New Jersey is God-Fearing, Not So Much Devil-Fearing

My pal J.D.

You know what they say about New Jersey. No, not that thing. The other thing: Only the strong survive. If this is so, basic science literacy is just barely surviving, though starving, abused, and neglected.

Though I make my home in Maine and have spent years in Virginia and DC, I am a native New Jerseyan. Not only do I trace my cultural origins to the Garden State (I was born in Denver, but we left when I was not even a year old), but I have the rare distinction of being from both North and South Jersey, which, as anyone who has lived in Jersey knows, are essentially two different countries.

So I felt like I knew the place. Jersey. Certainly not the Center of Enlightenment, but still metropolitan, densely-populated, pretty well-educated (save for some blighted urban areas), and generally part of the wall of Blue States that have opted to continue plodding into the 21st Century.

Then Monmouth University releases a poll, and my ancestral pride is smashed.

In its new survey (PDF), Monmouth shows that a meager 51% of New Jerseyans accept evolution, while the correspondingly-jaw-dropping 49% reject it.

It couldn’t be, I thought. That’s not my state.

Only 69% of college graduates accept evolution (and I think I went to college with some of them, and I think they were marine biology majors at that).

Happily, a full 20% consider the Bible to be wholly fictional, which is a little better than the rest of the country, and NJ also improves on the U.S. at large on the literalism question, with 24% thinking the Bible is inerrant, versus 30% nationwide.

I’m still reeling, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. Though Jersey is often thought of as essentially a crowded outcropping of Manhattan, it also sports a surprising rural demographic in the south, where, let’s just say, education is not as highly valued as it might be in, say, Princeton or Edison. There are also many urban areas crushed by poverty and crime that probably get no familiarity with basic scientific concepts. And there is also a substantial conservative bloc of wealthy religious conservatives that keep electing House Members like this guy who want our kids to learn intelligent design in science classes. It’s not San Francisco, in other words.

Monmouth did something interesting with this poll, though, in that they didn’t limit their look at New Jerseyan supernaturalism to the Abrahamic god. They also asked about our state’s pet demon-thing, the Jersey Devil.

Now I spent my teen years right in the middle of Jersey Devil Country — I even lived right off of Jimmie Leeds Road (the Leeds name is associated with the creature, and I was even told as a kid that the legend is that a member of the Leeds family in the 1700s who was impregnated by Satan gave birth to the Jersey Devil… I was told how it came out, flew around the room, screeched, and escaped, and then I had many nightmares). But the only people who ever talked about the thing were my grandparents, and that was just to scare me, which it did.

Well, it seems the Leeds Devil is losing his mythical potency — a mere 11% of South Jerseyans still believe.

And I don’t believe in him, either. That’s right, not at all.

Okay, but I will say that I’m a lot more scared of him than I am of Yahweh. What does that say about me?!

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • eonL5

    Fellow NJ-native-now-Mainah!

    Those whose home town is Princeton considered it a separate country all its own, never mind Northern and Southern NJ.

    But then such separations are true of just about every state, aren’t they?

    • http://www.near-earth.com Paul Fidalgo

      Probably, but I find it so funny because NJ is so tiny compared to, say, Pennsylvania, which of course is Philly and Pittsburgh on the sides and Alabama in the middle, as they say.

  • http://www.chickhammer.com/ Ashley

    I lived in South Jersey until college- they put the fear of the Jersey Devil in me, too.  I live near DC now and the haunted hayrides around here just aren’t the same without him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregm766 Gregory Marshall

    I saw a New Jersey Devil, actually a bunch of them. They were being chased around by Rangers from New York and they were all chasing a little black object and hitting it with sticks.

    • BrentSTL

      And a New Jersey Devil named Peter DeBoer was actually trying to kick the ass of a Ranger named John Tortorella the other night. I would have paid good money to see that happen! ;)

  • Gringa

    I’m from the Jersey Shore… and no, those people on tv are NOT from NJ and we hate them.  We don’t consider ourselves north or south Jersey, and the Jersey Devil myth wasn’t as prominent near us.  However, have you heard that animal that screams at night?  I think it’s some type of bat or cat.  Whenever we heard it, we said it was the Jersey Devil.  After moving to DC I heard one behind our condo and I told my husband that the Jersey Devil had followed me to forever torture me for leaving the Garden State.

  • BenofSoCal

    Okay, but I will say that I’m a lot more scared of him than I am of
    Yahweh. What does that say about me?!

    That you’re not too adept with the decision-making process.  Yahweh is far more cruel.  And the New Jersey Devil can only “devil” you in this life.  Yahweh (if he were real) would drag you into another afterlife where he can torture you eternally.

  • Chris Kilroy

    I, too, was shocked to read these results. I am a native New Jerseyan, born and raised. I’ve since moved to Alabama where I have lived for about 15-16 years now. I wear my NJ heritage as a badge of pride down here, knowing that when it gets bad in the “Bible Belt” there is always somewhere better, more educated, less ignorant. The land of my birth, which endowed me with a fantastic public education, could be counted on to be a place of hope. Now, I’m not so sure. I was also brought up, especially during camp-outs, with fantastic stories of the Leeds Devil – and maybe you heard of the Blue Mist? – those amazing things that went bump in the night in the Pine Barrens. I have to say I fear the Jersey Devil more than Jehovah, but even more, I fear the ignorance that is overtaking the American populace, even in places like NJ. 

  • http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com/ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth

     Hey,  some of us southerners find Yahweh-Yeshua evil!
     http://buy-bull.posterous.com


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