it means to be tolerant. I find it ironic that we have expanded what it means to be tolerant, but when it comes to the church we can no longer tolerate it. Since when dose the word tolerance apply to everything except the church? To me, it seem like it is much more "smart" to reach for knowledge and purpose from a higher power beyond the human condition, than to simply believe we just exist. Which one seems more simple minded?

    I understand that not everyone believes in God and many people hate the church because of ways the church has failed in the past and present. But all I ask is for people to respect the Church in the same way they wish the church respected them. Is this fair? "NO!" is it right? Yes. by any moral standard.
    thank you

    November 6, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Mirosal

      Please .. let me quote you here ... "I understand that not everyone believes in God and many people hate the church because of ways the church has failed in the past and present. But all I ask is for people to respect the Church in the same way they wish the church respected them." So you WANT us to respect something that has, by YOUR own admission, failed us in the past, and is currently failing us in the present? Hey.. your words not mine. If the church had any respect, then it would have put forth the effort to NOT fail us. Why do we need to put our trust in something that has repeatedly failed time and time again? That's like you giving me a car with no engine, then tell me that if I have faith, it will move under its own power.

      November 6, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  9. dougaussie

    What a typically dumb statement from someone below, without any idea of what Christianity is about. Immature humans act as animals because religion is the next step above the mind. They dance around, get tatoos, take drugs, worship statues, charms, crystals and bonk everything in sight. Pure knowledge intelligence can't focus on the true nature of reality because it can't accept a powerful individual creative force having MADE IT., " oh its religion i'm too smart for that, i have phd nobel statue and an article in a magazine.." Your life is an EMPTY delusion, a hollow gesture, dismissing God with your little squeek of self grandiose opinion...and thats the truth.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Tfish

      So true.

      If you don't listen to him at least understand that every country has a major religion. In every country, culture of that religion is always the early infrastructure which provides growth and projection towards a mature society. America is successful because of our morals and the importance we put on ethics (Something other countries such as China now see and trying to replicate). Both point back to our cultural foundation which is the Christian Church. To disregard this, is to blaspheme what keeps us alive today and was spawned long ago, the very things that still keep us set apart from other countries... our tremendous value of personal liberty and freedom for all. Things we should be proud of, honor, and accept came from early thought rooted in the Church.

      November 6, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  10. Lenny

    This could just be due to the fact that the people who are less religious are more educated, and know more about the world outside of the United States. Kudos to them!

    November 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  11. Josh

    Free yourself from faith in government and the cult of patriotism.

    November 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  12. Tim

    Sweden is the greatest country on earth imho because most of the women don't wear panties there... he he

    November 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  13. Gopherit

    If as many reportedly believe the U.S. is a "Christian" nation it certainly violates much of what Jesus teaches, especially relating to the U.S. waging war, which essentially is forbidden. Also violated is Jesus' comment about the love of money being the root of all evil. True Christianity is a-political and trans-national. As someone who could be classified as an "Evangelical" I have lived in other countries and visited many more, and all of those have had their positive and negative aspects, including the U.S.

    November 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  14. Clark

    MISTER JONES has it right. I've been to some pretty bad places and a lot of them got that way based on misguided religious notions. I'll take an American flag over any religions holy books.

    November 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  15. RichardTaylorAPP

    Read "American Patriot Party .CC" on "True Patriotism" and the "Foundation of Freedom".

    November 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • oliver

      Anyone who trying to convince you that you are better off in a state where the government has no power to protect you from the Church, Corporations (Employers), and the Financial sector.

      Is a fascist who wants to sell you into bondage with no recourse for you and your family.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  16. Mister Jones

    I am as atheist as they come. People who believe in the invisible sky-gods are just not very bright. Period. However, I have also been abroad, and there is no greater nation than this one. Not even close. All of the civilized countries out there exist because of the actions and/or support of the United States of America. That is ALL of Europe, and the devloped and developing countries in Asia. You don't have to like it. I really don't care. If you doubt me, wait until the next distaster (be it natural, manmade, or otherwise) and see who is there first, with the most support. US.

    November 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Jonesy

      Wow. Look who's ignorant. No intelligent Christians?

      You're in denial.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • urmomlol

      On an unrelated note, people who write "period" for emphasis after typing an actual period in plain sight seem rather dumb as well, and it's usually a great sign that they're not very secure in their argument.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Its not that religious people are dumb its that they lack the desire or the capacity to question themselves, society, their parents etc. I might even classify it as a type of phobia where they fear the fact that their lives may not have meaning or purpose. They refuse to outgrow their security blanket of religion because it provides a structure to their lives and it is nice to think that someone always has your back. It is true how ever that in general the smarter you are and the more you understand physics, astronomy, chemistry, the more likely it is that you start to question the much simpler child like beliefs you once held.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Please explain your username to me, and then let's discuss intelligence ...

      November 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      @Jonesy (and it PAINS me to say that, because I feel like I'm talking to myself) – denial of what? And I never singled out Christians. I was targetting everyone who believes in invisible sky-people. Odd how you automatically assumed I meant only you and your faith. You might want to check who is actually in denial here ...

      @urmomlol – uhh ... please explain your username, and then let's discuss intelligence.

      @datruth – good point. It's the lack of questioning that concerns me, and causes me to cast a label of "not very bright". Bright people question the world around them and do not settle for answers like "it's God's will." ... People like Sir Isaac Newton who actually had to prove gravity. He couldn't just throw a Bible out the window and say "See? Told you so." ... He actually had to put math to it.

      November 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  17. Americanz

    honestly religion and Politics should not have anything to do with one another. THEY ARE 2 DIFFERENT THINGS. The fact the Religion is even still involved in government today just shows we still haven't matured yet. . .

    November 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Unfortunately, the masses are religious, and politicians want (need) their votes. They are going to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which is belief in the invisible sky-gods who punish the wicked, and blah blah blah. And hey, he's on my side, so you don't want to vote against the big angry man in the clouds, do you? It worked thousands of years ago, and ... well, that part of humanity, just hasn't gotten any smarter.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Americanz

    im just going to say this once.

    November 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  19. chrismartin17


    November 3, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  20. KhaoKevin

    Church is State and visa versa...this country was founded on religion–an extremist form–Even in Medieval Europe monarchies were blessed by the pope, i.e., the Church has a say in the status quo and it was most definitely due to money. Hitler was blessed by the Pope concerning his ideals. Columbus, Cortez and other European invaders came to the Americas under the guise of bringing Christianity to the indigenous populace and we all know the genocide that followed. What I find hypocritical and hilarious and that this country was founded on the ideals of Christianity and when I hear 'God Bless America' I cringe because I assumed the Christian ideal was that God wasn't partial, so he only 'Blesses America?' And when, during war time when killing/murder isn't condoned? Religion is a sham and no ONE religion is right–we're all on the same path to salvation, which is a possible path to life after death. Religion was established to control the masses, garner power and assist those to assuage the sting of death. My take.

    November 3, 2011 at 5:32 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.