"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Fine tuning on religion

The outlines of the Northwest on religion are clear enough. In most of southern Idaho and in patches of eastern Oregon and Washington, Mormons are dominant. The Seattle and Portland metro areas are relatively secular. Evangelicals are strong in many of the suburban areas. And so forth.

The latest study out of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life doesn’t break down below state levels, but it goes beyond the labels and tags: Almost uniquely, it goes after specific beliefs and actions.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho vary more or less under this type of lens generally as you’d expect they would. But the differences are enlightening anyway.

Some of the numbers seem a little unexpected out of context; among adherents generally, evangelical Christians (26% nationally) account for 25% in Washington and 30% in Oregon, but just 22% in Idaho; but you have to bear in mind that Mormons are counted separately from them, and they are estimated at 23% in Idaho, but 5% in Oregon and just 2% in Washington. Add the two (which makes sense, since despite their theological differences they have many social policy similarities) and you get 27% in Washington, 35% in Oregon and 45% in Idaho. A picture emerges.

(Add to this: The percentage of Roman Catholics is higher in Idaho, at 18%, than in Washington’s 16% or Oregon’s 14%. )

The more provocative stuff comes under the “beliefs and practices” tab.

The Pew study found that nationally, 71% of Americans believe in God (or “universal spirit,” which may open a door for some non-traditionalists) with absolute certainty, and another 17% are “fairly certain”; the small remainder are less so. Washington and Oregon score almost identically on those two categories at 64% WA/63% OR and 19%/both. Idaho, interestingly, scores higher than both (no suprise) but almost almost exactly at the national average – 71%/14%. (The national average is driven up by very high figures in the southern non-Florida states.)

Try this question: Is there only one proper way, or more than one appropriate way, to interpret the teachings of your religion? Only one way in Washington is 25%, and in Oregon 26%. In Idaho, it jumps in a big way, to 39%. Utah’s, in case you were wondering, is 45%; but Idaho (with Mississippi) ties for second place among the 50 states on this measure.

Then consider this one: Is your faith the one, true (exclusive) faith leading to eternal life; or, could more than one faith do so? The national average on this is 24%, which is about where Oregon (24%) and Washington (25%) are. But look at Idaho: 34% say they have the one true faith. Among the 50 states, only Utah (at 50%), Mississippi and Alabama outscored Idaho on this.

Highly provocative stuff, with significant political implications.

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