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. Coug9

    Consider: We have more freedoms, more prosperity, more wealth, and more morality than any other country in history. Our freedom of religion has enabled citizens to practice any religion they choose........with the majority of Americans choosing Christianity.
    For the last 200 years, Christianity and its values have been the moral foundation of our country and its people. So no....it is not a stretch to say that our country has been blessed because of this. There are many things wrong with our country, and there are many things that Christians are not living up to......nonetheless, we have spread Christianity to more corners of the world then any other people. God has blessed our nation.........if we forget this, or we neglect him, we are headed for some seriously rough times.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • tor5

      Coug9 says: "We have more freedoms, more prosperity, more wealth, and more morality than any other country in history."

      Um, you should study more history.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Greg

      Yeah what the heck are you talking about?!?!? More wealth, more morality? Have you seen our deficit? The massive gap between the haves and the have-nots? The fact that we have the highest crime rate in the world? Yes, America has plusses, but don't write lies.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • humanbean

      Cut coug9 some slack. He's one of those, live in a bubble, evangelicals that I believe this article was alluding to. You're talking about a group of people who live their daily lives based on hope and faith that God is going to always keep them on top no matter what. Don't get me wrong. I love the good ol USA, but delusion has run amuck. You can't just say you're great and then it automatically happens. You have to work for it, and I think that a big percentage of the newer population in this country can't comprehend the work part.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Yea did we forget about the forced conversion of slaves and native Americans. Did you forget we bomb the snot out of people because we can. Perhaps you forgot the witch trials. Or the fact that our founding fathers were for the most part Deist. Please everyone in the world is more moral than your God. If he existed he murdered the world(including children) except for Noah and his crew. He demands that you worship him or if you don't want to you can suffer not only in life but for eternity as well. He damns the world that he created (all the time knowing it would happen) and then can only forgive us (and not original sin) by making himself his son and dying? What kinda BS is that?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  2. Kent Bowen

    The bottom line: Most Christians are less objective about America, it's strengths and shortcomings. What we need are more objective Christians...

    September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • SecularBob

      what we need is less religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  3. the chick who says "meh"

    maybe non-religious citizens would be more enamored of america if it quit giving special treatment the christian nut jobs.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • BG

      What makes you think Americans give a crap what atheists think? So you're not "enamored" with America?


      September 28, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Cogito

      You completely missed the point of her statement, didn't you BG?...that's OK, you can admit it...

      September 28, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • BG

      Her "point" is the dead carcass of a well-beaten horse. I recognize it well.

      I just don't care about it.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  4. tor5

    I think this article has bought into the Republican definition of “patriotism.” That is, “We’re the best!” “We’re number 1!” But that’s not really patriotism, it’s nationalism. Patriotism is loving your country, but seeing its flaws and wanting to make it better. I don’t care who’s “best,” I just want to make my country better, because it’s the only one I’ve got. I’m a patriot!

    September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • BKLYN

      THANK YOU! This is the first comment I have read that hit the nail on the head. I have no diety in my life, but I sure love my country and hate that we are bogged down by old thinking and broken ideas. I want more. I want better and I am willing to work hard to make it so.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  5. Chris

    Imperialism doesn't make a country the best country in the world. In fact it makes our country worse. We take over other countries and kill more innocent people than any other group has done to America. America is a great nation but the best idk.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  6. The Dude

    When Yellowstone Blows, the world will be a better place.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  7. Bill

    With imperialistic thinking like this, no wonder so many countries consider the US "The Great Satan." Then again these Americans don't give a hoot what other countries' people think. It's all soooooooo Old Testament.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  8. Cory

    I consider anyone who defends their country by standing with the "little" people; telling their "political leaders" what they NEED to hear rather than what they WANT to hear; is not afraid to admit truth even if it's not favorable, who doesn't let Religious leaders think for them, a true patriot. Whether God has anything to do with it or not.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  9. Answer

    If your country is the best, there is no need for it's citizens, to do the shouting themselves. Other countries will recognize it as fact and they will shout out your country to be looked up to.

    So when you don't see that you are just in denial.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, I'm sure when reading your post people of other nations will be astounded by your mastery of punctuation.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Tom if an argument isn't going your way, its not ok to be a grammar Nazi. Reminds me when I was a kid when someone didn't have a good come back saying, "oh yea ..... your stupid"

      September 29, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • oceanswell

      which is why people all around the world are trying to come to the US. Not just the US, but definitely the US.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  10. John H.

    As an atheist I have to agree with the findings. I find that I rarely find myself thinking of the united states as a top country. Almost everything that counts, from healthcare, to quality of life, to even education the united states ranks very poorly.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • humanbean

      Kinda hard to be a leader in education when you want to teach your children that dinosaurs were running around with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  11. Jim

    I agree God is much bigger than any nation, or continent. He is bigger than all the Heavens. I think what it is, there are many Americans that are also Christians that feel but by the grace of God, our nation stands.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  12. Mark

    Who cares? So what if non-religious/liberal people don't like America?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Cricket

      Mark, Mark, Mark. Please don't show your ignorance so boldly. I am a Liberal Agnostic and still think America is pretty damn great.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Mark

      Cricket. Good to hear... please spread the word.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • tor5

      I think it’s hard for America to be great when some Americans think you have to be a rightwing fundamentalist to be patriotic. Ironically, they’re the ones keeping us from being better.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • John

      Yea! Because everyone that thinks differently than me or worships a different deity is automatically inferior! People should only care about ME!!! Only my opinion matters! Christianity!!! Yes!!! Idiot!!!!

