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. Edwin

    The link between religion and belief that America is #1 is not surprising. Religious zealots are generally taught to believe that God rewards those who are most faithful. Since they believe themselves the chosen faithful, they naturally believe God would make their country the best in the world - to think otherwise would admit flawed reasoning (or worse, a conclusion that they are NOT the chosen ones).

    It's the same argument that people give in the hospital when avoiding an awful diagnosis: 'we are good people,' they say, 'and we deserve this lucky break.' People who consider themselves morally righteous tend to see good fortune as indicative of God's will and bad fortune as indicative of someone else's mistakes.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Da Best

      I grew up with some neighbor kids whose entire family had "best.itis". They were always bragging that they had the "best" and most recent version of this 'n that - from car to tv to dishwasher to can opener. They, or one of their close relatives, always was, or personally knew, the "head man" or the "top guy" at every local company. They, of course, belonged to the "best" religion (guess?). Even as little kids, we knew that they were soooo full of it...

      September 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  2. hippypoet

    ok, lets take it from the top... first god says we are his creation and modeled after him, this is the backwards arguement for why the greek gods resemble man, well all gods have a HUMAN appearance, so this is the first time that humans say that WE are formed after the god... that kinda makes me feel like a god. only in face anyway, but we all have different faces, it can get confusing! oh thank god he has choosen a special people to be his, lets call them the jews. so as for the rest, what, are we formed after lucifier? cause i'm hot! got a hot wife, sweet looking kids... dude satan must have been some awesome looking dude! ok back to basics – after creation god said we have the FREEDOM of choice, i call it bs but lets just argue with it for the moment, so adam chose to allow his rib made flesh to wonder around and eat of things HE knew wasn't to be touched... perhaps he didn't want to be in the garden anymore, perhaps he saw it as a prison! NOW, free of gods voice and control Cain chooses a wife while the book stated only the offspring of adam and eve are there... right so moving past the clear incest, cain has kids, seth has kids, oh did i skip over something, maybe your bible did that too?


    September 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Maus


      Lol, keep your leftover political slogans to yourself.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • SecularBob

      please stop yelling its so childish.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Smiles

      You ARE funny, dude. Your shortened version of the creation is cool. Made me laugh, with all its loose talk and jumpy conclusions as well as the things you didn't say (yep, I read between the lines, i am a mind reader, come to think: maybe I am omnipotent, that's it: I AM dog.)
      Thanks for your poetry (just don't think that everyone gets it, you stepped on a few toes. hehehe).

      September 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Smiles

      Maus? as in "mouse" with the power? oh? Why shouldn't he spill out his thoughts? Every moron with extreme ideas here does it. At least he made me laugh. For so many others I can only weep.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Maus

      If you had paid attention, you would have noted I was making fun of the comment above mine.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Alex

      A leading theory in science is that we actually don't have a "choice", but rather we are just a wound up clocks ticking out the notes in our DNA that cause subconscious thought, then finally conscious thought... So logically speaking there is no "free will".

      November 16, 2011 at 6:30 am |
  3. Andy H.

    Anyone foolish enough to believe "the US is the greatest" is utterly blind to both the rest of the world, and to the US itself.

    – A

    September 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Edwin

      Okay, so I'll bite: why is the United States not the greatest?

      To me, what is great is this: I get to have a pretty healthy life and be relatively happy. I have a rewarding but hard job, a wife and daughter, and a computer with pretty good internet support. I even have time to do fun things with friends. Any country that lets me do that is pretty okay in my book.

      Now, let's think about it for a minute: who did they ask again? People with good lives (not rich - good) will probably rate the country top notch. And those who don't have such a life but cling to a religion for support are unlikely to complain, either, because that sounds ungrateful. Maybe they only have this one thing (their religion) - so it becomes all the more important to them. And the United States allows them to worship. They know some other countries don't. And even those that do probably don't have congregations like the one they have here. So... how could any country be better? There might be better rights, more access to clean parks or clean water, maybe more money or a higher standard of living even, but those other countries don't have the IMPORTANT things...

      September 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • The Dude

      There are places you can live that when you get cancer and can no longer work you are covered. You are not forced to change your way of life because you cannot pay the corporations the insanely high cost of care it takes to make you well again.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      Edwin, you should go and hang out with poor people and some really filthy rich people some time. I know people who work their tails off and can't afford electricity. I know folks who have never worked a day in their lives and have so much money that they will never have to worry about anything ever. Is this fair?

      September 28, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Cogito

      Edwin, just how "great" do you think your life would be if you didn't have access to clean water?
      Think a little please...

      September 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  4. CommonSense

    >>And if so, does this make the United States of America the greatest country in the world?
    Well, sure. If you are an unsophisticated, ignorant American dimwit, this type of statement is very satisfying because it is so easy to understand. It give you what you want without EVER thinking.
    This is perfect for the ignorant republican voters who need one sentence "solutions" to all of life's problems. Thinking is too hard! That's why Rick Perry and Sarah Palin says God so much. As soon as the fools hear it, that's all they need to "know".

