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. GOP hate America

    if being a patriot means I have to be some inbreed evangelical than call me unpatriotic. dont care to be associated with ilk like that.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  2. Chris Devine

    Gee CNN, do freethinkers get a Non-Belief blog that gets to be featured on the front page of the website too?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  3. TonyOO

    Wow! thank you ALL for taking this Survey WAY OUT OF PROPORTION.....And God Bless Everyone One of You....

    December 23, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  4. M

    Practical certainty is not the same thing as faith, but people have been using the two interchangeably since religion has become a political leg up in elections.

    Any true Christian with a knowledge of humanity and its propensity for sin would allow a little doubt into their lives, whether it was in answer to a question of our country's supreme sovereignty, or whether God had any say-so over its position in the world.

    December 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  5. U.S.M.C.

    Republicans are quick to mention God, But they've been killing Marines for a long time, and make money off our blood. Conservatives say they have morals. Take a good look at that, War is big business, just look at all the money Bush, Cheney and Haliburton made off the war in Iraq. They shipped 9 billion dollars in cash money to Iraq with no oversight. They stole tax payers money. Where is the money Gingrich? The surplus we had when Clinto was in office, Bush gave it away to his cronies in Congress with his tax cuts for the wealthy, and paid for the wars he started with middle class taxex. And he had the audacity to say he spoke to God every night. His grandfather Prescot Bush was indicted after WWII for trading with the enemy, Adolph Hitler, but not before making millions of dollars from the blood of American sosdiiers. And they have the nerve to talk about God. Think about that real good. The Bush family and the Bin Laden family make money together. The Bin Laden family was here during 9/11, and that day they caught a flight back to the middle east. John Boehner and his entourage in Congress all hide behind God, and do the dirtiest of deeds to the other 99% of us, and you ignorant not well to do at all republicans vote for these facists? You guys are really sick! They're are screwing you with no vaseline and you don't even know it. The Bush administration put us 12 trillion dollars in debt, and you don't see that? All the while commiting these atrocities to Americans and the rest of the world, and saying they have morals. Where are your morals republicans? Quit hidding Behind God, and show those poor republicans that vote for you, from all the brainwashing you do to them, your true colors. Bush, Newt, Boehner, and the rest of the republicans that sent us to war and made us pay for protective gear that the military should have paid for, are white collar filth.

    December 21, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • What???

      Refresh my memory, Mr. Obama pulled us right out of Iraq and Afghanistan right after he entered office, I really liked the way he navigated us out of Libya. He has really saved us a lot of money with those 3 moves didn't he? Oh, that’s right Mr. Obama is a Muslim …. He doesn’t believe in fighting Muslims with unbelievers???? Now I know why they call you guys Jarheads! No disrespect to other Marines but you sir are an idiot. Simper Fi!

      December 22, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • RTFM

      Obama is fulfilling his campaign promises by pulling out of Iraq. Not that I care, but prove he's a muslim. Prove it right now. I want solid irrefutable evidence.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • awasis

      @ What???? The only jar head here is you. Your insistence that Obama is a Muslim without one shred of proof shows that you have no interest in the truth and are only interested in justifying your bigotry. People like you are blinded by hate and fear. You are a poor excuse for a human being.

      December 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  6. Casey Wollberg

    I think Norway is probably the greatest country, in terms of individual prosperity and happiness. It is also 72% atheist. Go figure.

    December 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • JS

      What Casey said. Also, I believe that those Norwegian atheists give the most money to charity (per capita). Aren't those vikings socialist leaning as well...(apparently the World Bank or WHO keeps numbers on which countries give the most per capita)

      December 21, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • George

      No. America is #1. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. America is great because of God.

      December 22, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  7. Aidan

    This article is rediculous for so many reasons. The people in this study are asked if they beleive that the United States of America is the "best country," but they forget to ask "best at what?" To say that we are the best country is a little like asking who is the most talented person. Talent can be measured in so many ways, that it is impossible to quantify a "most talented," unless you are asking a more specific question, such as: who is the most talented Brazilian Flamenco dancer? Possibly this so-called God-patriotism gap is really just a gap in people not being able to understand the complexities of the question asked to them. Is the United States of America the best country? At some things, yes it is. At other things (such as literacy of its citizens, public health care, overall happiness index, etc.), no it is not. Does my saying that have anything to do with patriotism? No. I have lived in many other counties, and I could never call another one my home. I love the United States, but according to how this survey is given, I might be considered "unpatriotic" because I cannot easily classify something as "the best" unless I understand what it is supposed to be the best at. WIth regards to the "god-gap," I don't see what my religiosity has to do with patriotism, other than to give people with strong opinions an opportunity to rant.