      September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Mark

      America used to be great...

      September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  13. us1776

    Time to end all these silly "Invisible Being" cults.

    Being patriotic toward your country has absolutely nothing to do with any "invisible being".


    September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • John Lawson

      I second that.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Why are atheists so obsessed with religion

      I agree with your second sentence. One doesn't have to believe in God to be patriotic. As for the first sentence, the mere fact that you mock what you believe doesn't exist is nothing more than ignorance of accepting the fact that something of a higher life form (far greater than we feeble humans can comprehend-but behold our arrogance) could actually exist.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • pfft

      im sorry, you said "fact" though.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • SecularBob

      "Why are atheists so obsessed with religion"

      Because the religious f*** everything up. Its that simple. Stem cell research, war, forced conversion, lack of environmental responsibility (why worry God is gonna take us away), mass murders (9/11, native Americans, Inquisition, witch trials, many more). These things any many more hinder progression.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:58 am |


    September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • The Dude

      I am a reluctant American. I only live here for the money and the fact that most of the population is far less intelligent than I am, so it is easy to find work.

      I plan to take my money and retire elsewhere when I hit 55.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The dumbing down of America continues. What the eff is a "Christain" American?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • SecularBob

      stop yelling

      September 29, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  15. Uncouth Swain

    Eh...the US is a fine country. It has it's flaws and somewhat shady history. The greatest?? Can't say it is.
    In all that I am a Christian so I don't quite thing the gap applies to me.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  16. marxylot

    has anyone evr opend thier mind nuf to wonder if the creator created then he is all powerfull..no doubt...but as our genes r in our families, so his r in us. the god-satan thing is a loveaffair..ongoing. im 'knowing' that sumday they will open their minds enuf to work together to create peace, and therefore an eternity for all mankind.no judgmnts,just saying. and what we dream, and truly believe in with opend minds we will acheive or i say we will create with minds focusd that direction..so it shall be

    September 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Rabia Diluvio

      Please, for the love of whatever God you believe in, PLEASE go buy yourself a grammar text and practice your English. MAybe then people might be able to understand whatever you are trying to tell us.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Okay, who has the Idiot Translator Ring?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      Tom tom needs his idiot translator ring so he can figure out what he has posted.It is downright unfair of whoever took it from him!Lets all turn off our systems so the guilty party can return tom tom his ring ,no questions asked.Of course only tom tom will be able to figure out what tom tom posts.God bless

      September 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Cleopatra

      I understood it Perfectly. Thank your for writing it.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      Wow! That's deep! Can I buy some of that pot from you?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Aww, herbalicious is sore! Poor widdle fella.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, herbalicious, I'm feeling so left out! Why don't you urge everyone to report MY posts as 'abuse'? I mean, after all, I always do you the honor. I'm insulted.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Stop being a Grammar Nazi. That is something people do when they can't find a reasonable response, and its childish. Here is some extra commas and periods that you may insert when ever it bothers you again

      September 29, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  17. John Lawson

    Has America forgot what The First Amendment is all about? The U.S.A is a secularism country!

    September 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Benzin

      The word is secularist.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Cogito

      If you want to play grammar cop, make sure you've been properly trained first....

      September 29, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  18. wormstooth

    I am not a veteran, and do not attend church. My mother is catholic, my father is protestant. I fly the flag every day, because I love my country, and feel that God is beyond politics and nationality.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  19. Pilot96

    It absolutely amazes me that Americans think they live in the best country. Seriously? You need to get out more.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • dude999

      So, what country is the best?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • andrew

      switzerland is the best

      the scandinavian countries are pretty good too.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • gassh

      Certainly not America, I think we would be lucky to be in the top ten, lots of countries (particularly in Europe) have a better quality of life than in America. A side note- religion is merely a method of control by those in power and has been for over a thousand years when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the main religion of the roman empire in the third century, the tight grip of religion has loosened over the past century or so now that less people are illiterate, the common people are less stupid because of it, these statistics prove my point

      September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • dude999

      Why are they the best?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • dude999

      " lots of countries (particularly in Europe) have a better quality of life than in America"

      You have experienced this yourself, or did the internet tell you these things?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      Hey, we're number one in percentage of citizens incarcerated. That's why we're known as the land of the free! Francis S. Key had a delicious sense of irony!

      September 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Don't get me wrong Love America even though its seriously fubared but hes right Switzerland is the best country in the world if you consider freedom as your main talking point, they make more money they have less violent crime (a lot less), they live a libertarian life, do what you want just don't hurt others. It works well for them. I wish we were more like Switzerland.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  20. tnmtl

    Religious people are patriotic and think America is the best? Would god really have people go hungry or suffer because they cannot afford health care while living in one of the richest countries on the planet? And at the same time spend a major part of our money on building and maintaining enough WMDs to kill everything on the planet?? And at the same time, become one of the most gluttonous societies on the planet?? It's not a surprise to me they display the flag more. It's just another hollow display to me to divide everyone else from them.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Cricket

      I hear you and completely agree.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:56 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.