Southern, Secular, and Secret: How the Internet is Changing (Ir)Religion in the South

Joshua D. Urich

Joshua D. Urich is a PhD candidate in Religion in the Americas at the University of Texas–Austin.

Cite this Article

Joshua D. Urich, "Southern, Secular, and Secret: How the Internet is Changing (Ir)Religion in the South," Journal of Southern Religion (18) (2016): jsreligion.org/vol18/urich.

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In November 2013, a man calling himself “SouthernTeapot” appealed to the online forum “Reddit” for advice. “I am literally scared to post this,” he wrote, “but I’m about to go crazy.” As a lawyer living in the Deep South, SouthernTeapot believed his livelihood depended on his reputation in the community. As a result, he hid his atheism. Over the years this duplicity wore on him, and he became depressed. It was time for a change, but he did not know what to do. So, he turned to the Internet. His initial post, entitled “I am an Atheist Attorney in the Deep South living as either a hostage or an infiltrator depending on your point of view…” garnered over one hundred comments. Inspired by the response, SouthernTeapot posted again two weeks later. Based on suggestions from the forum, SouthernTeapot began psychological counseling, planned to come out as an atheist—through a blog or a book—and started attending atheist meetings in a nearby city.[1]

Dozens of such discussions exist on Reddit and similar sites. Indeed, statements like “I am an atheist living in the Bible Belt…” have become a frequent trope in online atheist circles. Since about 2010, there has been a steady increase in blogs, YouTube channels, meet-up pages, and discussion forums for and by secular southerners that take up the question of what it means to be atheist in the South.[2] These online sources broadcast the daily challenges, frustrations, and victories of southerners who reject religion. In southern atheists’ complaints and celebrations in blog posts, discussion forums, and videos, we can see the development of a particularly strident mode of religious dissent through online atheist networks in the South, creative modes of resistance to the dominant religious culture in the Bible Belt, and the disruption of rural surveillance and discipline strategies.

Although there has been a long history of religious dissent in the South, the Internet has forever altered the way southerners adapt to, circumvent, or resist its dominant Christian culture, and scholars of contemporary southern religion cannot afford to ignore these tactics.[3] Moreover, we should take special note of the content and tone of secular southerners’ dissent. Scholars such as Tracy Fessenden, Kathryn Lofton, and John Modern have argued that non-specific Protestantism has shaped and continues to shape American secularism. Chad Seales has argued that the Protestant-secular continuum is more appropriate for the U.S. northeast, as the South does not fit the continuum model of secularism. Rather, Seales contends, the secular and the religious exist “in spatial relationship with one another, with the secular mutually dependent and constitutively defined (or named) against the religious…”[4] In this brief piece, I will examine how southern atheists—particularly those in rural areas—use one of the world’s most popular websites, Reddit, to express their dissent. For rural southerners using Reddit, secularism is indeed physically tied to southern religion and yet defined against it. It is my hope that this online evidence can open new avenues of discussion not only for the study of southern religion, but also for the study of American secularism.[5]

Reddit works simply. Users can create a discussion thread by submitting text or a link to an article or photo, on which other users can comment. Users also have the opportunity to “upvote” or “downvote”—that is approve or disapprove of—a post. The more upvotes a post receives, the higher it appears on the list of posts. Downvotes cancel out upvotes, and enough downvotes will force a post to the bottom of the list, which usually means it will never be seen. Reddit is easy to get the hang of and even easier to join; as a result, many “Redditors” use multiple usernames to preserve anonymity. There is no simple way to determine who lies behind usernames. Reddit is thus the ideal forum for skeptical southerners who fear retribution for their nonconformity. Easy access to an anonymous forum has led some southern atheists to “come out”—an intentional reference to the “closet” of homosexuality—to their online peers while hiding their atheism from their family and friends.

