Where the non-Christian Americans are

Anti-abortion protesters at a Planned Parenthood center, New York, United States, photo by Sean Rocha

Republicans like to put about the notion that the US is ‘really’ a Christian country, a semi-official status in complete defiance of the founding principles of the country that is somehow supposed to make faith a touchstone for policy.  India, too, just voted for a religious chauvinist — I wrote about why that was a mistake here — and in both countries the internal diversity makes privileging any one group senseless. But as a matter of private faith rather than public status, there’s no denying the abundance of Christians in America: roughly half the country identifies as Protestant and a quarter Catholic.  Paradoxically, nothing reveals how dominant Christianity is in personal practice as these maps from the Washington Post showing where the non-Christians live. The first map shows non-Christian populations by county, but there’s so much detail here it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise:

Largest non-Christian religious groups in the US by county 2010, source WaPo

The second map smoothes out that data a bit by showing the largest non-Christian population by state.  This reveals some oddities and none odder than the fact that the Baha’i — an offshoot of Islam founded in 19th century Persia and regarded as heretical by many in the middle East —  are the largest non-Christian group in South Carolina.  At first blush, this might seem to suggest there is some huge Baha’i colony there; actually, it reflects the fact that South Carolina is so overwhelmingly Christian that even a community as small as the Baha’i can be the (distant) #2 in the state.  Much the same is true of the Southern states where Islam is the largest non-Christian denomination — these states just don’t have a whole lot of people who are not Christian.

Largest non-Christian religious groups in the US by state 2010, source WaPo

The third map shows the largest religious denomination of any sort (so, including Christians) by county — Catholics are in blue and Southern Baptists are red — and it makes clear what the first two maps imply.  Indeed, out of 3,143 counties in the US only one has a non-Christian sect as the largest denomination.

Largest religious groups in the US by county 2010, source WaPo

The fourth map showing religious diversity by county comes from an earlier Washington Post story and it confirms the reading above.  In this map, red indicates high religious diversity and blue low, but with the colors reversed — in the American political vernacular red represents Republicans and blue Democrats — this could just as easily be a map of voting patterns.  Essentially, all the high-diversity regions vote Democrat and all the low-diversity regions vote Republican.

Religious diversity in the US by county 2010, source WaPo

Another way to look at this is through the Pew Research religious survey, where the supposedly Carolina-abounding Baha’i are lost in some ‘other’ category (presumably the ‘other Muslim groups’ that constitute less than 0.3% of the population) and the Muslims who loom so large in Southern political rhetoric for their supposedly imminent imposition of Sharia law on this great nation of ours come in at 0.6% of the total population.  It is worth noting that more people identify as Jehovah’s Witness or New Age than Sunni Muslim.

Pew Research religious survey


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