Live with Beautiful Scenery, Weather? You Probably Don;t Go to Church

It seems like an oxymoron (love that word!).

But would you believe that people who live in the most beautiful places -- foam-tipped crashing waves in their backyard, trees full of birds and lush green bowers of leaves -- are the least religious?  Who else do they think created all this?

Now, before you dismiss me as a bible-thumper, I just marvel at the rush of pink streaking the early morning winter sky or the birds breaking the dawn in the dark in late spring.  I'm not sure how anyone can not see a force greater than themselves in this tableau.

But a new study says that communities with beautiful scenery and weather have lower rates of religious affiliation, according to  And it turns out they're just like me.  It's not about not believing in God, but about seeing the sacred in nature.  

“Beautiful weather, mountains and waterfronts can serve as conduits to the sacred, just like traditional religious congregations,” says lead author Todd W. Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

But the research is not necessarily a measure of whether enjoying the great outdoors tempts people away from going to a place of worship on a lovely weekend, Ferguson says. And “we’re not claiming that residents in areas richer with natural amenities are more likely to create a ‘Church of nature,’” he adds.

Just as natural amenities may be an economic commodity to attract tourists, new residents and developers, they also may be spiritual resources for some of the population — and compete with traditional local religious organizations, researchers say.

For some, nature may enhance what they find in membership or identification with a religious organization, reports.

Then there are the religious “nones” — those who do not identify with any religious tradition but are not necessarily atheists or agnostics — who may find something of the divine in forests, lakes and mountains.

“When a person hikes in a forest to connect with the sacred, that individual may not feel a need to affiliate with a religious group because spiritual demands are being met,” Ferguson says. Some “nones” even may adhere to a nature-based spirituality.


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