Covid-19: Spin Vs. Fact


The Bible Belt

I’m seeing some really hateful rhetoric spewing out of the various secular online communities, much of it directed at the Bible Belt. As an atheist and a resident of Mississippi, I expect better from my contemporaries.

While I’m sure it isn’t all of you or even most of you, I’m very disappointed. Earlier today I was reading an article by Michael Stone at Patheos that points out (as I have also done) the dangers posed by ignoring social distancing guidelines. Many pastors in the South have coerced their flocks back into the churches (some never stopped attending) and the results have often been deadly. Dozens of pastors and hundreds of congregants, perhaps thousands, have contracted the disease and many have died. Stone is for the most part correct, but he spins things a bit to make it appear as if Bible Belt churches have totally dropped the ball. He corrects himself a paragraph or so later, to his credit.

But what surprised me was the hateful comments by others both on Patheos and on Facebook where it was shared on a community of which I am a member. For example:

  • It pleases me when these preacher bite the dust due to their own ignorance, arrogance, and greed. Sadly, they are taking many with them that are not written about.
  • Serves em right.
  • Preachers are asshats and so are their Sheeple followers.
  • They can’t die fast enough.
  • Good riddance to bad garbage
  • Culling the herd
  • Good, the world needs to be rid of ignorance which is the number one enemy

I expect this kind of nonsense from the bigots on the far right. But not from those who supposedly pride themselves in being logical, reasonable, and capable of empathy. I can easily understand their anger and frustration, but as atheists we should rise above the ignorance-fueled hate and prejudice that permeates much of the religious right. We are supposed to be better than them. But many of you are not behaving that way. Judging from the comments above, a lot of you are instead acting like whiny little bitches. You’re adults. Please behave accordingly.

Anyway I decided to run the numbers and see if there was any substance to the claims made in the Patheos article. First, I decided to look into how many pastors inside vs. outside the Bible Belt had died of the virus. I can’t assume complete accuracy here since I didn’t find any statistics specific to the topic of pastors but I did find news articles about pastors dead from the virus in other parts of the country. So, it isn’t just us.

  • Alex Bernard – Desert Reign Church in Downey, CA
  • Bishop Robert Earl Smith Sr and pastor Kevelin Jones – Bountiful Love Ministries in Flint, MI
  • Elder Phillip Parish – Jackson Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint, MI
  • Sixty people in Washington State attended a choir rehearsal in March. 45 took ill and 2 have died – Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Mt Vernon, WA.
  • Pastor Scott Elijah – Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church in Yonkers, NY

More to the point, let’s look at state by state numbers for corona virus deaths. The only way to get an accurate read on whether the Bible Belt has been hit disproportionately hard is to look at the per capita numbers, which I have painstakingly put together in the table below. I’ve highlighted the Bible Belt states. Sources are at the end of the post.

Covid-19 Deaths By State
State Population estimate,
July 1, 2019
Covid-19 Deaths Covid-19 Deaths
Per Capita
Alaska 731545 8 1.09
Hawaii 1415872 17 1.20
Wyoming 578759 7 1.21
Montana 1068778 16 1.50
Utah 3205958 77 2.40
Arkansas 3017825 98 3.25
Oregon 4217737 137 3.25
West Virginia 1792147 64 3.57
Puerto Rico 3193694 122 3.82
Idaho 1787065 73 4.08
Tennessee 6833174 288 4.21
Texas 28995881 1300 4.48
South Dakota 884659 44 4.97
Maine 1344212 69 5.13
North Dakota 762062 42 5.51
North Carolina 10488084 660 6.29
Nebraska 1934408 123 6.36
Kansas 2913314 187 6.42
Oklahoma 3956971 285 7.20
South Carolina 5148714 380 7.38
Wisconsin 5822434 445 7.64
Kentucky 4467673 343 7.68
California 39512223 3192 8.08
Vermont 623989 53 8.49
Florida 21477737 1916 8.92
Arizona 7278717 651 8.94
Missouri 6137428 581 9.47
Alabama 4903185 483 9.85
Iowa 3155070 336 10.65
Nevada 3080156 345 11.20
Virginia 8535519 977 11.45
New Hampshire 1359711 159 11.69
New Mexico 2096829 253 12.07
Minnesota 5639632 692 12.27
Washington 7614893 1008 13.24
Ohio 11689100 1581 13.53
Georgia 10617423 1563 14.72
Mississippi 2976149 493 16.57
Colorado 5758736 1150 19.97
Indiana 6732219 1691 25.12
Delaware 973764 271 27.83
Maryland 6045680 1911 31.61
Pennsylvania 12801989 4432 34.62
Rhode Island 1059361 479 45.22
Michigan 9986857 4825 48.31
Louisiana 4648794 2382 51.24
District of Columbia 705749 368 52.14
Massachusetts 6949503 5592 80.47
Connecticut 3565287 3285 92.14
New Jersey 8882190 10138 114.14
New York 19453561 27755 142.67
Illinois 12671821 4075 227.38

From what I saw it appears that the Bible Belt states are scattered fairly evenly with the rest of the country. As such I’d say that the claims made in the article (most are quotes from other articles) are overblown. Yes, some really stupid southern pastors put their flocks in danger and many of them paid the price. But the problem is not geographical – it’s religious faith itself and the ignorance it engenders. Regardless, we all need to be a bit more civil and considerate of others. We have no right to expect civil discourse when we behave badly ourselves.


3 thoughts on “Covid-19: Spin Vs. Fact

  1. TheChattyIntrovert

    Agree on that. Wishing for some possible retributive karma in the churches or pastors getting sick from Covid just doesn’t help anyone. Yes, I think it’s stupid when options are available to do virtual services, to protect the flock as best they can and prove that’s who they’re there for rather than the empty collection plates.

    I bristle when I read about someone wishing these folks would just “go away,” Plenty of them wish atheists would just “go away,” too, so why feed that antagonism? Not fun at all. This is a serious situation, and wishing for harm to happen to these folks is like chemical warfare: you’re fine where you’re at til the wind changes.


    1. Alan Burkhart Post author

      I grew up in a BMA Baptist church and have a lot of devout Christian friends. I can’t imagine wishing them harm. Sure, some of them can be a pain sometimes but I love them anyway. Several of my friends are Baptist preachers and we have some fiery debates sometimes (usually because of something on my blog). But there’s always respect.

      Liked by 1 person


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