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. A Reasoner

    No surprise here. High religiosity and low education are joined at the hip. The only way many evangelicals see any other country is either when they're off to kill or convert the locals. A warped view of American exceptionalism is the end product.

    Before responding please note above "many," not "all."

    December 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  2. Memerizer

    Atheist here who LOVES THE USA!

    I wince at God Bless America... but no big deal, people are free to make such statements, fine. I'm not a snob or smug atheist, believe what you want, as long as hurts no one.

    USA #1!

    December 2, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • I'm counting on your sincerity

      Very Well Said!

      December 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  3. curt

    Really what we are fighting is the "secret power of lawlessness" that the Illuminati, bilderberg's new world order have and are creating for themselves.

    December 2, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • mreous


      The New World Order is also promoted by evangelical Christians. Christianity is a master/slave religion that creates a co-dependent slave society that passively obeys. Since God is not around, obedience to God is directed to obeying the leaders of churches. Christianity is a man made religion that was designed to promote the power of men, while holding down women and minorities.....and look at that. Historically, the United States has been about the power of White men and second to them, White women.

      Perhaps part of the non-religious show less patriotism because we have a more realistic view of this country and are not so full of narcissism that we think God is looking out for our selfish interests.

      December 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  4. curt

    I believe in God.. I don't believe society has God's interest's in mind.

    December 2, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • curt

      Nor does the Illuminati, bilderberg group, new world order, federal reserve or world bankers have God' interest's in mind

      December 2, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  5. DE

    As a pious Jew Jesus would consider the teachings of christianity as blasphemous. Jesus was NOT a christian and probably wouldn't want to have anything to do with christians, the group that has persecuted his people for millenia. Most christians are chrisitan in name only, few actually practice what Jesus taught. Just look at conservative chrisitans; they have absolutrly none of his attributes.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      What? Jesus drove around in a Chevy Suburban with a gun rack, defended tax cuts for the rich, and extolled the virtues of "enhanced interrogation techniques". You've got yur history wrong, Mister!

      December 2, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  6. NYYankeesFan

    Yes, let's poll 1,500 and 1,000 American's for these polls then not give the amount of replies received and say it represents all of the approximately 315 million Americans. Nice try manipulating statistics for your purposes, but 4.761904761904762e-6% of the American population is not a reliable sample source. A basic statistics or science class is college shows how unreliable this study is just on its sample size alone.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      Actually, you're obviously the one who doesn't understand statistics.

      If you pick your sample correctly, you can actually do quite well with a poll of 1500. Your attempt to seem tuned in to the math by showing that you can divide 1500 by the current US population is pretty pathetic. I can do that with a $4 calculator.

      And if you actually read polls, instead of merely skimming CNN blogs about polls, you'll see that pollsters publish the error margin associated with their polls, which of course, depends on sample size, amongst other things.

      Oh, and the Yankees suck.

      December 2, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  7. BlackYowe

    God does not favor one nation over another or one race over another and God does not favor the US because its superior, that is blasphemy. The Church is universal and God loves us all. This kind of narrow pathetic bundling of nationalism and religion makes me sick. People who hide behind false region are cowards. Faith is about transcending artificial boarders and wiping away the lines in the sand.

    December 1, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      I wasn't aware that God also forbids us to have false regions, as well as false religions. Man, God really did take the commandments "to eleven".

      December 2, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  8. Iqbal Khan


    November 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  9. heather

    Why is this not being considered an information or even an arrogance gap, rather than a religious issue. As the US continues to fall in maternal and child health and survival, income stability, educational achievement and opportunity, availability of adequate nutrition, and many other common measures of the health and status of a nation, a whole bunch of people who have never visited another country, never experienced other educational or health systems, continue to vociferously proclaim that the US is somehow #1, and anyone who thinks otherwise is somehow unpatriotic. Confidence without competence is dangerous, and yet so very much adored by an arrogant, misinformed, "patriotic" sector of the populace. And yes, evangelism ever-increasingly encourages followers to ignore facts, data, science, and even their own living conditions, in service to some ostensible "higher truths," largely being that they are the only true believers and the US is "the best," and above all, a Christian nation. They are as misinformed and sure of themselves as Lucy at her information booth, where she charged Linus 5 cents to explain that "When oak trees get real old, they're cut down and used to make knotty-pine recreation rooms."

    November 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Matt

      Well said heather.

      November 30, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • Chris

      Thank you Heather.

      Now get ready for the onslaught of attempts to paint you as "Anti-American," "unpatriotic" or as a "terrorist."

      You mention issues that ALL Americans SHOULD recognize, but sadly most never will.

      Blind allegiance is dangerous and can be considered a major factor in armed conflict throughout time and across the world.. I think the most un-American thing that can be done is to put blind faith in systems that preach love and equality but practice hate and destruction.

      Learn, analyze, compare viewpoints, discuss. Question decisions and authorities not to the extent that conspiracies are born, but to a point in which all are held accountable for actions and decisions.

      I think most non-Christians (including myself) actually identify very closely with many Christian values. Love, respect, equality, helping those that are less fortunate and emphasis on living a good life.

      Unfortunately, it is the actions and views of people that intentionally twist these values and teachings for their own gain or to express their own prejudices.

      November 30, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  10. johnnyhopkins

    people who follow religions are stupid therefore they think america is the best

    like the southpark episode said:
    dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb

    November 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Memerizer

      Southpark's for stupid people so I don't know where you're getting your logic from.

