My trip through the south, while being openly atheist


For the last week and a half or so, I’ve been road-trippin’ through the south. Starting from Philadelphia, we (my girlfriend and I) drove to Atlanta, Pensacola, New Orleans, Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Johnson City, Leesburg (where we got a tour through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which was awesome), and then back to Philadelphia.

So, what does this have to do with this blog? Well, there are two things. First, I spent that time with one of my girlfriends while leaving the other back home for 10 days. This required some discussion beforehand in order to make sure that this cold be done without making anyone feel unloved or left out. Luckily, everyone was fine with it, I missed my lady here in Philadelphia, but I talked with her often and I got a chance to see her again last night and today. (yay!)

But the other part of interest was traveling through parts of the country while wearing a myriad of shirts that advertised my lack of belief in any gods. I have a number of shirts that identify this about me, and I wore them almost everywhere we went. So, what kind of responses did I get? Surprisingly little.

Yes, I got looks, double-takes, and even a few people becoming less hospitable after reading them. But surprisingly few actual comments or questions from people arose. While in Austin, Texas ( a beautiful city, btw), I did have one apparently homeless man walk by and call my girlfriend (who is not an atheist) an “evil bitch” in response to reading my shirt that said “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist!” Talk about irony!

I guess the fact that we spent most of our time in or around cities meant that we ran into either more tolerant people or people who were more used to seeing things like that. Either that or they were just being polite in not asking questions or commenting. I did have at least two people comment that hey liked my shirts. I thanked them with a smile. I had one bartender warn me that wearing such things may not be a good idea. Maybe I just got lucky.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I just wanted to observe whether people would react differently in the “Bible belt” than they do in Philadelphia, where I wear said shirts fairly often. My experience, short as it was, didn’t offer much of a difference. I guess we should have hung out at more rural roadside biker bars or something….

While I was in Austin, where we spent a couple of days, I did get to meet some of the people from the Atheist Community of Austin. I have been listening to their podcast and recorded cable-access TV show for a few years, and since we would be there I figured I would meet some of them. They were very friendly and we got a chance to see them tabling at the Austin Pride festival, which was pretty fun in itself.

But before we reached Austin, we traveled through Pensacola, home of the Pensacola Christian College. This college, which I had never heard of before a couple of months ago, is a school that grew as some people split off from Bob Jones University because it was too liberal. Yes, you read that right. PCC is about at conservative Christian as they come. They are run by the A Beka book company, which means that the school has tons of money and seems to be used by the publisher as some sort of tax shelter.

Now, I know about this school because my girlfriend, with whom I traveled, went to this school before they kicked her out for, as she says, challenging them too much. This is the kind of place where not only can men and women not talk outside of specific places and times, but very conservative dress codes, segregation of races (in terms of dating at least), and constant fear of trouble for questioning pretty much anything abound (listening to jazz, for example). I don’t know how she survived more than three years before she was kicked out.

I have encouraged her to write about her experiences there. I think she could have a book deal coming, if she does. The things she has told me so far are, well, scary. And I’ve seen Jesus Camp.

We didn’t visit the campus. For one, classes were not in session. Another reason is that they would not let either one of us on campus because I am an advertised heathen and she was wearing shorts. Maybe next time we’ll try going in incognito. Maybe not.

It was an interesting trip. We saw lots of great cities, met some really nice people, and now we return to real life.