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. bailoutsos

    God exists if you are an insurance company and you do not want to cover a claim undee "act of God"

    September 28, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  2. amobius

    And evangelicals are the biggest idiots. Coincidence? I think not.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  3. schima

    Anyone considered this: Those who are religious are more likely to believe, with conviction, that they, and their organization, are "right" beyond any other idea? And the same factors that drive them towards religion drive them towards patriotism?

    BTW: Patriotism is Nationalism.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  4. Roberto

    Again, God save us from the crazy Christians and the unbridled libertines.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • whoopitydoo2

      Roberto??? Oh brother (I'm shaking my head). Let's have a Mexican lecture us on how pitiful America is while his brothers are dying trying to get out of that third world country to our south. America is the best b/c of a lot of reasons...one of them being our Judeo-Christian values. It's only in the last 50 years that we've started to fall, which is around the same time you liberals started smoking pot and agreeing with Stalin.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, so you're into those bridled libertines, eh? Hey, as long as it's safe, sane and consensual, I'm ok with it!

      September 28, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @whoopitydoo2 You know that Roberto is Mexican?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • whoopitydoo2

      Si Senor!

      September 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      whooptywhatever – you are a stereotyping bigot. Idiot.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Question everything

      Whoop... You do realize mexico is about as christian of a country that you can get, right?

      September 29, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  5. ab_contador

    I think its fair to say that this country is great in spite of the fact that we have too many christians

    September 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • DMarie

      Amen to that...... 😉

      September 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Its R'amen don't mock his noodly appendages

      September 29, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  6. matt

    This article has no point...it's not correlative. Quit ruining the new with pointless articles, CNN. There is actual investigative journalism that needs to be done, and these fluff pieces are trite.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  7. ab_contador

    Chrisitans are a scary group - a lot of them appear to believe whatever they are told they should believe

    September 28, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • n

      I'm sorry you feel this way, and can even understand why, but someone who chooses to follow Christ does not necessarily give up critical thinking.

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

      Well, most religions are like that. And politics is the same way. People will believe whatever their party tells them to.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • whoopitydoo2

      Poor you! If you had a clue, you'd realize that Christians love America so much b/c of what happens to us all over the world. Look at the guy in Iran who either has or is about to be put to death b/c he's a Christian. I've never seen you say Muslims are scary. I wonder why?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • m

      n, sorry to break it to you, but anyone who can't see through the nonsense that is Christianity shows that they are incapable of critical thinking, or else are unwilling to do it.

      Stop praying and start thinking, if you can.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Trystan

      n, If you were a critical thinker, then how can you possibly be a christian?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  8. rich

    as soon as the Islamists obtain nuclear weaponry it's all over. It's only a matter of time.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • shimon

      Hey Rich, you do realize that only christians (americans if you will) have actually used nuclear weapons don't you?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • SecularBob

      Not justified us using Nuclear weapons but the bombs we dropped are about .2 mega tons today's weapons can reach 100 times the destructive power

      September 29, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  9. Joe

    I think it really boils down to what people value when the whole "best country" idea comes into mind. If you value public education, fair health policy, and progressive economics then its pretty damn hard to call America the "best country"... For some reason Christians don't seem too interested in rapidly growing wealth gap, or the fact that many Americans cant get proper medical care, and education... Well they seem to be at war with education.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Edwin C.

    Most of Us Christians, believe that this country is so great and powerful because it did not left out God and his principles. Also, because of its support on Israel, the Bible has many promises on nations that see the God of the Bible as their God and who are friends of Israel. look at the nations that do not have our God, how are their people treated and how well are their countries doing? how about the countries that were in favor of letting the Jews come back and create their nation again in the 1940s , see the countries that oppose, coincidence?

    September 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • n

      There is a huge number of Christians both in the U.S. and across the world; I wouldn't speak for "most of us Christians."

      September 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • AGeek

      "did not left god out" .. please, go get a 3rd grade education. Don't vote again until you've completed at least 8th grade, sequentially and contiguously, from the completion of the 3rd.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      Now that you mention it, the five countries that have been ranked ahead of the United States economically and socially – Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Singapore – all have much, much lower rates of religious belief than the the United States. Lean quite a bit farther left sociopolitically as well. The US stands out worldwide as strangely religious compared to other developed nations. You should get out more.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • ab_contador

      People like this guy vote - oh man are we in trouble

      September 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Edwin C.

