Catholics ubiquitous but passive

The USA's religious landscape


Catholics in blue

Catholics in blue – double-click to enlarge

The following comes from a Dec. 17 story in Christian Today.

From even the briefest overview of almost any selection of news media, television programs, books, films, or other cultural output, you quickly notice that the USA appears to be much more religious than either the UK or the average EU state.

But is it religious in the way we often imagine? The Washington Post recently published six maps based on the 2010 US Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study (RCMS). The results turn up some unexpected details.

1. You can’t put a Mormon down

Despite being a relatively small religion in terms of its dominance of counties, being the largest single religion in only 115 out of the total 3,144 counties in the US, there isn’t another group that seems to be quite as active.

Maps displaying the number of congregations per 10,000 people put Utah and other Mormon areas surrounding it in a fairly middle of the road shade of brown.

But maps displaying religious participation levels, determined by number of adherents divided by total population, put the homeland of the Church of Latter Day Saints deep into passionately devoted red.

This confirms what some recent studies have suggested, that Mormonism is the fastest growing single religion in the USA.

2. The Bible Belt has belted up

Although the South East of the USA might be what everyone thinks of as the Christian spiritual heartland of America, the statistics paint a somewhat different picture. While states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Missouri are still definitely dominated by the Southern Baptist Convention, they are recording lower levels of participation than among Mormons.

The map showing adherents divided by population might show occasional flakes of dark red in the Bible belt, but the brightest burning heat outside of Utah is to be found in a band stretching from western Texas, through western Oklahoma, up through Nebraska, Iowa, south Western Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It’s also interesting to note that many, but not all, of these regions correlate with areas in the top 40-60% and 60-80% percentiles for religious diversity.

In June 2013 the Nashville City Paper reported that the Southern Baptist Convention had experienced decline for the sixth straight year in a row. Although they dominate the traditional Bible Belt region in terms of adherents, the stats suggest the denomination faces challenges in activating its membership.

Islam is the largest non-Christian religion in 22 out of the 50 US states. Notably, many of these states are also ones held strongly by the Southern Baptist Convention. An arc of states with a significant Muslim population sweeps round from Texas, through Florida, avoiding South Carolina (the only state where the Baha’i faith comes 2nd to Christianity), reaching up to Virginia before turning back west around the coast of Lake Michigan and ending up as far west as Wyoming.

This increasing rise in Christian heartlands might soon perk up the attention of many Southern Baptists. Currently, the South East is not marked highly for religious diversity, but if their levels of participation don’t increase, that may soon change.

4. Hinduism turns up in the oddest places

When it comes to the other non-Christian religions, most is much as you would expect. Judaism has not strayed far from its American ancestral heartlands, which is hardly surprising given that relatively few denominations actively pursue the acquisition of new followers through evangelism. Most of New England as well as New York, Minnesota, Missouri and Tennessee all show Jews to be the largest non-Christian group there.

Buddhism has spread from its many oddly (some might say paradoxically) wealthier adherents in California and out into Alaska, New Mexico, and as far East as Kansas and Oklahoma.

Hinduism however bucks this trend. The only two states where Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion are Delaware and Arizona.

Contiguous blocks of states with a single religion make sense. Ideas often move geographically, just as certain strands of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, and Christianity moved along the silk road of central Asia in the dark ages and medieval period.

Yet in an age of mass air travel, where you can span the planet in a matter of hours rather than days, all that is thrown out the window. This is especially true for religions that don’t believe in what we in the west would consider conventional ideas of evangelism, transmission is often achieved by other means, in the case of Hinduism producing some unexpected results.

5. Catholics love the melting pot, but don’t want to stir too much

Despite America’s historical mythos of the heroic British Puritans desperately fleeing the oppression of the quasi-Catholic Anglican Church, Catholics are fairly ubiquitous in America. From the upper North East of Maine, to the depths of South Western California, Catholicism is the largest single denomination in counties all across the US. And where it seen, three other things are noted: a low level of religious participation, with smaller percentages of the total population of a given county identifying as religious, smaller numbers of congregations overall, and higher levels of religious diversity.

This is most pronounced in the western states, with places like Oregon, Washington State, California, western Montana and eastern Wyoming all coming in as very Catholic dominated, with pale beige when it comes to congregation numbers, and hazy pink in participation scores. Catholics it seems are very much a part of the US, but they apparently like to keep quiet about it.

To read entire story, click here.




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  1. The US is a much more religious country than any in Europe. This has been a great blessing to our lives.

  2. good cause says:

    When Catholics help the poor, have stable families, and follow the Golden Rule, they are anything but passive.

    • good cause, are the poor young ones destroyed by, or prevented from conception, through contraception included in this?

  3. The decline in the numbers of Catholics is due largely in part to 4 things over the last 40 years through today:
    1) Lousy catechesis – in disobedience to our most current 3 Popes, most US Bishops and their Priests do not frequently, actively and publically encourage the at home reading/study of the Bible and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.
    Many Catholics do not accurately know their Faith in entirety.

    And the following relate back to # 1.
    2) Relativism;
    3) Heresy;
    4) Desire to sin.

    If all Catholics truly understood and believed that they can receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ at Mass – they would never leave the Church.
    The desire to sin causes them to leave.

    • Your Fellow Catholic says:

      So do you have any data to support this claim? I’ve known many who stopped going to Mass, and none of them ever gave these reasons.

      • Ann Malley says:

        Likely the people you know didn’t give the above reasons for leaving the Church because they:

        1) Embrace relativism as a high Truth
        2) Do not understand what heresy is
        3) Have not been catechized to understand what sin is.

        Your assertion are ridiculous!

      • Just a quick comment for YFC…

        The two most recent excuses for lapsing that I’ve heard in the past 6 mos….

        1.) During confession, a priest was unkind. (This individual claimed this occurred when he was ~10 YO).
        2.) This person claimed they were spritual and had no need for Mass or the sacraments in order to “pray”.

        Maybe both of these folks lapsed for one or all four of Dave’s reasons? People rarely say they are willing to sin.

        I continue to pray for both of these people as well as invite them to Mass and Confession.

      • YFC writes, “I’ve known many who stopped going to Mass, and none of them ever gave these reasons.”

        That’s because the worldly mutual admiration society has never needed a reason to give one another a permission slip to ignore the Truth and commit sin. These acquaintances will smile, high five you, even give you great big affirming hugs and pats on the back, all while you are greatly offending God, YFC. It is the new diabolically disorienting false religion called, Que Sera, Sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera. Anything goes as long as it lasts. Go for that temporary gusto as long as the world is allowing and affirming it!

        YFC, Time to surround yourself with some new friends!

        “You cannot please both God and the world at the same time, They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.” — St. John Vianney

        “Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.” — St. Norbert

        “Good example is the most efficacious apostolate. You must be as lighted lanterns and shine like brilliant chandeliers among men. By your good example and your words, animate others to know and love God.” — St. John Bosco

  4. Maryanne Leonard says:

    Gads, I hadn’t realized that in the eyes of Christian Today, at least, Catholicism is now considered a mere denomination. As Si Robertson would say, “Hey! We started Christianity! Whaddya mean denomination?”

  5. juergensen says:

    Catholics are just following their shepherds. The shepherds allow openly pro-abortion and pro-sodomy politicians to receive the Eucharist, so the flock says, “Hey, look at that! What’s the big deal with abortion? What’s the big deal with sodomy? Who needs to go to church?” In short order, identifying oneself as “Catholic” becomes as meaningful as identifying oneself as a Green Bay Packers fan.

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