While anonymity and ease of use are boons to secular southerners, they present serious methodological challenges to the scholar. It is possible to message users directly, but in my own experience it can be difficult to begin a correspondence with secular southerners. More than other sources, Reddit posts—or any online posts, for that matter—need to be read critically for biases, exaggeration, and outright untruthfulness. If contacting a user directly yields no results, it is helpful to search for similar ideas repeated by different users or on different sites. In this way, scholars can begin to identify aspects of southern secularism.[6]

The first theme one notices in online discussions of southern atheism is their perceived outsider status. For example, in April 2013, a Canadian asked, “Is the bible belt in America really as bad as the Internet implies?” About thirty people responded to this query, and the answers were variations of the most popular response: “No, its worse usually,” which was offered by an Alabaman.[7] Another person added to the conversation: “I'm from Oklahoma... It's the beer gut hanging over the shiny Texas shaped buckle of the bible belt. And yes, it is that bad. Make any claims that something religious isn't the be[s]t decision regarding... Anything... And you will literally be punched in the mouth…I have witnessed this.”[8] A few months later, another non-southerner created a text post entitled: “A Yankee atheist visiting the Bible Belt.” The text read only, “Damn, you guys weren’t joking.”[9] The most detailed and dramatic account of persecution came from a man claiming to be an atheist living in North Carolina for nearly thirty-five years. “I don't go around talking about it much, but I don't pretend I'm faithful even when I should have. I've lost a couple of jobs over it, and had folks spread lies & break me and a special young lady up one time. I've had my cars vandalized, my home damaged & both defecated on.” In sum, this person concluded, if you do not want trouble then keep your lack of faith to yourself.[10]

As far as I am aware there has been no scholarly investigation into the frequency of anti-atheist persecution in the U.S. South, but in this case statistics are not as important as perception. The extreme examples above become symbolically important for readers because such examples reinforce southern atheists’ preexisting belief that Christians dominate the South and, as a result, it is unsafe for atheists to reveal their (ir)religious identities. Christian family, friends, employers, and neighbors all form networks of power and ensnare them in the panoptic gaze of Christianity. Stories of atheists who have been fired from jobs or kicked out of homes are all spectacular examples of the discipline that awaits dissenters. For some on these Internet forums, the threat of punishment is real—there are evangelical supervisors or Fundamentalist parents. For others, the threat is vague—a sense of foreboding based on catastrophic anecdotes culled from the pages of Reddit, ExChristian.net, and other websites. Whatever their personal experiences, though, many rural, southern atheists describe feeling powerless, afraid, and frustrated because of their geographic location.

The majority of southerners who turn to the Internet to complain of being trapped by or punished for their dissent tend to come from the rural south—they live in small towns where social, familial, and business relationships are intertwined with religion. These southerners often fantasize about leaving the South entirely or, more significantly, moving to one of the South’s urban areas where atheism is accepted. Until they can move, though, they turn to the Internet for support. Online, these rural southerners do things they believe are only possible in a city or outside the South entirely: form networks with other atheists in order to complain and joke about religion, to ask advice for difficult situations, and to resist Christian influence in their lives. As a result, the Internet simultaneously gives rural atheists new opportunities to resist Christian dominance and the power “to expose the shabbiness and the arrogance of the culture surrounding them” through discussion forums, websites, and blogs.[11] This online content exemplifies how southern atheists use their outsider status simultaneously to take on the burdens of martyrdom and the resulting power to make social commentary.

For many rural southern atheists, the first act of resistance is proclaiming their religious identity and clearly delineating themselves from religious people. In February of 2014, for example, a man created the anonymous username SouthernAtheist47 specifically to unburden himself and reach out to fellow atheists. “Being in the deep south,” he wrote, “I feel trapped.” Besides his wife, SouthernAtheist47 had only admitted his atheism to “two other living human beings” for fear of being disowned, harassed, fired, or physically harmed. He compared his position to that of homosexuals in the South, a group he believes feel as though they would be “burned at the stake for truly stating who they are.” His only hope, he wrote, was to move out of the South, but at the time of his writing he had been unable to find a job elsewhere. In the meantime, he turned to Reddit. “Perhaps until I finally find the means to claw my way out of the deep south,” he wrote, “I may never be able to fully be honest about my beliefs, but I confess to you. I am a southerner, born and raised, and I don't believe there is a god.” By openly, if anonymously, announcing his atheism and his southerness, he simultaneously solidified his beleaguered religious identity and defined himself as separate from the South’s Christian culture. By posting their “coming out” stories to such a popular discussion forum as Reddit, these users give their stories a power akin to the evangelical testimony: a public admission of dissent that symbolically binds southern atheists to the larger community of atheists, giving them confidence to embrace their outsider status. One important way they turn their outsider status into strength is through exposing flaws in southern culture.[12]

