The Easter holiday reminded me that I live in the Bible Belt. For the past few weeks the church boards have all been proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and over the past few days the spirit has crept on to restaurant and hotel signage as well. Christ is Risen! proclaimed the Wendy’s restaurant in Jonesville. On the other side of the interstate the Holiday Inn’s sign had the same statement on one side of the sign and a cutesy quote about the Easter Bunny on the other. Easter greetings were repeated on the signage of numerous businesses. The spirit continued over at the local Wal-Mart, where the cashiers bid everyone good-bye with a hearty “Happy Easter” even when the store was open on Easter Sunday.
After I returned some poorly performing Chinese goods I wasn’t offended when the cashier handed me my cash and wished me “Happy Easter.” I even wished her a Happy Easter in return. I didn’t feel like I was having Christianity forced onto me. I chose to live here, and “here” is a well-worn notch in America’s Bible Belt. It’s culture is as foreign to me as any I’ve lived in. I have lived in some very unusual places for a kid from the Midwestern suburbs, and in each I followed the local customs. In Tanzania I avoided eating in front of others during Ramadan, and threw a big feast at Eid. In Japan I removed my shoes when necessary and never felt put upon when doing so. I even bowed towards the neighborhood shrine whenever I passed it going to work or coming home. Did I believe in the minor god it was dedicated to? No, but doing so showed the locals that I respected them even though I didn’t share their beliefs.
While I am not a Christian and am agnostic on the best days, I am not offended by the signage or the religious good-byes. This is the American South, and I respect its history, its culture and its people even though I personally do not share many of its values. At the same time my own beliefs and values are so well-considered and deeply held that I am not worried that they will somehow change because of gas station signs proclaiming “He Is Risen.”