What is the Bible Belt?
The Bible Belt refers to an area in the southeastern United States where Christianity is deeply embedded in everyday life. Sometimes the term Deep South is used to refer to the same region. As the Industrial Revolution spread through the United States during the 1800s, Americans began labeling the United States in belts based on the product they were most associated with.
For example, the Corn and Wheat Belts were found in the Midwest, and the Cotton Belt was located in the South. During this time, the Deep South underwent significant religious revivalism that lead to Christian Protestant fundamentalism, in which believers interpreted the Bible in the most literal sense. These fundamental beliefs have often been weaved into the fabric of every aspect of life within the region.
The specific origin of the label dates back to the mid 1920s. A newspaper reporter for The Baltimore Sun, H.L. Mencken, applied the term to the area while he wrote about a newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, that was in the “heart of the Bible and Lynching Belt.” Originally used as a pejorative by Mencken, the term is now used more widely, and its connotation depends on the speaker.
Although the term "Bible Belt" specifically refers to religion, the term more generally references how Christianity affects the culture, education and politics of the region. Protestant sects of Christianity, such as Baptist, Pentecostal, and Methodist, are most associated with the region. The churches within the area are typically thought to practice fundamentalist Christianity, which involves strict social conservatism. Drinking, gambling, and abortion are a few of the items that are extremely frowned upon within communities in the Deep South.
In regards to education, communities in the Bible Belt have gained attention because of censorship within their schools. Books that are commonly taught in other public schools throughout the United States, such as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been removed from some schools in this region for being sinful and sacrilegious. Additionally, some public schools have banned sex education.
States included in the region are Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. These states have historically almost always voted for the most socially conservative candidates in local and national elections. Since the formation of the modern day Democrat Party in the 1960s, most of the socially conservative candidates are found in the Republican Party. Additionally, media has referred to these politicians and their supporters as the “Christian right” or the “conservative right.”
It is not particular to America to have people who are ignorant of foreign customs. In any nation, the rural areas are homes to people who find people from another nation to be "strange," and have only ever known people who speak their own language. This is not an American phenomenon, and we should be culturally sensitive to our own fellow Americans from such regions.
The Bible belt is often derided for its worst members. People who live far from it and don't know many people from down there stereotype all Baptists as fundamentalists, when the truth is that they aren't. There are many great, intelligent, and funny people from the South who find it difficult to live in new places because they are derided for their accent and traditions.
New England was the original home of the Puritans, but as time went on and Puritans became more and more educated via new learning at the prominent schools they founded such as Yale and Harvard, they began to drift toward a more esoteric knowledge and universalist worldview. Then came the Irish and Italian Catholics, who are now predominant in the area. This has led to a much different demographic in New England than in the South, except for Florida, where elderly New Englanders and other north-easterners go to retire.
Before the large revivals in the South, it was the Northeast that was considered to be the home of devout Protestantism in the colony. The South was largely known to be a place of vice and rough pirate-like pioneers and swindlers. Nowadays, the devoutness of regions seems to have switched, with New England often being called the "church-planter's graveyard" by Evangelicals.
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