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. Sandra B

    Truly there is a very clear distinction between Religion and Christianity. Christianity is a "Faith", a "Belief", it is not a religion. Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals, Protestants – these are 'Christians' who decided to make it a Religion. True Christianity is not a Religion. The early church didn't have a name for themselves, or use dogma, or rules, only the teachings of Jesus Christ. The 'Church' as explained in the bible, is a "body" of people who worship Christ, not a building at all. Christ is the head of this body of people. It is only by Faith in Christ that one can call themselves a Christian. It's unfortunate that this whole article focuses on Christianity being a Religion. God said you cannot serve two masters, therefore if you 'serve' your Country, you must put God above your Country, as you put God above all else, because you are serving him (no doubt he will then bless the Country). God basically can make or break the Country according to HIS Will and according to whether we have worshiped him or not. It's pretty obvious that since the Country decided to 'abolish' God from schools and the workplace etc. We, as a Country have gone downhill from there. The choice is not between God or Country but God AND Country. Thanks for listening and God bless the American people.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      God bless you, too, Ma'am. I agree that God will bless America when America looks to Him. I still have the secial edition of NewsWeek from the 9-11 attacks. NewsWeek, that week, placed the US flag on their cover with the words "God bless America". If America needed the Blessing of the Supreme Power then, we surely need it now!

      September 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Alyssa

      "It's pretty obvious that since the Country decided to 'abolish' God from schools and the workplace etc. We, as a Country have gone downhill from there"

      It's actually not obvious at all. Plenty of things have improved since the idyllic time that you reference (which never actually existed). Believers like to believe it's going to hell in a hand basket (pun intended) because it reinforces their irrational beliefs, but there's no profound "worseness" that has come over the world since 50 years ago. Things are as they always have been.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Sandra B Please doc-ument what you see as this nation's decline.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  2. Gomez the Gipsy Guy

    Patriotism sucks as much as if not more than Religious fanaticism.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  3. Necifix

    The reason atheists and agnostics don't go "AMURRIKA NUMBA 1 YEEHOO" is because they're not braindead morons and they are actually realistic people. Christians accept any propaganda bullcrap that they are fed, including religion and the broken sense of patriotism fed to them by politicians and media.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Ben

      You are trying to explain something to people who believe in a magical guy in the clouds. Good luck with that. If they are uneducated enough or willfully ignorant enough to reject science and logic completely then how do you expect them to understand what you just said? Like I said good luck.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Krishnahatesallfanatics

      I believe in God and I don't do that either so what is your point? Many atheists are hung up on the belief that God doesn't exist and will go to lengths to make sure others acquiesce to those assumptions. I don't impose my beliefs on anyone. Believe in what you want or don't believe but don't tell how not to believe. and don't assume you have superior thinking abilities as you are just as mindless as the Jesus loving sheeples. Atheists have their own propaganda and the last time I checked propaganda is propaganda not matter what the source. Oh and I don't give a flip about countries and flags either.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  4. Damon

    If there is any causality, it is that Christians respect, enjoy, and are proud to exercise the 2nd clause of their first amendment right: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;". Christians, as a whole, are very proud to be citizens of a nation that honors the free exercise of religious beliefs.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      God bless America! Wave the US flag and wave it high.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  5. The Pope

    What a stupid poll. People may p**s and moan about the U,S,ofA. but if push came to shove everybody would put their a** on the line for this country. And who are these guys to stick God in the middle of this. It's her fault? Christian Nation?C**P. Gimme a break, dilwads. BTW there is no god. She quit.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  6. Steve

    What you are seeing is the difference between reasoned opinion and blind allegiance. Blind allegiance is only necessary if what you want people to believe is unreasonable.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  7. JF

    I do think it's interesting that the idea of world government appears to conjure sort of the opposite image in the minds of liberal atheists (utopia – kind of the Star Trek vision) & religious conservatives (a sign of the end times). One has faith in man, the other in god – not sure how as a society we'll reconcile the disparity in world views.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • John Richardson

      It's more like one group consists of internationalists who realize we're all in this together and the other are a bunch of run of the mill nationalists who think it's us and MAYBE some other majority English-speaking nations against the world. I'm no liberal, but I tend toward the internationalist side of things. But I do NOT believe ANY government will usher in Utopia. Government may be more than just a necessary evil, but not much more. It's just that the bigger the jurisdiction of a governmental body, the harder it is for any one faction or coalition of factions to totally hijack it (cf Federalist 10). And true civilization will impossible as long as there are ent-ities that feel they can unleash the fury of unbridled violence on one another and in the modern world, it is overwhelming nations that feel they have this right.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  8. Damon

    What a serious flaw in logic! Trying to imply there is a direct correlation between 'religious' people (specifically Christians) and 'patriotism' is like trying to draw a correlation between terrorists and Muslims. Haven't we been told that it's wrong to make that correlation?

