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Discussion 2 to A Miscellany 186
You are not alone in your experience and frustrations

by: Paul W. Sharkey

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Dear Hilde,

I sympathize with you because we too live in just such a “Bible-belt” community in which religion dominates practically everything. Despite their very public religiosity, however, at least the people of our community are otherwise nice, friendly folks and this is otherwise a very safe and lovely place to live.

My wife[1] and I deal with the “natives” pretty much by ignoring their religious talk whenever possible and when we can’t, by quietly and politely responding with some of our own favorite Bible verses (for example, Matthew 6:5) which usually just confuses them as to what our “beliefs” really are and they eventually leave us alone as far as “religious talk” is concerned.

One thing we have noticed is that though this may indeed be considered a “Bible belt” area, there are many many different kinds of “Churches” vying for attention. Consequently, although it may seem as though there is a Christian monolith out there against us, the truth is that there is more of a morass of competing churches with competing views, values, practices, and ideologies. We have everything here from “right wing” conservatives to “left wing” liberals, from Mennonites to Baptists of every sort, Catholics, Methodists, Church of God, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and virtually every other mainstream as well as offshoots of typical “American Christianity” there is. There is even an “un-programed” meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers) relatively near-by. What this all means is that despite its apparent monolithic “Christian” facade, this is a very pluralistic place where when you get right down to it, there are many many deep divisions between people over their “religions” which, belonging to none of them, one can rise above and ignore. You don’t have to “divide and conquer” because they have already done it for you. Precisely by not accepting any particular “invitation” nor by entering into any particular theological debate with any of these factions, we now find ourselves “left alone” religiously speaking though we are apparently otherwise accepted and even respected by most everyone we know in the community. Perhaps your new community is not so different?

Alas, it is sometimes lonely not to have others who feel as we do with which to talk. But they are there if you look carefully. In fact, an “official” survey of our community showed that 62% of the people here consider themselves as “non-religious” and “unaffiliated.” That was very surprising given the very public displays[2] of what is evidently the other 38% of our neighbors who are devout “believers.” But that 62%, like you and us, are evidently either content to be quiet and mind their own business or feel too intimated to make themselves known publicly. After all, it is not like there is a local weekly meeting of “non-believers” where those of us like-minded folks can get together and share our “faith.”

As you have suggested, that is one of the nice things about “belonging to” the UCTAA. At least here there is an outlet for such expression and a place where like-minded folks (on this point at least) can indeed share their views and let others know they are not alone. And of course, there is nothing to stop you or any other UCTAA clergy-person – or anyone else, for that matter – from starting a local “meeting” (or whatever you want to call it) of/with other local like-minded folks as well.

I hope this helps somewhat. All I really hoped to do is help you know that you are not alone in your experience and frustrations nor are you alone in the larger community of the UCTAA and probably not even entirely alone within the community in which you now live.

Bless you![3]

Notes:

  1. My wife’s boss, an elementary school principal, is also the Pastor of a local Baptist Church.
  2. See Matthew 6:5 – I love it!
  3. One need not believe in any God or gods or any other supernatural powers or beings simply to wish another well out of sincere feelings of human compassion – and if you do it out and among those trying to proselytize you, you will confuse the hell out of them (were that that were really and literally possible). It is even possible to “give thanks” at/for one’s meals without reference to such powers or deities. I have even gotten away with it at some “unavoidable” gatherings with no-one even noticing. In fact, I have even been thanked for offering such a nice “grace.” Attitudes and expressions of appreciation, gratitude, human compassion and respect do not depend on the existence of or belief in a deity; in fact, it may be an inverse relation.

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