      Sorry "AGeeK" "did not leave out God" , Dr. K , sounds like you should move to those countries. and "n" I don't think you should label yourself Christian if you don't believe in a few promises from God. Everyone, if you don't believe that Jesus is God and died for your sins, then you are lost and a fool. Please read and follow Acts 2:38 God Bless

      September 29, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  11. n

    Instead of getting crazy over the findings, it's important to realize that this is a really simplistic analysis. We're missing a few critical confounding variables: the relationships between Evangelical Christianity, on the one hand, and political ideology, education, and a few other sociodemographic concerns on the other. For instance, people who are Evangelicals are also likely to be people who are politically conservative (who, in turn, are likely to feel a nationalistic superiority for the USA); this isn't about being presumptuous, but simply put, politically liberal Evangelicals are generally less common and less vocal. It is also important to note that the numbers should honestly be broken down by race, which has an important interaction with religiosity and beliefs. Finally, it's not accurate to claim that there's a causation (that religiosity causes national feelings OR vice versa)– these numbers just show an association, not a cause.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • m

      Evangelicals are also more ignorant than the rest of the population.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • gremlinus

      It was also a Christian group that conducted the survey. Let's talk about bias.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Nathan

      Census says 47% so still the majority. Way off though.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  12. Joe

    “When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    Sinclair Lewis

    September 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  13. James

    Ronald Regans City On A HILL = Communist Utopia Both Are Fictional

    September 28, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  14. Andrew

    The majority of our founding fathers were Deists. Deism is different than Christianity. Also, I believe in it is a sign of disrespect to have the American Flag on clothing.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  15. gremlinus

    I'm an atheist and I think the US is the best country in the world, mainly due to its potential. And most of my friends, both religious and not religious of various types think that too. I only know maybe 5 (American) people that think otherwise, and they're usually just blowing smoke. When it gets down to it, they can't think of another place they would really want to live.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • schima

      And not all people would want to live in America. We've been largely indoctrinated into thinking our way of being is the best, regardless of what it is. I don't think we are far and above any other country. There's a a lot wrong with us and the way we operate.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  16. Dave Davis

    The author of the study states the following:" The kingdom of Jesus Christ does not depend on America's standing in the world and will continue regardless." True enough, America's standing doesn't influence the Heavenly Kingdom. But the Heavenly Things should always influence the USA. God bless America.

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

      You need to read more carefully. It was not the author of this article that wrote that statement, it was actually a reply written by an unspecified author in response to an article in Christianity Today.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Trystan

      Oh yeah, because god bleeds red, white and blue.

      /end sarcasm

      September 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  17. AGeek

    The gap is best explained by a predisposition to failure in performing critical factual analysis. aka "tripe swallowers"

    September 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  18. Bo

    I didn't read all the posts, but Yes, I think the U.S. is the greatest, but it would be a lot better if the government would stay out of other countries affaires I do not know what those who said this is a Christian country meant, but politicaly it is not Christian. I believe Christians should support the government, but the government should not support Christianity.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm |

      this country would be better off without all the jobless christians that beg god for money instead of working

      September 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bo Nice post!

      September 29, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  19. sybaris

    Not surprising. The U.S. for all practicality is an island. If you never leave it then you own your cultural ignorance.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • W

      I have to say I have been to numerous countries around the world and yes America is the best. THe US is not perfect but the people here are treated better than other people around the world.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  20. MikeJ

    How old is the universe? Evolutionary scientists talk about how radiometric dating methods prove the universe and the Earth are billions of years old. Let's look at all the methods scientists could use. There are well over 100 methods available! There are thousands of scientists who prefer other methods that offer younger ages for our world and universe.

    Those few methods – out of over 100 – that evolutionists prefer are not very exact. Sometimes evolutionists will actually get a negative age for something using one of their preferred methods. In other words, the same method that shows that some object is a billion years old may show that some other object doesn't even exist yet!

    The fact is, more dating methods prove, just as scientifically, that the world is less than 500 years old than prove it is more than a billion years old. Of over 100 methods we know of – giving results of anywhere from 100 years to billions of years – 15 percent of all methods give a date of between 6,000 and 10,000 years for the age of the universe. That is a very powerful statistical argument for a young creation!

    September 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • hippypoet

      your a complete moron, how can one who does not understand the math used to made such claims make such claims! i'm sry, but you are below me, and i feel i need to leave you be...later silly loon, you mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elder berries!

      September 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • sybaris

      You've spent too much time at the Creation Museum. That place'll make ya dumb.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @sybaris omg i have seen that place, its fuc*ing nuts... they REALLY believe that humans rode the dino!