    Being a Christian does not make anyone more patriotic. Just as being an atheist does not make anyone less patriotic. There is no causality here. There may be a confluence of beliefs, but there is nothing in the Christian religions practiced in the U.S. that indoctrinate followers to be patriotic.

    If there is any causality, it is that people who enjoy, respect, and practice the 1st ammendment (

    September 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  9. Wo0F

    Nationalism is for morons, no wonder so many of them are religious.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  10. sqeptiq

    Equating patriotism with believing that America is the greatest country in the world is the equivalent of saying parental love means you believe your child is the greatest person in the world. You don't love your child any less because he's not perfect any more than you love America less because it has faults.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Alyssa

      Excellent response.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  11. David Johnson

    Denmark, estimated to be between 43% and 80% atheists and agnostics, is listed as the happiest nation in the results of a 2008 poll by The World Values Surveys. It's also interesting that Denmark legalized gay marriages in 1989.

    I wish the U.S. would take a lesson!


    September 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So do I. Really, I think if at all possible, I'd like to move there and become a citizen after I retire.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • BG

      " estimated to be between 43% and 80% atheists and agnostics..."

      Oh, good. At least your being honest by saying it's an 'estimation.'

      What's the margin of error ? +/- 50%? Who exactly is the statistical savant doing all this 'estimating?'

      September 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Bill P.

      You must be gay and worship your dog or next door neighbor. Mindless thinking from an ameba.........

      September 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This from an idiot who can't spell "amoeba".

      September 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, BG, whatsamatter? You don't like it when someone doesn't believe what you do?

      Guess what? It's a free country. You don't get to tell anyone what to think or what to do, as long as what they do is legal.

      Suck on that.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • BG

      Tom tells me " You don't get to tell anyone what to think or what to do, as long as what they do is legal." Followed with a hearty "Suck on that."

      Sorry, Tommy... statistics are meant to be questioned. And exactly how does that consti tute "telling anyone what to do?"

      If your prior posts didn't confirm it for us, this one proves that you're just another hormonal adolescent. Don't bother me if you can't offer a coherent argument that doesn't include witticisms like "suck it." But then again, you named yourself after a nursery rhyme, so that's probably the best we can expect from you...

      September 29, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  12. J Wyble

    God wishes that all persons call on Him. Now, the only person that can claim to be His child are those that claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. He has children all over the earth. We believe our country is the best not because we are better than everyone else, but because we believe we live under the best conditions and ideals.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Atheist Art

      I'd like to suggest that what Evangelicals and other Christian hypocrites are feeling isn't patriotism – it's NATIONALISM. Look it up – the difference are startling, disturbing, and – of course – shows just how hypocritical these deluded nutwhacks are.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  13. Dave

    Since when is patriotism equated with believing that your country is the best in the world? One can love one's own country but still realize its flaws and problems in comparison to other countries in the world. I love my country, but I am dismayed that many "lesser" countries - Great Britain, Canada, Germany, France, etc. - have guaranteed health care for all citizens. And as I watch the price of health care steadily rise along with corporate health care's profits, I question how we could be the "best" country on Earth when so many of our citizens are deprived of health care because of its cost. I love my country ... I would fight and die for it. But I am saddened by its current state. Does it make me less patriotic because I want it to be better than it currently is?

    September 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Randolph Carter

      No, Dave. That makes you the best kind of patriot there is. Do what you can to make our country better to the best of your ability. Do a little bit every day. Keep chipping away at it and you will be a true hero.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  14. SB

    Atheists tend to look at things with a more reasoned mind.. not more intelligent.. just more stoic or contemplative. And so we tend to see things as a whole with more connections and more comparisons than deeply religious individuals who tend to be very closed minded. When you can see America in this light it's quite clearly not the greatest nation on earth. It doesn't mean that we're not patriotic. It doesn't mean we wouldn't die to defend our home. Of course we would! All it means is that, when you look at what America has become, largely due to the corrosive influence of religion in politics, it's very hard to say with any objectivity that America is the greatest nation on earth. Such a claim fringes on hyperbole.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "Atheists tend to look at things with a more reasoned mind.. not more intelligent.."

