Graphic Sources: Baptists, Protestants, Poverty, Disease, Abuse

A set of seven maps without good attribution1 has been circulating lately.

I haven’t yet seen a version large enough to read any of the tiny print, but managed nevertheless to piece together the sources from the (large) captions and from a few strategic image searches. The original sources are as varied as the statistics they represent.

Graphic of unknown provenance.
Graphic of unknown provenance.

I interpret the message of this collection of maps as intending to evoke an immediate, visceral response while saying effectively, in seven pictures, that “the South is poor and diseased”, “the children in the South are abused and killed at alarming rates”, and “the South is dominated by fundamentalist cults”. It is a political message.

But, after the propaganda has done its work, it is still necessary to ask questions and look for more information toward developing a working framework of explanation.

Taking an approximate cue from the graphic, the various issues it raises are treated in the following sections

  1. Protestants
  2. Education
  3. Poverty
  4. Diabetes
  5. Child Maltreatment
  6. Slavery
  7. Conclusions
  8. References and Notes
  9. Other and related

In postscript, the following were added

  1. Update and articles
  2. Update (II)

Which came first, the attraction and domination of fundamentalist cults or the poverty and disregard for human life? The questions we are forced to ask are as interesting — possibly more interesting — than the few facts represented in this assembled graphic.

Evangelical Protestant Denominations

The first part I’ll look at is in the upper left corner, where we see a map labeled “Protestants”; at the top, it reads, “Rates of Adherence per 1,000 Population (2010)”. The source of the screen-captured graphic can be found at Association of Religion Data Archives. The link from this graphic goes to a page showing a broad overview of religious adherence in the U.S. Filtering on the available demographic data sources made available gives something like this: 2


Before we continue, you should begin to be a little bit suspicious about the juxtaposition, devoid of inquiry. For example, you might be aware of the rhetoric of some American Christians sects in which abundant hints of “prosperity” and “victory” are tightly interwoven with the older Christian message of “salvation” and “forgiveness”. Knowing of that message would give you a perspective on this selected demographic, seeking (or promoting) — and clearly not finding — something very specific in a two-century-old cult.

You might also be made aware of another piece, and knowing this might alter the way you interpret parts of this data and parts of the data of the rest of these maps.

According to the ARDA, who break out numbers of black adherents of Protestant sect (but not Catholic or any other sect — which I find odd), the highest numbers of black adherents in specifically Protestant denominations is greatest in California, the South, and Texas — but also represented in areas surrounding the Great Lakes. Well, no fault to the ARDA, but this is a dumb number. After all, U.S. census data and community surveys simply show that these are places where black people live in higher numbers. 3

This is to be contrasted sharply by rates of adherence (per 1,000) for the same subgrouping: That geographic area very much resembles the one shown just above, but more constrained to the states between Louisiana and South Carolina. That suggests to me a degree of separation and a level of marginalization among religious sects, in addition to the separation and marginalization in all of the following areas measured and represented: Education, personal wealth, health, child welfare, and even the repetition of particular narratives.

Incidentally, I find it very interesting that, in addition to statistics concerning religious minutia (fairly good, in fact, see their stats on Heaven’s Gate proselytizing) and considering, again, they track black Evangelicals but not black Catholics — the ARDA is very interested, almost inordinately interested in aggregating and presenting data on crime, wealth and property, and political affiliation. The latter, in particular, being presented as a prominent menu item at the top of the page: “U.S. Congregational Membership”. I found very little attention paid to education; just two breakouts among all the data on race and ethnicity, political affiliation, income, etc., concerning teacher pay and the numbers of Bachelor degrees per capita.

The “Baptists” graphic below “Protestants” aggregates data from the ARDA and the U.S. Census Bureau. The source of this particular graphic (below) is from supporting course material for a second year class (‘geo200’) at Valparaiso University, “American Ethnic Geography: A Cultural Geography of the United States and Canada”.

[Note: The image (below) is copyrighted by SSRC. As shown (linked to an SSRC blog entry, see4) — the image was used in support of a divergent point about the link between a political party and sectarian membership. I cannot help but notice that no such correlation is often (ever?) cited which shows the link between sectarian membership and the well-documented phenomena of poverty, disease, and child welfare. That said, Richard Florida, in an article cited 5 in the linked blog entry, rightly identifies that the ‘Politicos on the left and right like to explain religious voters’ proclivity purely in terms of values. But this misses a central point – that religion is inextricably bound up with the nation’s underlying economic and geographic class divide.’ One must respond to that by asking what role cult adherence has in perpetuating these conditions for which the cult is perceived, in turn, as claiming to solve.]

Baptists as percentage of residents

Given just this comparison with other major cults and sects, one might derive an idea that Baptist sect is largely interested in displacing other sects and in preventing their establishment. This is not far from the truth as it is experienced.