      September 28, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • gremlinus

      Science doesn't "prove" the age of anything. Science gives evidence for or disproves. There are more reliable methods than others to estimate ages. Most of the credible ones put the earth at about 4 1/2 billions years old and about 13 billion years. And there are many methods, but only a few of them are credible or even capable of estimating ages that old. Most credible methods are based on empirical evidence that is verifiable on a shorter time scale and/or mathematical and physical theory. I know of no credible method that estimates the age of the planet in thousands of years. I'd be interested in which ones you think are "wrong" and which ones you think are "right." Just because someone comes up with a method doesn't mean it's a good method, so the number of ways that someone ages the world to the date you like doesn't make it more credible if the methods are faulty.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • gremlinus

      13 billion for the universe. Sorry mistype.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Ben

      lol keep reading your creationist science books and while you are at it go read cinderella too.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • albert

      MikeJ, you are right on the money. Many scientists would agree with your comments. The negative remarks below are obviously not from scientists. They are from uneducated brainwashed people. I would like for these people to explain why many "Real" scientist believe that there is a God, and in creation.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • pn

      GO USA! Only in the Us are these young age creationists mainstream.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • JJvvv

      It is this level of denial of science and quite frankly, common sense that make this a tough country to live in... It is also the very reason we have what this article refers to as a "God Gap". Rational thinkers LOVE what are country is based on and the liberties and opportunities that it was MEANT to offer... Unfortunately, the religious right, especially evangelicals, want to transform our fine country into a theocracy. These people and their agenda are the very reason people like myself hesitate when asked – "Which is the greatest country in the world?" I like to think of the question like this – "Which country COULD be the greatest country in the world?" When phrased in that manner I can honestly answer – The USA

      September 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • bobg2

      Why aren't you fundamentist folks capable of holding more than one idea in your heads at one time? I was faced with this question of creationsm vs. evolution in high school. I was taught that creation was the original What, and evolution is the still-developing How. Among intelligent people, there should be no controversy over which version of the origins of our physical world is true- They both are! I am still a practicing Christian and a believer in the scientific method, and I try to be tolerant of other views, but these fundamentalists just won't let go of this bone.Here in Texas,they're trying to make our kids grow up dumb by turning them against science.

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

      15% is "a very powerful statistical argument"?
      Perhaps it is, if you blindly choose to ignore the fact that 85% is a much more powerful statistical argument...or don't believe in mathematics.
      There are SO very many flaws in your statement I'm just going to leave it there & not even get into the utterly absurd 'only hundreds of years old' statement.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • m

      MikeJ, you really are that stupid, aren't you...

      The smart people in the world understand that religion only exists for controlling simple, stupid folk such as you.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Trystan

      MikeJ, did you get this information from your pastor at church?

      September 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @MikeJ Ok, so list the specific methods and the estimates and the refereed journal articles in which the estimates were published.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Lot

      @ albert...I think you are also MikeJ, who commented on your post. Why, because few would agree with you and you desperately want company. So you commented as someone else to make others think that people agree with you. Regardless of the truth of my accusation, you are equal in ignorance.
      Seriously, those of us who don't believe in your nonsensical book of morally corrupt, death, and destruction have picked up books from both sides. It's the only logical way to take sides. I've read your book of silly nonsense and I've read books which refute/reject your claims. I'm not a scientist, but I've learned calculus, differential equations, and about the scientific process. I have also taken time to research what people tell me. Additionally, I have noted human nature along my 41 years on this earth. I conclude that scientists are driven to know things, for the sake of knowing, and telling other what they have found, which others can review and discuss...this is intrinsic to the good of humanity. I also conclude that religious people are more likely to tell me stuff (i.e. lies) to get my money.
      I've watched pigeons hunting and pecking at the earth for food. Unknowing of their ultimate demise...and uncaring. Their purpose is to hunt and peck. Do you want to suffer the same fate...the fate of the unknowing.
      Sure we are all destined to die...knowing...not speculating...is what makes us different. Wondering and thinking...rather than hunting and pecking...that is what the atheists and non-committal agnostics are about.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • gremlinus

      @albert I'm a mathematical biologist that works with structural mechanics and fluid dynamics, but based on your previous post, you'll think whatever you want. I do know many people that are scientists and religious. But religion is a belief based system and science is a method of measuring and describing the physical world. Thus science has no place in religion and religion has no place in science. Not everyone believes in a fundamentalist interpretation of religious texts. My husband is religious AND an evolutionary biologist that subscribes to the likelihood of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution AND he generally accepts the evidence that the world is 4 billion years old. As an atheist I agree with him scientifically because of the preponderance of evidence. We do have similar religious views because those are based on personal beliefs and faith. There is a big difference. If you had any knowledge of science (or religion) you would know that.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Answer


      You really should get over your decades old rhetoric that comes from the ID-iots playbook.
      There are caves full of crystals that have been sampled, and studied in the labs, that have so miniscule growth level that you can factor their age to beyond even 10,000 years old. I'll find you the links to reveal your ignorance. It is about time you mo-rons caught up with the degree of new information that have been recently collected that give us more tangible insights to our reality.

      So refrain from rehashing your junk just because you fail to catch up with actual science.

      Here is the link. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/334299/ti – tle/Natures_crystal_palace
      Edit the ti – tle part and cut to your address bar.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:59 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.