Today’s New York Times has a story about a growing atheist acceptance movement in my beautiful hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. They are co-opting the gay pride movement’s rhetoric of “the closet” and a recent Charleston campaign of the “virtually normal” variety to erect billboards, those despoilers of the urban environment, that read “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” I find the wording sort of ironic, since it features the same phrase many Christians use to emphasize the omnipresence of God. They also capitalize “God,” the very Being their beliefs negate. Then again Charleston is quite a genteel city, and it would be rude to deny God His majuscule even if He doesn’t exist.
There may be some libertines in Charleston, but it is certainly not a liberal city. South Carolina was the first state to succeed secede, and the opening shots of the War of Northern Aggression were fired here. Tradition reigns supreme, and recent arrivals are regarded as aliens (they are). So the climate can be a bit stifling. Anyone with the slightest of liberal inclinations is liable to turn into an anarchist after living in Charleston. Religion is dear to the city—one of its monikers is the “Holy City.” But so is religious freedom: it was a central tenet of the colony’s charter. Many are surprised that the Reform Jewish movement started in Charleston, as unlikely as that may seem.
The evangelical movement with its adolescent reasoning and juvenile philosophy has taken root in South Carolina, though. Now even old-time religions have become evangelicized. Have you ever seen evangelical Episcopalians? Simply terrifying. I believe such anti-intellectual approaches to religion have driven more people to atheism, instead of encouraging them to seek the truth in the nurturing framework dogmatic churches provide. But in the absence of the atheists getting religion, I at least hope they provide a suitable counterweight to the evangelicals while not resorting to plastering buses with signs proclaiming “there probably is no god.”
-Michael E. van Landingham