    December 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • anonymous

      very ridiculous.

      how can a CNN editorial contain such incorrect language. "Patriotism" and "think they live in the greatest country" have to do with each other. The "Greatest Country" would be speaking of Government, Not the People. Patriotism can be full fledged while "thinking they live in the greatest country in the world" is absent, completely absent. Our government should be the only "not great" thing, anywhere. Love this country.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  8. WoI Admin

    I'm a deeply patriotic person and have no strong religious beliefs.

    I have a philosophy and values based around sustainability and the observable, verifiable laws of nature.

    December 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  9. Gopherit

    The excerpt from Christianity Today basically restates the Biblical New Testament position, drawing from the teachings and words of Jesus. Equating "patriotism" with being Christian is a form of idolatry. Even worse are politicians who state that they are Christians and then proceed to violate many if not most of Jesus' teachings. Separating being Christian from the primacy of one's country is a prerequisite for practicing authentic, rather than hijacked, Christianity.

    December 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  10. Abd al-Latif

    Isn't it interesting that the first people to shout "USA is no. 1!" are people who have never set foot outside of North America.

    December 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      Agreed best county I ever visited,

      Liechtenstein number one

      December 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      No one can hate Liechtenstein she just sits there being Moe and no one would ever attack it because well the inter world would then kill them. She just sites around and collects money there is no debt even after this recession she does not pay for anything. It pure revenue because of this the country is prosperous and peaceful with no internal conflict

      Best country ever

      December 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  11. Abd al-Latif

    Where exactly in the Bible does it say, "God bless the USA"?

    December 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  12. Casey Wollberg

    This article is not about patriotism; it is about nationalism. Everyone professionally associated with this bilge should seriously question their competence. Maybe McDonalds is a better fit for them.

    December 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  13. s barc


    December 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • tokencode

      Please get a little more angry, maybe you'll have an aneurism.

      December 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  14. s barc


    December 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Opie610

      And yet you are still here, why?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  15. Larry

    Physics and God? Check out http://www.PhysicsOfReality.com

    December 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  16. One With Israel - Your God My God

    America Has A Zeal
    For Our Father’s House
    By Sheila Stephens

    It’s time to Clean Our House

    America is a Christian Nation. Israel’s God is our God. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Both America and Israel are loving people. We are His People, and we live in the House of the Lord. God Blesses Israel and America. I pray that God will continue to protect our lands, for we are blessed.

    The invitation to come to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is open to all nations to “Repent” and to receive His Love.
    God, the Father gave His ONLY Son’s Life, Jesus, who is the Word, and is God, for you and me.
    Jesus is God, who came down from Heaven in the Flesh to rescue us from the kingdoms of this world. He is God with us, who personally came to forgive and to save us from the eternal death, and the evil bitter end. Jesus died on the Cross in our place. He was buried, and rose from the dead to External Life.
    We love God, because He first loved us, giving us, His GRACE to have the Gift of His FAITH, LOVE, and HOPE . There is nothing more Eternally Sweeter, than Jesus’ Life given to us. Taste and see that the LORD is GOOD! When we receive, believing, this Gift of Life, (which is His Faith, Love,and Hope), then we are “Born Again” into God’s Holy Spirit and His LOVE. We are new creatures; No longer just human. But Children of God, Holy and Pure before God. We love our Father God with all of our hearts, mind, soul, and strength. It is our hearts desire to live in the House of the Lord. We have a Zeal for our Father’s House.
    If you don’t respect our Father’s House….then lovingly, we must ask to “Repent” and to receive His Love, and if not, then change your mind and heart to Love Him, because He loves you.
    When repenting, by turning to Jesus, who is our Truth; we receive God’s Gift of Life, which is paid with God’s own BLOOD.
    Now, living in God, who is the anointing; Our blessing; Our Christ. We are ONE with God, immersed in the Living Water, the Power, and the Fire! One with His Holy Spirit! We are the Children of God!
    America is HOT, a Nation unto God, that loves and supports Israel. Together we are the “One New Man”. We are One!
    We will not join a world order. Our trust is in God …and we will never serve the love of money. God is our source, and is restoring our land.
    His Righteous LOVE redeems our Souls. He is worthy to be Praised!

