Here’s some news that’ll make you feel better. The latest Gallup poll on religious views in America indicates that nearly a third of Americans are nonreligious:
Gallup classifies 40% of Americans nationwide as very religious — based on their statement that religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. Another 32% of Americans are nonreligious, based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 28% of Americans are moderately religious, because they say religion is important but that they do not attend services regularly or because they say religion is not important but still attend services.
Religiosity varies widely across U.S. states and regions, with Mississippi in the deep South and Vermont in New England providing the most extreme example of the disparity. Fifty-nine percent of Mississippians are very religious and 11% nonreligious, while 23% of Vermonters are very religious and 58% are nonreligious. Although New Hampshire ties Vermont with 23% of its residents classified as very religious, slightly fewer (52%) residents in the Granite State are classified as nonreligious.
Granted, this isn’t to say that a third of Americans are atheists. This classification includes the “unchurched” — a group of people who still believe in a higher power but aren’t a part of any particular religion and don’t care to be. Often they refer to themselves as “spiritual.” Still, that’s better than being in the very religious category as far as I’m concerned.
Not surprisingly, Missouri is the most religious state and has been for some time. Just as Vermont is the least religions and also has been for some time. According to Gallup, these state-to-state patterns have been stable for awhile now and are in part a result of a state’s culture:
Gallup research has shown that these state differences appear to be part of a “state culture” phenomenon, and are not the result of differences in the underlying demographics or religious identities in the states. For example, while Mississippi has the highest percentage of blacks of any state in the union, and while blacks are the most religious of any major race or ethnic group in the country, the Magnolia State’s white residents are highly religious on a relative basis compared with whites in other states. And, Vermonters who identify as Catholics or with Protestant denominations are less religious than Southern state residents who identify with the same religions. It appears there is something about the culture and normative structure of a state, no doubt based partly on that state’s history, that affects its residents’ propensity to attend religious services and to declare that religion is important in their daily lives.
This calls into question the oft-cited statistic that 98% of Americans believe in God. It’s a statistic you’ll hear often, but I can’t recall the last study or poll that suggests that is truly the case. Certainly polls such as this one suggest otherwise.