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Jan 31 2013

America’s Most ‘Bible-Minded’ Cities

The American Bible Society has released a list of the nation’s most “Bible-minded” cities, based on polling about how often people read the Bible and whether they believe the Bible to be the word of God. I don’t think anyone will find many surprises on the list.

Most Bible-Minded Cities

1. Knoxville, Tenn.
2. Shreveport, La.
3. Chattanooga, Tenn.
4. Birmingham, Ala.
5. Jackson, Miss.
6. Springfield, Mo.
7. Charlotte, N.C.
8. Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.
9. Huntsville, Ala.
10. Charleston, W.Va.

Least Bible-Minded Cities

1. Providence, R.I./ New Bedford, Mass.
2. Albany, N.Y.
3. Burlington, Vt.
4. Portland, Maine
5. Hartford/New Haven, Conn.
6. Boston, Mass.
7. San Francisco
8. Phoenix, Ariz.
9. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
10. Buffalo, N.Y.

Interesting that Springfield, Missouri is on the top ten given that it hosts one of the largest atheist/skeptical conferences every year. But it certainly isn’t surprising that every one of the top ten cities are in the south, while most of the bottom ten are in the northeast.

53 comments

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  1. 1
    jba55

    Go Mass, two entries! To celebrate I’m going to sacrifice a nice bowl of bratwurst linguini in mustard cream sauce to the FSM.

  2. 2
    slc1

    And who resided in Lynchburg prior to his demise? The late and unlamented Jerry Falwell.

  3. 3
    Gretchen

    Okay, now can we cross-reference this list with one that has the cities with the highest and lowest incidences of:

    1. Divorce
    2. Murder
    3. Teen pregnancy
    ?

  4. 4
    raymoscow

    Shreveport, LA! My old Bible stomping ground is No. 2!

  5. 5
    Zeno

    Turlock, California, has bragged about having the most churches per capita of any American city, but I guess they don’t have enough Bibles to make the top ten list.

  6. 6
    coragyps

    Don’t even think about comparing, say, rates of births to teenagers or crime rates in those two sets of cities, though. I’m not too sure the ABS would like the results.

  7. 7
    Michael Heath

    I’m surprised Cedar Rapids is on the list. I don’t know anything about that town, just that I didn’t expect to find any city in Iowa make the list of leasts. I would have instead expected to find some of the trendier towns on the west coast to make the list, e.g., Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Rancho Sante Fe, upscale towns around Portland, Seattle, etc.

  8. 8
    Gretchen

    Turlock, California

    Turlock?

    Sounds like a city of Klingons, not churches.

  9. 9
    slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #7

    Let’s not forget the peoples republics of Santa Monica and Berkeley!

  10. 10
    ArtK

    @ slc1

    Santa Monica actually has a lot of churches and was in the news just a couple of months ago for controversy over nativity scenes on public land. Despite the “people’s republic” rep, there’s actually a streak of conservatism through the city.

  11. 11
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’m disappointed that no city in the Pacific Northwest made the list of least “Bible-minded” cities: we regularly top the list of being the least religious region of the country.

  12. 12
    ashleybell

    Roanoke is my home town. So I ask… Why is it lumped together with Lynchburg? They are at least as distinct as Knoxville and Chattanooga are from each other. They isan hour/ hour and a half distance between them. Plus they are very different in size and economic strength. The city of Roanok- proper is a really neat city with an increasingly younger crowd moving in every year… And no cities in GA or SC made the list? Really?

  13. 13
    jnorris

    Gretchen, I believe there is a list of cities or states with the most Internet searches for porn and the winners are in the south.

  14. 14
    azportsider

    Hey! My hometown of Phoenix made the least babble-minded list! Could’ve fooled me…

  15. 15
    Doug Little

    jba55 @1,

    Damn that sounds good, got a recipe?

