The geography of religion
Here’s an interesting map showing religious adherence in the United States:
The scale reads as follows:
Dark – 75% or more
Med Dark – 55% to 74.9%
Medium – 45% to 54.9%
Med Light – 35% to 44.9%
Light – 0% to 34.9%
The first thing to understand is that “religious adherence” is defined as those who identify with a church or religious denomination. It does not include everyone with religious beliefs. Nor does it represent attendance at religious services. For example, religious adherence in the United States is reported at 50.2% , while 42% attend religious services at least once per week, and anywhere from 71% to 92% (depending on which poll you believe) report a belief in God. Religious adherence would seem to be a good proxy for a minimal degree of religious commitment.
The “light” counties seem to be concentrated in the western and northwestern states. It’s interesting to track how this plays out politically. Far northern California is the least religious area of the state, but also the most politically conservative. Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Arizona share this unlikely admixture. In my neck of the woods, the sentiment leans strongly libertarian which translates into GOP politics most of the time – a phenomenon that is common in the western states. The intellectual framework of libertarianism has always been atheistic, though some have tried to Christianize the movement. Despite the low rate of religious adherence in far northern California, I would guess that well over 60% of my neighbors believe in God – probably more than 80% once you get out of the city – and although they don’t identify with a specific religious group they are generally respectful of those who do.
It’s interesting to observe that religious adherence doesn’t always translate into a virtuous society or culture. Witness Memphis, New Orleans, and New York City. Another surprise: there’s a lot of “light” in West Virginia, Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky. I typically think of Appalachia as very religious, but things seem to be changing fast.
Whenever I begin to despair about California’s frightening godlessness, it always helps to look at Europe. Here’s a sobering map of belief in God in Europe:
Now, that makes me feel better. California, which boasts 62% believing in “God or a higher power”, looks positively fanatical when compared with Great Britain, France, Germany, and Scandinavia! We’re doing slightly better than Spain; we seem to be on par with Italy and Ireland; and we’re a little behind Poland and Portugal when it comes to religiosity.