Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

The South Is Full of Surprises
by James Glaser
October 3, 2008

I was stationed in Georgia and North Carolina for a while when I was in the Marines, but being in the service doesn't really give you much time to understand the area you are in. Mostly, when you were off base you were at a bar in a service town. A lot of the locals were really retired military, and it was a good chance they weren't even from the South.

So, this time moving down here, and actually living and working among the people born here gives me a different picture. I must admit I had a few preconceived ideas about Southerners before I moved down. I thought that I would be in the Bible Belt, and that every place in Florida is close to the beach, and that people would be eating grits and turnip greens with a side of fat back at every meal.

Well, some of that stuff is right on, but like I said, the South is full of surprises. There are oodles of churches down here, and if you listen to almost any rural radio station, it is going to have a Bible thumper talking most of the day. Sunday morning television has more preachers than I thought possible, and it seems like everyone of them is telling us how God wants us to be rich right here on earth. In the local churches you will hear a lot of sermons on the prosperity doctrine, but when you look around the pews, you see a lot of people that don't look all that prosperous.

None of that surprises me though. What surprises me is the number of people I have met in the South who don't even believe in God. I'm not talking Buddhists, Muslims, or people into witchcraft. I'm talking about people who have no belief system at all. You live, you die, and your bones turn to dust. Nothing after that.

It was this election that made me take notice of the number of people who have no belief. They have no belief, but if you spend any time talking to them you soon discover that they don't really like any one who does have a belief system.

I think Sarah Palin is the person that brought out this distain for religion. I have met so many people who mock Governor Palin for wearing her religion on her sleeve. I have heard it over and over again that people in her church laid hands on her in prayer, and how awful that is. I have never attended a church were they did things like that, but it doesn't seem that strange to me. I have a hunch that it is Biblical.

For many in the South, freedom of religion only goes as far as protecting your own religion. The other guy's religion is up for mockery.

It is true, I came from a small town with just a few churches, and nobody would ever admit to being a non-believer. There might have been a few, but you would never know it, because in that small town, people were polite enough to keep their thoughts to themselves. In the South, they will say what ever they believe, even if it hurts the other person. That surprised me. Actually it disappointed me. Here I am in the Bible Belt, and here you don't expect people to denounce others because of their beliefs.

It disappoints me too, because these non-believers grew up in a place where religion takes such a prominent place in society. I see good works being done by church groups all over this area, and so even if you didn't believe what these church people believe in, you could or in my way of thinking, should admire what these people do for their fellow man.

So, here I am in the South, looking and listening to what is going on around me. I see lots of good people, and see so many good things happening here. I wish I could say that the non-believers I have stumbled on to were just a small fraction of society, but that wouldn't be true, and that is where the my surprise comes in. These non-believers are not out running amok, they are business men and women living in society, following the rules and living their lives.

Maybe this isn't just a population in the South that I have discovered, maybe this group that has no faith is all over America, and maybe this group is even growing. Maybe, that is the reason that America seems to getting in trouble.

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