Mississippi Named Most Religious State December 23, 2009

Mississippi Named Most Religious State

Hey everyone, Ron Gold here.

This news isn’t a surprise, but now it’s official:

Mississippi is the America’s most religious state, according to a Pew Forum study on the levels of devotion in America, which asked respondents whether religion is important in their lives. Eighty-two percent of Mississipians said yes.

Mississippi also leads the nation in weekly church attendance (60%), in frequency of daily prayer (77%), and in the number of people who believe in God (91%).

So does God reward the citizens of Mississippi for their high levels of faith? I can’t say for certain, but I can cite these facts I gleaned from extensive Wikipedia research:

–Mississippi ranked dead last among all the states in terms of overall health according to the Commonwealth Fund. On the bright side, food is abundant, as the state has very high levels of obesity.

–Their 2006 per capita income was the lowest in the country at $26,908 (though this is somewhat offset by Mississippi’s low cost of living).

–Finally, in 2008, the state ranked last in academic achievement by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Now contrast Mississippi with Vermont and New Hampshire, the two least religious states according to the Pew Forum study (only 54% of people in these states reported a belief in God).  As far as I can tell, these largely godless states have not been punished with severe natural disasters, poor public health, bad education, or horrible economies. 

Not that I hate Mississippi–I wish I were there right now, out of freezing weather and an impending blizzard–but it might be time for the fine people of that state to reexamine their priorities.

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  • Randy

    A friend of mine from Ole’Miss told me the biggest employer was the NAtional Guard and the biggest cash crop was pot. Guess thats why he joined the Air Force.

  • littlejohn

    In fairness, I would guess that Utah ranks high in religiosity as well as in longevity, income, education, etc. This may have more to do with Mormon distaste for African-Americans than anything else. Or maybe Mormons are simply better at not letting their supernatural beliefs interfere with practical matters like getting an education and a decent job. In terms of health, it helps that they don’t smoke.

  • flawedprefect@gmail.com

    There’s justification whether things are good or bad when it comes to religion. If things are great – God blessed. If things are poor: salvation is coming.

    Re: Mormons – They’re a healthy lot because of their beliefs. No drinking, smoking, drugs, etc because your body has to be in peak physical condition for the afterlife, where your body and soul are “fused” in one perfect being. Supernatural beliefs not interfering? It seems supernatural beliefs are driving their healthy, balanced lifestyle.

  • I’m glad that I had never really lived nor been through Mississippi then. Especially as an atheist, Buddhist transsexual woman.

  • Jasen777

    I did some similar comparisons for all 50 states on the forum. http://forum.friendlyatheist.com/viewtopic.php?t=956

  • nomad

    Talk about non sequiturs:
    “This may have more to do with Mormon distaste for African-Americans than anything else.”

    Am I missing something? What the heck does that mean?

    Anyway, I guess if the Mississippians could just lower their level of faith they would automatically raise their level of prosperity.

  • Jeff Dale

    Anyway, I guess if the Mississippians could just lower their levels of faith they could raise their prosperity.

    The cause-effect relationship probably also, to some extent, runs the other way: The area is socioeconomically lagging probably for a mix of reasons, not all of them related to religion. And people living in such an area might, on average, feel more attracted to the comforts of religion, not to mention less prepared (by education, cultural conditioning, etc.) to question religious beliefs.

    Setting aside the comforts of religion might indeed lead some in the area to work for real improvements for themselves and their communities. Likewise, real improvements in their communities might give some of them less motivation to cling to religion.

  • …which asked respondents whether religion is important in their lives. Eighty-two percent of Mississipians said yes.

    You know, whenever I’m filling out surveys that ask this question, I never know how to answer. I mean honestly? Religion is HUGELY important in my life. I’ve made it the center of my writing career; I devote substantial amounts of time to talking and writing and thinking about it; I’ve even alienated friends because of it.

    It’s just not my religion that’s important in my life. I don’t have one. It’s the phenomenon of religion generally that’s important.

    It’s a badly worded question for atheists activist, I gotta say…

  • When I lived in Arkansas and they talked about how bad their schools were, they would always say “Thank god for Mississippi!”