By way of a brief jumping off point to enquire after the strange ideas Americans have concerning religion and ethnicity, not to mention the loose standards for college-level academia, the class name associated with the original source of the above graphic posted a set of assumptions that required some sorting through, to the effect:

American Ethnic Geography

The U.S. Census Bureau, due to issues related to the separation of church and state, does not ask questions related to faith or religion on the decennial census. Accordingly, there are few sources of comprehensive data on church membership and religious affiliation for the United States…

This strikes me as a strange statement in preface for a second year college course. For one thing, a veritable flood of data exists for religious affiliation in the U.S.; whether few sources or not, though, it seems strange, too, to blame a government agency for failing to keep track of sectarian divisions. Is that something one expects of a government?

Enter the The “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study” (RCMS), a product of the ARDA, given with the assurance that “This study is not for marketing purposes…” 6 Indeed, I should hope that it is not for marketing purposes, insofar as the ARDA operates from the “Social Science Research Institute” at Pennsylvania State University and is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, Lilly Endowment, Chapman and Pennsylvania State Universities.7

High School Graduates

The top-center graphic, labelled “Education”, has a caption reading “High School Graduates”; the only graphic of the seven having a prominent logo.

The “Rural Assistance Center” 8 (RAC) is a product of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also provide resources for visualizing data — and this map, using the U.S. Census Bureau as data source, is a static page there. 9

Education map, RAC


The “Poverty” graphic in the top right, having a red, blue, white color scheme, is taken from a 2007 paper by James B. Holt, “The Topography of Poverty in the United States: A Spatial Analysis Using County-Level Data From the Community Health Status Indicators Project” 10

Poverty map, CDC

It is worth quoting directly from his paper:
(description of the above figure)

Classification of counties by rate of poverty and spatial situation. The distinctive north–south divide across most of the United States, in which concentrations of low poverty and spatial outliers of high poverty are confined to the northern half, and concentrations of high poverty and spatial outliers of low poverty are confined to the southern half, is termed the continental poverty divide. Data source: Community Health Status Indicators 10

It is as equally worthwhile, in addition to reading the entire paper, to note some contrasting bits of information found in this map, from the same paper:

Regional poverty
(description of the above figure)

Five areas are highlighted, in addition to the ‘Continental Poverty Divide’, in which historical, social and geographic sources of poverty can be identified.

I will leave it to the reader [for now] as an exercise to determine the nature and extent of persistent poverty in the highlighted areas.


The regions match, so you might be inclined to think that any near match would confirm the point being made: that Christianity — that Protestantism and Evangelical cult — is implicated by virtue of juxtaposition in the suffering. By my estimation, the statistics on health and diet seem to be overkill, given the poverty numbers.

The “Diabetes” graphic in the center might come from the Diabetes Interactive Atlas on the CDC website 11. Indeed, it is overkill. 12 13 The first question I have is whether poverty isn’t in fact enough of a metric to make a strong point. As with information about Baptists added to Protestants, nothing is necessarily added by highlighting the incidence of a disease related to blood sugar. Maybe no existing religious organization in the U.S. is capable of dealing with the health of The Faithful. It wouldn’t be fair to say, based just on this graphic, but that seems to be what is being pushed here.

Child Maltreatment and Death

Tentatively, image sourced from:
See also
“Child Abuse Statistics & Facts”
“Children’s Bureau”

It’s extraordinarily difficult to sift through this data. The difficulty is in the volume of data and in the implications of such data: The numbers quickly sober the investigator to the magnitude of abuse and suffering. An excerpt from “Child Maltreatment, 2013” (p.56) 14 reads:

Four-fifths (78.9%) of child fatalities involved parents acting alone, together, or with other individuals. Perpetrators without a parental relationship to the child accounted for 17.0 percent of fatalities. Child fatalities with unknown perpetrator relationship data accounted for 4.2 percent 15

The most immediate implication of this data set may be that the vague fear parents may have, thinking perhaps that “strangers” have a generally deleterious effect on their children, is somewhat misplaced: The greatest threat to the well-being of children is, according to the collected information, parents!


I can only guess that the intention of the “Slavery” graphic, added to the bottom of the collection, was included to imply that lines delimiting the “Protestant”/”Baptist” area have remained unchanged for over a century. This may or may not be true and it may or may not be relevant. The source of the graphic: An upload to Wikipedia, namely:


The graphic, “US SlaveFree1846 Wilmot” being part of an animated illustration in the subsection of the article Wilmot Proviso


The images collected in this graphic suggest many different messages, some of which are more inflammatory than others. It’s difficult to come to hard conclusions without researching their many sources and following more meaningful data. Having done some of that, I am left with more questions, the first of which is: Which comes first, the attraction to and domination of fundamentalist cults or poverty and disregard for human life?

A particular subset of Christian cult has dominated the American South for over two-hundred years. I interpreted the map as intending to communicate a message, to evoke an immediate, visceral response. The response doesn’t do any work and the message doesn’t tell the whole story. It is still necessary to developing a working theory.

Update: If you build it…

Or, in this case, deconstruct and write it…then others may follow.

