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. petercha

    In the Bible it says that God created the first nations at the Tower of Babel. So one could say that it is a Christian's duty to be patriotic for whatever country he or she is a citizen of.

    December 13, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Byrd

    Since both religion and patriotism are the last refuges of scoundrels, I guess you could say that.

    December 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  3. brian

    This is a bunch of baloney, and another example of how America has become dominated by evangelical exclusionists. Who says patriotism can, or should be, measured by flying the flag, or wearing flag clothing, much less subscribing to evangelical protestantism? You could argue that supporting public schools for all our children, or fair wages for all, or an equitable distribution of wealth are equally relevant measures of patriotism. But you don't and in so doing further the notion that Americans who espouse a particular brand of christianity are 'more American' than others. That, my friend, is a particularly insidious form of bigotry that we might consider down right unpatriotic.

    December 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  4. Josh

    The ironic part is that this country wasn't God-gung-ho until the 50s when the McCarthy wingnuts made it the line in the sand against communism. Yet now the wingnuts have succeeded in convinced the majority (it seems) that all this religious fervor was here from day one.

    December 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  5. Suffolk100

    The problem with America is that the religious nuts think they have the market on a god. When you listen to these stupid folks talk, they say, "it's my god is the true and only god". It amazes me that Americans can be so arrogant as to think that their god is the true god. My personal believe is they're all equal. Preachers who say other wise, have an agenda. They preach with hate that their followers suck up to. It's so sad that people are so stupid.

    December 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  6. Steve

    God? Um, prove it first.

    December 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  7. wtw

    Amazingly, one does not have to be American to be Christian. So what does patriotism have to do with Christianity? NOTHING. A real Christian swears allegiance to God, and not to any Earthly country.

    December 12, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • George

      America was ordained by God. It's not just any country.

      December 12, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Actually

      "America was ordained by God."

      That's why Christians murdered so many in order to obtain it and used the backs of slaves to build it. You are an idiot.

      December 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • George


      Have you ever heard of the Pilgrims? How they prayed before signing the Mayflower Compact? Have you ever heard of Roger Williams? Did you ever hear of the song "America the Beautiful?" We sing it in our church.

      December 12, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Actually

      "Have you ever heard of the Pilgrims? How they prayed before signing the Mayflower Compact? Have you ever heard of Roger Williams? Did you ever hear of the song "America the Beautiful?" We sing it in our church."

      Nice tap dancing this is not a country ordained by God, it was created by murder and slavery.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • George


      You are no patriot. Go are going out of your way to libel our great nation. People like you need to get out. If you sully our good name, you don't deserve to enjoy the standard of life we provide.

      December 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Brian

      George. You don't know what you are talking about. The fact that Pilgrims preyed and you sing America the Beautiful in church has nothing at all to do with patriotism, or America for that matter. We are a nation of laws and traditions, among them the firm commitment to freedom of conscience. Americans express their patriotism in all sorts of ways, as is our right. That's called liberty. It's called freedom. To suggest that this country belongs to a religious sect is absolutely contrary to our principles. Sure, many Americans are christians. Wonderful, more power to all of us. But being christian affords you no more right to determine what is patriotic than being jewish, or atheist, or right handed. What you espouse is a form of cheap bigotry that is tearing our great nation apart. Shame on you.

      December 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • George

      "the firm commitment to freedom of conscience"

      Show me where that is written in the Const.itution or anywhere for that matter.

      December 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Brian

      It seems clear that much of the Bill of Rights is designed with freedom of conscience in mind. Otherwise, rights of minorities would not be protected, much less rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from established religion would be meaningless. The founders feared tyranny of majorities as much as they feared tyrannical government. Freedom of conscience is identical to freedom of religion, or freedom from religion.

      December 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  8. jb

    religion will only be appreciated and taken as a grasp for life and not for granted once this nation becomes a communist nation which i hope never happens but it one day will in the near future

    December 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  9. Tr1Xen

    I'm atheist and I consider myself a very patriotic American. I love this country and everything it represents.

