Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

How Religious Is Your State?

Thumbnail image for gallup most religious states.pngPolls have always shown that the vast majority of Americans believe religion is “an important part of their daily lives” — 65% in a recent Gallup poll versus just 34% who said it wasn’t.
But that national average obscures a stunning variety by region.
For starters, the Gallup poll shows that there still is a Bible Belt. The 10 most religious states were: Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Texas.
And just as remarkable, all of the least religious states were in New England or the West: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut.
The gap between the poles are remarkable: in Mississippi, 85% said religion was important; in Vermont 42% did. Different planets.
What are we to make of this?
Some of the perceived cultural difference between “red states” and “blue states” comes down to religiosity. Note that nine of the 10 most religious states went for McCain, and nine of the 10 least religious states went for Obama.
But it’s oversimplifying to say that divisions between religions have been supplanted by the gap between religious and “secular.” On average, we’re still quite a religious country. In 46 of the 50 states, more than half the population said religion was important in their lives.
Now, I’m struck that Gallup asked users about “religion.” My experience at Beliefnet has been that there’s an increasingly large group of people allergic to that word. Some are secular but many would reject that label too, preferring “spiritual” or “faithful.” Indeed, while 65% say religion is important to them, 75% in a Pew survey said they pray weekly and 81% at least several times a month.
That means millions of Americans have deep faith but say religion is unimportant. We might call this group “pious but not religious.”
So when you look at this map, remember that the lighter shades of green may reflect a weaker connection to church, but not necessarily to God.
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posted February 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

There is often a big difference between claiming to be religious and being a religious person just as there is a differnce between claiming morality and actually living as such, claiming to be good and actually living a good life.
Ever notice the link between the most “religious” states and those with the highest rates of divorce, poverty, high school drop out rates, etc??????

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posted February 18, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I believe North Dakota is actually considered the most religious state, with the greatest number of people who attend church every week. Obama made some headway here too, though, and for awhile Democrats thought he might actually win the state. He got a much larger percentage of the vote in 2008 than the Democratic candidate got here in 2004. I’d still call myself a Catholic and I believe in most of the dogma, with some twists (Is the Holy Spirit feminine?) but not one who makes it to Mass regularly. Predictably in this state, I voted for Obama.

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posted February 18, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I’m taking a course on the history of Christian politics (especially evangelicalism) in the United States and we learned that at the beginning of the 20th century, most of the United States was un-churched, which didn’t necessarily mean that people did not believe in God but rather that for the majority of the citizens Church was too far away. (For instance I consider myself Christian but I am also unchurched. I also know a lot of religious people who are that way as well).

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posted February 20, 2009 at 11:41 am

I live in RI and to find that this state is included in the least religious part of the country is…interesting. It is predominately Catholic and has the Bishop with no imagination, Tobin, in it’s capital city. We’re right next to the another Catholic state, MA., who used to have another “famous” Bishop…Law, known for sending child molesters onto other churches. How many of those Catholics are actually going to Mass? Not many apparently. Of course with those 2 men representing the RCC, guess there might be some doubts about one’s actual beliefs.

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