February 11, 2014

Religious Belief and U.S. Geography

Location of state of XY (see filename) in the ...
Location of Mississippi in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Much has been made of the recent results from Gallup showing religious belief varies by geography in the United States. Maps like this one show where one will find the most highly concentrated religiosity today and where one can expect to find relatively little of it. They provide an interesting, if somewhat oversimplified, way to visualize the relative importance of religion in various regions. Seeing this sort of map and learning about the most and least religious states certainly helps to explain the culture shock I experienced in moving to Mississippi from one of the least religious areas of the country. But what practical uses, if any, does this sort of information have?

I can look at the data showing that Mississippi is the most religious state in the nation and ask myself what I am doing here. I can assume that I might be far happier if I were to move to a significantly less religious region, but I'm not sure that is necessarily the case. While there would be many things I would undoubtedly like about being in a less religious area, there are some things I like about Mississippi that have nothing to do with religion. A few of them might not be as easy to find elsewhere.

How about travel? Should I plan my trips to steer clear of religious areas, as the PolicyMic article suggests? No, I find that suggestion rather silly. It isn't like atheists are going to burst into flames just because we venture into a religious state. I've driven through religious states and non-religious states and rarely noticed much difference. If there is something in a religious state I want to see, I'm not going to skip it just because the state tends to be more religious than others.

The one scenario where I can imagine possibly trying to use this sort of information involves an atheist couple living in a very religious state who makes the decision to start a family. If I were to be in such a situation, I can imagine that I'd probably want to get out of the religious state and go elsewhere. Of course, I'd be looking at the political climate and educational system too, so religion would not be the only consideration. But it would be a consideration.

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