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. QNY81

    We had Father YHWH's grace but it left because we have been killing innocent people all over the world, allowing abortions as contraception and worshipping hollywood stars. We must repent and beg for forgiveness if we want His grace back.

    December 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  2. Keith

    Does God explain why the people on the field are violating the US flag display guidelines by displaying the flag parallel to the ground like that? These must be the same type of people who thought it was okay for GW to come walking out onto a stage and trample across a rug that was the image of the US.

    December 31, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  3. lysand

    Patriotism is highest at times of conflict. God has nothing to do with it.

    December 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  4. c000

    Since when does being patriotic mean that you think your country is better than any other country?

    And anyway just because a set of data looks like there is a correlation between the two, doesn't mean there is. More likely there is a reason behind both items instead of one causing the other.

    December 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Jack

      Atheists have a higher IQ, that's a fact and evident in this poll.

      December 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Rebecca

    The Bible calls believers the "salt" of the earth. A little increases savor, too much spoils the pot.

    December 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. jameser35

    I have a serious question for any good ole boy, southern man Christian out there. Exactly when did "gonna burn in hell" preaching congregations flip-flop on the Jews. Fifty years ago you said "we do not accept Jews, for they reject Christ". How did the evangelicals ever abandon their bigotry against Jews?

    December 30, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Rebecca

      What evidence do you have that they flip flopped about Jews? Still anti-Jewish in Texas.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. Larry Moniz

    Virtually every country with any religious roots believes "god" is on their side and will support their cause, including war. Down through history, more people have died in the name of "god" that for any other single (non-disease) cause. Even declared godless nations, such as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany practiced their doctrines in similar fashion to religious faiths. Tens of millions of people died under the two regimes. Christian crusaders wiped out entire Middle Eastern communities and Muslims reciprocated by killing Christians. That animosity has been passed down through the years and both groups see the others as representative of evil. Since the millennium-long feud was started by the crusaders, the Christians have to bear much of the guilt. Also, while we Americans like to consider our country as the best nation in the world, we're not guiltless. The U.S. government systematically waged a war of genocide on the American Indian Tribes, then brainwashed surviving children in Indian schooling programs.

    December 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Sam

      Well we have to be fighting or dying in the name of the RIGHT God!..... Anyone can call the person or thing they worship "God" But there is only one God and he hasn't asked us to die for him.... He sent his only son to die for us! Amazing!

      December 30, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • jameser35


      Ok, you have to worship the Christian God to be right....umm...which one? Catholic Jesus, Baptist Jesus, Branch Dividian Jesus? Which translation of the bible, John Hagees "the earth is only six thousand years old" or the ever more popular "much of the old testament should be interpreted symbolically"?

      I left out mormons and jehovas witnesses, because as an evangelical you're taught to HATE them. Oops! Sorry, you're just taught to ostracize them publically, but of course you pray for them.

      So which is the true Jesu?

      December 30, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  8. smc

    And Jesus said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."

    December 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  9. smc

    Did their poll ask how many would think the US would stand alone as the "greatest country on Earth" if only we didn't have these evangelical nuts ruining it for the rest of us Christians?

    December 29, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • jameser35

      Evangelicals ruining America? You mean you don't want the ten commandments read out loud before public school classes? You don't want the scientific advances that will come about through creationist theories and a thorough study of the bible? You don't want anyone who has ever participated in an abortion, for any reason to be executed? You don't want all criminals executed, especially those who speak against Christ? These questions could go on forever. How could anyone not want evangelical Christians running the show here?

      December 30, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  10. Biggeorge22

    Is it not about time we put religion back in the closet? America is in decline because of our political lack of wisdom and corrupt politics. We are still a great nation but we are sorely lacking in so many ways...

    December 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  11. Sam

    And yes, God is favorable to different countries! America is blessed because we back the Jewish people! And anyone who does back them will be blessed!

    December 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Rebecca

      This is dumber than dirt.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. TW

    Author Date Written Earliest Copy Time Span Copies (extent)

    Secular Manuscripts:
    Herodotus (History) 480 – 425 BC 900 AD 1,300 years 8
    Thucydides (History) 460 – 400 BC 900 AD 1,300 years ?
    Aristotle (Philosopher) 384 – 322 BC 1,100 AD 1,400 years 5
    Caesar (History) 100 – 44 BC 900 AD 1,000 years 10
    Pliny (History) 61 – 113 AD 850 AD 750 years 7
    Suetonius (Roman Hist) 70 – 140 AD 950 AD 800 years ?
    Tacitus (Greek History) 100 AD 1,100 AD 1,000 years 20

    Biblical Manuscripts: (note: these are individual manuscripts)
    Author Date Written Earliest Copy Time Span Copies (extent)

    Magdalene Ms (Matthew 26) 1st century 50-60 AD co-existant (?)
    John Rylands (John) 90 AD 130 AD 40 years
    Bodmer Papyrus II (John) 90 AD 150-200 AD 60-110 years
    Chester Beatty Papyri (N.T.) 1st century 200 AD 150 years
    Diatessaron by Tatian (Gospels) 1st century 200 AD 150 years
    Codex Vaticanus (Bible) 1st century 325-350 AD 275-300 years
    Codex Sinaiticus (Bible) 1st century 350 AD 300 years
    Codex Alexandrinus (Bible) 1st century 400 AD 350 years

    December 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  13. Michael S.

