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. chris

    The socialist nazi's, fascist italians, socialist communist is russia, the khmer rouge in cambodia, the socialist in china all used the same tactics. The first thing they did when they got control was kill the priests and get rid of religion and the religious element. Why? Where God is the people wan to be FREE.You have to replace the worship of God and FORCE people to worship the state. The state is God. You look to the state/gov't for your food, cloths, what to think, your health and the gov't is everything. You will lose your job if you don't think/support/say/do what we say or we'll send you away to get "politically correct". This socialist agenda has been going on in american for awhile and many are being/have been deceived. These things don't surprise me. I'm christian and America is still the best nation on earth and I love it. I don't like anyone foreign or domestic messing with my nation. Many are trying to tear her down from the inside and the more liberal we get the more in debt we get. Funny how that works huh?

    November 12, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      What a foolish and naive statement. Those regimes eliminated religion because it threatened their complete control over the society, not necessarily because they were atheists. Hitler was a catholic. People seek their freedom because it is not in our nature to be slaves.

      November 12, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • BillsCatz

      America was never intended to be a Democracy, it was founded as a Republic with Democratic principles. And we see how that all worked out - those with the most money, power and connections took over the entire Government. For all your hawking venom and rhetoric, you don't offer a suggestion, Chris.

      November 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  2. Mark

    "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"

    Treaty of Tripoli 1797

    Signed by President John Adams

    November 12, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  3. judia

    @Sun Sneezer

    Did you say there is no evidence of God? Did you make yourself, the air we breath in, the sky, the ocean, the animals and all the things around you? It's interesting how most people believe evolution and not the bible. God exist and he is REAL. Take it or leave it.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • justageek

      Because we are here does not prove God exists...but it cannot be proven God does not exist either.

      November 12, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  4. judia

    Regardless of how smart a person can be, only God can make a country prosper. Americans NEEDS the intervention of GOD ALMIGHTY. Otherwise, America will continue to sink if they don't start obeying God instead of following their own sinful opinions; gay rights, abortion rights , scientology and all the nonsense going on.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • indyfan2

      So God makes a country prosper. Apparently God is now favoring a Godless Communist China over all other countries.

      November 12, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  5. Sun Sneezer

    I'm not sure what the point of this is. Certainly, lack of religion is not causal for lack of patriotism, and religious people are not better people because they are more patriotic. Lack of both patriotism and belief in a god are both things are symptomatic of critical, logical thinking. There is no evidence for God; it's something you have to take on faith only. People that reject the notion that there is a god also think critically about patriotism and tend to reject it as Rah-Rah propaganda.

    Countries are just arbitrary, virtual divisions on the planet. Is the US richer than most countries, yes. Does it have some nice beaches and mountains and rivers, yes. Is the political system and "freedom" pretty good, yes. But the whole question of is it "the greatest" is meaningless because what are the criteria for being "the greatest". This is only a question that someone that believes in the pro American propaganda can answer. Believing that America is the greatest is only something that can be done on faith. The same kind of faith that believes in a god. The "America IS the greatest country" respondents have selected and weighted criteria that supports this conclusion. If the criteria are different, say weighting heavily the muslimness of the country, then American is clearly not "the greatest". I think you would also find Saudi's reporting that Saudi is the greatest.

    So that's it. People that think critically and form opinions based on facts tend to reject God and patriotism.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • mehmet

      Yes, if there is anything astonishing in the world, it is such denial. For the endless aspects of order and instances of wisdom in the beings in the universe testify to His existence and Unity, so that even the most profoundly ignorant can understand what blindness and ignorance it is not to see or not to recognize Him. I might even say that among the people of unbelief, the Sophists, who are supposed to be stupid because they denied the universe's existence, are the most intelligent. For since on accepting its existence, it was not possible not to believe in God and its Creator, they started to deny the universe's existence. They denied themselves as well. Saying, "There is nothing," they abdicated their intelligences, and being saved from the boundless unreasonableness-under the guise of reason-of the other deniers, they in one sense drew close to reason.