    December 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  10. Man

    You can idolize and worship God or your nation. You cannot worship both. One must be worshiped, the other not.

    I used to see bumper stickers that said, "God, country, family." I found this pretty sick. It should say, "God, family, countrymen."

    The flag is not the country. The statues and stone buildings in D.C. are not this country. They are symbols to remind you of who you should really love (after God, of course): your fellow Americans, past and present.

    If you hate half the people in this country because they disagree politically than you, than you are only half a patriot and half an American.

    A true Patriot loves Americans. Americans are what make this a nation, and nothing else.

    They say, "this is a nation of laws, not men."

    BS. The laws didn't write themselves. Men wrote those laws, and each law is a collective representation of how them founding fathers thought and felt.

    If you hate Liberals, you are not patriotic. If you hate conservatives, you are not patriotic.

    December 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • AZGUY

      Right on!!!

      December 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  11. salvatore

    The best thing about America is freedom from religion, in principle if not in practice.

    December 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  12. ModernMan

    People who think patriotism has anything to do with God are badly confused, and with good reason: militant hate groups like Focus on the Family and the Boy Scouts have gone out of their way to promote this for years. I served in the Air Force as an Atheist, I fly my flag, never miss an election, and attend ceremonies honoring veterans. This country was founded on the rule of law and freedom of religion: meaning any religion or none at all. Those who try and rewrite history to endorse modern militant Christianity are the worst kind of criminals, trying to change our very foundations to suit their agendas. The phrase "Good Christian Man" has come to mean "hateful hypocrite," just like the the phrase "Conservative" has changed to mean "F you, I got mine."

    December 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • ModernMan

      As for which country is the greatest, it depends on how you measure it. The USA has more opportunity than most, but also more crime, more traffic accidents, more disparity between rich and poor, and billions of dollars wasted on the religion industry every year. By most measures, Europeans enjoy higher standards of living, but less upward mobility. China certainly has many things going for it, but with limited freedom to criticize government and horrible pollution challenges. India, too is becomming a world leader in technology, but strains under the weight of its massive population.

      December 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  13. rick d785

    I think education,skepticism,the ability to think critically is in the domain of those who either place little value or no value in religion. In other words the lower the intellect the more likely to believe.
    To have watched Bush and Cheney slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people during their reign of terror made me ashamed to be an American ;further it helped me for the first time understand what it may have been like for Germans citizens during WW II.
    I will never recover from my feelings of guilt and no fantasy religion will drive me any where near patriotic feelings for this country.
    I used to feel privileged to have been born and live here;Not any more.

    December 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • NT

      Wow. I guess you haven't studied religion. Have you not heard eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. You'd stand there and take a beating from someone and not do anything about it. I would not want to be part of your family or friends group. Another great thing about America is we fought for our freedom, and no are fighting to protect it. And yes, even if it comes to protecting it from our own government.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      NT, please remind us what Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq did to deserve "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth."

      December 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  14. William

    I worked in France for four years. Ask any 10 Frenchman, and nine will tell you France is the greatest country in history. When I was a student, I lived in Germany 2 years and Italy 2 years. Most Germans say Germany is the greatest country on earth, most Italians say the same about Italy.
    It all depends who you ask...

    December 11, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • George

      The difference is that we HAVE the greatest country in the world. They just THINK that they do. They just don't know any better.

      December 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • seamoney

      I'll give you odds that George has never been outside of the US

      December 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • George

      You don't need to go out of the USA to know that America is the best country even to have existed in the world. I read, watch TV, and use the internet. I know what rat holes the other countries are. Even Canada is riddled with socialism with socialist healthcare and full of liberals. No, America is #1.

      December 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Brian

      So, George. You are admitting that you haven't traveled, and have no interest in learning anything new. How sad for you.

      December 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  15. Pat

    As a proud American that has extensive international travel experience, I tend to agree with one of Obama's statements that I believe the USA is an exceptional country – just as the French think that France is an exceptional country, as do the Germans with Germany, the Chinese with China, etc. We are ALL justifiably proud of our countries, as it should be.

