A relatively new co-worker who moved here from outside the bible belt recently told me that he's Catholic. The context of this disclosure was a conversation about adjusting to life in the South and how I didn't think I'd ever do so. He said that he was warned before moving that the Baptist-dominated South is not particularly fond of Catholics. During the year that he's been here, he's found this to be fairly accurate.
He did not share tales of persecution or anything so dramatic. His tale described a culture of intolerance built on an extremely simplistic sort of Christianity. After initially being as shocked as I initially was that "What church do you go to?" passes as a greeting among strangers here, he described the surprised and disappointed look he sees when he identifies himself as Catholic. He was very aware of an all-or-none sort of thought process among the Southern Baptists - either you are one of us, or you are the enemy.
He recognizes that he is fortunate not to have children. Other Catholic and Jewish co-workers with children have provided me with many tales of cruelty inflicted on their kids by the local Christian children (e.g., forced prayer circles, threats of hell, attempted exorcisms, etc.). When one is taught religiously-based hatred and intolerance from birth, the consequences should not be surprising.
As often as I've experienced this sort of thing, I couldn't help being at least a little surprised that they would treat a fellow Christian this way. After all, he certainly considers himself to be Christian. This religious intolerance is woven into the cultural fabric around here. Identifying oneself as the right kind of Christian offers instant social acceptance; failing to do so brings everything from social rejection to outright condemnation.
Tags: Christian, church, religious intolerance, bible belt