  16. 16
    Jeremy Shaffer

    Not surpirsed to find Birmingham, AL on that list though it does show that they probably relied solely on self- report data; I know a lot of people around here that claim to be reading the bible all the time but never have any idea of what is actually in there. I think most people consider having other people quote the bible, whether what’s being quoted is in there or not, is the equivilent to reading the bible themselves.

  17. 17
    slc1

    Re jnorris @ #13

    Isn’t Salt Lake City on the list of most porn sites visited per capita?

  18. 18
    MikeMa

    Woot! Just moved to Providence. Yeah team. I wonder if Providence’s inclusion as the top non-bible city has anything to do with the recent Cranston West Church & State debacle?

    Still good to be part of a more reasonable crowd.

  19. 19
    MikeMa

    @SLC, I think the entire state of Utah led that porn list, not just Salt Lake City.

  20. 20
    Jim

    Quick point of clarification – the survey isn’t about how often people read the Bible, but about how often people report they read the Bible. They might not crack it open at all in any given week, but they can (and probably will) report any number they like.

  21. 21
    jba55

    @15: Not yet, but I’ll be making it up for lunch and can share a link to wherever I write it down.

  22. 22
    ArtK

    @ Jim

    So it’s really the list of cities where it’s important that your neighbors think that you read the Bible a lot?

  23. 23
    jba55

    @15: Actually, I’m going to use this recipe, just with crumbled bratwurst instead of chicken and probably beer instead of wine. Dammit, I want it now.

  24. 24
    Scr... Archivist

    If you follow the link, you can see all 96 metropolitan areas that they surveyed. It looks like they only included a few cities in the northwest: Seattle/Tacoma was 24% “Bible-minded”, Portland (OR) was 25%, and Spokane was 26%.

    Providence is last of their 96 with 9%. People there know that comforting fairy tales won’t help them when the stars are right. Thank you, Mr. Lovecraft!

  25. 25
    megs226

    @MikeMa – I’m from Providence, too. We’re #1!! We’re #1!!

    There’s a very high concentration of Catholics around here, and Catholics are notorious for not reading the Bible. (Jim Gaffigan jokes about it in his stand-up: “I don’t read the Bible, because I don’t have to, because I’m Catholic.”) Plus fundies consider Catholics to be one step above Mormons on the “real Christian” scale.

    It could also be the high concentration of higher learning institutions. Throw a rock in Providence and you hit a college, including an Ivy, usually with a very diverse student body.

  26. 26
    Larry

    If one were to build a mile high, electric fence equipped with death rays and surrounded by a moat with sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads, thereby enclosing those jebus-lovin’, bible-readin’ cities and the area in between, it would be a very, very good thing.

  27. 27
    whirligig

    That “and whether they believe the Bible to be the word of God” part is important. Some of the Bible-readingest people I know don’t believe a word of it. They just want to be sure that they quote what they don’t believe accurately.

  28. 28
    oranje

    @Gregory #11: I thought so when I lived near Portland, though there were enough way-out-there Christians that they might pump up the poll numbers. I had never seen random religious sign-holding people in suburbia until I lived there.

  29. 29
    matty1

    Okay, now can we cross-reference this list with one that has the cities with the highest and lowest incidences of:

    1. Divorce
    2. Murder
    3. Teen pregnancy

    OK. I can’t find a recent link on divorce but here is an article from 2010 giving a list. Entires also on the most biblical list are.

    33, Birmingham, AL

    Divorced population: 12.2%
    Divorced population rank: 73
    2009 Divorces: 3.1%
    2009 Divorce rank: 53

    41, Huntsville, AL

    Divorced population: 12.4%
    Divorced population rank: 65
    2009 Divorces: 2.8%
    2009 Divorce rank: 72

    3, Charleston, WV

    Divorced population: 13.4%
    Divorced population rank: 21
    2009 Divorces: 5.6%
    2009 Divorce rank: 3

    Only one on the least biblical list makes the cut.

