The United States of Agnostics

By Emma Green
Gallup/The Atlantic

Gallup has released new data on religious observance in the United States, with one major takeaway: Nothing much has changed. Since 2008 when the firm started gathering data on this question, roughly the same percentages of respondents have self-identified as religious, somewhat religious, or non-religious. 

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to learn. It's pretty easy to guess which states are America's most religious: The most fervent states are almost all southern, with the notable exception of Mormon Utah. But the geography of the "nones"—people who said that religion wasn't an important part of their lives and that they rarely or never attend services—is a little more interesting.

Take a look at the map. Vermont and Mississippi are on opposing ends of the spectrum: 56 percent of those surveyed in the Green Mountain State aren't religious, while only 10 percent of those surveyed from the Magnolia State said the same. But each of those states represent an extreme, outranking the next most- and least-religious state by five percentage points. Compared to the rest of the country, Vermont is more the exception than the rule—the average for the U.S. skews toward the bottom end of the spectrum, at just 29.4 percent. 

The country's agnostics (and atheists and spiritualists and disinterested-ists) also form somewhat surprising clusters. For example, the midwest and plains states all follow pretty similar trends, but not the Dakotas: With only 22 percent of their populations identifying as non-religious, they're more similar to far-away states like Kentucky and Texas. Unlike what one might assume, the states of the South aren't all similar: Only 15 percent of those surveyed from Louisiana claimed no faith, while 25 percent of those from Virginia did the same, perhaps because of cultural differences in the northern part of the state. If nothing else, this map offers evidence that Florida is its own geographic region, or maybe just an outpost of New Jersey: With 29 percent of respondents identifying as non-religious, the Sunshine State resembles its far-north neighbors more than any other state in Dixieland. 

The most important insight is this: This survey suggests that most Americans are still at least somewhat religious. Non-religious respondents were in the majority in only two states, Vermont and New Hampshire, and even in those places, the "nones" weren't up by much. Only about a third of Americans say that religion doesn't play any role in their lives. So far, the United States of agnostics is still somewhat small. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/02/the-united-states-of-agnostics/283571/