      November 16, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  6. rob

    If I say, "I don't think America is the greatest county in the world," the automatic response is, "Love it or leave it." And since that's very difficult to do, I shut my mouth and agree with the masses.

    November 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • justageek

      Why? Both the response you get and the fact that you spoke up for what you believe are equally valid. Don't compromise your beliefs.

      November 12, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  7. Judith in California

    Why are Americans so arrogant to believe that God should single them out for his blessings? The great Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" as a protest against "God Bless America" and it is a much better anthem. Besides, those who do not believe in God are also American citizens, are they not? The conservative mantra of "American exceptionalism" and revising some of the more unsavory facts of our history to suit their view are con artists of the first ilk. The greatest thing about America is that we have acknowledged some our failings (slavery, not letting women vote, the horrible theft of Indian lands) and tried to make some amends.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Mei

      Americans aren't assuming God is only blessing them. Most countries have some sort of Divine connection within their patriotic heritage. It is just a matter of recognizing God, who in Truth, does over see the entire nation. Those who are patriotic, ask God to bless the country. We really should because given the state of America today, ask for God's assistance. I do think the lack of patriotism in our country does stem from a lack of honor to God. There is a connection.

      November 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  8. Alan

    This article seems to confuse patriotism (loving ones country) with nationalism (believing ones country is somehow "better" than others).

    Nationalism is akin to racism.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  9. Joe

    There is so much good about America, let's make sure we do not lose her. Being self-critical and reflective will help us keep it for the future.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  10. BasedInReality

    First and foremost, I call myself a citizen of Earth (as did Thomas Paine). The lines which we have artificially drawn to mark territory do not show up from space. All human beings are tied together gentically so close that we cannot deny our kinship with each other. Go to YouTube and search Pale Blue Dot and listen to Carl Sagan explain how every human that ever lived, lived on this tiny speck shown from a camera close to Saturn reflected in a sunbeam. This fragile, tiny speck - It is our only home and we need to live on it in peace and harmony, if that is ever possible, because we have no where else to go.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  11. tjboyo

    Perhaps it may be that those with strong religious beliefs have a better outlook on life and that translates into a better outlook on the country they live in. Polls (like statistics in general) can say whatever you want them to say. Personally I think you're daft to equate Patriotism with religious belief or unbelief.

    That being said. Even with all its faults, America is certainly one of the great countries of the world. The freedoms and potential for prosperity enjoyed here are what have compelled people from all over the world to come here for decades. Those are the facts.

    November 10, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  12. Kay

    For myself, losing faith in the church's interpretation of the books of the Bible came first. They promoted both a literal reading and the idea that this supposed "God" was perfectly loving, just, merciful, etc. From there I went on a search for God and found that the one with the capacity to create good and evil, heaven and hell, love, mercy, justice, etc, is none other than me.. and you, and anyone else with the power to act.

    Waking up to the false claim that the godhead depicted in the is perfect, I began to examine all the other things the church had taught, including the idea that America is "God's country" and that Americans are the "new chosen people".

    Make mistake, I love my country, but I do not and will not ever idolize it as all forms of idolatry are a distraction from the truth and we need the truth if we are to be or remain free.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Mei

      America isn't "God's country" in the sense that He only cares about America. I think any rational person would know that. Asking God to bless one's country is proper and right. When people lose sight of the Truth, they DO stumble in the darkness. I can imagine God does not bless those who deny Him, intentionally disrespect Him and harm the innocent (like those who push for abortion in this country and/or try to destroy traditional marriage which is the foundation of the family).

      November 10, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • David Bendele

      ^^^^^ you are awre that before legal marra................ oh wait the worlds only 6000 years old. never mind

      November 12, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  13. Brian Gardner

    Those with no religion tend to be better educated. Since they are better educated it would also make sense that they are more knowledgable about world affairs. Thus, they would have a REALISTIC view that America ISN'T the best country. 26th in education, 37th in infant deaths, a falling life expectancy, more prisoners than any other country, debt out the wazoo, inequality, and many many other things are wrong with out country.

