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The Bible Belt

The term “Bible Belt” is not an exact description. It is used rather loosely to refer to a region of the United States where socially conservative evangelical Protestantism holds sway: roughly the southeastern quarter of the American continent stretching west into most of the state of Texas. The term was coined in 1924 by the iconoclastic American writer H.L. Mencken. Church attendance in these regions tends to be higher than the national average. Most of the major evangelical protestant universities of the nation are in this region and a good deal of television evangelical programming originates there. In some areas, it is common to see large billboards with evangelical Christian content. Religious references may also enter into common speech in the area: an example being told “God Bless You” where elsewhere the response might be a simple “Thank You.”

While many religious denominations are associated with the “Bible Belt,” the deepest connection is with the Baptists.

From a standpoint of the northern, east coast or west coast secular society, the term “Bible Belt” is often used pejoratively. This may also be the case among the so-called mainstream protestant denominations outside (or even inside) the region: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc., and among the nation’s Roman Catholics. Bear in mind that the area’s social conservatism has political ramifications, particularly relating to issues of abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, public support for private schools, and many other social issues. Evangelical Christians tend to be associated with the political phenomenon call the “Religious Right.” These groups are active in many other parts of the United States, but not with the same intensity as in the south.

Of course many other religious, political and social influences are current in these areas. The United States is well-wired, with national media and a national identity that is not always beholden to regions. In intelligent, thoughtful discussion it may well be best to avoid the “Bible Belt” reference, as it does tend to oversimplify. That said, if you’re looking for indications of the phenomenon, and you travel to the south, you will find them without much difficulty.

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