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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Christianity by State: The Religious Dimension of Federalism

According to the  2010 U.S. Religious Census of Religious Congregations & Memberships Study by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, less than 50 percent of the people living in the United States identified themselves as Christian adherents in 2010. There were more than 150.6 million out of 310 million. Even so, candidates for the U.S. presidency still felt the need to vocalize the fact that they are Christian (while the opponent doesn't quite measure up in that respect). President Obama made a point during his first two years in office to stress his Christianity as if it were the membership card to the Oval Office. It would seem that the litmus test was already antiquated and thus needlessly constrictive on potential candidates.

The study also discerned differences between the states, once again giving evidence of the heterogeneous nature of the empire of fifty republics. States where more than 55% of the residents identified themselves as Christian were either in the South or in the Midwest. Mississippi (59%), Utah (57%), Alabama (56%), and Lousiana (54%) top the list. Interestingly, the two clusters of dark red on the map point to two distinct Christian cores in the United States. It would be interesting to study whether or how the two cores differ. One indication is that there were differences is that all of the states in the southern core had the death penalty at the time, whereas two of the three states in the northern core did not. I suspect that the southern core was more ideologically conservative in nature (i.e., social issues)--the Northern core's conservatism being moderated perhaps by the tradition of Hubert Humphrey.

States where less than 36% of the residents identified as Christian were in the West and New England. Vermont (23%), New Hampshire (23%), Maine (25%), and Massachusetts (28%) have the fewest Christians on a percentage basis (the map incorrectly shows MA as bright red). In these states, it would be particularly untenable were public services and offices to close on Good Friday and the following day. Unlike Christmas, Easter does not have the secular holiday component (which is recognized as a national holiday in the U.S.).  In fact, the sheer extent of difference between states like Mississippi (high 50s) and those like Vermont (low 20's) suggests that holidays should be declared on the state rather than the federal level. The question of whether the U.S. Constitution's establishment of religion clause applies at the state level is also relevant.

In short, the multi-colored map of the U.S. in terms of Christianity suggests that a "one size fits all" approach through Congress has the significant downside of ignoring significant cultural and religious differences. In other words, to take Vermont and Mississippi and "split the difference" is not likely to fit with the condition in many states. The fact that those two states are in the same union testifies to the fact that the union itself is on the empire-level, meaning that its member states are themselves commensurate with countries around the world that are not themselves on the empire-level. It should be no surprise, then, that federalism, which originated at the empire level in alliances, is a system of governance particularly well-suited to accommodate the sort of diversity that exists in the U.S. (and E.U.). The key to enabling federalism to accommodate the different religious makeups of the states is to keep the imperial-level government from stifling the state governments. In other words, they need to have enough space to produce legislative action that is tailored to their respective religious cultures. In states that are dark red, it makes sense that Good Friday would be a recognized holiday, whereas such a practice in Vermont or Oregon would impose too much on too many people. 

Source:

The Huffington Post, "Most and Least Christian States in America," May 29, 2012.