  • This sort of old news. they do the poll annually. The Pew Forum survey of 2008 reported on these stats.
    Infact, my book which was published in June has a chapter that recaps the report and Mississippi’s societal problems (in spite of their godliness), contrasting it with my godless home state of NH.

  • Mak

    You know, it doesn’t seem very ‘friendly’ to me to go seeking out random statistics that make religious people look bad and then pointing at them and gloating. Not only is it immature, you’re drawing a connection that may not even exist. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, folks. How can you be sure that their poor education doesn’t cause their high religious rates? Maybe some other factor causes all of the different things. Prove it, don’t just imply it and hope people believe you. This is a bit stupid, especially since there are so many other ways that religion is clearly and drastically harming the world. Could you try focusing on that instead of this silliness?

  • littlejohn

    Just to clear things up, I didn’t mean anything racist about the reference to African-Americans – I’m personally of mixed race.
    It is just an unfortunate fact that low income, short life expectancy and other social ills are a bigger problem for racial minorities in this country.
    Mississippi has a large African-American population; Utah is lily-white. That’s a confounding factor that shouldn’t be ignored. It isn’t all religion.
    And yes, I was suggesting that the Mormon emphasis on clean living probably contributes to their generally good health.
    Of course, none of this has anything to do with the truth or value of religious belief, unless someone can show me something more than a statistical correlation.

  • Hello. My name is Oliver and I’m taking this opportunity to plug the Mississippi Atheists website.

    Atheists in Mississippi are scattered across the state. In Jackson, there’s the Jackson Skeptical Society. There’s a few atheists along the coast line (Pass Christian, Hattiesburg, and Biloxi). And then there’s me. I represent the atheist perspective in the northern part of the state.

    If you are an atheist in Mississippi, feel free to contact us. We fully understand the need to use fake names. My twitter account is oliver_poe.

  • Amanda

    I went on a business/pleasure trip to MS last month and am glad to see my observations confirmed by some sort of evidence.

    I couldn’t drive a half-mile (on the back roads) without seeing a church, sign telling me to repent or burn, sign saying it was time to get prayer in school, etc. I was informed that a local school (they wouldn’t say which one) got a governmental grant to build a prayer room for Muslims in a public school, “but Xians would get put in jail for that”. I was informed “There will come a day,” in a threatening manner more than once, as if that would make me suddenly believe that tripe. I got pretty sick of trying to explain that this is NOT a Xian country (nor has it ever been) and, luckily, had some Canadian friends with me who felt my pain over the complaints/questions of “how does a Muslim get elected president of a Christian nation!”

    One of the people I met while there told me that, even though her father abused her and tried to kill her, she had to love him because he was her father. I, OTOH, don’t buy that. I think she was convinced she really did have to love him because it says so in the bible. I met MANY people who have, not only multiple copies of the bible, but multiple copies in their cars. I guess you never know when it might come in handy… like when you’re stranded and need a heat source.

    I was there for 9 days, 17 hours and 34 minutes. I was glad to get back to my house in SE Indiana. Things are religious here, but not nearly as bad.

  • Boz

    This is anecdotal evidence for the positive correlation between (health, wealth, education) and religious belief.

    Does anyone know if there is a causal relationship here?

  • As a proud 9%er from Biloxi Mississippi, I can admit that all of our small, yet humble, grassroots level friendly atheist, skeptic, freethinker, humanist, non-religious secular groups have quite a long way to go.

    Maybe Hemant can give me some insight and wisdom when I travel to Chicago and buy him dinner in a couple of weeks.




  • Amanda,

    Here is a link to some personal photographs of mine taken of “Mississippi Signs” on the way to a court proceeding last year:


    Yes, these are all real signs along Hwy 49 traveling from the coast to north Mississippi (the last one is from a local church near my family home).

    “Jesus, Is He In You?”



    I know.

  • Hey Oliver!

    Thanks for all that you do over at msatheists.org.

    The recent “Dan Barker recap” of his talk in Memphis made my day.

    As a family man with a ton of other obligations, it is virtually impossible for me to get time to make such a long trip.

    Your participation and subsequent posts help me experience these assorted venues vicariously and really do put things in perspective for me.