    I'm a Christian, but I'm educated. I love my country, but I know there is a lot of work needed to make us number one again.

    November 9, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • chris

      Brian, you really think that people who have more formal education are more fit to rule? So instead of "might makes right" its "degree makes right." The problem with that formula is that "education" doesn't cure people of they're self-righteousness. I've got plenty of post-grad education but I've never equated my education making a person more qualified to lead or govern their fellow citizens. When it comes to leading people, humility is one of things that you won't find on a resume or transcript. Religious people may want to elect the most devout." Pseudo-intellectuals think their "smarts" give them a mandate and then there are those racists who are convinced that their skin color gives them an obvious advantage. There all just another brand of idiosyncratic prejudice and unreflected arrogance. So no, I don't agree with you that we should elect the smart secular-minded over the religious "bumpkins." Way too many stereotypes there for my comfort.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Mei

      I disagree. Given Jesus record of Whom He has chosen to lead His Church.... most of them poor and uneducated. Peter was a fisherman (aka the first pope), same with many of the other Apostles. Many saints were uneducated as well but rather than listen to the "world", they listened to Christ. The Truth is often blind to the overly educated.

      November 10, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • The Jazz Ghost

      What the heck?! Why do so many Christians have this intense distrust of education?! Like being highly educated is a bad or sinful or even pompous thing to be. No, you're wrong. Being better educated, wiser, and more worldly does in fact make you a better leader and a stronger mind.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • aldewacs

      To Chris:
      Instead of 'educated', the expression 'intelligent' might be a better choice. There are many 'uneducated' (in the 'degree' sense) people who are nevertheless very sharp and world-wise.
      You wouldn't argue that UN-intelligent people should be thrust in a position of leadership, would you?
      It *IS* possible (and I'd argue 'necessary') for an intelligent, altruistic and properly motivated bright person to represent the interests of dimmer people. Education CAN help, but it's no guarantee of common sense.
      Not everyone is gifted with certain qualities, and not all educated or intelligent people are buffoons.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  14. leonard

    the new Germany is here folks so i just want to say our rights are gone our rilgion is being taken and saying god has to be said with dam it or your too. going to asny church is now wrong they have lost all will to help you find god and make us right with him our once free country now is SS run SS controled so talk to god make sure your church is right and ask for help through jesus.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Brian Gardner

      You're ridiculous...

      November 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • aldewacs

      Please google 'spell checker'.
      Excessive patriotism, to the extent it blinds people to the unvarnished truth, can cause its adherents to be easily led. Since religious believers by definition are ready to accept things on faith rather than reason, is seems to be a foregone conclusion that there is a connection between religious followership and unquestioning patriotism.

      That said, I'll take a proud (but critical and demanding) patriot over a religious follower any day.

      Always draw your own conclusions, but think first, don't just take anybody's word for anything. And if you can't distill your own conclusions, it's good advice to not join ANY extreme position – it's likely to be proven wrong.

      November 12, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  15. Chuck

    Wow! You mean people most likely to believe in one thing regardless of evidence to the contrary are likely to believe in other things regardless of evidence to the contrary!


    November 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Zee

      lol *applause*

      November 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Brian Gardner

      November 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • robertp

      Very astute. Thanks for talking some sense!

      November 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • justageek

      Funny...I had the same thought as I read the article but for different reasons. God represents hope in something better...the same as America offers hope for something better. It does not suprise me that more educated people have less hope as it does not make as much sense as it does to a 'regular' person. Kinda sad really. The 'smart' side of me says we're not the best according to certain sets of statistics but the 'not so smart' side of me thinks we're the best simply because of hope and the means to achieve our hopes.

      November 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • aldewacs

      to JustaGeek: here's the difference:
      America is real and provable. I can drive from coast to coast, and meet its people. I can believe in that, although it may not yet be perfect.
      God is not real and provable. Can't see it, smell it, taste it. I can't pretend to believe in that, although it is the perfect con.

