the South

Over the weekend a group of us were discussing the question of religion (well, Christianity) as it permeates Southern culture. There's no question it does - people here seize on religion as an opening conversational gambit, and the question of whether one has found one's 'church home' is reportedly oft-asked.

Being a fairly serious cultural relativist, I took the position that the assumption of one's religious affiliation had to be viewed as a way of affirming your membership in the group - a virtual equivalent to 'sure is hot out today!' where the expectation is that we are both in the same boat, and opening with this topic will allow further conversation. The basic assumption is inclusive in nature.

Our friends did not seem to agree with this understanding of the question, and rather felt it was problematic and invasive. Upon further discussion, we wondered in part if that was because, if viewed by people who do not consider themselves part of the group (perhaps they are not Christian, or perhaps they prefer not to talk about religion), the topic seems exclusionary, rather than inclusive. And if you feel the topic excludes you, perhaps your assumption is that that was what it was designed to do.

It's a tough topic, as trying to see past both your own cultural assumptions and those of the folks you live amongst can lead to some very muddled chains of logic. I think the question is further complicated, here in the US, by the association of conservative Christians with the Republican party. Now we might have the added assumptions of, for example, militarism or intolerance.

When we moved down here, I commented to Sasha that even though we weren't moving to another country, we were certainly moving to another culture. Sometimes I forget how true that was. And sometimes I am reminded.

David Hibbard commented:

How about a conversation stopper.

The other day, I had a knock at the door and it was some nice Jehovahs Witness folks wanting to talk to me about God. I just told them that I was in the Jehovahs Witness Protection Program and was not allowed to talk to them.

Also, I always take two Southern Baptists with me when I go fishing because if I only take one, he will drink all my beer.




on Fri Jul 3 23:38:41 2009

Anonymous commented:

As a committed Christian (though not one who is happy about owning all the cultural associations that go with that label), I have to say that I find this post arresting, particularly the association of "conservative" Christians with the Republican party and therefore, in your view, with intolerance and militarism.

I've been lamenting to my friends for several years now that especially the 2004 Presidential election essentialized evangelical Christians as anti-gay, legislatively anti-abortion, and hawkish.

There are definitely other evangelical voices out there, ones that have a reasonable claim to represent better the one whom they call Lord.  If you're interested in some additional reading during 6 weeks of bachelorhood, you might look into Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come, which was, I believe, written on the heels of the 2004 election.  I think you'll find it intellectually stimulating and culturally useful.

on Sat Jul 4 17:29:34 2009

David Hibbard commented:

To Mr./Mrs./Ms. Anonymous,

Of course not all Christians are the same or think alike but, like many religons, they get hijacked by their most estreme members and all to often they are the only voices we hear. And all too often when we hear from someone like you you call yourself "Anonymous".





on Sat Jul 4 20:47:51 2009

David commented:

Heh. As it happens, Mr. Anonymous dropped me a note to let me know who he was (he didn't feel like filling out the comment sign-up form, which is fair), but I do think you make a good point, David, in that the 'religious left' (with apologies for the term - it is intended simply to differentiate) have not done a great job at the national level of making their views known. It is quite clear from the Bible that certain things done in the name of Christianity over the past several years are not Kosher (no pun). And I don't know, now, how that can be undone. I think the movement by pretty much everyone to distance themselves from Bush Jr. may be the best thing for it, as it will force all groups involved to evaluate whether the relationship that formed between, for example, conservative religion and conservative politics, was a good idea or not.

on Sun Jul 5 12:21:30 2009

Steve Turnbull commented:

Since I generated a little additional response, I thought it would only be fair to sign up for a username and stop being anonymous.  I should have just done that in the first place.  Sorry to give the wrong impression!

on Tue Jul 7 09:33:13 2009

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