    You’re my friend and if you ever get to the coast, look me up for a visit.


  • Mak,

    One set of my ancestors are from Ireland and immigrated here via the New Orleans, the other are native to this land.

    My large family has lived, breathed, loved and buried their dead in this Mississippi soil.

    I, personally am a child of Hurricane Camille and served my community in the capacity of police officer, search and rescue and volunteer before, during and after Hurricane Katrina.

    I am a loving husband (20 year anniversary last Saturday, December 19) to a public school teacher, father of three great kids, 18 year veteran law enforcement officer specializing in violent crime, forensic video and hostage negotiation, atheist and non-religious secular humanist.

    I assure you that the majority of criminal offenders I’ve met proclaimed some belief in the Christian deity during their interview, branded themselves with praying hands, “only God can judge me” or some similar sentiment tattoos and the vast majority of folks pray first, thank God next and virtually ignore the actual human beings who worked diligently to solve crimes, talk people from off the bridge and save their children from burning buildings, etc.

    We, in Mississippi, have a problem historically regarding social-political issues that is deeply steeped in reliance upon the religious faith of Christian fundamentalism.

    Granted there may be other causal issues, but let there be no doubt that the obvious statistic in this comparative report and my own anecdotal experience are extremely valid.

  • Link correction for one of my prior posts:


    You’re welcome.

  • Amanda

    Thanks Steve!

    I ended up at a veterinarian’s office one afternoon while in MS and there were biblical quotes painted on the wall. A customer came in wearing one of these. I’ve seen similar things at stores/truck stops, but never actually on a person’s body. I saw MANY little kids wearing uber-religious Christian shirts. It saddened me to see the brain-washing these kids were being raised with.

    At one point a couple of us were chatting about a few different things and I brought up my sister’s death due to SIDS. I noted that there is some ongoing research finding the same protein in the brains of individuals who died from SIDS or Alzheimer’s (APP protein, IIRC). This is interesting to me because my grandfather died from Alzheimer’s (side note to this: I’m interested if there may a genetic link with the protein as well, even though correlation… etc. etc.). I commented that while this isn’t an answer for every SIDS case, and certainly not even for my sister’s, for some parents it could give a better answer than “we don’t know”, and for those parents that can completely change how move on from their child’s death. Someone laughed at me and said, “you can’t explain everything with your science.”

  • Sive

    @Mak Obvious troll is obvious.

    @Greta considering almost all of these polls are written in such a form as to diminish strong objecting voices (i.e. atheists as outliers) I don’t find this one to be horrible but, you’re correct still not good.

    Overall I would be interested in seeing the percentage of adults diagnosed with malnutrition as well. Considering the high levels of obesity and low levels of health I would guess the food that is abundant isn’t really what most would consider nutritious (yes I know not all obesity is related to diet hence the level of malnutrition).

  • keddaw

    People are religious because they’re poor, not poor because they’re religious.

  • Boz

    can you back upt hat claim, keddaw?

  • All this is going to tell my fellow Mississippians is that they need more Jesus. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I am quite confident that this is how such data will be interpreted.

  • Carlie

    What’s interesting is how to try and reconcile these data with this new study that rates happiness by state. Louisiana is first, Mississippi 6th.

  • Blak Thundar

    What’s interesting is how to try and reconcile these data with this new study that rates happiness by state. Louisiana is first, Mississippi 6th.

    Yeah, and Indiana (my home state) is 47, yet it is pretty religious. The current city/really large town I’m in, you can’t hardly drive a half-mile with out seeing a church. In fact its nickname is “The City of Churches”. So, this study doesn’t look at religiosity and how it impacts happiness, just overall happiness. We also have no idea of what specific sorts of questions were asked. And finally, the researcher pointed to congestion and air quality as the correlates with happiness, so Louisiana and Mississippi would be relatively empty states with clean air, according to this study.

  • Chris

    If there is any causation between religiousness and being in deep shit, it could work either way.

    You never know, perhaps Mississippi people have it so bad that that’s why they turn to religion, to cope.

  • Jeff Smith

    As a near lifelong citizen of the Magnolia State, this is in no way surprising. I would imagine that the numbers are even more overwhelming in my home county in east central MS.