Back in the summer of 2013, when I first saw this picture of little demographic maps being posted on various forums, I thought it might be useful to try to break out the sources and attempt some relevant commentary (as time allowed). As I recall, there didn’t seem to be a lot of ‘map’ treatments in popular press at the time, showing stark differences that existed and still do exist with respect to poverty, disease, child welfare, and so forth.

Since this writing, others have taken up the task similarly. Some make a more vivid political statement than I did, others still better written or adding more intuitive maps. Please see these excellent write-ups:

Josh Sager (The Progressive Cynic) writes similarly, but taking the more overtly political angle in Red America vs. Blue America: State Maps Illustrate the Difference

Matthew Yglesias writes for Slate, How Blue America Subsidizes Red America

Writing for New Republic, Jonathan Cohn Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala: A theory of a divided nation

John S Kiernan, States Most & Least Dependent on the Federal Government

[Amateur — March 2015]

Other Orthogonal

I suppose I’ll just keep appending references to articles I happen upon.

See this geographical representation of average student loan balance, debt delinquency, and median income showing the “…three key points about the nature of student debt and who it impacts”:

Mapping Student Dept

Among the credited contributors:
* Kavya Vaghul, Research Analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth
* Marshall Steinbaum, Research Economist at the Center for Equitable Growth

[Amateur — December 2015]

Related reading

A Kick to the Face, A Blessing On Your Head

one (or more) cult’s promotion of retribution as a sacrament

The Nested Dolls of The Desired Fix

a terrible title, but a peek into some root-causes, denial, exploitation

When “Putting into Perspective” is Denial and Deflection

Which is more deadly, a protracted war on the other side of the world, truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel, or the proliferation of weapons?

Of Angels, not Men

on meaning, on purpose, on being seen and being hidden

  1. If you know the person who cobbled these images together into the briefly popular internet meme, please do let me know. 
  2. “Evangelical Protestant Denominations–Total Number of Congregations (2010)” and “Evangelical Protestant Denominations–Total Number of Adherents (2010)” 
  3. United States Census Bureau / American FactFinder. “S0201: Selected Population Profile in the United States.” (2013) – American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (
  4. Phillip Quintero, ‘Looking at religiosity and the Bible Belt’_ SSRC Blog, 2012-04-12 (
  5. {pending} 
  6. (see) 
  7. Roger Finke, Christopher D. Bader, Edward C. Polson. “A Growing Web of Resources: The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)”. Review of Religion Research (2007) 
  8. From the ‘about’ page: “A product of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Rural Initiative, the Rural Assistance Center (RAC) was established in December 2002 as a rural health and human services “information portal.” RAC helps rural communities and other rural stakeholders access the full range of available programs, funding, and research that can enable them to provide quality health and human services to rural residents.” 
  9. James B. Holt. “The topography of poverty in the United States: a spatial analysis using county-level data from the Community Health Status Indicators project”. Prev Chronic Dis 2007;4(4). Accessed [2013-08-04]. 
  11. The Diabetes Report Card required under the Catalyst to Better Diabetes Care Act of 2009, (the last report was in 2012) which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (Section 10407 of Public Law 111-148, hereafter called the Affordable Care Act). The act states that the report card should be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every 2 years and include data about diabetes and pre-diabetes, preventive care practices, risk factors, quality of care, diabetes outcomes, and, to the extent possible, trend and state data. [quote]:

    Because awareness of prediabetes is low, we anticipate that the percentage of people who are aware that they have prediabetes will rise as diabetes prevention efforts progress.

  12. Supplemental to that, “County-level Estimates of Obesity among Adults aged ≥ 20 years old Trends 2004 – 2011”, a series of representative maps depicting the changes in obesity over the time period, divided by age and gender, color coded by county. (; These maps might just as well track the increase of sugar in foods affordable by the poorest. It may also show the consequences of giving subsidies to industrial food processing plants while taking away medical services from those who need it the most. 
  13. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. “data provided by the states to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems.” (
  14. “Child Maltreatment, 2013” page ii, 56. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (
    The Associate Commissioner was pleased to present a comprehensive set of statistics due the over-all improvement from previous collection cycles. Nevertheless, the numbers were still disturbing and sobering. Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies found (and aggregated in this report) that:
    * From 2009-2013, overall rates of victimization declined: “only” 679,000 victims (2013), compared with 702,000 victims in 2009.
    * Despite declining victimization numbers, the rates of CPS response increased to 3,188,000 (2013) from 3,043,000 (2009). [States provide possible explanations for the increase in Appendix D, State Commentary]
    * Nationally, approximately
    — 80% of victims were neglected,
    — 18% were physically abused,
    — 9% were sexually abused and
    — 9% were psychologically maltreated.
    * For 2013, a nationally estimated 1,520 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.04 children per 100,000 children in the national population. (consider these numbers while meditating on the [numbers of deaths associated with firearm abuse and rates of homicide