The map that accompanied a recent Gallup poll on the relative importance of religion in the 50 states. The darker the color of a state, the higher the percent of people in the state who said that religion was very important to them.
Recently a parishioner sent me an interesting article from the online version of the Boston Globe, which discussed a recent poll done by the Gallup organization. In the poll, 350,000 people from all over the United States, including a significant number from each state, were asked the question "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" Percentages of people saying "yes" were calclulated for each state. Not surprisingly the highest percentages were found in the Bible Belt, while the lowest were found in New England and the Pacific Northwest (plus Nevada). See the map above for an excellent visual display of the data.
The article listed the ten most religious states (at least according to this study's definition of religious) and the ten least religious, along with their respective percentages of people who consider religion important to their daily life. Massachusetts came out as the fourth-least religious state. My home state of Texas tied for tenth-most religious. FYI, the least religous state was Vermont, while the most religious was Mississippi.
As someone who both works with data for a living and serves as the assistant pastor of a church, I naturally found the results of the study very interesting. But what I found even more interesting than the results of the study itself were the comments left by readers of the article (As of the time of this writing, there are no less than 375; Needless to say, I didn't read them all! I read perhaps 100.). It was obvious from reading the comments that most of the people who wrote them lived either in Boston or somewhere else in the Northeast.
Most of the first several comments were self-congratulatory, saying in essense, "Aren't we residents of Massachusetts great! We are not religious, and we're proud of it! And because we're not religious, we are better than those ignorant saps who are!" Here are just two of the many comments that typify this attitude:
"Massachusetts has one of the highest average IQs of these United States. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of education (with advanced degrees). Massachusetts is one of the leading states in inventions and patents. Massachusetts is tied for the third least religious states. Go figure."
"Hmmmm. High IQ, high rate of education, not very religious. Makes perfect sense to me."
Just bragging on themselves was good enough for some commenters. Others, however, felt the need to go further, condemning those who live in dark green states:
"Good to know. I'll stay away from the dark green states full of ignorant inbreds who wish for jesus ponies to return with their rapture."
"Yeah.. GOOD. This is one of the best reasons to live here. The graph is great. It could also be a graph of productivity, crime, IQ, test scores, etc etc etc. It would look exactly the same. The worse the place the more religion.."
A few commenters took to task the posters of comments like the above ones. Here are two examples (the author of the second one seemed a wee bit ticked off):
"wow [author of third comment quoted above]. you wonder why the rest of the country believes there is Eastern elitism?? where's the liberal tolerance in that intolerant statement??"
"This is why the rest of the country calls us M*ssholes. [author of second comment above] and everyone who commented likewise are part of the elitist, snobbish, i know better than thee pompous attitude that smells to high, well, i was going to say high heavens. Galileo, Newton, and Copernicus were religious-do all you commenters think you know more than they?'' MA doesn't lead the league in being smart, it leads in being the pseudo-intelligentian, the self congratulators, the wow, ain't i special kids, the ones who think of and call themselves the best and the brightest, and mean it--no humility. The fact of the matter is that there is no reason that religious faith and educated intelligence can't co-exist. I think the main reason MA is like it is now is that Puritanism, and then pre-Vatican II Catholicism, were so smothering, that a good part of the state wanted none of it. Besides, more than half in MA still said religion is an important part of their daily life."
You can probably guess what happened next. The authors of comments like the first two I quoted, plus many others of like mindset, dogpiled the two folks who dared suggest that maybe the non-religous people of New England weren't quite so saintly, or that the religious people of the South weren't quite so horrible. The rejoinders included vicious, ad hominem attacks that certainly did not show any evidence of humility, gentleness, kindness, or (dare I say it?) tolerance. I certainly am not going to quote any of them here!
So what is the conclusion that I drew from this article and the comments? Just this: there may be intolerance in the more religous areas of our nation. But perhaps there is still more in the non-religous areas. As we all know, tolerance is the new cardinal virtue in our secular society. Unfortunately, however, tolerance need not apply to religious people--and particularly not to Christians.
So, what do YOU think about all this? Let me and the rest of St. James' Kids know.
To read the full article and comments, click here.