    To those who have said that correlation does not equal causation, you are correct. However, I don’t think that was the point of the post. Ron implied that god doesn’t seem to be rewarding the citizens for their levels, or at least demonstrations, of faith. In this way, even a correlation of high levels of faith to elevated levels of social problems (and low levels to low levels) is significant because it takes credibility away from the argument, as can be heard or read on a nearly daily basis where I’m from, that the clear solution to cure societal ills is to “put GOD back into *insert institution here* “.

    Sadly, vjack is probably right. It will only reinforce the faithful’s belief that they need even more Jesus.

  • Steve, I like that “proud 9%er” phrase!

  • Casimir

    Just imagine if Mississippi wasn’t so religious. It ranks #31 in violent crime, imagine how worse it could be. And if MS was less godly, it’s current ranking of #1 in teen pregnancy, chlamydia, and gonorrhea could go… up to, uh, #1+!

  • Casimir

    You know, it doesn’t seem very ‘friendly’ to me to go seeking out random statistics that make religious people look bad and then pointing at them and gloating. Not only is it immature, you’re drawing a connection that may not even exist. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, folks.

    But it is a necessary corrective to the many people who argue that religion results in tangible material benefits (a la the “Prosperity Gospel”) or that religion has a palliative effect on social ills. The negative correlation doesn’t show that religion causes an increase in violent crime, but it is a piece of evidence against the idea that it has a positive causal relationship in reducing social ills.

  • Casimir

    This formulation is more accurate: “Correlation is not equal to causation; it is only a requirement for it.”

  • Jeff Smith – Thanks for clearing up the causation/correlation issues. I was about to say the same thing here, but you explained it perfectly.

    Also, it’s cool to see so many Mississippi atheists and agnostics commenting. Probably more of you out there than people realize.

  • Shannon

    Restating what a few others have already said 😉

    I’ve always heard that the less educated a country (state) is and the worse the living conditions (which seems to go hand in hand with low education levels), the more religious the general population is. I haven’t done any research to back this up, but it seems to play out in the world when I read the news.

    It holds true in my life with the evangelical Christians I know (I don’t know why, but I seem to have a lot of them in my life, lol!). Almost all of them had horrible childhoods or something traumatic in the teen years (molestation, beating, knocked up and abandoned by druggie boyfriend, prison time etc) and they all were or are poor. It doesn’t seem to me that they are poor and abused because of religion, but that they became religious because of how awful their lives are. From talking to them, it seems to bring them comfort to think that #1 – it’s god’s plan and #2 – no matter how shitty things are, if they just believe, they’ll have it good when they die.

    I can see how it’s useful in an argument with a believer to bring these statistics up and point out how god doesn’t seem to be helping the religious much. From a humanist point of view though, I think the more important issue is why is that area so beat down that so many people there turn to religion to such an extent.

  • Grayburn

    Laura Ingraham might be an insufferable cunt, but god damn, if she isn’t fucking hot. Shame, really.

  • Believer

    This just comes across as mean-spirited religious intolerance to me.  It’s clearly not scientific or logical to suggest that their beliefs are causing their problems, as the comments above point out.  It’s not even scientific to suggest that their problems are causing their beliefs without some kind of study of people all over the world and their beliefs.

    Besides, the logical argument can easily be turned against you – why do rich people without serious problems want to believe that there is no God?  Perhaps they would rather believe that their good fortune comes from only from themselves.

    The material circumstances of a group of believers is not going to prove or disprove the existence of God.  However, an interesting question might be, given the same material circumstances, are religious people happier than their peers?  Or even are some people happier if they believe and some if they don’t?

  • Parse

    Did you read what Jeff Smith wrote above, about it not being a causation versus correlation?  Nobody is suggesting that their beliefs are causing the problems.  We’re simply wondering about the disconnect between the problems that exist and the high level of religiousity.  Many believers claim that faith, prayer, and God help handle problems; we see these issues and wonder that impact those can have.  This isn’t mean-spirited, nor intolerant – and far less than religious signs that Amanda describes (that say ‘repent or burn’), or the way that preachers describe atheists from the pulpit.

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