I’m scheduled to appear on Iowa Public Radio’s “News Buzz” segment today (Friday, January 24, 2014) at 12:45 (central) with Ben Kieffer.
I’ll be discussing a new report completed by the American Bible Society and the Barna Group, which ranked the most and least Bible-minded cities in the US. Specifically, I’ll be addressing the Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Iowa City area, which ranked the 5th least Bible-minded city, up (or down, depending on your perspective) from #9 on last year’s inaugural list.
The results were based upon responses to over 46,000 surveys of adults nationwide over a seven-year period asking whether respondents had “read the Bible withing the past seven days” and whether they “agreed strongly in the accuracy of the Bible”. According to Barna, “respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible” are identified as “Bible-minded” individuals.
The Top 10 Bible-minded cities are:
1. Chattanooga, TN
2. Birmingham, AL
3. Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
4. Springfield, MO
5. Shreveport, LA
6. Charlotte, NC
7. Greenville/Spartanburg, SC/Asheville, NC
8. Little Rock, AR
9. Jackson, MS
10. Knoxville, TN
By contrast, the least Bible-minded cities:
1. Providence, RI/ New Bedford, MA.
2. Albany, NY
3. Boston, MA
4. San Francisco, CA
5. Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, IA
6. Buffalo, NY
7. Hartford/New Haven, CN
8. Phoenix, AZ
9. Burlington, VT
10. Portland, ME
Time’s Denver Nicks points out that “many cities in the East Coast continued to rank as the least Bible-minded in 2013,” and suggested that New York City’s “large Jewish population may have rescued it from the bottom ten.” (The survey allowed respondents to determine for themselves whether or not reading the Torah counted as reading the Bible for the purposes of the survey.)
The Blaze’s Billy Hallowell has a nice analysis of the data.
The American Bible Society notes that of the top 25 most Bible-minded cities, only three of them have populations over one million people, suggesting an inverse relationship between urban population and Bible-mindedness. Smaller towns tend to be more Bible-minded.
Christianity Today notes that small towns that are home to Bible colleges tended to rank as much more Bible-minded. They note that “19 of the top 20 most ‘Bible-minded’ cities host sizable Christian colleges.”
I’ll contribute the following:
1) The highest ranked Bible-minded city in the upper-Midwest is #28 Indianapolis, IN, which coincidentally was the only Great Lakes state that voted from Romney in the 2012 Presidential election.
2) Iowa City lawyer and friend, Steve Klesner, points out that this may be due to the fact that the immigrants that settled the upper-Midwest are from places that traditionally value and abide by the rule of law and the authority of secular governments more so than, for instance, those immigrants that settled the South, who traditionally might be more likely to settle disputes personally (with fists or guns). This may be due to the historical South’s tendency to distrust the federal government and its legal system (dating all the way back to pre-Civil War days), or may be a result of a reliance on what Southerners believe to be a “higher authority” made knowable only through the Bible. In such a case, we might expect those who read the Bible both more frequently and literally to be less supportive of the federal government, while those who do not read the Bible as frequently or as literally might place more trust in the fairness of the government.
3) The above supports what appears to be an obvious correlation between traditional “red states” and “blue states” and this survey of Bible-mindedness. Note that the Bible Belt is home to most of the top Bible-minded cities, whereas the northeast and west coast are home to many of the least Bible-minded cities.
Note that the Top 20 Bible-minded cities are all in states that voted for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election with the exception of the swing states of Virginia and Florida. The exceptions can be explained by noting that both exceptions listed in the Top 20 (#3 Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA in western Virginia, and #18 Jacksonville, FL in northeastern Florida near Georgia) are considered conservative strongholds within these swing states.
4) This correlation is also consistent with surveys that have ranked the smartest cities and/or states in America. According to multiple surveys, there is an inverse correlation to overall education level of a state’s residents (based upon high school graduation rate, percentage of residents with college and graduate degrees, etc.) and what this survey would characterize as Bible-mindedness. That is, with few exceptions, the cities that rank as the smartest cities in the nation generally correlate with cities listed as the least Bible-minded in the survey. So for cities in Iowa to be listed along side well known intellectual centers like Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area is a well-deserved achievement, and accurately reflects the priority Iowans place on education as well as the payoff we are beginning to realize on the investment Iowans are making in public education.
5) Specifically addressing the Waterloo/Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area as the 5th least Bible-minded city, this may be explained by the fact that Iowans, and in this case, eastern Iowans are relatively highly educated, fiercely independent, and do not take well to being told how to think by any organized group, whether it be a religious group, a political group, or any other kind of organization. Kevin Hall of the Iowa Republican writes that:
“Democrats in Iowa outnumbered Republicans 640,776-636,315, a difference of 4,461…Both parties are dwarfed by the number of registered independents, which surged to 722,348.”
That is, there are more registered Independents in Iowa than either registered Republicans or Democrats, again supporting the independent-mindedness of Iowans.
6) Without a doubt respondents who answered that they neither read the Bible nor believe the Bible to be accurate must contribute to some of these Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Iowa City numbers. Thus, we cannot overlook the fact that a large concentration of Iowa independents and free thinkers necessarily suggests a growing number of increasingly proud and vocal atheist, secularist, and humanist groups in Iowa.
7) However, I believe it is also important to differentiate between the two criteria used by the survey to describe “Bible-mindedness”, as the survey’s questionable methodology may undervalue the presence and significance of a large number of progressively-minded Christians. While many respondents in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area may have reported reading the Bible within the past seven days, the frequency of one’s reading of the Bible is quite different from how one might judge the “accuracy” of the Bible, which may or may not be understood as “inerrancy” or “infallibility” of the biblical text by those taking the survey. That is to say, there may be many quite faithful Christians in this area who may have been educated in a non-confessional religious studies department like the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies in which I teach, where the approach to the biblical text is one based upon literary critical, archaeological, and generally more academically analytical approaches, as opposed to the more apologetic, theological, and/or confessional approaches employed by the faculties of many of the small Bible colleges present in 19 of the Top 20 Bible-minded towns.
Thus, a respondent who felt the Bible is not factually “accurate” with respect to stories such as a six-day creation, the biblical flood, etc., may be identified as not Bible-minded by the survey, despite the fact that they read the Bible daily and may be an active, confessing Christian. That is, the survey may be better described as a survey of “fundamentalist Bible-mindedness” or “Biblical-literalist cities,” as the survey tends to equate Bible-mindedness with a belief in the “accuracy” of the biblical text – something that progressive-minded Christians are more inclined to reject as evidenced by other recent surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Christians now accept human evolution.
[Again, note that in this Pew research poll, a disproportionate number of white, evangelical Protestants (who would make up a large percentage of those believing in the inerrancy and infallibility, and therefore the "accuracy" of the Bible), still reject evolution and cling to the biblical account of Creation.]
For more, be sure to tune in at 12:45 today to listen.
Filed under: bible, christianity, fundamentalism, iowa, iowa city, religion, robert cargill, scholarship, University of Iowa Tagged: | American Bible Society, Barna, Ben Kieffer, Billy Hallowell, Cedar Rapids, Christianity Today, Denver Nicks, Department of Religious Studies, Iowa Public Radio, Iowa Republican, Kevin Hall, News Buzz, npr, River to River, Steve Klesner, The Blaze, time, Waterloo