The faithful are fatter than ever—at least in this country—according to Kenneth Ferraro, a sociologist at the University of Purdue. His analysis of data from two national surveys, published in the Review of Religious Research last March, shows that religious people tend to be more corpulent than their nonreligious counterparts. His findings apply to all major religions in the United States, though American Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists on average weigh less than American Christians.
States with a high rate of religious affiliation—Mississippi, Michigan, and Indiana—have heftier citizens than such strongholds of secularity as Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Colorado. And among denominations, Southern Baptists are the real heavyweights.
Having eaten at Southern Baptist tables every day for the first two decades of my life and intermittently thereafter, I think I know the reason: the food is irresistible. "Southness," in fact, shows up as an indicator of obesity in Ferraro's study. While a person may possibly sustain life on the Lutheran fare lampooned on Prairie Home Companion—tuna hot dish and Jell-O salad—when you eat Sunday dinner at my relatives' tables, you see the point of going to heaven. I grew up believing the celestial banquet table would be spread with fried chicken, buttered biscuits, and pecan pie throughout all eternity.
If Southern Baptists had an official patron saint, it might be Thomas Aquinas, whose 300-pound bulk led his fellow students to nickname him Ox. To judge by the paintings of emaciated saints of the period, however, the massive Aquinas was a rarity in the Middle Ages. Indeed, until recently, our models of piety have been hollow-cheeked, verging on gaunt, as portrayed ...1