Close Encounters of the Religious Kind

HandsomejesusDuring their recent visit to Jackson, friends from the godless Midwestern States (just kidding!) remarked, “How can you stand living here and having Jesus constantly rammed down your throat?”

While you do eventually become numb to it, it’s true that the South — especially Mississippi — is steeped in Southern Christian Fundamentalism. Down here, the question “Where do you go to church?” ranks right up there with “What do you do for a living?” (In fact, one time, during a job interview with a local computer training company, I was asked if I’d consider attending Galloway Methodist Church.)

Yesterday, I kept my eyes open, and made special note of how many Close Encounters of the Religious Kind I had in the course of a single day.

HandsomejesusDuring their recent visit to Jackson, friends from the godless Midwestern States (just kidding!) remarked, “How can you stand living here and having Jesus constantly rammed down your throat?”

While you do eventually become numb to it, it’s true that the South — especially Mississippi — is steeped in Southern Christian Fundamentalism. Down here, the question “Where do you go to church?” ranks right up there with “What do you do for a living?” (In fact, one time, during a job interview with a local computer training company, I was asked if I’d consider attending Galloway Methodist Church.)

Yesterday, I kept my eyes open, and made special note of how many Close Encounters of the Religious Kind I had in the course of a single day.

– Cashiers told me to “have a blessed day.” Twice.

– A local bank featured Colossians 3:16 on the flashing electronic sign outside their business (“Let the … Word of … CHRIST … dwell in … you richly!”

– The local paper featured a story about a woman who complained when the paper printed a column containing the word “damn.” In that story, another local woman says printing the d-word represents “a breakdown in public society … a breakdown of moral values.”

– A billboard advised me to take my “family to church this Sunday. They need and deserve — it!”

– My nephew told me a substitute teacher in his high school Spanish class announced “Mexicans never go to church,” asked a Mexican-American teen to translate “Repent and accept Christ as your personal Savior” into Spanish, and warned the kids that “evolution is a lie from the pit of Hell.”

– Just outside town, in a pasture, there are three crosses made of telephone poles. These are all over the state. You see ’em everywhere you go.

– A pair of fellow diners at the Vietnamese restaurant where I ate lunch prayed — loudly — before eating their noodle soup.

That’s about six encounters in twelve hours — about one encounter every two hours or so. And that was a light day — I was indoors, in my own house, most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-religion … and, as regular readers know, I’m a Christian. (Well, an eclectic Christian mystic, but that’s another story for another day.) Still, as person who tends to think of faith as a deeply personal aspect of life, I can understand how visitors from other lands might find the South’s aggressive public version of Christianity … a tad extreme.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

6 comments

  • God bless you! (the blessing comes from all 3 parts of HIS being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!) (and I think the Holy Spirit is probably male, too)

  • And people think all the flakes live in California?

    Would love to see the tables turned for a day where everyone is praising Allah or asking Buddah to bless you at the bank.

  • I live in Alabama and go to a Christian college and it is almost unbearable– the amount if intolerance that goes on, along with the sweet coated Christianity down here makes one sick to the stomach! I’d consider becoming a Buddhist or some other religion, except for the encroaching hell fires which have been indoctrinated into me since I was an infant! I agree with you entirely.

  • As a regular reader, and as a Christian, I was especially interested in following the comments associated with this particular blog. Though, like Phyllis above, I am from the heart of the Bible Belt, I hope that does not disqualify me from offering a few thoughts of my own. First of all, I hardly see how scattered crosses in empty fields, an invitation to attend church, a couple of other invitations to enjoy a blessed day, and one clearly audible blessing before lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant constitute an “aggressive” faith. One may prefer open fields, quiet restaurants and a minimum of interactions with people of faith, but, with a single exception, none of the instances mentioned seems to be particularly overbearing. On the other hand, the inappropriate and ignorant comments offered by the substitute teacher mentioned above are completely out-of-bounds in a public school and in any church that claims to be Christian. It is still a revelation to many where I live that Roman Catholics are Christians too. (I assume that was the thought process that caused the substitute teacher to declare that “Mexicans never go to church.”) Also, I recognize that this particular day may have been relatively quiet in terms of Christian interactions. However, it still seems fairly typical of the range of responses one might encounter any day of the week. Just as Christians have no monopoly on honesty, courage, or the other great virtues, neither do we corner the market on saying or doing silly and thoughtless things, and neither are we the only ones guilty of occasional lapses of intolerance. It seems to me that we can hardly expect any adult of faith and integrity to live out his or her entire life without ever once revealing what he or she holds dear about matters of faith, and to demand such is to demand much.

  • Mike wrote: I hardly see how scattered crosses in empty fields, an invitation to attend church, a couple of other invitations to enjoy a blessed day, and one clearly audible blessing before lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant constitute an “aggressive” faith.

    Mark notes: Remember that old preacher’s story about the froggie in the pot of slowly boiling water? As the water heats, the frog’s body temperature adjusts … and so the frog never feels the heat until the boiling water kills him.

    I live in the South, too, and have for all my life, so for me, these snippets of scripture and casual blessings are admittedly mundane, too. However, for those who hail from *outside* the South, these everyday expressions of faith seem extreme, mostly because in the Midwest and other areas, folks are disinclined to be so, um, *forthcoming* about matters of faith.

    In a nutshell, my point was that these expressions of faith don’t strike us as extreme … but they do seem so to those from other parts of the U.S., where faith is, by default, more private and personal.

    Mike wrote: On the other hand, the inappropriate and ignorant comments offered by the substitute teacher mentioned above are completely out-of-bounds in a public school and in any church that claims to be Christian.

    Mark sez: On this, we agree, old friend! 🙂

    Mike went on: It seems to me that we can hardly expect any adult of faith and integrity to live out his or her entire life without ever once revealing what he or she holds dear about matters of faith, and to demand such is to demand much.

    Mark notes: I personally wouldn’t demand this. I have noticed, however, that a fundamentalist’s eagerness to share his or her faith with me varies inversely with his or her inclination to listen while I share mine.

  • As one who often cautions others about the need to see matters from the perspective of others, I am embarrassed to admit that you are right, Mark. Having been a lifelong resident of the deep south, perhaps I have become so accustomed to these gestures that I have not recognized how unusual they may appear to others from outside our area of the country. Though I am still far from convinced that these are “aggressive,” I will concede that what seems rather mundane to me might be off-putting to others.

    On the plus side, however, you have given me a great idea for a future sermon. (Yes, I admit it–I’m an ordained minister! Mark already knows this, but he continues to like me anyway.) I am going to call the message “Aggressive Faith,” and it is going to be an exhortation to our church family to be intentional, and even bold, about living out the Christian tenets we profess to believe. While I reject belligerent language and all its accomanying ugliness and arrogance, I am going to encourage belligerent faithfulness to the Lord’s call on the lives of all believers. Thanks for the great idea.

    P.S. Mark, I appreciate your thoughts, and I check into your site frequently. Though I may not write very often, you are nonetheless part of countless conversations.

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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