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Bible Belt

From Academic Kids

The Bible Belt, highlighted in red
The Bible Belt, highlighted in red

The Bible Belt is an area including a number of southern states in the United States in which fervent Evangelical Protestantism is a pervasive part of the culture. The stronghold of the Bible Belt is typically U.S. Southern states, due to the colonial foundations of state religions in the region. The major forms were of Tidewater Anglicanism after the Church of England and Appalachia Presbyterianism after the Church of Scotland.

Contents

Geography

Although exact boundaries do not exist, it is generally considered to cover much of the area stretching from Texas north to Kansas, east to Virginia, and south to northern Florida. The term is also sometimes used to describe the generally conservative province of Alberta, in Canada, or the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Utah is often called the "Bible Belt of the West".

Nashville, Tennessee, in addition to being referred to as "Music City, U.S.A.", is sometimes also referred to as "the buckle of the Bible Belt". This play on words is especially favored by Nashvillians due to the large (jokingly referred to as "dinner plate sized") belt buckles stereotypically worn by country music artists and the fact that several Protestant denominations are headquartered in Nashville. The relationship between American country music and evangelical Christianity is not necessarily a completely coterminous one. Many other cities and towns are commonly called the "buckle of the Bible Belt," including Greenville, South Carolina, home of Bob Jones University, Tulsa, home of Oral Roberts University; Dayton, Tennessee, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and Abilene, Texas, home of Abilene Christian University.

Geographical extent

In terms of demographics, the belt may in fact be most accurately described as extending westward to include most of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico, and perhaps even farther into New Mexico. The accuracy of this expanded schema, however, rests on the question of whether demographic proportion of evangelical Christians (or "fundamentalist Christians") is sufficient to include an area as being part of the Belt, or whether other cultural characteristics are necessary. These cultural characteristics might exclude the more westerly regions from the Bible Belt, due to their substantially different history from the Southeast. Even with the presently accepted boundaries (as indicated on the map in this article), it possible to theorize that the Bible Belt could be divided into two or more sub-regions, at least one of which could include the westernmost section -- including Texas -- as being distinctive from the deep South and most of the Southeastern United States. It is possible that the extent of the Bible Belt has grown in recent decades, expanding northward and westward; indeed, evangelical Christianity has grown significantly in the United States in recent years. It is also possible, however, that populations in these areas more recently recognized as heavily evangelical have not substantially changed but were not perviously acknowledged as forming part of the Belt.

Political, Cultural Context

The term Bible Belt is used mainly, but not uniquely, by detractors of or negative anti-protestant commentators about a people or region that is said to be very religious, perhaps too religious. The term is not strictly regional, like flyover country or the less negative heartland, but is often used to describe the middle of the country in a way that diminishes that region. Politically, the term is often a shorthand to describe cultural conservatives whose beliefs in part stem from the Christian Bible.

Some facts contradict, color or challenge the current use of the term:

1. The South is currently majority Baptist, with a significant amount of African-American adherents.

2. The Coastal Southeast of Florida has a low religious attendance among Protestant adherents, like the industrial Midwest. Protestant attendance is highest in a "Bible Strip" in from Texas through the Plains to the Dakotas.

3. Religious attendance is highest among Catholics, who often attend mass daily, and geographically, Christian attendance is highest on the Coasts, which are majority Catholic, and along the sunbelt, in cities like Boston, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.

4. The biggest change in 50 years in religious attendance is the significant drop in Protestant attendance in the industrial midwest and the Northeast. Because the Midwest is majority Protestant, there is still a significant number of active Protestant adherents attending church in the region. Because the Northeast (or West Coast) is majority Catholic, the diminished number of Protestants attending church has left the bicoastal regions without the large Protestant churches. This reduction in Protestant churches, relative to the rest of the country especially the South, has created an anomolous situation whereby the center of gravity of American Protestantism has moved to the middle and south, policitically and culturally cleaving these regions.

5. Finally, because Protestants put a bigger emphasis on personal Bible instruction away from any Priestly class, it might be said that Protestantism is more associated with the term Bible Belt or the nasty, "Bible Thumpers", than is Catholicism. If attendance were the key context for this term, then in truth, the "Church Buckles" of Boston, New York, Miami, and LA would be America's centers of religious adherants and attendance. But since the term is used to describe a religious people with a strong association with bible literalism, with a deep connection to the South and rural plains, and with social and political beliefs that agnostics negatively compare to provincialism and anti-intellectualism, its use is widespread. In reaction or revenge, the more rabid citizens of the Bible belt have developed negative stereotypes of the coasts and urban areas, which they wrongly describe as godless, decadent, or centers of criminality. In truth, the two coasts are just as religious (because of their majority Catholic population) and quite wealthy and civil.

Term

The "belt" terminology is common in the U.S. to describe regions with a roughly east-west orientation that share a feature, such as the Rust Belt, a term to describe declining industrial areas of the northeast and upper midwest, and the Sun Belt, a term for hot-weather states stretching from coast to coast.


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