Prairie atheists, take heart! South Dakota is not the most religious state in the nation. Gallup finds that we rank just 13th:

Gallup Religiosity by State 2011

Maybe being only 13th is why South Dakota hasn't struck oil yet: 55% of us just aren't praying hard enough. Texas may be getting a petro-piety boost, but we out-Jesus North Dakota, Wyoming, and Palin-Land, and they're reaping/ripping all sorts of wealth from the Earth. Hmmm....

Gallup Religiosity by State 2011 - map The above map doesn't capture all of the granularity, but it reminds us that, at 13th, South Dakota is the most religious state outside of the Bible Belt and the great Mormon Promised Land. And not that I want to impose a religious test on any candidate, but some of my Republican friends might find it interesting to note that Mitt Romney got his university education at Brigham Young in Utah, one of the most religious states, and at Harvard in Massachusetts, one of the least religious states. He chose to live in Massachusetts. Maybe he saw Massachusetts as an opportunity for more missonary work?

Gallup defines its categories thus:

  1. very religious: "religion is an important part of their daily life and... they attend religious services every week or almost every week";
  2. nonreligious: "religion is not an important part of their daily life and... they seldom or never attend religious services";
  3. moderately religious: the squishy middle, either calling religion important but not going to church regularly or occupying a pew while not considering religion important (why? why?).

Other Gallup data suggest that South Dakota's not-very-religious majority should get more religion if they know what's good for them. The most frequent churchgoers experience 18% fewer negative emotions and 9% more positive vibes each day than non-pew-fillers. The very religious tend to beat us non-believers on every aspect of the Gallup Well-Being Index except for physical health (Trying to catch me on your bike? You really don't have a prayer!).

Interestingly, the "moderately religious" fall below both the very religious and non-religious on the Well-Being Index. Riding the fence must give saddlesores....

All of these well-being stats are generalizations, not guarantees. You can find joyful secularists and depressed pew-sitters. Contrary to the belief of some nameless colleagues across the aisle, I find great pleasure and satisfaction in my teaching, my writing, my outdoor adventures, and my family. And if you're looking purely for practical effects, I suspect a good breakfast can do as much for your well-being as that weekly trip to church... and you can do breakfast in your PJs.