>are you religious?


I live in the least religious region of the United States.

The map above (click to enlarge) is from a 2000 study of religious population densities in the U.S. I live in the upper left area, the Northwest, which has the largest percentage of “un-churched” people per-capita in the country. Because I have, for the most part, lived my entire life in this area of the country I am curious as to how the religious make-up of my regional culture has played a part in my formation as a thinking/feeling person. I have always thought of myself as a person of faith, even propositional faith, but not as particularly religious in an external sense. Regardless, I think I would be called religious in light of these demographics. But I find myself to be rather un-dogmatic as well as prone to questioning even long-held Christian doctrines – not because I think they are necessarily wrong, but because I value critical thinking and I don’t place much value in tradition when it comes to truth, except as a catalyst.

Then I look at the rest of the country and I wonder what set of beliefs, what religious and philosophical values I would have if I had lived elsewhere. Look at those red and deep red areas of the map. What kind of choices, what kind of pressure would I have experienced if I had grown up there. I don’t know. Maybe you know. What I do know is that in the West and Northwest there is a trend toward “missional” churches, that is churches who are built around the idea that the very cities in which they exist are every bit as much mission fields as anywhere else in the world. Mars Hill Church in Seattle is particularly committed to reaching out to its un-churched city (I don’t attend Mars Hill, but I listen sometimes to their podcasts).

What is remarkable is how religious, and in particular how Christian, is the U.S. Not long ago many predicted the collapse of religion in the U.S., instead it has flourished. I wish I could say Christianity has always been a source of light in this country, but that has not been the case. The present political season is evidence enough. But Christians are really no different than anyone else who holds to a set of beliefs about the world, about right and wrong, and about the future. What is all to evident, however, is the fact that Christians are specifically called to love their neighbor as themselves and they fail in big ways. Of course, so does everyone else. You can certainly count me in that number.

Here’s another map I find interesting. Of those who are religious, and again its mostly Christian in this country, this is how they break down geographically by basic religious groups:

What is interesting for me is that I grew up a red (Baptist on the map) but not in the Southeast. Later in college I left “redworld,” but my faith deepened and grew as I became, for lack of a better description, a non-denominational Christian. I began residing at McKenzie Study Center, which was conveniently close to the campus (I was an undergrad), but was also a place that allowed me to ask tough questions about my faith. I was given room to actually think outside the box. Far too often one is only allowed to lightly question approved doctrines in traditional churches as long as there is no chance that one will actually disagree with those doctrines. Freedom to think is often perceived as a threat to religion, but it is central to faith. 20 years later, and a lot of water under the bridge, I am still plugging along, sorting out my faith (with fear and trembling) and seeking to love others regardless of what or who the maps say I am.

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