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. Tschrny Wolf

    OH boy, a dogmatist wrote above "pain makes the atheists change," I find his or her comment horrifying, He seems to mean a new inquisition, what a horriiible posteer. His or her name is 1776tfreedomofspeech. But freedom of speech does not advancing human criminal ideas.L!!

    December 27, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  2. Tschrny Wolf

    America founded by christians? no way. The Piligrims fled out of desperation, not to found anything. Plus the native American natives had already founded their country that the British later INVADED AND STOLE. iT IS true they established their European culture and religion, still that did not make them founders of anything. They installed their system and customs and elites that now got the money and power to claim they "founded America.That is just crap for demagogues and dogmatics.

    December 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  3. jameser35

    I think God let us all know where he stands regarding the religious and those calling themselves patriots last week in Denver.

    December 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Not in reality. You were "converted" to think that way; but your beliefs are fantasy. Sorry, sir or lady.

      December 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • jameser35

      I knew nobody would get it. Umm our favorite good ole boy Tebow, and his Denver broncos played the PATRIOTS and lost. The clues were DENVER, PATRIOTS, and unless you live in North Korea, the religious fervor of a young quarterback.

      I thought my post was clever.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Box

      Jameser, I liked it. About tired of him. Teach him to throw the ball and then we can talk.

      January 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  4. bcshaw

    This is rich. The greatness of this country is much more a function of its honest critics than its sycophants, yet these courageous and progressive men and women are apparently "unpatriotic."

    December 26, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  5. Richard in Mexico

    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    December 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Dogmatic leaders use holy patriotism as an excuse or justification of genocides or theft. Shamefully they fool the naive into supporting them. It is true that invading nations and killing innocents"to get backk at terrorists" is negative and our leaders invite even more terrorism 😦 The courage of our soldiers is undeniable. Many will die too, so the scales are equally cruel and destructive. Why activate so much for anti-abortion, but then send our young people to die and kill? It makes no sense.

      December 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  6. ReligiousGuru

    Only a narcissist will equate belief in God with patriotism towards a country. Patriotism is much more than just flying a flag or belief that America is the best country. Patriots are those who help drive the country in the right direction. Patriots are those who defend the country from external & internal aggressors irrespective of the aggressor's religion. Patriots are those who want to see all living with equal rights in the country.

    December 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      The religious seem to be trying to infiltrate all powers: the state, sports and the military so of course they now base patriotism with their dogmas 😦 While fighting in the field is completely different than praying in churches, priests claim the result of a war will depend on how faithful the soldiers are. That is ridiculous and laughable. But when we lose wars, or need to withdraw without apparent results, dogmatists should be asked: how did your divinities let this happened after we prayed so hard?

      December 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  7. Truthship

    As a Christian, I am of the belief that tribalism has no place in the kingdom of God.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      What do you mean by tribalism? Hey, your heaven is nothing but a tribe: god, christ, the holy spirit, the angels, and millions os christians who have gone to heaven, the bible claims Also that book describes a rebellion there, the leading rebel later fell to hell after being defeated by god's warriors. I know, I used to be Christian. Thankfully, I realized what a fantasy dogma is. I am free now:))))))))))))))))))))))))

      December 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  8. capitalismISchanging

    Mitt Romney made a VAST personal fortune OUTSOURCING middle class American jobs as a hedge fund manager. Every American job he personally converted to a Marxist/Communist job was a win for him and loss for America. And he sits on a ever larger yacht drinking finer champagne while watching the smucks walk to the unemployment line and vote for him. No wonder he's laughing in this picture. He can't believe the average Joe is that stujpid.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • George

      Yeah, right. And last week, people were attacking Gringrich. It seems that you and others like you will attack any conservative front runner.

      December 26, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Rather, average Joes that members of the tea party are being fooled by Gingrich. Middle and working class people are not. President's Obama approval rates have gone up :))))))))))))), happily :))))))))))). You the rich created gingrich, no matter how a few of you condemn him now. Why? he tricked you or is richer than you?

      December 26, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  9. gutsycall

    Do you want to know what REALLY explains the patriotism gap? It's the changing face of capitalism from a once neighborhood, get together for everyone's benefit to the more malevolent, New World Order type. Mitt Romney made a VAST personal fortune OUTSOURCING middle class American jobs as a hedge fund manager. Every American job he personally converted to a Marxist/Communist job was a win for him and loss for America. And he sits on a ever larger yacht drinking finer champagne while watching the smucks walk to the unemployment line and vote for him. No wonder he's laughing in this picture. He can't believe the average Joe is that stujpid.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  10. Ed

    Let's get this out of the way right now. I am an atheist, and I will not allow anyone to belittle me because of it.

    I also love my country and consider myself a patriot. Patriotism is not blindly following orders.

    Patriotism, as defined by the online version of Merriam-Webster's Dicttionary (available at m-w.com) is defined as: : one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.

    I love my country. That is why I raise a royal stink when I think things are wrong. I know what it is like to raise one's right hand and take the oath of enlistment. I was 19 at the time, and if I knew THEN what I know NOW, I never would have done it because I do not agree with the things our country has been involved in from then to now.