      December 2, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  11. sunny lovetts

    I'm extremely Christian and am extremely against the US govt.

    November 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • sdowst

      Against the government? What kind of statement is that? Try being a little more specific about what you don't like and what form of government you think is more palatable. Moron!.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  12. FreshxWater

    It's called "The Corporate Greed Gap"

    November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Memerizer

      Its called the "Neo-Yippie/Digger Revivalist" gap.

      December 2, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  13. DaveinSC

    The problem isn't with religion, but with people who use it to feed their own vanities and justify their own excesses.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      No, actually it's with religion.

      Conjuring up a fantasy where a half-man, half-god was born to a virgin, where a man parted a sea to walk through it, where another guy lived inside a big fish, and where there's an omniscient being who listens to you mumble to yourself, is what teaches mankind that reason and logic are not virtues, and that gullibility is.

      When you believe that you'll experience life after death, that's a pretty good disincentive to care about making things better right now.

      When you think the world is 6000 years old, and mankind started from two nudes in a garden where a snake talked to them, you give people a pretty good reason not to trust scientists, who are basically the smartest among us.

      When you believe that there's no god but yours, and you make him one of your best friends, it's pretty easy to hate another guy who says that there's no god but his, and he's made that god one of his best friends.

      The problem is indeed religion. The solution is thinking.

      December 2, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Memerizer

      I see, you and your kind are equating Christianity with the 1%. I got it.

      Slick you Yippies are, but not that much.

      December 2, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • C Mclaughlin

      ...good one..

      December 2, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  14. Marcelino

    I believe in a higher power, Life! We are here for a reason, what that is, I don't know. I guess that's what we have to figure out. To the guy who thinks that god makes earthquakes, (1) they're called tectonic plates, they are under your feet in constant motion and not unusual. (2)Hurricanes and tornadoes happen when a low pressure cold front runs into a high pressure warm front. We call it the weather. (3) Tsunami's, see number one above. Flooding happens when it rains too much. See number 2 above. any other questions?

    November 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • CT

      Science is a lovely thing... Who's to say belief in God and science are incompatible?

      November 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)


      Someone who believes in science is one to say that they're incompatible.

      They're incompatible (I have science degrees from two of the top five universities in the country, and the vast majority of my friends are non-believers).

      If you think there's a god, then you don't understand what science really is. They say that plumbers don't go home and plumb. Well, that's why they're plumbers. Good scientists should not go home, and stop believing in the paradigm of rational thinking.

      Of course, there are scientists who believe in God. Not that many, and there's fewer and fewer as you get higher up in the ranks of scientists (the best scientists tend to be less religious ... 93% of the NAS are non-believers). The reason there's many at all is that most people learn to be religious when they're little children. Far too young to properly scrutinize what they're told by authority figures (parents usually).

      By the time people learn science, they've generally got a decade of being religious under their belts. At that point, to renounce your faith would be to admit you were pretty darn gullible. Scientists are generally pretty bright, but they also have emotions. The harm to one's pride involved in admitting that you believed in nonsense is too much for many people to overcome.

      December 2, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  15. Zoglet

    I thought patriotism was something people stood behind when they are to dum to think for themselves ,to fearful to criticise the government and to ignorant to know what that government does in their name. Or is that just in the USA?

    November 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Andacar

      Yur rite Zoglute, dem patreuts iz dum an ain' lik youse smart giz dat kin spel an stuff..

      November 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • mj2280

      Since when does patriotism equate to following leadership without question? Having pride in your country and a desire to improve it can very well involve questioning leadership and government decisions.

      November 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  16. Michele

    Correlation is not causation. Belief in religion doesn't make someone more likely to hang a flag outside their house. Both religious belief and pro-Americanism stem from conservative values. Atheism and globalism are liberal traits. So the real difference is between conservative and liberal world views.

    November 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  17. Hypatia

    Isn't it funny that the article claims a 'God gap' but only illustrates that the atheists are realists and the fundies are out of their minds.

    November 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  18. Bennycat

    All any of this demonstrates is that ignorance really is bliss.

    November 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  19. The Half Baked Lunatic

    'god' is an idiotic idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded. These fairy tales have no place in our government.

    November 27, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Brandon Yates

      That's a lot for someone to claim. I'd like to see you prove that he's a "fairytale". If anybody on this earth is STRONG minded, it's Christians.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Arjun

      Dont let their ignorant idea of 'God' stop your for searching for meaning beyond the physical.
      What is your conciousness, What do you care about? What is Good for you?
      You dont have to follow a dogma,and materialism is a Dogma too,just be honest with yourself and your
      life experience, be fearless, curious and good to yourself you will find 'God'.

      November 28, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  20. Above it ALL

    God doesn't "explain" any of the petty differnences that men find between themselves. He put us here to do a decent job, and we are now fukking up that job royally. He sees it and throws in a lot of reminders such as earthquakes and other unusual pehonomena to try to make idiots down here take note of his presence and wrath and our condescending ways, but it has been mostly to no avail for any chnage for the better. We will ultimately all pay dearly for our ignorant behavior in his eyes!

    November 27, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Miguel

      So by that logic, god kills innocent children to teach us a lesson?

      November 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      The only "god logic" that makes complete sense is there are no gods. Everything else is just centuries of trying to explain the then/currently unknown and then heaping on additional lies and incorrect rationalizations to support the initial incorrect conclusion that there are gods and to maintain control over the many by a few (initially cult shamans, now politicians).

      November 30, 2011 at 3:56 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.