3/13/09

An Atheist in Mississippi

Mississippi state welcome signImage via Wikipedia

In perusing various atheist blogs, I have learned that if I take the time to dig beneath the surface and check out some of the older posts, I often find missed gems. Back in 2007, Bligbi wrote a short post titled, "An atheist in Jesusland." The post referenced her experience in during a recent trip back to Mississippi (where she spent her youth) and ended with:
I was only there for a few days, but it was stressful as hell without my aunt getting in on the act, but that’s another post. I can’t begin to imagine the stress other atheists, non-believers, disbelievers and doubters are under.
I can't argue with that, as my experience confirms it. Of course, my experience may differ since I moved her as an adult and had not so much as visited prior to doing so (other than the interview). Had I grown up here, I suspect that I would have a different take on life in Mississippi as an atheist. I would know much more, and I would probably be even more reluctant about expressing my thoughts on religion. Why? Because I would have a greater understanding of the consequences of doing so.

It is stressful here for many reasons. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be the pervasive nature of religion in the daily life of nearly everyone here. Social lives are centered on church. Education is centered around church. Businesses flaunt their Christianity to attract customers. Vehicles are adorned with religious paraphernalia. It makes me feel claustrophobic at times, like I just can't get away.

In meeting a stranger for the first time, one is almost guaranteed to be asked "Where do you go to church?" in the first moments of the interaction. Anything short of saying that you attend the very church of the stranger will be followed with an invitation to attend the stranger's church. Door-to-door proselytizing by Southern Baptists seems nearly continuous, and anyone out in public virtually anywhere is evidently considered fair game. My pest control guy even tried to proselytize on two separate occasions before I indicated that they would lose my business if they did it again!

Why the hell do I stay here? I ask myself that question repeatedly every summer when the heat and humidity become even more oppressive than the religiosity. I ask myself that question whenever the stream of hurricane warnings start. Is life not too short and precious to endure this bastion of proud ignorance? How arrogant I must be to believe for a second that I can come out of this unscathed!

And yet, I am still here. There are certainly things about where I live in Mississippi that I like. My job is a big part of why I stay, but probably even more than that is pure inertia. I've moved so many times that I just can't imagine doing it again, at least not yet. I won't retire here, and I may begin a job search in the next couple years if the job market improves a bit. Then again, I may just continue to stay put and try to do more traveling in the summers to maintain what is left of my sanity.