    Get Ready, Be Ready, and Stay Ready!
    Jesus and His Kingdom of Heaven is coming to this earth soon. Jesus is our Saving Grace, an Amazing Grace!

    “…And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My Name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes; If they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” Mark 16:15

    We demolish arguments and every pretension (self-importance, posing, and imagination) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
    2 Corinthians 10:5

    In the Name of JESUS, the greatest Name on earth and in heaven….We are taking our families back, our schools back, our cities back, and our government back. And if you don’t like it; then REPENT into God’s Sweet Love, and change your mind and heart to love Him.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Bob

      You do realize that state religion of Israel (aka the Jewish religion; technically not the official state religion, but several laws refer to Israel as a 'Jewish and democratic state') doesn't recognize Jesus Christ as the son of your God, right?

      December 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • tokencode

      Actually America was founded on the principle of seperation of church and state, you can take you "god" and shove it. Religion is the single largest source of evil in the world.

      December 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  17. annie

    Agnostics and athiests need to sit down and shuddup during this High Holy Season of the celebration of Jesus as our Savior. They act like a cross or a prayer or a damned tree might make them holier art than thou. Sick of it. Go GOD Go USA

    December 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • IEK

      What in the world are you talking about? What atheist or agnostic told you that you couldn't have a cross or a tree?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Mike

      People keep saying this but it is 0% true. Continuing to say it doesn't change the fact, but people like you (by that i mean people who ignore evidence, not all religious people) don't deal in facts anyway.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Erin

      Annie if Jesus is the reason for your season more power to you. Celebrate your heart out. But, realize Jesus is not the ONLY reason for the season. Countries, cultures, and religions all over the world and here in the old USofA have other reasons and beliefs about the season as well. There should be enough room for everyone to celebrate this season as they seem fit. Everyone needs to let each individual celebrate or not celebrate this time of year as they feel moved to.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Huh?

      "High Holy Season of the celebration of Jesus as our Savior."

      It's all based on other religions of the time look at the day Christians celebrate Jesus b-day.
      The actual birthday of Jesus was forgotten by the early Christian movement. in those days, various groups celebrated his birth on JAN-6, APR-21 and MAY-1. By the 4th century, the church selected the approximate time of the winter solstice as the date to recognize Jesus' birth. They picked up this date from Pagan sources. As luck would have it, the autumn equinox might have been a more accurate choice.
      The winter solstice occurs about DEC-21 each year. It is the day of the year when the night is longest and the daytime shortest. Using the crude instruments available, ancient astronomers were able to detect by DEC-25 of each year that the daytime had become noticeably longer. This date was chosen, and remains, the traditional date for followers of many different Pagan religions to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. Following the solstice, each succeeding day has slightly more sunlight than the previous day. It was seen as a promise that warmth would return once more to the earth. Numerous pre-Christian Pagan religions honored their gods' birth or rebirth on or about that day. Their deities were typically called: Son of Man, Light of the World, Sun of Righteousness, Bridegroom, and Savior. Some examples are:
      Roman Pagan Religion: Attis was a son of the virgin Nana. His birth was celebrated on DEC-25. He was sacrificed as an adult in order to bring salvation to mankind. He died about MAR-25, after being crucified on a tree, and descended for three days into the underworld. On Sunday, he arose, "as the solar deity for the new season." His followers tied an image of Attis to a tree on "Black Friday," and carried him in a procession to the temple. His body was symbolically eaten by his followers in the form of bread. Worship of Attis began in Rome circa 200 BCE.
      Greek Pagan Religion: Dionysus is another savior-god whose birth was observed on DEC-25. He was worshipped throughout much of the Middle East as well. He had a center of worship in Jerusalem in the 1st century BCE. Some ancient coins have been found in Gaza with Dionysus on one side and JHWH (Jehovah) on the other. In later years, his flesh and blood were symbolically eaten in the form of bread and wine. He was viewed as the son of Zeus, the Father God.
      Egyptian Pagan Religion: Osiris is a savior-god who had been worshipped as far back as Neolithic times. "He was called Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods...the Resurrection and the Life, the Good shepherd...the god who 'made men and women be born again'". Three wise men announced his birth. His followers ate cakes of wheat which symbolized his body. Many sayings as-sociated with Osiris were taken over into the Bible. This included:
      • 23rd Psalm: an appeal to Osiris as the good Shepherd to lead believers through the valley of the shadow of death and to green pastures and still waters
      • Lord's Prayer: "O amen, who art in heaven..."
      • Many parables attributed to Jesus.
      Worship of Osiris, and celebration of his DEC-25 birth, were established throughout the Roman Empire by the end of the 1st century BCE.
      Persian Pagan Religion: Mithra was a Persian savior. Worship of Mithra became common throughout the Roman Empire, particularly among the Roman civil service and military. Mithraism was a compet-itor of Christianity until the 4th century. Their god was believed to have been born on DEC-25, circa 500 BCE. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and by gift-carrying Magi. This was celebrated as the "Dies Natalis Solic Invite," The "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun." Some followers believed that he was born of a virgin. During his life, he performed many miracles, cured many illnesses, and cast out devils. He celebrated a Last Supper with his 12 disciples. He ascended to heaven at the time of the spring equinox, about March 21.
      The Babylonians celebrated their "Victory of the Sun-God" Festival on DEC-25. Saturnalia (the Festival of Saturn) was celebrated from DEC-17 to 23 in the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Aurelian blended Saturnalia with a number of birth celebrations of savior Gods from other religions, into a single holy day: DEC-25. After much argument, the developing Christian church adopted this date as the birthday of their savior, Jesus. The people of the Roman Empire were accustomed to celebrating the birth of a God on that day. So, it was easy for the church to divert people's attention to Jesus' birth.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Bob

