Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Texas social experiment

I conducted a small social experiment while visiting Ft. Worth last week. I took note of how many people mentioned religion to me in some way. By my count, I spoke to 33 people while in Texas. I’ve excluded store clerks and such, although two clerks talked about their faith in a small way. Of the 33 people I spoke with, 24 spoke about religion, church or my preferences for attending church. None asked if I were a believer, I think the default position is an assumption of belief. 

I should qualify that I was in town for a funeral and that the majority of people I spoke with were also in town for the same event, so religion was bound to come up. 

I should also say that I only told one person that I was an atheist. He was the pastor at my father’s funeral service and appeared to be a decent fellow too. He asked if I was a pastor because of how well I spoke at the service. 

The odd stuff first…

While checking in at my hotel I was asked if I would like directions to the local churches. I declined, but was told that a local baptist church had an outreach ministry focused on truckers that I might find uplifting. 

While sitting alone in a Starbucks in Fossil, I made eye contact with two women and smiled. The contact was incidental, but they took it as an invitation to join me. We talked for perhaps three minutes about the weather and about the reason I was visiting before they asked if I needed to talk to a pastor. I thought the offer was kind. They gave me a number to call and invited me to a church service on Sunday if I were still in town.

While having dinner on my first night in town I was asked to join a family in prayer over their meal. I was alone and they were the only other people eating at the Texas Roadhouse. Our food came out at the same time. I already had a spoonful of chili in my mouth when I declined. They were friendly folks. We talked some during the meal and they eventually invited me to church if I were still in town over the weekend. 

The not so odd stuff

In some way, in almost every conversation, the subject of attending church came up. Be it the person who talked about last Sunday’s sermon, or the person referring to her disappointment at not being able to connect with a local church because of illness. Talk of church, not religion mind you, but the social institutions surrounding church, filled every conversation. 

I had a short but uplifting conversation with a Jehovah Witness about child sexual abuse in her religion. She openly acknowledged the problem and talked about what her church was doing to combat the problem. The conversation caught the ear of a few baptists who where happy to add that their churches did not have the problem. I did not offer an opinion. 

I spoke with several people who were attempting to put their lives back together in some small way through the social services offered by their churches. I was surprised by how freely people offered to talk about problems and by how they looked to a church as their way out. It could be the funeral talking though. People loosen up at these things. I think its part of the healing process.

I was not asked if I were a Christian. I think it was assumed. When the pastor asked me if I was a pastor, he accepted my atheism without comment. I think he was performing a function and would not move off his script for any reason. He was there to offer comfort, which he did well. 

Religion seems woven into the fabric of the community. The assumption is belief. For example, the local news offered school and church closure information because of a winter storm. The local radio station talked about mid-week church services and prisoner outreach programs. Church signs were full of uplifting messages and schedules for upcoming events. 

So many churches…

I also wanted to comment on the number of churches and the number of church run schools. They are everywhere and they are huge, but then, I must have passed four Hooters on the way to Ft. Worth from the airport…