      Actually, that isn't true. Several studies have shown that atheists, on the average, have higher IQs.


      September 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • AK

      I believe that religion as it is meant to be would have no more a corrosive effect on our government than the presence of kind-hearted atheists. The problem we have now is not that we have too much religion effecting our political decisions but that we have hypocritical and/or dishonest people in this country who twist Christianity into something it isn't.

      Of God's commandments, two are stated to be above all others: love God, and love people. Neither of those things are the cause of our problems today.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Bill P.

      SB christians who has dedicated their lives to Jesus have more insight than average carnal person. Their vision is based on something nonbelievers will never have an opportunity to share. Your faith is only in what you see. You are too blind to place your faith in something unseen. Blessed is he who has seen and believe but blessed more is he who haven't seen and still believe. Your lack of faith and nonbelief dosen't change the fact that God don't exist. Funny this 6000 year old myth will still be around when you nut cases are long gone.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • John Richardson

      If mythological longevity is the measure of truth, the hindus win. Or maybe the animists do. Yay, animists!

      September 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Alyssa

      "Your faith is only in what you see."

      Completely untrue. Our "faith" is in what we can observe and test. To put any "faith" in anything else is irrational until such a thing can be observed and tested.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Bill P.

      Please explain to me why anyone would bow down and worship a figurine made from a piece of wood? You can see the wood, so how do you test it?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bill P Test it for what? Your comment sounds surreal.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  15. Super Patriotic Vetern who died for your rights

    The 1st Amendment and the 10 Commandments are at odds. The 1st Amendment guarantees your right to worship whatever god you wish. The 10 Commandments say that you must not worship any god other than the Christian god.

    So which is right?

    September 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • David Johnson

      The Const_itution is correct. We are a secular nation.

      And, the Christian god is highly unlikely to exist.


      September 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • BG

      " ... highly unlikely to exist."

      All this time you've been adamant in saying god doesn't exist. Now all of a sudden it's "highly unlikely?"

      September 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • John Richardson

      The consti-tution is right. The 10 commandments is just typical religious fare. They tend to claim to be the one and only correct way and their adherents have proven time and again to be willing to fight over who is right. The genius of the first amendment is that it has allowed us to avoid the idiocy of spilling real blood over whose mythology is "true".

      September 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Alyssa

      Are you posting posthumously?

      September 28, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Bill P.

      That's a decision you need to make. The rest of your eternal life may depend on your answer. Are you willing to gamble you eternity on an atheist view?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Bill P is correct. If you gamble on the Christian god and some other jealous, psychotic sadist of a god turns out to be real, you lose!

      September 28, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  16. Bob Devendorf

    So the most highly intelligent people (those that don't believe in the God, Allah, Buddha, whoever fairy tale) don't believe the US is numero uno. Wow. Imagine that.

    You know, just because a country is 37th in the world in education, and is being outstripped in just about every category you can name (except murder with handguns and executions of convicts) doesn't mean that these God deniers are right.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Bob Devendorf

      Please don't confuse the Evangelicals with facts.

      If the Evangelicals get their way, and destroy the public school system in this country, can you imagine our children's future? They will believe in talking snakes, and zombie demigods. But, nothing of evil science and math. I really fear for our children.


      September 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Chedar

      Mr. Bob Davendorf Correction. Buddha is not God. He is a man. He does not want you to think he is the omnipotent creator. All he wants is for all sentient being to be enlightened. Buddha is a state of enligthenment mind. You can become a Buddha,.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Hey, we're number one in per capita incarceration, too! Number one in military personnel ensconced in foreign lands? That's us again!

      U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!

      If you really love this country, look at it closely and ask yourself if we can't in fact do a LOT better.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  17. Brandon

    I don't think that the Biblical God would like America that much. We don't kill enough people.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  18. Brandon

    America is the greatest country in the world in the eyes of people whose whole world revolves around American Football.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  19. Not You

    Learn the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Patriotism – pa·tri·ot·ism (p tr – -t z m). n. Love of and devotion to one's country.

      Nationalism – loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups

      Yes, I see your point.


      September 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  20. Max

    This is a total disgrace to the United States. Patriotism is completely different than religion. We have the freedom to speak our mind and be patriotic or not. A citizen of the United States can burn the flag if he or she chosen to, that is freedom. The reason we see such "patriotism" in the United States is linked directly to the military and its loyal virtues toward the flag and the nation. It is time that the Unites States abolishes all connections to religion in the government, schools etc. Today is the day we that we should rid our selves of one of the most wide spread epidemics in human history.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:38 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.