    Only 30% of Americans have a passport, let alone use them on a regular basis. When these folks talk about America as the greatest nation on Earth, they really have a limited vantage point from which to make such a comparison. Most of the rest of the world would NOT agree with that statement. Americans aren't hated around the world because "people are jealous of us" – we are hated because we are frequently self-centered braggarts.

    In one of the most recent Republican debates, one of the candidates (Santorum?) said that no aid should go to Pakistan because they don't put America's interests first – NOR SHOULD THEY! We certainly don't put THEIR interests first, nor should we! Americans have the inability to look at the world, and America in particular, through the eyes of an outsider.

    France is a beautiful country – as is Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia, etc. etc. We are NOT God's only chosen people, and we need to do a reality check before we continue to proclaim that we are.

    December 11, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • George

      "Only 30% of Americans have a passport, let alone use them on a regular basis."

      First of all, we don't need to travel to these other places that can't hold a candle to the good ol' USA. Second, we have TV, internet, and newspapers. We can see for ourselves what ratholes they are.

      "... one of the candidates (Santorum?) said that no aid should go to Pakistan because they don't put America's interests first – NOR SHOULD THEY! We certainly don't put THEIR interests "

      The should if they are taking our money. We don't take their money so we don't have to worry about their interests.

      December 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Pat, good post!

      George, "TV, internet, and newspapers" can be terrible sources of facts, almost as bad as The Babble.

      December 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • salvatore

      Hear, hear.

      Please tell me George is a troll.

      December 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Todd P

    "Does God Gap Explain Patriotism Gap?"


    December 11, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  17. Salviati Galilei

    I am an atheist and I know with 5-sigma certainty that America is the greatest country in the history of the Universe. So take that, all you God-fearing pseudo-patriots. You can't touch my love for the Red, White and Blue.

    December 11, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  18. Josh Harris

    Oh George, now you're just posting incendiary statements on purpose.

    December 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • George

      What is incendiary about it? Are you trying to say that America is not the greatest nation on earth?

      December 11, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  19. HotAirAce

    George, I can understand that you can't provide any evidence for the existence of your imaginary friend(s) so I do try to cut you some slack. Even a dumb atheist Canadian such as I can agree with your first sentence, at least for now, recognizing that the recent situation caused by The Shrub has the USA on a very bad trajectory, but I really must insist that you provide just a wee bit of proof (you know, independent verifiable facts?) to support your outrageous claims in your last two sentences.

    December 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  20. George

    America is the greatest country the world has ever known. It has been ordained by God, and we will once again get her back to God. All other countries are rat holes.

    December 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Dotun

      Re...."all other countries are rat holes"... typical naive American pride which leads before a fall even though you started off well by saying America must get back to God and it really must....Righteousness exalts a nation, not gay rights and the global sponsorship of defending gay rights! The increasing debt problem with China is also reducing America's greatness and respect overseas by the day...a borrower is a servant to the lender. These are pressing problems which requires urgent prayers for the restoration of America by having the right leader evolve from the next elections. We need a leader that is bold enough ( not politically correct) in rebuilding the foundations established by our founding fathers if the American dream will be restored

      December 11, 2011 at 6:25 am |
    • Ian 2

      Sorry, I lived in the US for 7 years and I am now in Canada – come for a vist – this is a pretty nice "rat hole" – we can be pretty nationalistic too but we do not proclaim ourselves to be the greatest country on earth – we keep it to ourselves.

      December 11, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • George

      Tell us, Ian 2, just what is Canada known for except exporting actors and liberalism to the USA? Please, I read. I know what a liberal nightmare you have there.

      December 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Scott S.

      I don't remember seeing God's signature on the Declaration of Independence.. so no, God did not ordain this country. Secondly, if you haven't travelled much you shouldn't cast dispersions it just makes you look even more ignorant there are many beautiful and lovely countries. This country is great because WE ARE FREE. With that freedom comes the ability to practice any religion you want or to NOT BELIEVE AT ALL... which what our founding fathers, who ordained this country, intended.

      December 12, 2011 at 12:28 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.