DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Greetings from Vermont, the least religious state in America.
This, according to the latest edition of the American
Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted by the Program on
Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. It is one of the
largest and most authoritative look at religion and faith in our
This survey offers plenty of fodder on the two subjects
Americans are loathe to discuss in public - religion and politics.
Vermont topped the list of least religious states, followed
by New Hampshire, Wyoming, Washington, Maine, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho,
Delaware, Massachusetts, Colorado, Montana, Rhode Island,
Washington, D.C., and California.
The list of most religious states was topped by Mississippi,
followed by North Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Minnesota,
Texas, South Dakota and Kentucky.
This parallels the findings of a Gallup Poll taken a couple
of months ago that asked more than 355,000 respondents this question:
"Is religion an important part of your life?" Eighty-five percent of
Mississippi residents answered in the affirmative, while only 42
percent of Vermonters did.
The political implications of these lists are easy to spot.
In the 15 least-religious states, there were only three that voted
Republican in the last election. In the 15-most religious states,
there were only two states that voted Democratic in the last election.
There were other religious and political trends that were noticeable.
The collapse of Catholicism in the Northeast, where
Catholic adherents fell from 43 percent to 36 percent of the adult
population. According to ARIS, New England had a net loss of one
million Catholics and Rhode Island, the most Catholic state in the
nation, dropped from 62 percent in 1990 to 46 percent today. Many
believe the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the church over the past
decade has played a big role in this shift. The only growth the
Catholic Church has seen in America is among Latinos in the South and
The waning of the mainline Protestant denominations,
including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians,
Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ. ARIS found
these groups, whose proportion of the American population shrank from
18.7 percent in 1990 to 17.2 percent in 2001, all experienced sharp
numerical declines this decade and now constitute just 12.9 percent.
The explosion of the non-religious, or the "Nones," as
ARIS called them. They now make up 15 percent of the population, and
they are the fastest growing denomination in the United States. The
Northeast emerged in 2008 as the new stronghold of the religiously
unidentified. In 2008, Vermont had 34 percent of its population as
Nones, with New Hampshire at 29 percent and Maine and Massachusetts
both at 22 percent. New England is now on par with the Pacific
Northwest for the least religious region of American There were lots
more Nones in the Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and
Wyoming (28 percent) in 2008.
The rise of non-denominational Christians - those who would
identify only as "Christian," "Evangelical/Born Again," or
"non-denominational Christian." ARIS found the last of these,
associated with the growth of megachurches, has increased from less
than 200,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2001 to over 8 million today.
These groups grew from 5 percent of the population in 1990 to 8.5
percent in 2001 to 11.8 percent in 2008. Significantly, the study
found 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants now also identify
themselves as evangelical or born again.
This study illustrates, in a rough way, why the Northeast,
the upper Midwest and the West Coast are Democratic strongholds,
while the South is dominated by Republicans. Basically, the split is
between "non coastal" Evangelicals and Mormons versus the rest of the
nation, which is now increasingly diverse and secular.
This split has enormous implications for the nation. Now that
discussion of faith and values in the political sphere is now
requires by anyone seeking national political office, we can see the
political and public policy implications of having one political
party - Republicans - beholden to religious dogma and the other
political party - Democrats - committed to reason and secularism. So
many people have been turned off by the use and abuse of religion in
the public sphere that it's a major reason why the "Nones" are
growing in number.
This study shows that our nation is rapidly
evolving in its views on religion, and our politics will hopefully
change as a result.
Randolph T. Holhut, a journalist in New England for
nearly 30 years, edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade
Books), and can be reached at email@example.com. For more, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.
Copyright 2013 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.