Banned in the Bible Belt.
Atheism is a dirty word here in the deep South. But why do non-believers conjure up the same reaction in Christians as witches once did? It’s 2016, with all that we have achieved in science and all we have discovered about our universe and our own climb up the evolutionary ladder, why is it still hard for many southern skeptics to “come out atheist”?
Most would argue it is simply that the most religious region of the US is the South. According to a recent Gallup poll, Mississippi and Alabama lead the nation in religiosity and a total of 9 of the top 10 most relgious states are former members of the Confederacy. The fact that religious beliefs are largely determined by location has been thoroughly documented, being born southern, you are simply more likely to be a Christian than anything else.
But what is it that keeps so many believing? Gallup has reported adult religiosity to be as high as 99 percent in the world’s poorest nations and this correlation can be clearly seen here in the Southern Bible Belt. The poorest states in the nation are Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia, and a total of 8 out of the worst 10 are southern. As education goes, fully half of the 10 worst states for education are in the south and there are no states south of the Mason-Dixon line in the best 10 spots. Poverty and poor education tend to keep folks well ensconced in their religious belief systems. Is it any wonder then, that according to a Pew study, as education and GDP increase, a nation typically tends to become less religious ?
But why the backlash against atheists? I think it is in some cases simply a misundersatnding of what atheism actually is. Many, especially fundamentalist Christians, see our lack of belief as an attack of belief. We are often called an abomination and an affront to god himself. Many parents see lack of faith in their children as a failure and sincerely believe their atheist child is now lost to hell for eternity. Pastors rail against the godless, parent’s groups protest the teaching of evolution in schools, believers are taught that questioning god is sinful and atheists are agents of Satan himself. All for wanting more than blind trust in an ever unseen and unheard god.
Why? Perhaps it a flaw in the traditional roots which grow so deep here in the soil of the south. This is the same region, after all that reenacts the Civil War and swears we are going to “rise again”! Don’t misunderstand me, I love the South, I love the food and the people here. The region is beautiful and has a rich and diverse history, even with its deep scars. But we are not known for embracing new ideas, in fact so resistant are we to progress, so set in our ways and so convinced of our own cultural superiority that we have committed some of the worst civil rights atrocities ever seen in this nation. As example, it is right here in the city of Birmingham that in 1963 four young girls were killed and 22 churchgoers injured in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing while white ministers across the South preached sermons against integration. Atheists are simply the new class of dissenters,the new batch of deviants and devils.
Until we begin to embrace progress, invest in education and make the changes in society necessary to end poverty, we will be forever condemned to repeat the past and atheism will remain banned in the Bible belt.