      It's a logical fallacy to bolster your arguments with vapor. "It's in the bible therefore the bible is true" falls in the same category of smoke and mirrors, regardless of how many times you repeat it, or how many people believe it.

      November 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • justageek

      @aldewaks – I think you misunderstood me. I never said, or even suggested, one could prove God as you can prove a country. I said 'hope' is the common theme and 'hope is just a feeling' that is not meant to be proven or disproven and that the belief in God and America have that common theme. And just for the record I never said I believed in God in my post so I'm not trying to bolster a fallacy. Just saying it makes sense to me why the mindset of a religious person in the article matches a favorable view of America.

      November 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • aldewacs

      To JustaGeek: I re-read your post and mine. I think you're right that the tone of mine seems to take a "bite" out of you. Was not my intention, but it reads that way. My apologies.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  16. William

    Everyone that thinks this is a "christian" nation, is either ignorant of the nations history, or is blinded by their own fear of others that hold beliefs that are unfamiliar to their own. I see the whole issue as trying to enforce their own type of religious law in this country. It starts with fighting to spread the falsehood and lie that the nation has any type of religious affiliation. As far as I'm concerned, if only one person is not christian, in a country that professes religious freedom, then the government has no business calling itself a christian nation. Those who perpetrate this lie on us have an agenda, To impose a theocracy on us. Plain and simple. Fear and ignorance drives them. I revert to an earlier post I read. There is no way that any "god" would care about, or even begin to understand a nation. To such a sentient being, our mental boundaries would be indescribable and useless. The flag would be nothing but that "false idol" they talk so much about.

    November 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  17. Michael M

    Poll was 1500 people? Hardly a cross section of America! With over 350 million people lets try polling 1.5 million to get a realistic and reliable read.

    November 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Joel

      And here we have Exhibit A of why education in the science of statistics should be mandatory.

      November 7, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • JohnnyC

      Joel's right. I wrote my Masters Thesis on the statics of polling (specifically why the 1948 Presidential Campaign polling was so problematic) – 1,500 is about double what you would need for a reliable cross sample.

      November 8, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Tanis

      Please do that, try and poll 1.5 million people and maybe you can understand what you are saying

      November 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  18. RenegadeFL

    First I don't think Patriotism should be defined by how we compare ourselves to other countriies. It should be defined by how we abide by the princiiples this country was built upon. In other words, patriotism is defined by actions not thoughts. Second, religous people by definition take things on faith – on face value – and don't seek to question their core beliefs once established. That is the obvious explanation for the results of this survey in my opinion.

    November 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  19. patrick douglas

    this photo is no different from photos that come out of north korea. you know.. there was a time when all the continents of the earth were one. sheep.

    November 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • BillsCatz

      Everybody is a sheep except YOU, right Buddy Rough? Got it all figured out and dropped right out of society, refuse to be part of the stupid sheeple (like that word? sheep & people = sheeple) and carry on without any help or input from this country.
      What's that? Oh you just THINK you're special but still shop at the grocery store, pay the light bill, , kick-down with the rent or mortgage every month, pay the phone and internet bills and gas up the vehicle just like the rest of us. Oh, that's different.

      So in what way are you superior to the sheeple, pally?

      November 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Kweku Abedu, Ghana

    America is great, not because matority of them profess to be Christians or nationalist but because a sizable number of Americans do certain things in certain ways that excites Jehovah of which they themselves are not aware of, and because of that they are blessed which has resulted in America becoming great.. This has nothing to do with either Christianity or nationalism. In fact, it may happened that these blesses might have come because of those who do not belong to any faith apart from Jehovah, the creator.

    Christians as their name protrays worship Jesus Christ, just as nationalists who also worship their country, both do not worship God/Jehovah, also remember Christ and nation are Jehovah's handiworks and are therefore not to be worshipped. Jehovah abbors it.Many thanks.

    November 6, 2011 at 7:00 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.