Maggie A's Meanderings




 Mar 17, 2013

Hollywood and Religion: How Many Churches Are Too Many?

In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (ep. "What's My Line? Part 2") the viewers are told that the fictional community of Sunnydale has forty-three churches. This was the Hollywood scripted reaction of the characters to that number of churches:

"There are forty-three churches in Sunnydale? That seems a bit excessive." --- Giles
"It's the extra evil vibe from the hellmouth. Makes people pray harder." ---- Willow

Hearing those lines left me dumbfounded back when I first heard them in Buffy's original run, and when I was channel surfing not too long ago and happened to catch the lines again, it still left me dumbfounded with the profound ignorance those lines displayed. What America do these people live in? What perspective do these people have on the importance of religion in America that they would actually think that forty-three churches are a lot?

It reminded me of something that I had done a few years ago when I first saw that Buffy episode in syndication......

Throughout the series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the viewers got a sense of the size community Sunnydale must be.
We knew that Sunnydale was a coastal community in Southern California --- one of the most densely populated areas of the United States. We saw its docks, the shopping mall and the other facilities that Sunnydale had. Based on what we're shown in Buffy, the Sunnydale community was at least the same size and probably much larger than the community I live in. The city of Pensacola has about 50,000 people. The community of the "Greater Pensacola Area" is actually the Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent Metropolitan Statistical Area composed of two counties (Escambia and Santa Rosa) with an overall population of 450,000 people.
So, after watching Buffy, I decided to look up how many churches my community has. I got out the phone book (which covers both counties) and turned to the "Churches" section. There were so many listings I decided to count how many listings in a column and then count columns. By that estimate I came up with about 700 listings for churches (plus 1 Islamic mosque and 2 Jewish temples). 

Seven hundred versus forty-three.

I wonder what the writers and producers of Buffy would have made of that? Seven hundred and Pensacola isn't even sitting on top of a hellmouth to make people here pray harder.

Forty-three?? We have more than 43 Southern Baptist churches alone --- there are 57 Southern Baptist churches out of 179 Baptist churches.

Now, this is the Bible Belt. And it's called that for good reason. There's a three mile loop walk I do, and it wouldn't surprise me if I passed 10 churches on that walk. If that seems unlikely to you, take a scroll around this Google map of Pensacola churches. Since this is the Bible Belt, I expect we do have a higher percentage of churches than other areas of the country. But the idea that we would have 16 times more churches than an equal population in California? No, that I can't swallow.

What I can swallow ---- quite easily ---- is that writers and producers in Hollywood are so out of touch with how other Americans live their lives that they actually thought that 43 churches was excessive.

Hollyweird Sign

Facts & Figures
  • 51,923 - population of city of Pensacola as of 2010 census
  • 448,991 - population of Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent Metropolitan Statistical Area as of 2010 census.
  • 9.5 - pages of entries in the "Churches" section of the Yellow Pages as of 2010 phonebook. When I sat down to write this, I bit the bullet and counted and came up with 672 listings for churches. (Some of the churches may have been listed more than once, where I noticed multiple entries for one church, I consolidated them, but I'm sure I didn't catch every multiple listing.) Still it rounds to 700 making my earlier estimate quite close. (Still only 1 Islamic mosque and 2 Jewish temples.)
  • There's an estimated 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. With a population of 311,591,917 that averages out to one congregation for every 890 people. If the Pensacola community had one religious congregation for every 890 people, it would have 504. That we have more than that doesn't come as a surprise to me. But at 675 "congregations" it's only 34% higher than the national average.
List of Counties in California
Monterey county is considered to be Central California. Wikipedia also describes San Luis Obispo county as part of the Central Coast. If you consider the first "Southern" California county as Santa Barbara county, this is the population by county for all of Southern California's coastal counties (from north to south):
  • Santa Barbara - 423,895
  • Ventura - 823,318
  • Los Angeles - 9,818,605
  • Orange - 3,010,232
  • San Diego - 3,095,313

For more of my commentary on Hollywood's perspective, read "Hollywood Romance: Fiction Versus Fact," or "Hollywood's Bizarre Take on Rape."

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