I had never been to Texas. I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to go to Texas. However, that is where my dearest friend Naomi lives. She kept inviting me down, and a girls weekend with some of my skeptic friends was too hard to resist. When I landed in Houston Naomi asked if I were hungry. When am I not hungry? So she stopped at a BBQ place and I figured I’d eat light and ordered the baked potato with some BBQ on top. What I got was what appeared to be a football stuffed with half a cow. I did not know a potato could grow so large. It was then that Texas won me over. Things really were bigger here, and Texans are proud of it!
I have since been back many times to Houston and I look forward to many more trips. My favorite thing about Texas is that it is far different than where I live in New Hampshire. I consider it on par with visiting a foreign country. A country where things are over the top. Women wear a lot more makeup. People drive really nice cars. Portion size meals are for wimps. Mexican food doesn’t come from Taco Bell, and it tastes like heaven. I can see why my friend has such pride in the state where she lives.
Other differences I found were perhaps more unsettling. People often seemed to say “God Bless You”, even when I hadn’t sneezed. I would buy something, the check out person would ask God to bless me. Someone would ask where I was from, because of my New Hampshire accent, and they would say “Well, bless you!”. It’s just their way of being friendly, but I could never imagine people in the “Live Free or Die” state saying that to strangers. After a bit I understood it was just friendliness, they weren’t going to hand you a Bible or start talking about your immortal soul.
Naomi also drove me by a mega church. It has a coffee shop. It has daycare. It has a gym. It has a huge parking lot that is full of cars, and not just on Sunday. Your entire social life can be based around a church. When Naomi first moved to Houston she said people asked her what church she belonged to. I could imagine the comfort of belonging to such a church and always having friends and support.
The longer I was in Texas, the more I came to admire Naomi. I came to admire all the skeptics and atheists and agnostics, and even people of more liberal Christian denominations (Episcopal and Congregationalist) that lived in Texas. In New Hampshire the Episcopal and Unitarian churches are the same size as the Fundie Church. Indeed, someone that is overly talkative about God and Jesus is seen as a bit peculiar. In Texas, religion is in your face. The stereotype about Texas at first appears to be true, at least to a visitor. But then, you look a little deeper. There is a wonderful skeptic community in Houston.
Naomi is a leader of the group. They are a welcoming and fun. Also, Houston has the first openly gay mayor of a major city.
The stereotype begins to crumble once you really start getting to know Texas. It does take a strong skeptic to live and work in Texas. You have to put up with a lot of friendly blessings (not a bad thing) and you have to fight and be vigilant because the religious right are always going to be very vocal, and have a lot of money. Those mega churches must rake in the bucks, which they use in very peculiar ways.
There are indeed skeptics, atheists and agnostics living in Texas. They have to fight the stereotype we all have from watching the Bush family and Rick Perry on television. Texas skeptics have skeptic friends from other states asking “Why would you live there?’ and neighbors going “So you don’t attend church at all?”. Texas skeptics are tough, they have to be. I really admire Naomi, and all the skeptics living in Texas. I can’t wait to go back and visit again.