5/23/09

Advice for Atheists New to Mississippi

Early map of North America
Early map of North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have received some e-mails from atheists who have recently moved to Mississippi from outside the deep South. Some simply want to know what to expect from an area that seems quite inhospitable to atheists. Others are looking for specific coping strategies, the most common of which involves where to find like-minded people to reduce feelings of isolation. I do my best to respond to all such queries and provide as much information as I can. However, such correspondence has led me to acknowledge that my limitations in these areas are many and my answers few. I thought it would be helpful for those of us contributing to Mississippi Atheists to do what we can to address such questions.

As someone who moved to Mississippi as an adult (and an atheist), I am in a decent position to address some of the issues involved with making the transition. At the same time, I am poorly equipped to address some of the social aspects of life in Mississippi as an atheist. I've never had a particularly strong need for affiliation, and many of my favorite activities are solitary pursuits. In this area, I can convey information reasonably well, but most of it does not come from personal experience.

I'm an Atheist Moving to Mississippi. What Can I Expect?

If you are relocating to Mississippi from outside the deep South, here are some things to expect:

  • Religion is an extremely important part of the daily lives of most Mississippians. Our state scores at the top of surveys asking respondents to rate the importance of religion in their daily lives. Note that this is very different from asking respondents about the importance of religion in some abstract way. This means that you can expect to be exposed to religion every day. This even holds true of the workplace.
  • Fundamentalist Christianity reigns supreme here. The Southern Baptists are very influential, and protestant denominations that might have been fairly liberal in other regions of the U.S. are so much more conservative as to almost be unrecognizable here.
  • When meeting someone for the first time, you can expect to be asked where you attend church within the first couple minutes. If you have been here more than a couple of days, you have probably already experienced this. If not, it is just a matter of time. I have found that nearly any response you give will be followed by the other party inviting you to attend their church.
  • Door-to-door proselytizing is an extremely frequent occurrence. Before adopting countermeasures, I could count on visits every week or two.
  • Anti-atheist bigotry is widespread. You can expect to hear atheist-bashing regularly, and it is not uncommon for Christians to either actively try to convert you or cut off all communication with you upon learning of your atheism.
  • There are other atheists in Mississippi. It may not be easy to find us, as most of us do not go around broadcasting it, but we are here.
This is Lonely. How Do I Find Other Atheists?

This is an area which I could use some input from others. Like I said, it is not my strength. Still, here is what I'd suggest:
  • Check out Meetup.com and see if there are any active groups in your area. Do not limit yourself by searching only for atheists. Look for humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and the like. If you have an active group in your area, this is a great place to start.
  • How far are you from the nearest university? Most universities, even those in Mississippi, will have a higher concentration of atheists than you'll find in the community. Most universities also host a variety of public events. Some even have secular student groups that may periodically sponsor public events.
  • Visit the website of the local newspaper in your town. If they have any sort of online forum where people can post comments, you may well find other atheists there.
  • Check out Atheist Nexus and/or Think Atheist. Both have groups for Mississippi atheists (In fact, I think I created both of them). Again, this can be an effective way to connect with others in your area.
  • Leave comments here at Mississippi Atheists introducing yourself. Even if we don't know anyone in your area, other visitors might.
  • Above all, don't give up. I know it can be rough, but even having one person around whom you can be yourself makes such a difference.
Now, I invite other Mississippi atheists to help me expand this in any way you see fit. Together, we can make a difference.