The simple act of complaining exposes hypocrisy, ignorance, and other perceived flaws in religious southerners, which legitimizes and empowers secular southerners. One woman described applying for a job at a public high school. She was dismayed to see “a large framed print of the American flag emblazoned with the text, ‘in God we trust’” and outraged by the principal’s attempts to uncover her religious beliefs. She ended the post with a simple line: “Conclusion: I hate being an atheist in the Bible Belt.”[13] Another atheist complained of biblical illiteracy among Christians in the Bible Belt.[14] SouthernAtheist47 described southerners as “militant…back-woods Baptists” and his own family as “poor, uneducated folk who at this stage in the game...couldn't possibly…understand.”[15]  Portraying oneself as the disaffected minority is a popular trope in religious dissent. In invoking this trope, southern atheists give themselves the authority of martyrs to criticize and change the dominant culture.

The content of such posts is as important as the tone. The woman frustrated by the “In God We Trust” American flag received many replies to her post stressing the illegality of refusing to hire someone for religious differences. Some users suggest she go to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In similar situations, in-the-know users suggest that the embattled poster submit a complaint to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Appealing to such organizations as the ACLU and FFRF is one way that atheists in the South reaffirm their patriotism in a region in which––in their eyes, at least––atheism is still associated with communism or being otherwise un-American. Entrenching themselves within the separation of church and state gives southern atheists a moral and patriotic high ground and to show that they are more American than their religious counterparts because they abide by the Constitution. Pointing out biblical illiteracy among religious southerners or calling them “poor” and “uneducated” undermines the authority of the dominant religious culture, thereby empowering secular southerners who often perceive themselves as more knowledgeable about the Bible and more educated in general than their religious counterparts.[16]

Humor is among the most common tool in the atheist arsenal. For atheists in the South, simple images with snappy text not only express complex emotions, but also provide an opportunity for more in-depth discussions. For example, a post titled, “I hate the south” linked to an image of a Bible and a handgun with the following text superimposed: “Two things every American should know how to use…neither of which are taught in schools.” The image then directed viewers to the Facebook group “Republican Revolution.”[17] Unsurprisingly, the top-rated comments are variations on a theme: religion is bad. The most popular reply to the image corrected its text to: “How about, ‘One is a weapon that has been used to kill millions of people over many years, in many countries, for many stupid reasons…the other is a gun.’” Many more comments, however, point to more complex discussions about stereotyping and prejudice. Other posters attacked the false generalization that all southerners are “redneck bucktoothed retard[s].” Instead, one user corrected, this image applied more to rural America in general, not southern America. This tension reveals some of the dynamics of group identity formation for both southern atheists and atheists in general. While there is a tendency to lump southerners, Christians, gun owners, and Republicans into the same category, there is a countertendency to assert particular humanist values: critical thinking, acceptance of others, and anti-prejudice.

While southern atheists are particularly sensitive to generalizations about the South, they are nevertheless highly critical of perceived Christian hegemony and do not shy away from generalizing their opponents. One image compared debating Christians to the popular film The Matrix by linking to a picture of the film’s protagonist, Neo, surrounded by the rogue computer program called Agent Smith.[18] This image reverses the power dynamic between Christians and southern atheists, casting Christians as automatons and atheists as the sole enlightened figures. Several users commented that The Matrix image, for example, expressed exactly how they felt. One wrote, “As an Atheist from Texas, this is the analogous picture I have been waiting for good sir.”  Users from North Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, and even Hawaii all chimed in to share their own feelings of isolation. As more people posted, sub-conversations developed. One person from Tennessee asked, “Atheist living in Cookeville now, anyone near the area or know any groups there?” To which another replied, “Not sure how far from Knoxville that is, but we have an atheist meetup every Tuesday evening at Barley's starting around 5:30pm.”[19] This post and many like it point to an inherent assumption shared by religious and secular southerners alike: the city is secular and countryside is religious.[20]

Finally, a third post linked to an image of a “Family Christians Stores” location in South Carolina. In the comment sections, users began complaining about various aspects of living in the South. The user who posted the image shared his or her incredulity upon hearing someone say that “they liked it a lot better [in this town] than their last town because ‘There are like, no black people here.’” This sparked a long conversation criticizing southerners for being actively or passively racist.[21] Indeed, among online atheists there is a common tendency to conflate southern religion and bigotry—besides the above discussion, recall SouthernAtheist47’s comparison of being an atheist in the South with being a homosexual in the South. For many atheists on Reddit, criticism of southern religion includes criticism of other aspects of southern life, including racial and political ideologies, social values, and levels of education.

