Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.
March 12, 2009
On Native Ground

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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 nation.

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 West.
  • 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 randyholhut@yahoo.com. For more, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.

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