Non-Religious Students Open Up About Life In the Bible Belt

Senior Logan Brown holds a notebook with a Bible regency that was left by one of his friends Sept. 4


He wasn’t shouted down in the streets in his religious small town for his lack of faith, nor was he stopped in the hallways of his schools. He wasn’t treated drastically different from before his peers learned he was non-religious. There weren’t any radical changes since he began identifying as an atheist, but there was still a difference.

Passive aggressive sticky notes began to appear in the pages of his book, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, with the verse John 3:16 imprinted on them. Carefully, he would peel them off, always slightly amused but never annoyed. It was just another day for him.

At the UofA though, senior Logan Brown has found students are generally more accepting than his hometown. On some occasions though, when he is approached by other students when they learn about his lack of faith, will ask him to attend their church services, but the UofA in general is more tolerant of his beliefs, he said. 

Brown is an atheist. He was raised in a Methodist family from a small town in Texas, where a church was only a stone-throw away. 

Brown and many of his non-religious friends prefer to use the term non-religious because of the stigma behind atheism, with atheists being firebrands that shout their beliefs in the street, he said. He and his other non-religious friends are just normal people and are respectful of other people’s beliefs, he said.

He hasn’t always been non-religious, and at one point, he even called himself extremely religious. So much so that when he was in middle school, he wanted to become a priest. But there was something always nagging him in the back of his mind, Brown said.

“There was always the issue of science versus religion,” Brown said.
What he learned from his textbooks and the literal interpretation of the Bible clashed. While he could use other interpretations to explain natural phenomena, that wasn’t enough for him, he said.

“I decided in my mind I was going to be a guy to collate the two, and figure out it all because, ‘Of course, they have to match,’” Brown said. “And what I found out over the course of time trying to do that was they just didn’t.”

His faith then began to taper off, and at one point, when he was asked about his faith, he came to the realization that he was non-religious, he said.

Senior Jesse Blanchard was never truly religious, and his lack of faith solidified once he realized how many different religions there were and how they conflicted with each other, he said. He is from Prairie Grove, Arkansas, a town that is very religious, he said.

“It’s one of those school districts with a church on every corner,” Blanchard said with a chuckle. “I can’t count the number of Bibles I was gifted.”
Arkansas is located below the Bible Belt, an area chiefly in the Southern U.S. where the majority of religious adults are practicing Christians, according to Merriam-Webster.

Sixty-two percent of adults in the South have said that religion is very important, and 71 percent of adults in the South have said they are absolutely certain in their belief of God, according to a religious landscape study by Pew Research.

“In the Bible Belt, you’re supposed to be religious, you’re supposed to go to church every Sunday, you’re supposed to be involved in [religious] groups, and I skipped all of that,” Blanchard said.

Religion is important in Arkansas mainly due to how it was taught from generation to generation, and there is a strong emphasis for children to listen to their parents, Blanchard said.

“It’s traditional, a lot of younger children are told from a very young age, ‘If you don’t do what I do, you’re wrong,’” Blanchard said.

Senior Annelise Zaring is a Christian from Colorado, where she was raised by a Christian family outside the Bible Belt.

“I think in the Bible Belt, there is more of a cultural Christianity than a genuine belief in the Gospel,” Zaring said. “I hear a lot of stories of people who are turned off by maybe some people who claim to be Christian, but don’t really follow through with what the Bible says.”

Although the UofA is in a religious and conservative state, it seems to have a different culture, Brown said.

In his hometown, if he said he did not believe in God, there would be a big reaction, whereas at the UofA, similar to his experience in high school, most students wouldn’t care and would move on, Brown said.
Sometimes people approach Brown and attempt to talk to him or convert him after he mentions he’s non-religious, Brown said.

“There are people that like to talk about it and try to get you onto their side,” Brown said. “And that’s fine. Sometimes I would agree if I had free time. I don’t take it as a big offense.”

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