These three images are representative of many more, and however trivial they might appear they have several important functions for atheists in the South. First, such images undermine perceived Christian hegemony by exposing perceived hypocrisy, power differentials, ignorance, and more. Images like these simultaneously legitimize atheists by positioning them as the enlightened minority. But perhaps most importantly, these images further the stereotype of the isolated and besieged dissenters. As R. Laurence Moore demonstrated, outsider status leads to martyrdom, which in turn adds weight to the criticism of minority religious groups and wins them legitimacy and the power to change the dominant culture.[22]

Although the Internet is the ideal place for southern atheists to solidify and legitimize their mental and emotional dissent from Christian hegemony, atheists still struggle to live and work physically surrounded by Christians. Their online discussions about practical difficulties offer a window into how secular southerners subvert or circumnavigate Christian influence on their persons. One atheist, a twenty-eight year old man living in North Carolina, turned to Reddit to find a romantic partner. “I just can't seem to meet an atheist/agnostic girl that I can see myself having a future with,” he wrote. “There aren't many atheists in my area so the odds of going out and just meeting someone are very low.” After trying a number of options to meet people, the man asked the Reddit forum, “What would you do if you were in my situation and wanted to meet someone?” Atheists from all over the South responded. The most popular suggestions were either to look for partners in urban areas—particularly Atlanta and Austin—or in towns with large universities. Online dating was a frequent suggestion—another powerful way to subvert the spatial patterns that characterize surveillance and discipline in the rural South expanding social networks far beyond a person’s physical reach.[23]

Raising children also poses problems for southern skeptics. In one emblematic case, a woman asked for advice because her nine-year-old daughter’s teacher cultivated a religious atmosphere in the classroom. The little girl felt forced to lie and say she was Christian for fear of bullying. The mother, at a loss for how to handle the situation, asked Reddit users for advice. As often happens in these cases, someone who had a similar experience responded. Although angry about the breach of church and state, the responder allowed her child to pretend to be Christian in order to avoid confrontation. The second parent also suggested sending an anonymous FFRF letter to challenge the teacher’s behavior. Other southerners chimed in, though, to remind everyone that such a letter would hardly remain anonymous in a small, southern town.[24] Here we see the limits of tactics of resistance—as long as subversive acts stay online and anonymous, there is no threat to the resistor. Once an atheist takes some kind of physical action, networks of power in small, southern towns can assert themselves.[25] In many posts looking for advice, one finds the same categories of comments: some people suggest active resistance, others suggest subterfuge in order to fit in, and still others suggest dialogue and diplomacy. The user must determine how willing they are to risk their anonymity and incur real consequences.

All of the examples above spotlight people who, for one reason or another, felt uncomfortable directly counteracting Christian exertions of power in their lives. However, some atheists living in the Bible belt, particularly younger southerners, feel more comfortable publicly opposing Christianity. For example, after a professor in Georgia showed a documentary called “The Case for a Creator,” based on Lee Strobel’s book of the same name, one college student turned to the atheism Reddit forum for ways to refute the claims in the documentary. More than twenty people replied. Most suggested that the student contact the FFRF, “[n]ot just for yourself, but for everyone in this school and everyone in the bible belt!” Another commenter posted a series of online refutations of Strobel’s arguments.[26] A few months later, the same user asked for resources to refute the arguments of his Mormon family.[27] For this person, Reddit is a resource for active resistance.