    September 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Andy H.

      It is pretty pathetic, isn't it?

      – A

      September 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      You Betcha!

      September 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  5. Greg

    Define "greatest country in the world." Is it the one with that spends 10 times more than 2nd place on their military? Is it the one that has the most gold medals at the Olympics? The best movies? The most well-known politicians? The highest obesity rate? The highest stress rate? The "happiest" people? The largest deficit? Religion aside, America has perpetuated a lie among its citizens for decades: that there IS such a thing as "greatest country". What a crock. Yes, America is truly a great place, but this sense that we're "as good or better than everyone else" is not helping our global image.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • J.W

      I agree. In a 2010 ranking of democracies the US ranked 17th. I bet the top 16 combined do not spend as much on military.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Greg

      You're right. US annual military spending= $700 billion. The next 16 combined? $666 billion. China is 2nd at $114 billion (sorry, not actually 10X).

      September 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Dave Treleaven

      "Religion aside, America has perpetuated a lie among its citizens for decades: that there IS such a thing as "greatest country". What a crock.
      It would read better if you left out all the words between the first word and the last three.

      October 31, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  6. Jashon Smith

    Ex Mormon here… I definitely saw a link between nationalism and the church I was forced to attend growing up. I often wonder... Another 10,000 years from now, when Jesus, or god, or at least a lawyer who represents them still hasn't showed up... Will I still hear these religious types preaching about his imminent arrival?

    Here's the sad part to me... No matter how much we learn about the universe, no matter how much so called “progress” we make. We are only a disaster away from it all being flushed down the toilet. Nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and martial law are one nuclear bomb away.
    Our greed and reckless abuse of this planet leads to rising seas, disease, famine and war. I won't speak for other Christian sects because I don't know much about what they preach but I get the general idea. Mormon's (evangelicals are even crazier to me) look at all these problems and say that it is proof that god is coming. They say it is proof that we are living in the "last days." Disasters have always been around. The news hypes them up to sell stories and then it seems like the world is a big horrifying mess. That is true, but is it more true than when the Dinosaurs were wiped out by a big asteroid? Is it any truer than during the Eocene when the summer temperature of the water at the North Pole was 70 degrees and the seas were 220 feet higher?

    If a category 5 hurricane hits a coastline, and nobody is around to record it, did it really happen? The Earth has been through periods of dramatic upheaval and destruction before, but nobody with technology was around to record those events. We hear about them now through scientists like archeologists, paleontologists and geologists. That is, if you believe scientists. Of course many Christians don’t. Compared with the past we have greater capacity to record disasters. Dense populations throughout the world assure that any disaster will have a large body count. Add that to instantaneous mass dissemination of information and the planet looks like the world is crazier than it ever has been. That is true, but only because of humans. We can forgive the past for blaming Ra for a drought or Poseidon for a flood. Now we have no excuse.

    I think the biggest mistake that we humans make is not that we have this tendency to think our god favors our country. It is that we have a tendency to think that our god favors our species at all. Our technological superiority over other forms of life does not prove we are more important than any other living organism.

    Despite my pessimism, I honestly think that the people of this country are on the whole becoming MORE reasonable as time goes on. Unfortunately, crazy religious people influence politics far disproportionately to their numbers. Reasonable non-god fearing folks need to be as loud and obnoxious as the rest of these Jesus Freaks!

    September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Marcia

    As Seneca said....“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

    September 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      He really said that eh? Could you plz cite which work of Seneca that quote came from?

      September 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • JJJJ

      Somebody sounds like a lazy troll without a good argument and without the ability to search for answers on the internet.
      Maybe that's because they think they already know all the answers. Unjustified arrogant hubris. Sounds Christian.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @JJJJ- sorry but when someone thinks they are making a point in citing a saying that is attributed incorrectly, I like to give them a chance to fix their mistake. I guess I could just be a random jerk like you and tell them they are flat out wrong about who said it.
      And my faith, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with this. Either Marcia was correct or she was not. Facts child...that is what matters here, get used to it.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Dave Treleaven

      And as Napoleon added

      "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”

      October 31, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  8. Ross

    I am proud to say that I love my country and its principles and the opportunities I have been provided my entire life enough not to behave like some kind of mindless parrot claiming that this is a Christian nation and the greatest place on Earth. This country is in serious danger of being hijacked by a sea of easily-magnetized mental midgets who are nothing but pawns to the super rich. Wave your little American flag as you sell this country off square foot by square foot to people who don't care about anything but themselves. If you are an American who believes that it is patriotic to allow big business to get away with abusing our land, if you believe that the candidate who prays the most will guide us to a better tomorrow, if you believe that scientists are conspiring to take down America but CEOs are there to create more jobs, then you currently have your hands all over a giant knife and you are pressing it down into this great country slowly. I hope you are fuming right now reading this. I hope you think I am the most disgusting piece of college-educated, liberal, gay-loving trash that you've ever had the displeasure of knowing about. I hope you enjoy the mental prison that your leaders of choice have lulled you into.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Tigger

      Well said...