    39, Phoenix, AZ

    Divorced population: 11.9%
    Divorced population rank: 97
    2009 Divorces: 3.8%
    2009 Divorce rank: 3

    Eyeballing the data I’m not seeing a clear correlation either way on the detail but the fact three most biblical cities make the divorce top 50 and only one least biblical city is suggestive.

  30. 30
    TGAP Dad

    Damn! Not one Michigan city made the “least” list! We should fix that! What do we have to do, burn all the bibles or something? I’ll start with the low-hanging fruit: Ann Arbor. I say we burn BOTH of its bibles!

  31. 31
    Alverant

    @7
    Actually Iowa used to be pretty liberal. But some things have changed since I moved out. My guess about Cedar Rapids is that it’s near Iowa City and the University of Iowa, where I went to school. Most of those few teachers who did give us their home phone number were in Cedar Rapids. It’s just a quick half hour drive away.

  32. 32
    Area Man

    Strange that Salt Lake City was near the bottom. I’m wondering if they worded it somehow to keep Mormons from qualifying.

  33. 33
    scienceavenger

    I’d love to see the (net tax contribution)/(transfer payment receipts) per city. I guarantee you the heathens are subsidizing the bible thumpers big time.

  34. 34
    Raging Bee

    How do these people define “bible-minded?” Would a governing coalition of socialists using tax money to provide strong police protection and a basic safety net for their poorest residents make a city more “bible-minded” or less?

  35. 35
    Raging Bee

    Oh, and where would Kabul be on that list if it were global rather than just national?

  36. 36
    Raging Bee

    Sorry, I should have said the Vatican, not Kabul.

  37. 37
    D. C. Sessions

    But it certainly isn’t surprising that every one of the top ten cities are in the south, while most of the bottom ten are in the northeast.

    And then there’s Phoenix …

  38. 38
    iknklast

    Actually, I’m very surprised at the list. Since Oklahoma City made third on the list of holiest home towns, I would expect them to show up here. Of course, when one includes self-reported Bible reading, it can skew the list. Perhaps Oklahomans are just more honest about admitting they don’t actually READ the Bible?

  39. 39
    Ace of Sevens

    I live in Cedar Rapids. This doesn’t surprise me. Iowa has a strong rural/urban divide where the larger cities have economies based on technology and education and the rural areas are agriculture-based. Sioux City is the big exception, which is why they keep electing King.

  40. 40
    DaveC

    I’m actually kind of surprised Knoxville is top’o the list of bible cities, and Atlanta didn’t even make the top 10? Something doesn’t smell right.

    @35/36 – Kabul would likely be highest on the list for reading the Koran. Same myths, different slant.

  41. 41
    Paul W.

    As Barna says, hispanic Catholics are especially likely not to read the bible in a given week, so a lot of the less “bible-minded” places are places with lots of churchgoing hispanics.

    Catholics in general are less “bible-minded” than Protestants, as others have noted.

    I’d guess that El Paso is not near the bottom of the list because it’s a hotbed of atheism, and that Austin and San Antonio are both near the middle of the pack for rather different reasons. Austin is very educated by national standards and notoriously liberal by Texas standards. San Antonio is neither of those things, but is very heavily hispanic and Catholic.

    Barna does some interesting stuff despite being religious headcases—they often ask revealing questions other pollsters don’t—but keep in mind that their focus is very much on statistics relevant to marketing Protestant evangelism. They’re happy to try to convert Catholics as well as nones.

    Also keep in mind that self-reporting on these kinds of questions tends to inflate differences substantially. (For example, in the US, people tend to overreport church attendance by something like a factor of 2, because it’s the “right answer” here. In Britain, they don’t, because not being churchgoing isn’t so stigmatized. I’d guess that people in the “most biblical” markets in the US tend to overreport substantially more than people in the “least biblical” markets, as well.