    Anyhow, now that I'm down off my soapbox :] Let me say this, Patriotism and belief in a god do not necessarily go hand in hand.


    December 25, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Humankind

      Well said.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Here, my wife and I are also atheists and non-dogmatic. Unfortunately dogma is working to control the main areas of our liveskk including science and patriotism. It is urgent to assure a strict separation of state powers and keeping the churches paws out of our armies, medicine, etc. No more holy inquisitions. Dogma rights shall be respected IF the church stays out of our national issues.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  11. politheism

    The "patriotism"-"God-gap" is a classic example of mispecified variables and colinearity. Simply adding political views to the analysis removes any significant relationship between patriotism and religiosity. While it is true the correlation between religiosity and political conservatism has been growing over the past thirty five years, to say that there is something about being religious which is related to being patriotic (which appears to be the implication of this piece) is irresponsible and simply incorrect.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Look, religion sounded like it supported peace, not war. We find the old testament angry "god" encouraged battles,so the christians Jesus reign of peace and reform, is dead. : Look at the agressivenes of the republicans who attacked democrats when bush was reelected? The Christian agressiveness seems to operate now. So the dogmatic leaders are using adding dogma to patriotism, even though the two concepts are opposite. It makes no sense at alll. Actually I read that a republican representative said he would not vote to hire anyone if tax cuts for the rich ended. ((source: ABC news.)

      December 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  12. Raymond James Thibault, SFC,USA Ret

    1,500 people, wow that's a real cross section of America. We are Country founded by Christians. Religious persecution and lack of opportunity sent our early ancestors here. Some "supposedly christian" brought or acquired slaves. There were differences in beliefs among the early settlers.Today we have so many different denominations of Christians, they even ague amongst themselves who is truly a Christian. Is Jesus your personnel Lord and Savior, is he the Son of God, do you believe he died, rose again and went to heaven?? BINGO ! your a Christian. Read the Bible, study and treat your neighbor as you want to be treated. We have freedom of Religion, unfortunately some believe this means they can criticize other peoples beliefs. I was raised a Roman Catholic, I served 22 Years in the Army. I feel this is the BEST country in the World. WHY?? We help other nations, we try to take care of our own, we allow differences of opinion. Do God and Patriotism go hand in hand. Absolutely. You want to see how. Go to Flanders Fields in France, see the Crosses row on row.Talk to grateful immigrants who have found a new and better home. When America stops trusting in God, No other Nation will trust in us.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • 5thApe

      "Some "supposedly christian" brought or acquired slaves."

      Maybe they read Exodus 21.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      I appreciate your courageous service as a soldier. But you are using your war stint to confuse apples with oranges. The proof that dogma and patriotism are mutually exclusive is that all kinds of soldiers serve, muslim, chinese, latin, etc.etc. And many soldiers are agnostic, atheist or serioulsly question dogma. You idealize a killing field, but would an all sapient,wise and loving didivinity let his "children" die so horribly? Your consoling your pain did not prevent or revive our dead soldiers. No two ways about it. DOGMA IS AN EMOTIONAL CRUCH ( OR CANE) USED BY THE WEAK OR BACKWARD; but now scientific advances have proved dogma is a fantasiy. you will not really grow up untill you see the reality.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  13. 1776FreedomofSpeech

    The USA is a Christian based country. That is fact. We are not Muslim, Jewish or anything else. every other religion wants to change that and will attempt to destroy the USA. Ask yourself why does Africa suck? Why does the middle east suck. Why does asia suck? Because they are not Christian countries.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • ScotttM149

      Africa sucks because Christians murdered, kidnapped and enslaved its people, robbed it of it's natural resources, drove it's animal life to extinction, brought war to it while trying to force the Christian religion down it's throat, etc...

      December 25, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Ignacio

      Who says non Christian countries suck? Look at China, India, Singapore, Malasyia, just to name a few. They are growing in strength and wealth without being Christian, while other Christian countries, like Mexico (where I live) are becoming cesspools of insecurity and corruption.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Humankind

      It would be good for you to go back and study the Founding Father's views. There was dissent form the very beginning and to say anything, country or person, is "Christian" truly defies definition as everything about Christianity is subject to interpretation. The essential fault is that everyone thinks their particular interpretation is the right one. By definition that can't be right as there are too many conflicting beliefs.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      No longer, thankfully 🙂 the time has come to live and appreciate our planet, instead of wasting its resources and killing animals and forrests!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  14. USminority

    Religious people are naive. Who woulda thought

    December 25, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      I agree, sir or lady. But they have been taught the dogma, or horrfied into it. Look at the children stories threatening them if they are not "good" which includes attending mass? what we have is a huge majority of very scared people.Not all of them are bad, rather isolated from reallity and everyday hardship. Money isolates them even more. But ambitious and corrupt dogmatic leaders are in charge of them financially and sociopoliticallly and lead them to hurt the working classes, the middle class and the poor.It is urgent to stop them.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  15. Humankind

    I am disturbed by the majority evangelical view of religion and patriotism. I am not a believer in the traditional Christian faith, but I do consider myself a Christian: a person who follows the religion OF Jesus, but not the religion ABOUT him. Even if I didn't, you do not have to be religious to share and express the most basic tenets of what he taught. You can be a humanist and still be as patriotic and the next person. But it is simple hubris for us to think we have a special place in the world and the fact that our military is filled with zealot soldiers worries me. It is a paradox that the same people who profess such faith and love for Jesus are the ones who rush to kill the "enemies" of our "freedom," something I believe Jesus would totally condemn and abhor.

