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Bible-mindedness, Morality and Crime

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The evangelical-oriented Barna Group and the American Bible Study did a survey of 100 U.S. cities, ranking them according to "Bible-mindedness." The cities were ranked based on how many people read the Bible and whether they tended to take the text literally -- in other words a survey to find cities with the most, and fewest, fundamentalist Christians.

As you can imagine, the most "Bible-minded cities" are in the South and the least are in the North, Northeast and West. The American Bible Society listed the top ten fundamentalist cities as:

1. Chattanooga, Tenn.
2. Birmingham, Ala.
3. Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.
4. Springfield, Mo.
5. Shreveport, La.
6. Charlotte, N.C.
7. Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C./Asheville, N.C.
8. Little Rock, Ark.
9. Jackson, Miss.
10. Knoxville, Tenn.

The least "Bible-minded" cities are:

1. Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Mass.
2. Albany, N.Y.
3. Boston
4. San Francisco
5. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
6. Buffalo, N.Y.
7. Hartford/New Haven, Conn.
8. Phoenix
9. Burlington, Vt.
10. Portland, Maine

So, what does this mean in practical terms? Obviously, if you are near the bottom you don't have to worry as much about pesky door-knockers from the local "tabernacle" trying to save your soul. Nor is the local school as likely to impose deluded "abstinence" education programs, nor are you going to have to find "intelligent design" advocates trying to sneak theology into the classroom as some sort of science program.

What about larger quality of life issues? Fundamentalists like to argue that Bible-believing types improve the moral quality of life. They regularly argue that without the Bible or a fundamentalist world-view moral living is impossible.

I checked it out by comparing the top 10 cities to the bottom 10, and seeing how they did on practical concerns, such as murder, rape and burglary. If you are more likely to be killed in Bible-oriented cities than in more secular outposts, it is little consolation that your killer is "born again" and headed to heaven.

The list the Society put out merges some cities in one larger area, so I used crime rates for each city, combined them into one grand number and then divided by the number of cities. For instance, the ABS has 13 cities listed in total in the top 10 Bible-minded cities, and they have 12 listed in the bottom 10. I added up crime rates for the top 10, divided by 13 to get the average, and by 12 to get the average for the bottom 10.

For crime rates I used Neighborhoodscout as my source. One city on each list didn't have that data there so I went to City-data and used the most recent crime statistics.

Here is what I discovered:

For every 100,000 people the Bible-minded cities or 1.2 murders. The least Bible-minded cities had 0.7 per 100,000. In other words, you are almost twice as likely to be murdered in the most Bible-minded cities than in the least Bible-minded ones.

Rape seems to also be a problem for Bible-minded cities. The rape rate per 100,000 people was 5.4 in the ten most fundamentalist cities and 3.9 in the ten most secular cities.

If you are worried about someone breaking into your house, it appears you need to head to a secular city to reduce your chances of being victimized. The top 10 Bible cities had 127.7 burglaries per 100,000 while the average was 109 in the top 10 secular cities.

Barna has actually conducted a lot of research into how Bible-believing Christians perceive themselves, how secularists perceive them, and how evangelicals actually live. It was published in the book UnChristian by the evangelical publisher, Baker Books.

What they found was more and more people have negative views of evangelicals, and "outsiders" to their sects view them as primarily anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocrites. Worse yet, for them at least, even "young adults who participate regularly in a Christian church" often "share some of the same negative perceptions as outsiders." Eighty percent of these young church attendees say their church is anti-gay and half said it was judgmental and/or hypocritical.

The issue of hypocrisy brings us back to the survey. If Bible-minded cities are more crime-prone, it indicates that Bible reading and Bible believing have no statistically positive influence on how people behave, and may have a negative one. If you have a city with a much higher percentage of Bible-believers, and if belief in the Bible means living a more "moral" life, then the general crime rates ought to be lower, not higher.

Barna's book actually admits that Christians are no more moral in how they live than are others.

[W]e found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those 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 did not 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 she did, and to have said mean things behind another person's back.

No difference.[p. 45]

Barna says that in spite of evangelicals being no more moral than their non-fundamentalist neighbors, the typical evangelical believes that others refuse to join their church because "they cannot handle the rigorous standards of following Christ." This allows them "to feel like they're better than other people" [p. 51] when the reality is that they don't actually act differently than non-believers.

My experiences coming out of this tradition is that these are people who need to feel superior to others and use their "faith" as the excuse. It isn't meant to make them more moral in any sense, just to feel better about themselves. I think a lot of their anti-gay views come from the same inferiority complex.

Certainly, when it comes to bigotry, Barna says that the perception is such that "when you introduce yourself as a Christian... you might as well have it tattooed on your arm: antihomosexual, gay-hater, homophobic." [p. 93]

The odd thing is Republicans still seem to think this sort of reputation and hypocrisy will help them electorally -- even as Barna is showing this a major reason for the decline of evangelicalism in America.