Other southern atheists are even more militant, specifically describing their lives as acts of defiance against the Christian institution that threatens to overtake Dixie. “Without men and women of reason,” one person wrote, “the bible belt would inevitability plunge deeper into religious insanity. We are fighting to prevent that each day by standing our ground. This is our home, and by having our voices heard, our protests seen, and our presence known, we make it a little better.” Other proud southerners responded in kind: “When ever I start thinking of moving the back of my mind screams ‘I was born and raised here and I'll be damned(: P) if I let them win,’” wrote one self-identified agnostic pagan.[28] For atheists like these, the struggle against Christianity has real stakes: “I hope for a day when my grandchildren can grow up in a south free of religious persecution, all because people like us did not stand idle and let delusion engulf this beautiful land.”[29]

There can be little doubt that the rural South is predominately Christian, and that atheists are among the religious minorities. Unlike large cities, in which one can live anonymously and move among disparate social circles, many southern towns have small and interconnected social networks. Before the Internet, admitting unbelief to anyone threatened one’s emotional, mental, and even physical well-being. If a non-believer could not move to an urban area, he or she had live duplicitously. With the advent of the Internet and anonymous discussion forums, this spatial separation has been disrupted, giving rural atheists new avenues support and means of resistance to Christian socio-cultural dominance. How their dissent takes shape will undoubtedly impact the way scholars approach American secularism.

As southern atheists develop their dissent both on and offline, scholars should consider the following:

    • How effective is atheist political activism? As of now, southern Christians can easily ignore or circumvent the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU, private complaints, and even the Supreme Court—one thinks of Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument, which the state is still fighting to keep on its capitol grounds despite a Supreme Court order. We may also wonder what other avenues atheists pursue to challenge Christian hegemony. In this vein, what do southern atheists’ political protests, particularly over First Amendment issues, bring to bear on our understanding of secularism in the United States? By defining themselves as the antithesis of southern religion, are they establishing a clear break from the Protestant-influenced southern public sphere? Or are they merely the next step in the Protestant-secular continuum, the specter of a specter of a Protestant-shaped secularism? As more secular southerners feel comfortable questioning Christianity’s role in southern politics, we should be particularly watchful for what Modern called the metaphysics of secularism—that is, are there shared assumptions between southern religious and southern atheists that might point to lingering impacts of Protestantism?
    • Southern atheists tend to lump Christianity, whiteness culture, and Republicanism into a single straw man opponent. How will the rising population of vocal atheists in the South challenge the unity of race, religion, and politics in the South? In general, atheists tend to be politically left, and their vitriolic attacks on southern politico-religious conservatism and racism will eventually register among religious people in the South. Reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement indicates that a minority group criticisms of the institutional mechanisms of power of the dominant group either falls on deaf ears or leads to a backlash against the minority group. Atheists critical of Christian power structures may well receive the same kind of backlash.
    • How are southern churches responding to the rise of atheist dissent? What might cause some churches to counter atheist criticisms by redoubling their efforts at cultural control through political activism? What causes other churches to accept criticism and make changes?The latter might be of particular interest to scholars of southern Christianity—as the millennial generation takes leadership positions in southern churches, they will undoubtedly adapt their churches to counter negative stereotypes.[30] These changes may start to alter the religious landscape of the South in surprising ways. For example, Vox Veniae in Austin, Texas incorporates Marian devotion, Eastern Orthodox Iconography, and Catholic liturgical practices in an effort to correct missteps in the Protestant Church’s past.[31] As other churches in the South attempt to fix perceived mistakes, how will they change southern Christianity?

[1] “I am an Atheist Attorney in the Deep South living as either a hostage or an infiltrator depending on your point of view. I’m writing this for some advice, but questions are also welcome,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueAtheism/comments/1pu9wq/i_am_an_atheist_attorney_in_the_deep_south_living/> (accessed January 5, 2015).  Rather than burden the text with unnecessayry [sic] or corrections, I have only modified citations if changes are required for comprehension. As a result, there are numerous typos and grammatical errors within the quotation marks. These should be taken within the context of informal Internet discussion, and need not reflect poorly on the original authors.

[2] There are a variety of secular southerners: atheists, anti-theists, and agnostics, to name a few. Like-minded southerners include pagans, neo-pagans, wiccans, and others. In this piece, I am primarily concerned with activist atheist southerners, that is, southerners who reject supernaturalism. I use the term activist atheist southerners to describe those for whom opposition to religion plays some role in their lives or identities. I am not concerned with apathetic atheists, that is, southerners who reject supernaturalism and for whom religion is unimportant.

[3] Many atheists themselves attribute the increasing number of people who identify as atheist to the Internet. See, for example, this image (Figure III) posted to <www.reddit.com/r/atheism: http://imgur.com/EVNt1Qv> (accessed January 9, 2015).

