Massachusetts ranks among nation’s most secular states

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BOSTON – Massachusetts, known for its rich Irish-Catholic traditions and history, also has a reputation as one of the nation’s most liberal and secular states, and several recent surveys support the notion that the Bay State is dominated by spiritual skeptics.

Massachusetts showed up as the fourth-least religious state in 2013, trailing all three of its northern New England neighbors, according to a Gallup poll released in February 2014. Vermont topped that ranking, followed by New Hampshire and Maine.

Although 67 percent of Massachusetts residents affiliate with some religious faith, including 58 percent who are Christians, only 40 percent say they have an “absolutely certain” belief in God, according to a Pew Research Center study released in 2014.

The nonprofit research organization in Washington said 26 percent of respondents said they were “fairly certain” God exists, and 18 percent said there is no God. By comparison, in 2007, 60 percent professed their certainty that God exists, and 22 percent said they were fairly certain, while just 8 percent said they don’t believe in God.

In 2013, a third of respondents said faith is “very important” in their lives, while 30 percent said it was “somewhat important.”In 2007, the proportions were 40 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Only 23 percent said they attend any form of religious service at least weekly, while 45 percent said they seldom or never go to religious services.

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Helping to cement the view of Massachusetts as a more secular place than the rest of the U.S., an American Bible Society poll of metropolitan areas in 2015 ranked the Boston-to-Manchester, New Hampshire, region as the third-least “Bible-minded,” while the Providence, Rhode Island area, which includes New Bedford in southeastern Massachusetts, ranked dead last.

Conducted by the Barna Group, a research organization that focuses on faith and culture, the survey sought to determine how people perceive the Bible and how often they use it. Birmingham, Alabama, ranked No. 1, while overall in the U.S., just 27 percent of the population was shown to be Bible-minded.

A separate Barna survey ranked the Boston metro area third on its 2015 list of the top “post-Christian” regions in America, up from seventh in 2013, because 65 percent of Boston residents met at least nine of 15 criteria, including infrequent or nonexistent church involvement, a lack of belief in God and not considering faith an important part of life.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.