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. Jim

    The willingness to believe in something greater than oneself, whether it be god or country, is very powerful in some people.

    November 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Thegorgatron

    it is no surprise to me that being Evangelical and believing that America is #1 and unmatched in the world and that God favors us over all others. To many Christians, particularly evangelicals, believing what you are told without question and trumpeting it to anyone you can force to listen to you is the highest of virtues. On the other hand it is no surprise that those without religion are more likely to see the flaws in the system, many of whom may have cast off religion because it didn't stand up to critical scrutiny. To these folks free thought and critical thinking are held in highest of regards.

    November 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  3. Drew

    I am not too surprised that there might be correlation between evangelicalism and high levels of patriotism. These principles have been drilled into this nation since its founding. However, I feel these pro- American sentiments from Christians will come to a halt when a Christian is no longer in the White House. After all, the US can barely elect a Catholic so Christians dominate the political stream. It is beyond me that America constantly associates a Christian candidate with good morals when we see corrupt Christian everyday in the media(Preist molestations, Christian scams etc..)

    November 17, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  4. steama

    I hate god but love my country. I hate god is because it is a lie.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Mila

      I will pray that you believe that God does exist and how incredibly much He loves you... He wants nothing more than for you to accept His gift of salvation and joy in Christ!

      November 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  5. bradford

    SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE its 2011 I dont care who or what you believe in but get it out of politics if you vote on an issue becasue god told you to, or because your church told you to vote that way then you are a part of the problem...for example gay marriage should not even be an issue, the vast majority of those opposing it are basing their opinion on religious and "moral" values..."because the bible says so" how about because the worldly leader of your faith told you to...a priest should have no more merit than any other human being in affecting ones decisions at the polls

    November 16, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Rob Hannigan

      We do have seperation of church and state. But the believes of the representatives is what go them there in the first place and many of the founding fathers the same way. The few manage to spoil it for the rest of us, which is horrible. I'm right now pretty angry about two bullets found on the white house lawn.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  6. tohotairarce

    How is he being lazy? You CAN'T prove Washington did NOT say that. You can have claims from others he didn't say that. But proving Washington didn't say that can't happen anymore then you can prove there is no God. It just CAN'T be done. Theoretically, it's possible to prove the existence of God, IF there is a God and IF he so chooses the proof to come forth, but proving there's NO God will NEVER happen. Even science recognizes that.

    So far, the nonbelievers tend to push folks away from their atheism because they come across as negative and nasty. Until the atheist community can offer folks more of what they want like positive emotions with hope and love and joyful happiness, instead of all this hateful negativity, they will never really grow. It is mankinds nature to have a deep, inner need for something to worship and for something much bigger then himself.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • nonbeliever

      "I can't find the gun he used, nor did we get it on video, but there are several people who saw him shoot his wife." That argument wins over yours in court, every day. Of course theoretically god can be proven, which is why it is considered a theory, not a fact. When you look at the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) that atheists hold it isn't because they proved god didn't exist, but because it wasn't proven to exist. If I don't believe in something, I don't need proof that it doesn't exist, it doesn't matter, I don't believe in it. I don't believe unicorns exist. I don't need to prove to you they don't, the lack of proof is evidence enough. It works the same way with the belief that there is no god.

      And you say that atheism is negative and nasty? What is christianity? You speak of a religion that has slaughtered millions of people in the name of their god in history, been an advocate of slavery, opression of women, african americans, and ho.mose.xuals, the death penalty, protesting funerals (if you are a member of the WBC), rap.ed children and covered it up for years (Catholics) and like this article says-anyone who isn't american is lowly. Atheism is an idea, it isn't a religion, there is no guide book. It isn't an idea you study and follow based on morality or civility, it is a conclusion to an idea that represents a small fraction of life.

      And lastly, I would love to see your scientific theory that, "It is mankinds nature to have a deep, inner need for something to worship and for something much bigger then himself." This is a complete contradiction of christianity. Christianity paints man as evil, not good, sinners, immoral, ect. Evil is the nature of man, according to christianity. Human nature is to survive. Human nature is to be fed, to drink water, is to be held, is to stay warm when cold and cool down when hot, the nature of man is self centered. I have never in my life felt the need to worship something, nor have I met children who all they wanted was to worship something bigger than themself. They wanted to be happy and to get their way. Worship is something that the church teaches and conditions people to feel. It's funny to me that most people can go through life never feeling like they need a god, until someone knocks on their front door telling them they will be eternally dam.ned if they don't. Kinda makes my human nature more valid. Humans doing something to make sure that they are taken care of, even if it's outside this life.

      November 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  7. Chris

    did jehovah's witnesses write this article?

    November 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  8. GetADictionary

    It just shows that if you're easily influenced one way, and accept fiction for facts, you'll be easily influenced in many other ways...

    November 15, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • John

      I couldn't agree more. The sheep among us will flock to many shepherds.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:09 am |
  9. DesMoiner

    By nearly ANY measure, the United States is clearly not the best at anything...except making amerikans...we're pretty good at that. Almost as good as Mexico.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  10. flarnkingsgargle

    The difference between most countries in the world is marginal. Socio-economic conditions of various groups are affected by geo-political division, but not significantly. If you are poor, the country you reside in is relatively trivial.