[4] Chad Seales, The Secular Spectacle: Performing Religion in a Southern Town (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 11–12.

[5] In Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), Tracy Fessenden argues that a non-specific Protestantism lies behind our current understanding of secularization as a political process and secularism as a national episteme. Put briefly, these Protestant foundations are: a personal faith or personal religion, preference for the written word, and the creation of a vague, white Protestant center through which other races and religions are defined. Whereas Fessenden deals primarily with literary history, John Modern roots his analysis in the religious climate circa 1851 in Secularism in Antebellum America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Modern asserts that the creation of evangelical networks, the increase of technological mechanization, the rationalization of spirituality, and notions of “true religion” among the disparate religious groups were the vague, unspoken mechanisms of secularism that simultaneously governed public sphere of the democratic nation state and the private sphere of religion. This understanding of secularism places it on a continuum with Protestantism, a concept rooted in Weberian rationalization. And like Weber’s Protestant Ethic, both Fessenden and Modern rely on northeastern liberal Protestant sources for their arguments. Although the continuum model of American secularism fits well in the northeast, it does not fit as well in the South.

Seales uses Durkheimian interpretive methods and Talal Asad’s notion of the secular as transcendent mediation to complicate the Protestant-Secular continuum and argue for regional secularisms. Seales shows that in Siler City, North Carolina wealthy white people sacralize their secular spaces through secular rituals, creating for themselves a space set apart from working-class whites and non-whites. This is not to say that the secular is a mask for the religious, but instead that Siler City whites use secularism in oppositional conjunction with religion. In other words, religious people in Siler City used the secular to reinforce their sacred spaces—but religious people themselves were not secular. The secular is therefore not a continuum, but instead a paired opposite, and a tool through which religious or sacred boundaries can be maintained. Seales compares secularism in the South to the South’s color line: the secular and the religious exist in a spatial, oppositional relationship.

It is not my intention to demonstrate the veracity of Seales’s regional secularisms in this piece. Instead, I wish to explore what it could mean for the study of religion in the South—and in the United States—if southern secularism were drastically different from other secularisms. As a result, the majority of this piece explores how secular southerners live secularism in the South. It is my hope that reading secular southerners’ daily experiences in such raw and often emotional detail, scholars will pay heed to modern secularists’ attempts to exorcise the ghost of religion from their midst—if, indeed, there ever was such a ghost at all.

[6] The Internet is still something of a conundrum to scholars of religion. Early studies in online religion proved, in hindsight, overly optimistic about the Internet’s ability to foster pluralism and understanding (For example, a foundational text is Jeff Zaleski, The Soul of Cyberspace [New York: Harper Collins, 1997]). A second wave of scholarship followed this optimistic period, and scholars of the second wave were concerned about the authenticity of online religion and how religious rituals manifest themselves in cyberspace (for example Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan, Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet [New York: Routledge, 2004]). Recent scholarship has taken a more balanced approach, incorporating technology holistically into the study of religion. Robert Glenn Howard’s Digital Jesus: The Making of a New Christian Fundamentalist Community on the Internet (New York: New York University Press, 2011) demonstrates that new and unique religious communities can emerge from online interactions. In addition to Robert Glenn Howard, scholars considering using the Internet as a source would benefit from Heidi A. Campbell’s many works on online religion, particularly When Religion Meets New Media (New York: Routledge, 2010), in which she argues that religious people are not fundamentally opposed to technological advancement, nor is technological advancement necessarily in an entirely separate sphere from religion. Instead, a group’s understanding of its sources of authority, its understanding of textual media in general, and its understanding of itself all influence how it will adapt to new media.

[7] In the post “Alabama voters ban sharia law,” the user “erykthebest” claims to live in Alabama. <http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/11/alabama-voters-ban-sharia-law-while-maine-voters-consider-bear-baiting/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[8] “Is the bible belt in America really as bad as the internet implies it is?” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/1cuie0/is_the_bible_belt_in_america_really_as_bad_as_the/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[9] “A Yankee atheist visiting the Bible Belt,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/2al0ml/a_yankee_atheist_visiting_the_bible_belt/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[10] “Do you feel discriminated against in the Bible Belt (USA)?” <http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueAtheism/comments/26gl1n/do_you_feel_discriminated_in_the_bible_belt_usa/> (accessed January 5, 2015). User: “Bitrandombit.”

