Recently, the Barna Group released results from a survey it conducted on the most "Bible-minded" cities in America. Chattanooga ranked as one of the highest cities on the list (along with Knoxville). According to the Barna Group, 52% of Chattanoogans are "Bible-minded." The overall trend is not that surprising: the South ranks as the most religious region in the US, and New England as the least. Outside of Tennessee, Birmingham, AL, Jackson, MS, Charlotte, NC, and Lynchburg, VA scored high, with Providence, RI, Albany, NY, Burlington, VT, Hartford, CT, and Boston, MA as some of the least religious cities.
Over at Religion Dispatches, Brent Plate cites some problems with this survey. On a more practical level, I have been thinking about what it means to teach in one of America's most religious cities. I think that my colleagues in the philosophy and religion department at UTC would not be surprised that Chattanooga ranks high as a community of professed Christians. But I doubt that my colleagues would praise the religious knowledge of Chattanoogans.
It would be interesting to expand the Barna survey on cities in the South to determine what residents actually know about the Bible, and Christian theology more generally. I would especially be interested in finding out how the Midwest (where I grew up) compares on Bible knowledge with the South. Although many of the students who take my classes have been raised in Christian denominations, I am always surprised when I ask basic questions about doctrine and find myself facing two or three dozen blank stares. Basic questions about the formation of the biblical canon, the Trinity, the theology of Calvinists vs. Arminians and the like are met with puzzled faces and, often, silence. What is striking to me is that so many southerners attend church, but do not seem to know the content of the Gospels or Pauline epistles. I have met only a few people, for instance, outside the ministry who could provide a cursory exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.
The good news is that UTC students seem very interested in learning about the history of Christianity, theology, and the content of the Bible. But I wonder why southerners go to church regularly if they don't seem to show an interest in retaining the religion that is presumably preached from the pulpit. Is the prevalence of religion in the South better explained in terms of family tradition than commitment to a certain set of beliefs and actions?