He currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A
Within the Heartland of America is a region commonly referred to as ‘The Bible Belt.’ There is no distinct boundary or border, but rather a swath of states that are largely comprised of members of the Christian faith. The dominate sect of the Christian faith will vary by region, but the primary religion of each region remains some variation of Christianity. As such, Christians in this part of the country receive a great deal of social reinforcement for their beliefs. Alternatively, non-Christians or the religiously unaffiliated are marginalized as simple minorities that are unfortunately mistaken.
A Bit of My Background
I was born into this region and have remained a resident of a Bible Belt state throughout my life. As a child, I assumed the world was no larger than what I could see out the window of my parent’s car. I was familiar with my hometown, I noticed that Christian churches dotted the landscape, and I pledged allegiance to my nation—under god—each morning at the start of the school day. My experience was not unique; this was the typical childhood for anyone born and raised in a Bible Belt state in America.
Then, I grew up. I moved away from my hometown. I moved away from my comfort zone. I moved away from my friends, my family, and everything that I was familiar with. Even though I moved away from those things, I didn’t move far enough to leave the umbrella of Christianity. What I did see though was a different version of the same thing. It was still Christianity, but it was not the Christianity that I was familiar with.
Many Types of Christianity
This unfamiliar type of Christianity got me thinking—one God, one Bible, and two types of Christianity. Two types quickly became four and then more were added and a literal watershed of ideologies was upon me. I was being carried into the ocean of beliefs that reside in the hearts and minds of all people on Earth.
All of this was taking place after I graduated from high school. I completed high school virtually unscathed by the outside world. Evangelicals in America go to great lengths to protect Christian children from outside influence. Mainstream Christians in America either don’t know, don’t care, or secretly support the evangelical efforts without actively participating in such efforts. The mainstream attitude is such that since we are all Christian, we will support our fellow Christians even if those other types do some things that we are uncomfortable with. At least we all believe in Jesus.
After a decade working as a carpenter and living a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving from city to city or state to state to find better jobs, I decided that I wanted to go back to college and get a degree. I chose philosophy.
Don’t tell the Christians I did this, there is no more frightening word in the academic catalog than philosophy, well, except for maybe natural science and specifically biology. In the United States, billions of dollars a year are spent challenging these academic subjects in the name of the preservation of faith. We might note that these dollars are typically church donations that might better be used for charitable purposes, but hey, it’s a donation, the powers that be can do what they feel is appropriate with donation dollars.
Comparative World Religions
So early on in my undergraduate career, I selected a comparative world religions class that surveyed Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Judaism. Besides the fact that most people I know don’t realize that Judaism led to Christianity which led to Islam, almost nobody I know has any idea what the other four major ‘isms’ represent besides them all being Asian or something.
Anyway, during this class there was a particularly telling comment has that stuck with me to this day. A sweet older lady, mid-to-late fifties I am guessing, was taking the class. During introductions, she said that she had raised up her children, put them through school, sent them to college, and now wanted to get her degree as well. Her story is no doubt an inspiring one, but that is for another time. What is interesting is how she reacted to the section on Hinduism.
We were discussing the ritual practices of Indians (from India), that clarification is for my fellow American readers—Indians means something different where I am from, and how people of the Hindu faith pray, what they believe, and their descriptions of god. All is going well and the ‘elephant god’ is being described by the instructor when this sweet aging lady interrupts, “are you serious?” she says, “that just sounds ridiculous, how can they believe any of that stuff is true?”
Now, I know she was not being sarcastic or intentionally disrespectful; she was simply blown away by what she was hearing. After the moments of uncomfortable silence that you might expect in this type of situation had passed, a proper undergrad in his late teens/early twenties politely responded to her by saying, “in all fairness Mrs. _____, do you really think it would be easy for someone who has never heard of Jesus to believe that he walked on water, fed the masses with a couple fish and a couple loaves of bread, and rose from the dead after being crucified?”
Fortunately for this woman and the rest of us as well, the clock had run out on this class session, so we were saved by the bell. She was silent anyway, and I am sure she did not have an answer. I am also convinced that she had a long night reflecting back upon what had transpired during this discussion.
Where I come from, this is not a unique perspective. This is the norm, and people wear their ideological blinders fully unaware of what exists beyond what they can see through the windows of their parent’s car.
A final comment: Religion is not the only place where ideological blinders can be found in American culture. Politics, race issues, homosexual rights, immigration, and any other belief based opinion can be traced back to an individual’s point of origin and the dominate beliefs of that environment.