[11] R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), xii.

[12] “A confession of a closeted bible-belt atheist,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/exchristian/comments/1ygyhv/a_confession_of_a_closeted_biblebelt_atheist/> (accessed January 5, 2015). In the comments of another post, SouthernAtheist47 reveals that he lives in southern Mississippi. See <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/1zef26/i_live_in_rural_missouri_this_was_pretty_cool_to/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[13] “Unemployment in the Bible Belt,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/1jfkgu/unemployment_in_the_bible_belt/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[14] “Frustrating experiences I keep having with Christian coworkers,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueAtheism/comments/2qt2jx/frustrating_experiences_i_keep_having_with/> (accessed January 5, 2015). See also, “Living in the Bible belt and nobody gets me!,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueAtheism/comments/1hn4l6/living_in_the_bible_belt_and_nobody_gets_me/> (accessed January 6, 2015).

[15] “A confession of a closeted bible-belt atheist,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/exchristian/comments/1ygyhv/a_confession_of_a_closeted_biblebelt_atheist/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[16] Atheists’ attempts to wrap themselves in the American flag again call to mind Moore’s Religious Outsiders. Like the Mormons, southern atheists do not differ all that much from other southerners as atheists are overwhelmingly white and often middle class. Like the Mormons, atheists embrace their outsider status as the foundation of their identities. And, like the Mormons, atheists are simultaneously ultra-patriotic while simultaneously dissenting from certain American values.

[17]“I hate the south,”  <https://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/p9ik1/i_hate_the_south/> (accessed July 19, 2016).

[18] “how i feel as an atheist in the bible belt,”  <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/kw1h1/how_i_feel_as_an_atheist_in_the_bible_belt/> (accessed January 5, 2015).

[19] Ibid.

[20] This is an old theme in the South. For instance, the race film The Blood of Jesus (1941) was a morality tale depicting a young woman on the edge of death forced to choose between hell, represented by a city, and heaven, represented by the country.

[21]  “As a New Yorker who has just recently moved to South Carolina, this shit legitimately creeps me out,”

<https://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/nszyh/as_a_new_yorker_who_has_just_recently_moved_to/> (accessed July 21, 2016).

[22] Moore, Religious Outsiders, 34.

[23] “hey /r/atheism, can you offer some help to a single atheist living in the bible belt?,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/az7af/hey_ratheism_can_you_offer_some_help_to_a_single/> (accessed January 6, 2015).

[24]  “My 9yo daughter (being raised in the bible belt) came home from her public school yesterday and told me that she's ashamed that she doesn't believe in God,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheistparents/comments/2fcr8g/my_9yo_daughter_being_raised_in_the_bible_belt/> (accessed January 6, 2015).

[25] There are dozens of similar posts––and even an entire forum dedicated to raising children as an atheist parent. The forum (http://www.reddit.com/r/atheistparents) has 3,965 subscribers as of July 31, 2016.

[26] “bible belt bio class hell,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/2lh5pp/bible_belt_bio_class_hell/> (accessed January 8, 2015).

[27] “i need help,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/2qtspg/i_need_a_little_help/> (accessed January 8, 2015).

[28] “To all my atheists in the bible belt, stay strong,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/mxpsm/to_all_my_atheists_in_the_bible_belt_stay_strong/> (accessed January 8, 2015).

[29] “To all my atheists in the bible belt, stay strong,” <http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/mxpsm/to_all_my_atheists_in_the_bible_belt_stay_strong/> (accessed January 8, 2015).

[30] I am aware of at least one church in Huntsville, Alabama founded to counteract the negative views of Christians and Christian hegemony in the South. Essential Church was founded after the head pastor had a bad experience of religion and politics mixing in a southern church. Essential’s goal is to pare down all the cultural trappings of Christianity in the South and return strictly to the gospel. Note these words from their “Values” webpage: “Our environments will scream, “We’re glad you’re here;” not, “You must conform, then you’ll be accepted.” Essential, <http://essentialhsv.com/> (accessed July 20, 2016).

[31] Private conversation with one of the full-time clergy at Vox Veniae.

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