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03 August 2018

Outside and inside of the Bible Belt.

When everybody’s “Christian.” Or not.

Americans know this already, but I have foreign readers, so I figured I should explain: There’s a section of the United States called “the Bible Belt.” Pagans named it that, but the people who live there are perfectly happy with the term. It’s the American South, in which the population is so overtly Christian—specifically a conservative Evangelical form of Christianity—it’s simply taken for granted you’re Christian.

Those who live in the Bible Belt presume they’re Christian, even when they aren’t. Likewise they presume their neighbors are Christian, and are startled and even horrified to discover otherwise. To them of course the United States is a Christian nation. Certainly everyone they know is Christian.

It’s hypocrisy, of course. The residents of the Bible Belt are about as Christian as the people of my state, California. Seriously; polls and surveys bear this out. The difference is that when Californians aren’t Christian, we don’t pretend we are, and don’t try to disappear into the larger Christian population. We’ll just be pagan. ’Cause it’s allowed. ’Cause freedom of religion.

Hence what we have in California is the opposite assumption: Those who live here presume just about everyone is pagan. (Especially the person doing the assuming originated from the Bible Belt.) I grew up with preachers who had a bit of a bunker mentality: Outside the church walls, everybody else was an unbeliever. They either had some weird hippy religion, or were some kind of cult member, or were atheist. Since I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the preachers probably weren’t far wrong; a lot of non-Christians moved to the Bay Area specifically so they could be non-Christian, let their freak flags fly, and raise up a new generation of non-Christians who believed in everything, believed in nothing, or believed in weirdness, same as they.

But when I started sharing Jesus with people, I quickly discovered most of the strangers I meet are Christian. Roughly two out of three of them. They aren’t necessarily good Christians; most of us suck. They’re still Christian though: Pray, read their bibles a little, sometimes go to church, believe all the basics, and most importantly trust Jesus to save ’em.

Of course I tell my Bible Belt friends this, and they can’t believe it. Because they’re sure California consists of nothing but pagans.

Hey, it’s how they were raised. They were warned about “the Left Coast” and our pagan ways.

I have a friend who recently moved here from the Bible Belt, and she was stunned to discover how many churches there are in town. Drive down some streets and there’s a church every four blocks, exactly the same as in the Bible Belt. Wait till she attends our city’s annual Christmas festival; the Christians really come out in force. (And why not? It’s our holiday.) But because of her upbringing, she imagined she wouldn’t find any Christians out here.

And was kinda hoping she wouldn’t. ’Cause all the “Christians” she knew back east were hypocrites.

I kinda know what she means. I have some Bible Belt relatives who are the suckiest Christians. They produce no spiritual fruit, so in attitude, behavior, and character they’re pagan. They redefined all the fruits of the Spirit so they can fool themselves into thinking they are fruitful, but no they’re not. If all the “Christians” you know are Christian-in-name-only Christianists, you’ll reasonably assume every one of us is just awful. And I’m not saying we don’t have plenty of Christianists in California; we have tons. But Christianism isn’t our default setting. Paganism is.

So does this mean California has fewer hypocrites? Nah. Pagans are pretty giant hypocrites too. Hypocrisy isn’t just a Christian problem; it’s a human problem. It’s just it’s the one trait we have which annoys Jesus the most, so it’s the one we Christians need to get rid of quickest. Fruit of the Spirit will usually knock it out… assuming we have any.

Anyway, Bible Belt believers left a really sour taste in my friend’s mouth, so now I have my work cut out for me: I gotta demonstrate how Christians are meant to behave. Especially when it comes to grace. Christianists practice karma, not grace; if you sin, as they define sin, instead of forgiving you, they demand consequences and satisfaction. So do pagans, but since everybody knows Jesus practices grace, it’s particularly galling when his so-called followers don’t.

I demonstrate this stuff anyway, but people who have been burned by Christians tend to really keep me on my toes.