Morality, life's blessing and religion Part 1 The Secular States of America
This will be a very unusual article. The reason is that I will take you through the steps of writing it. And I will publish the results of the article as I discover them no matter which way they fall. I know what I suspect will be the results but I don’t know if the evidence will bear out my thesis or not. My thesis is that if we study social problems in the United States that those states which are more religious will have more problems than states which are not. This would directly contradict two ideas prevalent among Christians: first that some deity smiles upon, and blesses, those who believe while causing problems for those who don’t; secondly, that increased religiosity does not lead to more moral behaviour. By moral behaviour I mean actions that I suspect all of us can agree upon which are criminal acts that violate the life, liberty or property of others. In particular I will look at violent criminal acts. But since the Religious Right is concerned about moral issues I will see how these fair as well.
Before I begin let me explain the inspiration for the essay and the research which you will be following.
The Times of London reported that a study of the prevalence of social problems in various countries showed that “belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems. The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.”
The study looked at Western nations which were highly secular and where atheism, agnosticism or scepticism were widely held beliefs. They compared these nations to the United States where religion is practically a national hobby and the more extreme sects are prospering. But the study, from the Journal of Religion and Society, found that: “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.” They note that the US “Is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”
Christians, especially fundamentalists, argue that secularism, materialism, scepticism and humanism lead to moral rot. Crime is higher because of it. Premarital sex among teens is higher because of it. In general a nation experience social rot the more secular it is. If this thesis is true that other nations which are more secular should have greater rates for social problems than the United States. But the study found the opposite was the case. While every Western nation has problems it is the more religious US where the problems are the worse. Secularism didn’t lead to more problem. Religiosity didn’t lead to fewer problems. If anything the opposite was true.
One problem for this study is that it of all the Western, prosperous nations only the United States retains “rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds.” In other words the comparison can only be made between religious America the secular West in the rest of the world. Now what if there is another factor about America which is not being considered. What if America has more social ills due to other issues. Some might argue that the other nations are “welfare states” and this mitigates social problems. It is thesis widely held but one which I don’t believe is true at all. If anything I think welfarism compounds social ills. But it is a factor not considered by the study in question.
To get around this problem I want to look at social problems within the United States by comparing a number of states of the union. Our “Jesusland states” will be those which show a high degree of religiosity, particular of the orthodox, fundamentalist kind. In comparison we will look at the more “secular states” those with the highest rates of unbelievers and the lowest rates of orthodox Christians. All are part of the United States. All share similar cultural values and a similar history. But they are on opposite sides of the cultural divide that has been created in the last few decades by extremist fundamentalism and the Religious Right.
At this moment I don’t even know which states will be used and which won’t. You will find out in this essay as I do. (I will also limit editing to correcting spelling later so as not to change, in any way, what happens here.)
My first problem is finding the two members of Jesusland and Secular States. I want the extremes of each position so we are clearly about what we are comparing. If a state has a low number of non-believers and a high number of fundamentalists it is part of Jesusland. If the reverse is true it is part of the Secular States. Those which are more mixed will not be considered. So who is who?
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York has some extensive studies on religion in America. So I am using their research. In particular I am using the data from section 10 of the page linked to which discusses “State and Faith” and here the term “state” means by individual state. They have aa state by state distribution of membership in various religions including the category “no religion”. They look about approximately 20 of the major denominations in the United States.
Now the ones which are more fundamentalist in attitude and moral beliefs would be the following: Baptist, Pentecostal, Mormon, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, Evangelical, Church of God and Seventh Day Adventist. The more secular churches would be Lutheran Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Jewish, Congregationalist and Buddhist along with those who classify themselves as having “no religion”.
First let us try to discern our Secular States. In alphabetical order here are the likely candidates based on a high level of respondents having “no religion” first. I will list them here and then flesh out what else we know about them.
Arizona: 17% no religion.
California: 19% no religion.
Colorado: 21% no religion.
Delaware 17% no religion
New Hampshire 17%
New Jersey 15%
New Mexico 18%
Rhode Island 15%
Now some of these won’t qualify. What I want to do now is also look at how large the fundamentalist sects are within these states. A large presence of them would rule them out of the Secular States category.
Arizona: 17% no religion. The state is 29% Catholic and Catholics can be highly religious or very secular. Not a good market group. Fundamentalist sects, clearly defined, make up 17% of the population. But another 13% are in categories which could be more secular but are likely to be fundamentalist. I would guess Arizona leans more in the secular direction but it is not clear. I won’t use it.
California: 19% no religion. A third are Catholic. That doesn’t say much. For the fundie groups we find 11% of the population. Fairly low. Mainstream liberal denominations are 12% of the population. All things considered I think California is part of the Secular States of America.
Colorado: 21% no religion. Only 23% Catholic. Fundie sects total about 17%. Mainstream or liberal sects total 18%. This one surprises me, it’s not what I would have guessed myself. I would put them in the SSA.
