Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

America’s Most “Godless” Cities?

The American Bible Society does an annual survey related to what they call “bible mindedness.” The latest results were just released and I was surprised at the amount of media airplay it got, including sites like Time Magazine and Likecool. But perhaps it should be easy to see as this is the type of analysis that can appeal regardless of where you stand on God.

But I found their results and methodology questionable in terms of supporting the conclusions the media drew from it. Here’s the chart (click to enlarge):

Time called this a list of “the most godless cities in America” but in fact it is nothing of the sort. The survey measures instead “bible mindedness,” which they measure using frequency of reading it and a degree of belief in its accuracy. In order to be considered “bible minded” you have to have read the bible within the last seven days and strongly agree that it’s accurate.

This immediately raised a caution flag to me. Obviously it is Christian oriented (though the question set is designed to capture Jewish scripture reading). But the bible minded definition is clearly Protestant-centric. Perhaps I generalize, but historically even devout Catholics tended not to read the bible regularly. My Italian grandfather may have been the most devout Catholic I ever met. Until his very old age he went to mass every single day, said the rosary three times a day, and other things like that. But I never once saw him read a bible.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that the least bible minded metro in America in this survey is Providence, because Rhode Island is either the first or second most Catholic state in America, depending on the survey you use. Whereas the most bible minded city, Chattanooga, is in the least Catholic state. (See this HuffPo piece for some stats. Pew says Rhode Island is 43% Catholic, though how many are practicing is another question).

Practicing Catholics believe in the bible, but don’t generally interact with the text in the same way Protestants do. As a result, surveys that focus heavily on personal bible reading shouldn’t be used as a proxy for Christian religiosity in general, hence most of the conclusions that have been drawn from it are likely wrong.

Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Providence

10 Responses to “America’s Most “Godless” Cities?”

  1. Thanks for posting this critique of the ABS/Barna study, Aaron. As a pastor in Milwaukee, WI, which has a high percentage of Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, I have been trying to reflect on what the study shows about my own city, which is listed in the 25 least Bible-minded cities. We have a strong traditional Christian influence, or at least presence, in our city that doesn’t seem congruent with, at least, some of the conclusions of various articles on this study.

    You wrote: “surveys that focus heavily on personal bible reading shouldn’t be used as a proxy for Christian religiosity in general.” I do agree with you and think that the conclusions have been at least partially misguided. That being said, it does seem like personal Bible reading must be at least one element in the consideration of Christian religiosity in general.

  2. Chris Barnett says:

    I wonder what percentage of these same folks have read some or all of (1) a law or proposed law, or (2) the Constitution of the United States or of their own state, within the last 7 days.

    If the percentage is low, would we then call these people “lawless” or just “anti-democratic”?

    This tongue-in-cheek question gets at the modern “survey state” and the general lack of understanding (or caring) about the actual underlying question(s) being surveyed, the survey design, and what the answers might really represent.

  3. Quimbob says:

    I just started reading The Books of Enoch. It’s not in the King James bible but some sects use it. How would the poll rate that?
    I also just ordered a manga version of the bible. Wonder where that fits in with the survey…

  4. Tone says:

    The Book of Enoch is one of the more intersting biblical texts.

  5. Jon Seisa says:

    The problem with outsider analysis of this survey is a very typical perspective from secular society which always confuses True Christianity with Catholicism and vice versa. They are actually diametric polar opposites and there is a critical distinction that indicates Catholicism is actually unbiblical, for much of its religious practices are entirely contrary to scripture. True Christianity pivots its very core on the Holy Scriptures and the Christ of the Books of the New Testament. Catholicism is understood by True Christians as a pagan system of religiosity having practices, rituals and rites aligned with Pagan Babylon and adopted through centuries via pagan infiltration, being completely alien to the Holy Gospel, the integral foundation of Christianity. For instance, the baby water baptismal in Catholicism (not practiced in True Christianity) is not a biblical tenet, but was adopted from the spittle ritual of the goddess Isis of Pagan Egypt.

    Technically, Catholicism is Papacy Worship rooted in the worship of Baal/Nimrod and his wife Ishtar/Semeramis (the Babylon Isis), and converted by the Vatican into a veneer façade of the Holy Family in name only. The Catholic’s “Jesus” is understood to be an impostor and Antichrist. That is why the Roman Latin “CHRISTOS” computes to the Antichrist Triad “666” in the 6-based Sumerian/English Gematria, and the “CRUCFIX” which also transcribes into “666” via its Greek spelling is actually the “Mark of the Beast”, being the “Tao of Tammuz” (Baal), who the God of the Hebrews, YHWH, severely admonished them not to lament for or in behalf of. Protestant Reverend Alexander Hislop painstakingly documented the historical pagan roots of Catholicism in his exhaustive and classic 1916 literary work, “THE TWO BABYLONS or The Papal Worship: Proven to be The Worship of Nimrod and His Wife”.

    With this considered, it makes perfect sense why the regions on this map that are the least Bible-centric are also Catholic strongholds, for Catholicism and its convoluted system have literally nothing to do with True Biblical Christianity. It astonishes me that more people are not aware of this fact.

  6. Matthew Hall says:

    I don’t care if it rains or freezes, as long as I’ve got my plastic jesus on the dashboard of my pickup tru..u…, through life’s trials and tribulations, we will travel all the nations, with my plastic jesus we’ll go far……ooooooooh….I don’t care…….

  7. Mordant says:

    Well, until Aaron (rightly) deletes this comment and number 5 above, all I can say is “pot, kettle, black”.

  8. pittzburgher11 says:

    Jon Seisa’s revisionist (and offensive) history of Catholicism makes one wonder what the point of surveys like this is. I would be willing to bet that all US cities have majority Christian populations, let alone people who believe in God in some way. This survey seems designed to make cities in or near the “Bible-belt” appear more godly by result. Undoubtedly, most people will not read the survey results directly, but will rely on second hand accounts instead.

  9. I’m not deleting any comments (unless the author requests). Jon Seisa can speak for himself.

    Clearly baptism came from Jewish ritual. Even today, baptism (under a name that escapes me) is the final step in conversion to Judaism. Ritual washing featured heavily in the Jewish religion.

    I think it is fair to say that ancient Jewish practice (which heavily informed early Christianity) had a lot in common with other ancient near east religions. However, the notion that these are parallel to Isis or Horus worship are a bit of a stretch. That notion has featured heavily in conspiracy type literature such as the Zeitgeist movie for example, so it’s not surprising that it has wide currency. Lots of people have alleged this.

    While I don’t agree that Judaism and Christianity are imitations of Egypt, it would be a mistake to underestimate the influence of Egypt on the Greeks, Jews, and everyone else in the region. They were the culture of their time, and one that lasted for at least as long as our post-Roman era. (Some scholars have argued that parts of the book of Proverbs is from Egyption source material, for example).

    I should note that there were many aspects of Judaism that were not analogs of other ANE cultures.

    As for the pope, accusations of the pope as antichrist date to the reformation at least. (The eastern churches also excommunicated the pope in the Great Schism I believe). The original Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterianism) decreed at the pope was the anti-Christ. The anti-“papist” viewpoint of the Puritans was quite obvious.

    You may be interested in this recent Richard Longworth piece on Russia that explores some aspects of the East-West split in Christianity as well. I believe it’s as much cultural alienness as theology that separates many people:

  10. PeterW says:

    More interesting to me than the fact that Catholic cities score low (which is no surprise to me; personal bible reading plays *no* part in Catholicism; none, zero, zilch); is the fact that Salt Lake City scored 87th out of 100. The reasons for that are probably obvious, but it underscores the problem with the survey pretty clearly.

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