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Mormons score highest on 'Religious Health-O-Meter'

Published: Sunday, Dec. 15 2013 9:00 p.m. MST

A visual representation of the official website of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Visual Communication Guy

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have recently shared a graphic on social media created by Curtis Newbold, featuring 11 of the largest religions in America and how they ranked regarding their spiritual health.

After gathering information from the Pew Research Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2008, Newbold found the LDS Church ranked the highest for its religious health. Newbold divided the data into two categories to define religious health: happiness and religious devotion.

Happiness was determined by whether members were married, had some college experience and earned more than $50,000 per year. Religious devotion was determined by whether members attend church at least weekly, if religion is important in their lives and if they reported having prayers answered multiple times a month.

On the graphic, Newbold notes that "the scores don't reflect an actual indication of a religious people's happiness and devotion, but simply make a comparison of each religion's potential well-being to the others'."

But most surprising to Newbold was the distinction between religions that consistently scored high in only the happiness category and others that scored high in only the religiously devoted category.

"What I found was fascinating: That religions, churches, whose members have the highest education, make the most money and are married — factors that are repeatedly shown to relate to personal happiness — tend to be least religiously devoted, at least in terms of attending church, praying and considering religion important," Newbold told the Deseret News.

"And the opposite also appeared to be the case: Those who were highly religiously devoted tended to not make much money, not be comparatively highly educated and married less."

While most religions have fallen under one or the other, the LDS Church seemed to be an outlier.

"I'm not sure what I really expected when I reviewed the data — and I'm not the person who conducted the original study, by any means," Newbold said. "But I know that I was surprised to find such a disparity between education/wealth and religious devotion. And it was a bit surprising to me to find only one religion, the Mormons, who scored in the top half in all six categories."

Although all of the information was taken from the same study, Newbold was quick to point out that this graphic represents only one way of viewing the data.

"The health-o-meter is simply one (my personal) interpretation of how we might look at the Pew Research," Newbold said. "It is interesting, from my perspective, that few churches tend to rank high in all six categories. Of course, many different conclusions might be made of this, and there are many other factors that we might consider to determine 'religious health.'"

Since publishing his work, Newbold has been overwhelmed by the response he's received.

"I've been pleasantly surprised by the response. Some have noted the statistical shortcomings in the graphic, and I acknowledge those. But by and large, most seem to appreciate the visualized data as one way to reflect on the data," Newbold said. "I would encourage others to further investigate the Pew Research Religious Landscape Survey and see what other conclusions may be drawn."

As the creator of Visual Communication Guy, Newbold said this project was something he was interested in.

"I have a general fascination with religion, and so I am often intrigued by what research might provide us, insight in regard to faith," Newbold said. "Obviously, I also love visual communication, and so I am always looking for ways to visualize information or talk about visual information."

Newbold previously created other graphics that have also been well-received. It was after that interest increased that he decided to create the Health-O-Meter. In another of Newbold's most popular posts he highlighted the visual content of America's 20 largest religious institutions and evaluated which images were used to promote Christianity.

"I was intrigued to learn that few (religions), only three, use images of Christ to promote their message," Newbold said. "Other churches use advertisements to promote conferences, images of leadership in the churches, images of edifices and images of people doing service to others."

Newbold received a PhD from Clemson University in rhetorics, communication, and information design and is currently a professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com

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