Delaware 17% no religion. Only 9% Catholic but 19% Baptist -- not a good sign for secularism. Another 6%in fundie groups. Mainstream liberal groups are about 30%. While a bit divided when I add it all up I put them in SSA but not one of the clearer examples. Depending on how many I end up for comparison I may drop this one.
Idaho 19%. no religion. I guess I heard the West was rather secular but never gave it much though. We’ll see how it pans out though. The state is 15% Catholic and they are too ambivalent to count I think. Fundie groups make up 28% of the population. Liberal groups make up 17%. There are a number that are hard to pin down. I won’t include Idaho in either camp.
Illinois 15% no religion. Catholics make up 29% of the population. Fundie sects come to 16% of the population. Ruling out Catholics as too ambiguous we are pretty split. About 19% are in more liberal sects. But there are many who are difficult to pin down. I would say it is just inside the SSA category but too ambivalent to use.
Indiana 16% no religion. Catholics are just 20% and Fundies make up 21%. Mainstream sects account for 20%. The fundie make up is rather high and with the numbers who fall into sects we can’t easily classify I find it difficult to decide. I would guess its just barely inside Jesusland USA. Too split to use however.
Kansas 15% no religion. This Midwestern state has been the scene of many battles in the culture war. It is 20% Catholic but fundies make up about 20% as well. Liberal sects total around 22%. I think Kansas is culturally split which may explain the conflicts there over evolution. I can’t put them in either camp.
Massachusetts 16% no religion. I would guess this will be a member of the SSA but we shall see. It is highly Catholic, 44%. But Eastern Seaboard Catholics tend to be a rather liberal lot. I tend to think most Catholics in America are secularists with a vocal minority clinging to Vatican theocracy. Fundies here make up just 9% of the population. And liberal/secular sects account for 13%. Most believers here lean secular, there is a large population of non believes and few fundamentalists. A top SSA state I think.
Maine 16% no religion and 24% Catholic. Fundie sects make up about 28% of the population. Surprising for New England. About 16% are mainstream sects. I suspect they are more SSA than Jesusland but I won’t put them in either now.
Michigan 15% no religion. Catholics are 23% but fundies make up 26% of the population. Mainstream secularist sects come in around 19%. Others are split. I would guess that Michigan is more SSA than Jesusland but wouldn’t put them in either camp for this survey.
Montana 17% no religion and 22% Catholic. About 13% is fundie and mainstream sects account for 27%. I would put them in the SSA.
New Hampshire 17% no religion and 35% Catholic. Fundies make up 7% of the population. Liberal sects account for 16%. Clearly part of the Secular States of America.
New Jersey 15% no religion and 37% Catholic. About 12% cultural fundies here and liberal sects make up 23%. A member of the SSA.
New Mexico 18% no religion and 40% Catholic. Fundies are 18% of the population. Liberals are 9%. Very ambivalent. I would call it very an almost tie but probably barely in the SSA camp.
Nevada 20% no religion and 24% Catholic. With 15% Baptist it has a strong fundie component and other fundies make up 11% of the population for a total of 26%. Liberal sects come in around 12%. Very close call, too close to use, but I’d put them in the SSA barely.
Ohio 15% no religion and 19% Catholic. Fundies make up 24%. Liberal sects make up 21%. Another state very torn but the SSA should have a slight edge here but enough to use in the study.
Oregon 21% no religion 14% Catholic. About 18% here fall in the fundie camp and liberal sects make up about 16%. A very secular state I’d say.
Rhode Island 15% no religion and 51% Catholic. Only 10% fundie with the liberal sects coming in at 11%. i think it is in the SSA camp. Again the large Catholic population tends to be liberal and non believers outnumber fundamentalists.
Utah 17% non believers and just 6% Catholic. I know this one is not going into the Secular camp in spite of a decent number of irreligious. The is dominated by the Mormons who make up 57% of the population. Fundamentalists of a more orthodox kind make up another 4% of the population. Liberal sects are 7%. Not in the SSA but part of Jesusland.
Vermont 22% no religion and 38% Catholic. Fundies make up about 6% of the population. Liberal sects account for 16%. Clearly in the SSA.
Washington 25% no religion and 20% Catholic and 14% fundie. Liberal sects make up 17%. In the SSA.
Wyoming 20% no religion and 18% Catholic. Fundies make up 17%. Liberal sects make up 24%. I think Wyoming is a secular state.
States which I think are clearly enough secular in temperament to put into this camp include: California, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. The others are too ambivalent or part of Jesusland. That gives us 11 good examples of the Secular States of America. There are other states which are highly secular which we didn’t include such as Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Now a comment on the map used which is typical of the Jesusland maps which came out after the last election. Most such maps do not actually map out Jesusland at all. What they do is really chart which states voted Republican and which voted Democrat. That is not the same thing. One of the largest subgroups of Democrats in the US are black fundamentalists. And some states that are very secular voted Republican but not for religious reasons. That the Democrats are failing to reach secular Western states and some of the more ambivalent states like Indiana, Ohio and Kansas are their own fault. They want to blame all their losses on religion and it’s not accurate. Some states they lost because they can’t move to the centre on economic issues.