      September 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • God_Delusion

      Exactly!... This country is not a christian nation, never was... The GOP candidates are using the false idea that, "God is on our side, God bless America!" just to get votes, and win for their own gain...

      September 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  9. Randolph Carter

    "Iran has a religious government. Good for them."
    -Frank Zappa

    September 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Dave Treleaven

      You always get the government you deserve......

      October 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Daniel

    Wait, what? Results are "Evangelicals, Other Christians, People with no religion"? That is messed up. In a major way. What about our Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists, our Hindus and Baha'i? What about Native Americans holding to tribal beliefs, what about (Neo-)Pagans, spiritual Agnostics or any of the many other approaches which people in this nation are free to pursue as they choose? "Evangelical, other Christian, No religion" is just really dismissive, reductionist and insulting. The USA is not and never has been a Christian nation, but articles like this foster that delusive belief. Shame!

    September 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  11. SciGuy

    The idea that God loves all equally is not scriptural; in fact it is anti-scriptural. More than that it is antiChrist.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  12. Michael

    What I don't get is all the Christians who babble on about these wars being justified as their "God's" work, they talk big game about how much they love America, yet I, an Atheist, am in Afghanistan doing sh1t while you all just run your mouths about how patriotic you are while wearing a tshirt with the U.S. Flag on it. Give me a break, if you haven't done what I have done, keep your mouth shut.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Norry Sponce

      Let's be honest and acknowledge that Hitler, too, believed he was doing God's work, as he stated explicitly in Mein Kampf. Let's let God do God's work. We have our hands full just doing our own work.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • SciGuy

      I agree with your sentiment, essentially, re: the xians, buy why are you over there? You are part of the problem. They hate us because we are in their countries, defiling their soil with our presence.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Michael

      @Sciguy, if I wasn't here someone would take my place, I am just doing my job til my time is up.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Edwin

      There is nothing Christian about supporting war, even if so-called christians favor it.

      Don't get me wrong - I am not criticizing your service. Indeed, I applaud your willingness to serve in a way I do not think I could. You do your country proud.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Michael, that's not facing the issue. A Nazi officer could have stated the same about his service to Hitler in implementing the Final Solution. Every American in Afghanistan is there ultimately by his own choice. I'm not equating you to Hitler's soldiers, but the principle is the same. If more of the troops would stand up and speak out against the US military unjust occupation of foreign lands, you could make a change for all of our good.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • TempeR

      Actually that might be a court-martial offense. Better check up on that before someone swallows the hook.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Dave Treleaven

      Please keep your head down Micheal and get home safe......no sense getting hurt or worse over another counties problems.

      October 31, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  13. Arran Webb

    This is barely a cohesive arrangement of quotes let alone a news story.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  14. postedbygeorge

    This bears repeating as a reminder that Christianity is a middle eastern religion, this is America, not the middle east, t;he dumbing down of the education in America is ignoring the negative impact of middle eastern religious sects.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  15. SoCalGal

    Dude999: The point that Pilot96 is trying to make is just that - indeed, what country is TRULY the best? It's all relative.

    I agree with Pilot in that Americans really should travel outside of the U. S. more, because I find that those who generally make the "U.S. is the best country in the world" have seldom - if ever - been outside of the U. S. (e.g., Sarah Palin is an example who even admitted she's travelled little if at all, beyond the U.S. borders).

    September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • The Dude

      That wouldn't be very nice for the rest of the world. Why would they want a bunch a fat self centered rude people visiting them?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  16. chelsea

    People are aware that Christians live elsewhere, right? Also, America, along with every other nation state are invented, unnatural societies. They don't actually matter in the end.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  17. postedbygeorge

    Christianity is a middle eastern religion, this is America, not the middle east.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  18. John

    Historian Howard Zinn called nationalism “a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands. … Patriotism is used to create the illusion of a common interest that everybody in the country has.”

    September 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • No Tea For Me

      It led to Nazism. 'Nuff said.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  19. Why are atheists so obsessed with religion

    Why must the United States constantly stick its nose in other's affairs? We always try to shove our "democratic" way of life on other cultures as if "everyone" there wants it that way. Did we ever stop to think that maybe those countries like the way they live and don't want us around?

    I know why we are always there. OIl.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • philtration

      I feel the same way about religion.
      Keep your nutty make believe world to yourself.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      Replace "democratic" with "corporatist" and it will all become clear, grasshopper

      September 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • No Tea For Me

      Corporatism is correct.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  20. Dot8

    How about some patriotic songs from Tony Bennett, are there any?.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? What difference would it make?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • The Dude

      Tony was right on the money.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:53 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.