      +1 for "Huh?"!

      December 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  18. Me

    A lot of Americans think it's patriot to say "we're better than everybody else!"
    I think this is just stupid and arrogant. ...and it's unpatriotic to say there are problems with the US.
    If the US is to maintain its power, we need to address our problems and work to improve the nation, instead of proclaiming ourselves as being blessed by God to be the "best nation on the planet" and expecting everything to run smoothly regardless of our actions.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • limitless

      America is better because we have laws that protect the people from the police and the government. In many countries that does not happen. Further more women and children are given the God given status of human beings, in Muslim countries they are not so blessed. It is against the law to hurt someone because you disagree with them, even the government cannot do that. Yes, many western countries can say the same, but tmany also observe Sharia Law.So far America's laws do not reflect such barbaric practices.

      December 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  19. vintage274

    Why is it that when anyone on these posts questions an American policy or suggests that another country might have a better answer to a political problem, he is told to MOVE; but when I turn on my TV, the religious right is CONSTANTLY questioning and condemning American policies and telling us the country is going to hell in a handbasket. Who's telling them to move? The hypocriscy of the religous right sickens me. People who are blind followers of one specific belief system but also believe that it's their duty to convert and control all other belief systems, who preach morality but have no compassion for their fellow human beings, who quote the Bible to suit their own needs and ignore the teachings of Jesus (can you imagine Jesus telling someone who disagreed with him to "move") have raised their voices so loudly and so stridently that the educated, the reasoned, the moderate can no longer be heard. Guess that's the point. Tell everyone who disagrees with you to move so eventually there's only you and your beliefs.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ray

      God bless you

      December 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Erin

      Amen to your comment on having to MOVE. I am so sick of being told to move if I don't like it when I point out deficiency going on in our country. You can't fix what you don't acknowledge. I will not move. I will stay and fight the fight it will take to fix what is wrong in America. Cowards move and cowards bury their heads in the sand. I am no coward and I am a patriotic American because I can see what is wrong and work to try to fix it. And because I appreciate other countries and cultures does not make me unpatriotic. Get out and travel people. There are some amazing countries and people around the world who got it going on.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Atheist in common

      Well written with strong a solid point. Moderate thinking is rational thinking.

      December 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  20. Mark

    I'd like to know what percentage of these super patriotic Christians actually honored this nation by giving any years of their live's serving in our military. I'll bet the percentage is low.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Casey Wollberg

      This implies military service is patriotic. Not necessarily. Patriotism has to do with upholding and cherishing the founding principles: liberty/equality, democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience and religion, etc. Being a soldier is orthogonal to these pursuits, not indicative of them. There are many ways one may serve to actively promote these principles that don't involve fighting in conflicts between states, which is, at its best, indirect patriotism. In fact, a soldier may merely serve his government without serving his country, or he may be serving entirely his own interests (and in all cases there is likely more of this than many would be willing to admit). And that could be considered the opposite of patriotic. By the way, I'm a non-pacifist atheist who believes that properly patriotic wars are probably the exception to the rule.

      December 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • limitless

      Every military person I know has a strong belief in God.

      December 23, 2011 at 1:27 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.