    November 14, 2011 at 4:51 am |
  11. dgkdgk

    Religion has done more harm to humanity than any famine, drought or disease ever could.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Captain Webb

      Famine, drought, and disease never fed the hungry, built hospitals, established universities, found homes for orphans, comforted dieing soldiers...or brought a human soul into fellowship with its creator.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:26 am |
    • sportreform

      Hey Webb, secular society does all that too, except that ridiculous part about souls and a creator.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Allie

      I agree completely with 'Captin Webb'. And great things are by nonbelievers as well. Religion has done no more harm to use then terriorism.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • D

      Wow, Allie, talk about missing the point. We've been victims of terrorism BECAUSE of religion. Incredible...

      November 17, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • nonbeliever

      @Captian Webb- And religion has murdered millions in crusades, oppressed women, oppressed african americans, oppressed ho.mo.se.xuals, rap.ed children, protested soldiers funerals, led many to suicide, caused segregation, promoted polygamy, flown planes into buildings, and brought people close to an idea of a creator that they cannot prove. I think they owe the world more than houses, food, and taking care of those in need.

      November 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  12. Barbara

    It shouldn't surprise anyone that Evangelicals would think that the the U.S. is superior to every other country. They are Americans, too. Is it Patriotism or egotism? They think they are superior to other Christians as well and superior to other Americans as well.

    November 13, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  13. Silas

    God is about love?! Have you READ the Old Testament? And even Jesus said you should "hate" your parents.

    November 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Allie

      God is about love. Times have changed and a the New Testiment was written because Jesus came along and a new generation was born. People started to witness Jesus and things began to change. The New Testiment was written to spread the word of Christianity not to punish.

      November 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Seamus McDermott

    Religion is but another form of tribalism, and its history is full of self-righteous tribal warfare and murder. It's not a good idea to confuse patriotism with jingoism. If you don't know the difference, look them up.

    November 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Donny

    How nonsensical can religious beliefs get? I just learned that one Catholic prayer says, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you." Maybe that's why those "believers" flog themselves bloody?
    With all due respect to faithful Catholics, who ever came up with a prayer so inane? Would a "loving" God himself put that in their heads? Given that kind of thinking, it's no mystery as to why people think so little of themselves. Sells a lot of Prozac though!

    November 13, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  16. Relictus

    Much as people would love to tie Religion to Patriotism, there are plenty of Atheist war heroes. What then? Want to tell a veteran that he's not a patriot because he is not religious? Religion is for the simple minded. Of course such folk believe "we are #1!" – but that would be true no matter what country that they lived in. The surety of a patriot and genius is worth a lot more than the surety of idiots.

    November 13, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Donny

      Love it! My favorite prayer by the way, is "God save me from your followers."

      November 13, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  17. Baldur

    Considering that a majority in the United States support genocide against 15% or more of its population – no, the United States is not so great. It might be marginally better than North Korea.

    Of course, in some *specific* ways the U.S. has its advantages. Relatively good with technology (though falling behind), for example.

    November 13, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Derek

      hahaha. i would love for you to live in north korea and still think we are just as well off as them. every country has its problems, but at least in america, we can deal with the problems knowing we are safe and free.

      November 13, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Donny

      IMO, the greatness of America has nothing whatsoever to do with the country (per se) or anyone's God. It's only got to do with the people. And America's presidents who end their speeches with, "And may God bless the United States," are for the most part FOS. After all, should their God not bless the rest of the world? How thoughtless!
      Better they should end speeches with, "And may the American people bless the United States." IMO, no God made the United States. Our people did! DUH!

      November 13, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  18. Jay

    Amen to that! Thank you! (The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens~ Baha'u'llah)

    November 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Martin

      Religion give people hope in a world torn apart by religion

      November 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  19. Mary

    The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens~ Baha'u'llah

    November 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  20. chris

    “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” ― George Washington

    November 12, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • truesoy

      Be advised that George Washington NEVER said that.
      Throughout history people have attributed many things that are not true to famous people to promote themselves and/or an agenda.
      This is the case here. Please correct your 'facts' of history.


      November 12, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Matt

      Hey truesoy

      ....prove it.

      November 13, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • HotAirAce

      @Matt, don't be lazy – you could discover that true soy is correct in less than 30 seconds.

      November 13, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Trixibelle


      November 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Leo

      And to add...

      So now Matt and Chris you guys can rest in purveying nonsense and having no ability to check anything you say in order to rampantly push your outdated beliefs on this website. Which is so in line with your religious background, but is sooooooo 100 years ago. I'd hope you would join the rest of us in the 21st century but with that display of ignorance and laziness, I'm sure you will just remain the problem. Please finish your veggies.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • nonbeliever

      @Chris- Even if he did say it (which I don't believe that he did) doesn't make it truth.

      November 20, 2011 at 3:50 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.