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South Dakota 13th Most Religious State; Piety Brings Good Vibes (But No Oil)

Last updated on 2012.12.20

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.


  1. Stan Gibilisco 2012.04.01

    A good breakfast, a good swim, a Diet Mountain Dew, a good lunch, a good nap, and a whole lot of good work (or effort, at least) throughout the day and night ... civility to my fellow humans ... all of these things combine to make a pretty good religion for me.

    Believing in God, believing in Christ, acting as I would hope to do in any real or imaginary heaven, and living for the moment ... that's all the religion I need. In my opinion, all organized religions are cults. Some more, some less, but cults every last one.

  2. John Hess 2012.04.02

    That's a lot of reported variability across the nation. I found it interesting that in the US only 4% identify themselves as Atheists (the lowest rate), higher in Europe (Germany 20%), but 70%-80% (includes agnostics) think of themselves as non-believers in Scandinavia. That's from Wikipedia.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.02

    Indeed, John, we are remarkably religious compared to other countries. Yet Sweden seems to truck along culturally and economically about as well as we do. I'd think the Swedes, living farther north in those darker winters, would need more inspiration... but apparently I'd be wrong!

    Careful, Stan: you're going to start a fight with that "cult" word! :-)

  4. larry kurtz 2012.04.02

    Chemical toilet makes list of most polluted waterways, Big Sioux on roster: Blue Marble.

  5. Taunia 2012.04.02

    This map shows government transfers per capita across the U.S.

    It looks pretty similar to your above map. Maybe the religious states aren't praying hard enough.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.03

    I can see some correlation between the maps in the Bible Belt, but notice that the less religious Northwest and Alaska also have some heavy government transfers.

  7. John Hess 2012.04.03

    Does make a person wonder how much people just go along with the cultural norms.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.04

    "going along with cultural norms"—indeed, I would like to hear more about the number of people in the middle who say religion isn't important to them but who still trundle off to church regularly. Why bother?

  9. John Hess 2012.04.04

    Lawrence O'Donnell pointed out last night Mitt Romney is starting to demonize the Obama administration as secular because Americans say they won't vote for President someone who is Mormon (22%), Muslim (46%), but Atheist (49%).

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.04

    Oh, do bring me that fight. I'm not surprised: if Romney resorts to that tactic, he's making clear his fear that he can't win on the economy.

  11. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    Indeed, Romney has dropped off the deep end with Sibby, et al. The numbers John left off is that Americans say they won't vote for Christians and/or Jews at far lower %ages.... something like 8% and 9% respectively.

    Romney knows he's vulnerable if Obama is perceived as Christian (which, of course, he is) so he has to float the meme that he's a "secularist." It's dangerous territory for him. Sooner or later, someone will ask him about his magic underwear. It would best if he not go there. But it looks like he's going to anyway.

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