Excerpt from Belief and Behavior: Christianity’s Failure as an Agent of Change—by Don R Barbera

Without a doubt, the South is the most religious region of the country, outdistancing the northeast section of the United States by double-digit percentages. There is no argument that church attendance levels are higher in the “Bible belt” (the South and Midwest) than in the Northeast West.[1],[2] By almost any measure, the South is the most religious portion of the United States, but the story does not stop there. In fact, it is just the beginning.

The Rest of the Story

It might seem with the high levels of religiosity displayed in the South that its populace would demonstrate higher levels of “moral” behavior than other portions of the country, but nearly the opposite is true as statistics reveal that the verbal shrapnel coming from the mouths of Southern Christian leaders is largely a case of misrepresentation. Although “values” is their mantra, when it comes to reality, looking at the facts rather than listening to the rhetoric makes it clear any blame aimed at the more secular blue states is highly misplaced and misdirected.

“The Bible Belt has more than its share of both praying and killing. The South has led the nation in murder rates since 2001, while the “secular” Northeast ranked at the bottom with the lowest homicide rate in the country six years running.”[3] Louisiana has led the United States murder rates since 1996 and still does even though its murder rate has dropped! Of the 20 states with the highest murder rate, thirteen are part of the old confederacy and three are traditional conservative strongholds in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. The same pattern generally holds true throughout the South.

Texas has a murder rate triple that of Massachusetts, a state that elected two openly gay members of Congress. Even New York is only average when it comes to illegal bloodletting. Washington State has one of the lowest homicide rates in the nation while church attendance there is far below the national average.

Research from the Journal of Religion and Society found that “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.”[4] Sadly, the South is all the proof necessary to prove the thesis as the region is home to the most corrupt states in the union in Louisiana and Mississippi.[5]

The South stands solidly against gay marriage, but weddings between heterosexuals seem to receive less reverence as the nation’s highest divorce rate falls to the Bible Belt. Divorce rates among conservative Christians rank significantly higher than other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics. According to pollster George Barna, 90% of all born-agains that are divorced did so after they accepted Christ![6] By comparison typical “godless” states like New York and Massachusetts ranked among the lowest in the nation.

The list of Southern pathologies goes on and gets worse. The South leads the nation in teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. The South and traditional “red” states lead the nation in cases of aggravated assault and forcible rape.[7] Sadly, saying one thing and doing another is par for human behavior, but when claims of moral superiority surface it is necessary to have the house in order because such behavior sends an invitation for visitors to come look.

Clearly, religion has little to no affect in modifying human behavior in the South. In fact, it seems just the opposite is true as educational attainment is lower in the than the rest of the nation. The south leads the nation in the least number of college graduates and has the lowest number of high school graduates over 25 years of age with Texas ranking the lowest.[8], [9]

With the passing of new health care legislation, it is important to view the areas of the country most in need of healthcare. Of the fifteen states with the worst health in the United States, 14 are Red states—those that opposed reform. Interestingly, according to a new Gallup poll, of the 25 states with the greatest percentage of uninsured residents, all but three are in the South or the Midwest. Again, the same states stood against healthcare reform. The infant mortality rate in the south is the highest in the nation while the lowest rate is in the New England States. Contributing to the health crisis in the country, nine of the top ten states with the most obese residents are in the South.

The South has the nation’s highest rate of poverty, with Mississippi and Louisiana ranking first and third, respectively.[10] Average household incomes are lower in the South. For example, Oklahoma and Arkansas rank 46th and 47th in levels of income for the United States.

One area that the South leads all other portions of the nation is racism. It is no surprise that southern, white, Protestant evangelicals express higher levels of racism than they do outside the South, or than do whites of other faiths in other sections of the country. Regarding racism, a recent Gallup Poll discovered that when they asked the question, “Do you object if a black neighbor moves in next door?” Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were most likely to object to having black neighbors. The least prejudiced were Catholics and non-evangelicals.[11]

Of course, not all Christians in the South bear this burden, but it is a black-eye for those claiming to elect presidents and certainly impugns the “brotherly love” quotient of evangelical Christians, as well as their commitment to family values. It is difficult to read anything else into the answer to such a simple question.

To sum it up, another piece from the research performed at Creighton University says that, “No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.” [12]

[1] Church Attendance Lowest in New England, Highest in South, Gallup Poll, April 27, 2006

[2] Religion Remains Major Dividing Factor Among White Voters, Frank Newport, Gallup News Service, September 5, 2008

[3] Regional Murder Rates, 2001 - 2007, Death Penalty Information Center, 2008

[4] Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, Gregory S. Paul, Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7, 2005

[5] Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity, 2006, Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, http://www.justice.gov/criminal/pin/docs/arpt-2006.pdf

[6] Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce, Barna Group, August 6, 2001, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/56-born-ag...

[7] Crime in the United States 2007 by State

[8] US Top 10 - States (Least Educated), Morgan Quitno, 2006-2007 Smartest State Award

[9] Educational Attainment In The United States: 2003, U.S. Department Of Commerce, US Census Bureau, June 2004

[11] The Evangelical Scandal, Stan Guthrie, Christianity Today Magazine, 4/13/2005

[12] Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, Gregory S. Paul, Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7, 2005

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Comment by scott martins on March 23, 2010 at 9:39pm
I wish that every evangelical could see this. Then again they would probably claim that it was an atheist plot attacking the good christians again with false documentation. I thought this was amazing and it has given me lots of firepower to go into debates with. Thank you.
Comment by Objection on March 23, 2010 at 9:34pm
It's okay for them, though. No matter how hellish they make the world around them, no matter how self-destructive they are, as long as they are "doing it in the name of the lord", they'll get to go to cloud world and be in eternal bliss.... right?
Who knows, maybe the muslims got it right. Maybe they'll be burning in hell with fire-breathing snakes.
Or get re-incarnated as pubic lice for not "enlightening" themselves via the way of Hinduism.
Comment by Loren Miller on March 23, 2010 at 9:10pm
It isn't often when I see such a potent indictment of religion and the false assumptions made on its behalf, but this is nothing short of brilliant!

Congrats and kudos, Don B!



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