The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Evangelical States are Failed States

One of the claims I heard in evangelical churches, as well as at my evangelical high school and Bible College was God especially blesses evangelicals for their faith.

The problem was I couldn’t see it. For the most part these were people in the lower economic categories. They were less educated, weren’t particularly healthy and had all the same problems as others—but frequently more so. I saw little of the prosperity they claimed God wanted them to enjoy and their life spans tended to be shorter than most.

In some ways it mirrors their claims that “the blood of Jesus” is protecting them from Covid, yet the death rates in evangelical states are higher than in secular states.

Evangelicals are not evenly spread across the county but heavily concentrated in the so-called Bible Belt. In the Great Depression many did flee the states they controlled because life there was even worse than in the rest of the country. That spread a faith that predemonantly Southern across the country. But almost a century later they are still uneven in where they live. Maine isn’t particularly evangelical while Mississippi is.

Here are some examples of how evangelical “Christian” states fair in general. First, here are the states in terms of the percentage of evangelicals living there.

Our second map shows where the religiously unaffiliated live. This includes agnostics, atheists and those who say they don’t have a particular religious belief. We will be comparing these two to one another.

There are some basic facts regarding how evangelicals report their lives to Pew Research versus how the unaffiliated report theirs. When it comes to income 21% of the unaffiliated earned more than $100,000 per year; for evangelicals 14% did. In terms of education 21% of evangelicals had a college degree or post graduate work; for the unaffiliated it is 29%. When it comes to divorce this is interesting because evangelicals oppose divorce and argue remarriage is bigamy. But 14% of evangelicals say they are divorced, while 11% are living with an unmarried partner; for the unaffiliated it’s 11% in each category. Of course, the unaffiliated don’t tend to preach either option is a sin.

The evangelical pollsters Barna Group did a survey of how evangelicals actually live and discovered the “sinful” activities they condemn in others describe their own lives fairly accurately.

We found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of of non-born-agains. When asked to identify their activities over the last thirty days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that didn’t belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol. to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal, nonprescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or se did, and to have said mean things behind another person’s back.(Unchristian, David Kinnaman, Baker Books, 2007, p.47.)

Keep in mind which states are evangelical and which tend to be more secular. Below are maps showing the rates, by state of other traits, generally undesireable ones and indications of how a state is run. In general terms the evangelical states are the most dysfunctional. I will also add information about how the seven most evangelical states compare to the seven most secular states.

The Seven Most Evangelical States
Tennessee 51%
Alabama 49%
Kentucky 49%
Oklahoma 47%
Arkansas 46%
Mississippi 41%
West Virginia 39%

The Seven Least Religious States
Vermont 37%
New Hampshire 36%
Massachusetts 32%
Washington 32%
Maine 31%
Oregon 31%
Montana 30%

Reading Illiteracy

Using the literacy rates posted at World Population Review I find the 7 most evangelical states have a literacy rate averaging 86.3%, while the 7 most secular states average 91.6%.

Divorce Rates

Evangelicals believe in the “sanctity of marriage” meaning “one man, one woman for life,” they drone on endlessly about it. What they preach, and what they practice are often two very different things. The divorce rate is the number of women, over the age of 15, who have divorced in the last year per 1000 population. This is for 2018 and the national divorce rate was 7.7 per 1,000.

Using Census data I find the 7 most evangelical states, in 2018, had 10.2 divorces per, 1,000 while the secular states were almost 20% lower, at 8.5 per 1,000.

Teen Birth Rates

Using CDC data I find the teen birth rate per 1,000 for females 15–19 years of of age in the 7 most evangelical states is 53 per thosuand, while the 7 most secular states are half that at 26. The use of the Regulatory State to restrict reproductive freedom for women in theocratic states can’t explain much of the difference either. If we take each abortion for females 15–19 in these states and add them into the live birth rates we would find teen pregnancy rates of about 57.2 in the Bible Belt, while in the secular states it would be 37.1. Apparently those “Chastity Balls” and other “abstinence” measures pushed by evangelicals aren’t having much positive influence.

Adult Smoking Prevalancy

I do believe people have a right to smoke but have always thought it particularly stupid to do so. The CDC has the smoking rates for the states. Certainly all the evangelical churches I knew of preached against smoking—along with drinking, dancing and other sins of the flesh. In the 7 most evangelical states an average of 21.6% of adults smoke; in the 7 most secular states the rate is 15.2%.

Now divorce, smoking and teen pregnancy tend to be “sins” for evangelicals and would be crimes if they had the power to make them so. But it does show that even by their own personal morality standards they are more likely to fail morally than their secular counterparts.

Incarceration Rates Per 100,000

The World Atlas lists the incarceration rate, per 100,000 population for each state for 2018. When it comes to prison populations the 7 most evangelical states have 911 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the state, while the 7 most secular states have 454, half as much.

Life Expectancy at Birth Pre-Pandemic

Life expectancy doesn’t tell you anything specific, but it does tell you a lot about life in general. It measures everything from quality of health care, to self destructive behavior, to crime rates. How people eat, how much they smoke are all part of it. It also measures things such as average income, average education, etc. Anyone who uses life expectancy to rate one factor, in my opinion, is being dishonest, but it’s a damn good marker for the quality of life in general. The states blessed for loving Jesus are supposed to live longer lives and prosper while God sends judgment down on the infidels. In reality it doesn’t work out that way.

My calculations use the life expectancy at birth data for 2018—so it’s pre-Covid which helps the evangelical states at the moment. The average life expectancy at birth, in 2018, in the 7 most evangelical states was 75, while in the 7 least religious states it was 79. If God extended the lives of people the way evangelicals have claimed his eyesight is off and his aim needs adjusting.

Infant Mortality

Similar to life expectancy the infant mortality rate is a general indicator whether things are going well or badly. It could indicate a poor health care system, a high teen pregnancy rate, increased poverty, or all these factors combined and others. The stats used here are from the CDC for 2019. The data for Vermont for 2019 is missing so I have taken CDC data for Vermont for the previous five years and averaged them out as an estimate.

The infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. For the 7 most evangelical states the infant death rate is 7, while the secular states comes in at 4.3.

Percentage Below Poverty Level

For my calculations I am using the poverty rate per state as reported by World Population Review for 2021, which is more current than the chart above. Data will shift slightly over time of course. The poverty rate in the 7 most evangelical states is 17.06%, while in the 7 most secular states it is 10.54%—a significant difference.

Violent Crimes per 100,000

Violent crime means crimes with actual victims, unlike the victimless crime laws evangelicals want imposed. Also unlike victimless crimes violent crimes are more accurately reported. A homicide is more likely to be reported than is a case of consensual prostitution. These rates from the FBI are per 100,000 population for 2019. In the most evangelical states violent crimes took place at a rate of 385.9 per 100,000 population, while the more secular states had a rate of 254.4. Violent crimes are 52% higher in the states with the highest percentage of born again evangelicals compared to the most secular states.


In terms of both sins—actions which harm the self but don’t violate the rights of others—and crimes—actions which violate the rights of others—the most evangelical states have higher rates of transgressions than do the most secular states. In others words, residents in non-believing states are more likely to respect themselves and others than are those who reside in evangelical states. The net result of these differences adds up to lower poverty rates and contributes to higher life expectancy in the secular states.


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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.

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