  42. 42
    bryanfeir

    The Slacktivist commented on this poll back on Monday, with Which cities claim to be the most ‘Bible-minded’ not the same as which really are, with a number of his own comments on the self-reporting aspect…

    But it would be fascinating, if we had a method of doing so, to contrast a measure of such actual behavior with the measure of such claimed behavior that Barna provides. That would allow us to make another Top 10 list — the “Top 10 Most Hypocritical Cities About Bible Reading.”

    We don’t have data about actual behavior that would allow us to create such a list, but we know who the top candidates would be: Knoxville, Shreveport and Chattanooga…

  43. 43
    Paul W.

    bryanfeir,

    Apparently Slacktivist doesn’t know about survey methodologies that substantiate that speculation.

    One of them is time diary studies, where you ask people to keep track, in half-hour intervals, of what they do in the course of a day. Another is beeper studies, where you equip people with beepers and ask them to write down what they’re doing when the beeper goes off.

    That’s how we know that people grossly inflate church attendance when directly asked about church attendance.

  44. 44
    matty1

    Kabul would likely be highest on the list for reading the Koran. Same myths, different slant.

    I heard somewhere, though I could be wrong, that a lot of Afghans can’t read or understand Arabic. They memorise passages of the Koran by repeating the sounds but are completely reliant on the Mullahs to tell them what it says.

  45. 45
    Jim

    Paul W – Those methods were brought up in the comments.

  46. 46
    slc1

    Re Paul W @ #41

    Austin is very educated by national standards and notoriously liberal by Texas standards

    They don’t call it the people’s republic of Austin for nothing.

  47. 47
    shockna

    I’m a little surprised that Phoenix, heart of my Bible-thumping state of Arizona, is on the “least” list. I was also expecting to see Seattle on the “least” list’; but then, I suppose the non-religious are more likely to have read the bible.

  48. 48
    Johnny Au Gratin

    I was a somewhat surprised Louisville, KY only made it to 17, as it is home to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Of course there are also different kinds of baptists here.

  49. 49
    dan4

    @10, As someone who spends a decent amount of time in Santa Monica, that “streak” of conservatism is awfully small.

  50. 50
    peterw

    As others have noted, the focus on bible reading and belief in biblical accuracy is not a proxy for religiosity, as even the most religious catholics tend not to read the Bible much, if at all. The same is true of Mormons. This is another reason why the Northeast ends up at the bottom – not only are there a lot of non-believers in this area, but the believers they do have tend to be of the catholic variety.

    I don’t think that self-reporting is much of an issue for a comparative poll like this: I think that people who lie about how much they read the bible are still likely to read it more than people who report reading it less. Even if everyone reported three times the amount of bible reading that they actually did, the proportions would still work.

    (And there’s no way to quantify a belief in accuracy).

  51. 51
    MikeMa

    Just in this morning from the Providence Journal reporting on marriage equality:

    “What we’re saying here is that the civil dimension of marriage ought to be open to any two people who love and care for one another, and want to be in a committed relationship. What the religious dimension is, is then defined within the context of any particular faith tradition.”

    Well said. The bigots disagree but that was a statement from the Rhode Island Council of Churches. Yeah, Providence again!!

  52. 52
    heddle

    bryanfeir,

    That would allow us to make another Top 10 list — the “Top 10 Most Hypocritical Cities About Bible Reading.”

    Spot-on. John Calvin put it this way:

    “In this church [the set of people self-identifying as Christians] there is a very large mixture of hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance…”

  53. 53
    dWhisper

    Actually, not surprising at all that Springfield is on there… actually surprised that it’s not higher. The Assembly of God church is based out of there, as is a baptist group. Not to mention all of the schools around there, like Evangel, CBC, etc.

    I remember (with a bit of shame) when I was at SMS (now MSU), and attended a church and all of the looks and comments that came with going to one of the non-christian colleges.

    What I’d really like to see is the correlation of “most biblical cities” to “most shady porn shops scattered around town.” Springfield had a lot of those too…

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