    I see no reason to conclude that a religious person is more patriotic just because they are either bigoted or uninformed enough to think that this nation is so special or so near "perfect". I am quite certain that believers in any other country feel exactly the same about where ever they reside. Yet God should not, would not, have any reason to pick and choose based on on the chance of being born in a particular geographic location.

    December 29, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • Rebecca

      I think unreasoning belief in one thing would predicate unreasoning belief in another. I do not believe noticing the warts necessarily means unpatriotic. Seems patriotic enough to attempt to correct problems, and perhaps unpatriotic to say nothing is ever wrong.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Mike E.

    I am glad that believing in non-sense is coming to an end thanks to the internet. I just with I was born 100-150 years later to enjoy the freedom from lunacy.

    December 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Rebecca

      LOL, you think lunacy is going away?

      December 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  15. Steve

    This is realley a unusual survey. One must define what the definition of" better" is. Some would define better as the nation with the largest military, while others would define it socio-economic issues. Reading this article and and the results o fthe study may suggest a bit of ethnocentism amoung the evangelical crowd, which shouldn't be confused with patriotism. Patriotism and nationalism are very close in definition, however a patriotic individual would feel his or her country was the best in the world even if it was established not to be. It is not unusual for religous sects such as evangelical christians to feel that they live in the "best country" in the world, the same as a far right Iranian muslum would feel about Iran.

    December 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  16. Malory Archer

    Perhaps they should do a survey based on education level and patriotism, or education level and the "god gap". The survey would probably be about the same – the less educated would most likely be less traveled and therefore more likely to believe that no other nation measures up to America, and also more likely to believe that religion & patriotism go hand in hand.

    December 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • mms55

      what kind of garbage is this ?you don't have to be religous to be patriotic or republican lol.

      December 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Pete

      Agreed – would love to see the incidence of non-military foreign travel. Not including a cruise to Mexico or a casino in Windsor. the USA is definitely "better" than most if not all undeveloped nations, but among the developed world, looking at the GINI index, civil rights, social services, suicide rates, violent crime rates, standard of living, etc., the US is clearly not the "best". However, we are the best based on one criteria – separation of church and state. Irony, anyone?

      December 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  17. Jazz

    First these statistics people come up with are always bogus. There can and never will be a connection with religion and patriotism. Thats like saying there is a link between voting for Palin, and believing in Bigfoot. Just because you called 25 people and were hung up on 18 times, yelled at three times, the call was never answered twice, and the other two times never got a real clear response, then finally went hame and made up statistics, doesn't mean its worth writing a article on.

    December 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Fladabosco

      I think it depends on what your definition of patriotism is. If patriotism is being a sheep and believing exactly what your leaders say, then I wouldn't be surprised if evangelicals are very patriotic. If your view is that to be a patriot you have to go out into the streets and make things change, or to stand up to your leaders who make war for their own profit, then atheists are more likely to be patriotic.

      December 28, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  18. Mike T

    shocker that the people who don't beleive in God (the rational people) are the same as the people who are willing to admit that the US is not the best country in the world (the rational people).

    What exactly is the US best at? Whatever it is, there is going to be a better country – usually Canada.

    December 27, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • borisjimbo

      Starting unnecessary wars? Jingoism? Fear mongering?

      December 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Sam C

      'Better' is very subjective, so which country is 'better' would vary depending on that person's view, likes or dislikes.
      In regards to you 'rational' non-believers, you really do believe in a supreme being. That would, of course, be yourselves.

      December 30, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  19. John

    I have a feeling this author is Christian...

    December 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  20. Tschrny Wolf

    The universe is expanding foreever. So if our galaxy collapses, we can migrate to other galaxies. No reason to expect a fantasy "second coming." The dogmatics main tool is to scare people into obedience and converting.

    December 27, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • mms55


      December 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Joe

      I don't think you realize what "expanding forever" means. Space is expanding, but the amount of matter remains constant. The universe will die in a "big freeze", where all matter and energy gets so cold and weak that no work can be done. To that extent, soon enough all galaxies will be so far away their light will never reach us, so no, we won't be going to other galaxies when that happens. Many billions of years into the future, all stars will burn out, and our night sky will be dark. Look it up, it's interesting, if somewhat depressing.

      December 28, 2011 at 3:50 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.