The Gallup polling organization reported this week that Mississippi leads the country in piety as the nation’s “most religious” state. Vermont trails the pack at dead last.
You’d think Mississippi would be godlier in every way, based on how many people describe themselves as church-goers: more law-abiding, sober, charitable and neighborly. That would be a false assumption.
Here are some interesting facts about the “most religious” state. Close behind Louisiana, which is number one, Mississippi boasts the second highest murder rate in the United States. Vermont, the “least religious” state, is number forty-nine in homicides per 100,000 population. Only nearby New Hampshire has fewer murders. If Gallup is right, religion can be dangerous to your health.
I’m sure there are lots of delightful people who live in Mississippi, but there appear to be an inordinate number of creeps, too. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Haters include white supremacists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and similar unsavory types. There are 36 hate groups active in the “most religious” state, and just 2 in Vermont.
One good measure of faith might be how a community cares for its kids. (“Let the children come unto me,” as an obscure Jewish carpenter once said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”) You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Mississippi has the highest child poverty rates in the country, with 35% of their youngsters impoverished. Despite being so “irreligious,” Vermont does a good job of protecting the most vulnerable. It’s in a tie for number four, with just 15% of its kids below the poverty.
Garrison Keillor once said that sitting in a church doesn’t make you Christian, any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.
And apparently, living in Mississippi doesn’t make you more religious, any more than living in Vermont makes you less so.