    As the Beatles said, "All you need is Love." And that doesn't come out of the barrel of a gun.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      Be disturbed then.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Good luck finally determining you real position and beliefs. Look, our soldiers are in catch-22 positions. While aerial bombings are unfair because they kill innocent foreigners, while the real terrorists scape; but house-to-house searches are very risky; when our soldiers walk into a mined house where they burn to death or cant scape from. What to do? Maybe having only foreign soldiers do the house searches would help.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  16. zay

    There actually may be something else happening here.

    I am American. I am proud to live where I do. I have many ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II.

    That being said, somewhere in my youth I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school, out of protest for the clause "under God" which was ADDED to the Pledge in the 1950s. To this day, if in a context where the Pledge is being recited, I am silent during that line. I am not Christian. I am polytheistic, and I cannot pledge to a single God.

    One of the things that has made America great is the separation of Church and State. The addition of this line to the Pledge has made me uncomfortable in being patriotic. I know of many others who feel the same way. We like America, we're proud of our communities. But being forced to pledge to a deity that we don't believe in is alienating. Want to lessen the patriotism gap? Remove the words "under God".

    December 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      You are a lost soul.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • Truthship

      As a Christian, I do not say the American pledge of allegiance since I agree that swearing allegiance to anything is a sin. Even swearing to God is a sin. No golden calf for me.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Yes, sir, me and many agree with you. Do not give up; our culture is in the midst of a historical change process that is not easy and will take time. Luckily human evolution cannot be stopped even by the vatican, Hitler (yes he was a christian, so was stalin and most third world dictators), but since violent dogma leaders used awful violence, liberal democratic nations united and brought them down. Yet, the christian leaders use apparent "peace"so they are tolerated. But in Latin America, leftist christian rulers are becoming violent, in Venezuela, the president Chavez pacted with Castro and other socialist presidents to illegally send drugs to America in order to weaken youths and undermine the U.S. before attacking it. I am not a church leader, but I wonder what they attempt to do by gaining control of science, our army, state, etc. I hope is not another Inquisition. Even the right and moderates should worry about that.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  17. Ian'sBrain.com

    Proclaiming one's self to be a Christian doesn't automatically make them a moral person. Proclaiming one's self to be a Patriot doesn't automatically mean they are a good citizen.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      And your point is what?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      And your point is?

      December 27, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  18. abqTim

    I don't think the writer is separating the 2 enough. When one is patriotic or announces publicly their christian faith, it does not necessarily mean patriotism equal's a religious christian. What it could also mean is that when one has learned to accept themselves and to openly express themselves and their religion, as most christian religious beliefs teach, then maybe that person has just learned to openly and publicly share what makes them happy. Atheists, on the other-hand have no religion other then the cold hard facts of science to turn to, and sharing that point of view openly is not exactly a happy conversation starter. I mean who want to start a conversation with when your dead your just rotten meat...the end. I would much rather hear how I will be saved and given eternal life. So what I'm saying is that happy religious folks are naturally going to be happier with their situation and will have no problem voicing it because that's what their religion teaches them (spread the word)... Atheists', on the other-hand, are too mad at religious folks for being so stupid for believing in supreme being that they are totally unhappy being surrounded by "stupid " people and just hate their surrounding and christian majority country.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Look, personal fantasy beliefs are a dogmatist problem and waste of time. Such ideas must be erased from all political speeches. They are partisan propaganda that weakens our soldiers and makes them dependent on help that seldom gets there.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  19. Glenn

    I don't think you want to define the nation by who has the most population. You may wake up to find the nation is one day a "catholic hispanic" nation or a "muslim" nation. Let's keep it a "democratic" nation.

    December 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  20. Avatar

    The majority of the posts demonstrate that most of the posters have no comprehension of what faith is all about. I wonder how many of them have spent time truly studying the Bible before arriving at their conclusions. What a shame. Merry Christmas and God bless you.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • 1776FreedomofSpeech

      That is no big surprise here at CNN is it?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • Humankind

      Just because you "study' the bible does not mean you understand it. Nor does it mean you practice what it teaches. This is a nation in direct conflict with what the essential message of it and its primary protagonist: do not kill; do not chase the corruption of $; if someone hurts you, forgive them. America is none of that.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      No, many early chilldhood christians, later realized reality and left your dogma. They read and analyzed the bible. Your arrogance that you know better is false. You really dont know what others do. New updated versions of your bible are mixed with the original bibles. By mixing them you only disguise the horrors dogmatics like Rasputin and Torquedama ordered. 😦

      December 27, 2011 at 12:33 am |
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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.