The Christian Underground: in Seattle, My Home Town Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 18 June 2007 14:30

My tribe: Seattlites.

I'll be back in a couple weeks -savoring her five espresso stands on every corner, the wind whipping on the ferries, the salmon sailing through the air at the Pike Place Market. I'll hang out with Mark Shea and the clan, and see old haunts again and revel in her lush greenness and Mt. Rainer (if the mountain is "out") etc.

But I won't miss this: the incredibly hostile spiritual atmosphere.

Trying to live as a believing Christian (Catholic or evangelical) in Seattle's atmosphere of deep hostility and skepticism is like trying to take a relaxing stroll against a hurricane force wind. There's nothing relaxing about it. Nothing in the culture can be assumed to be for you. You are always on alert. There are some wonderful churches in town (Blessed Sacrament where the Institute started, being one of them) and some creative and significant ministries.

But if you are not part of the Christian "underground", you need never know they - or we - exist. Religion in the public square: unimaginable.

This piece in the local newspaper, the Stranger says it all - from the perspective of an unbeliever.

The Church of Skepticism: Seattle's One True Faith Gets Mobilized
By Sean Nelson

This is my 15th year living in Seattle, and I can count on one hand the number of churchgoers I've met since moving here—and still have a finger left to hail a taxi to drive me the hell away from them. That's a joke, obviously, but it reflects an attitude I've encountered a lot in Seattle: Religious people are to be avoided.

It's not fair or true to suggest that all people who believe in a god and attend worship services are crazy or unreasonable. We all know that. It's also possible that I've met observant Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists in my time as a Seattleite (someone's going to all those churches). But if I have, they've kept a pretty tight lid on their Sabbath adventures.

Maybe that's because, as certain religious leaders like to claim, the "faithful" compose a persecuted majority, and the observers are scared of being ostracized, even persecuted, for admitting their beliefs. That's a reasonable enough concern in a town as judgmental as Seattle, I guess. But leaving aside the question of how weak the faithful must be if they can be driven underground by a little ridicule, I don't think that's what's really going on. I think it's that the real religion of this city is skepticism, and the word is spreading.

Last week, 850 people packed Town Hall to hear a presentation by Christopher Hitchens, in town to promote his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which was number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Hitchens's stance in favor of war in Iraq has made him a polarizing figure among your standard-issue Seattle lefty crowd, but Town Hall was bursting with people ready to embrace the message that religion is a "Bronze Age myth."

"This stuff," Hitchens said, referring to religion, "is not to be believed." And the crowd roared.

Hitchens's argument—posed to a fully complicit choir, admittedly—was made all the more compelling because no one answered the call to debate the author about the existence of a god or the validity of religion. Seattle could not produce one radical Fundamentalist, sober moderate, or disinterested scholar to stand for the holy side. That's telling (we're the only city that has failed to meet Hitchens's challenge to debate all comers), but it's not what made the event resonate.

I described my shock at the open manifestation of religion in the marketplace in Colorado Springs in a Siena Scribe article:

When we moved our office to Colorado Springs I did not understand how different life would be in the "Evangelical Vatican." Over 100 national and international evangelical Protestant organizations make their home here including Focus On the Family. We have no skyscrapers, only "purple mountain majesties" (America the Beautiful was inspired by the view from Pikes Peak) and gigantic churches with names like "Radiance" or "New Life" that dominate the corners and hilltops. Visible, unapologetic faith is much more a part of the public scene here than would ever be imagined in Seattle.

When I drop into my local dry cleaner's or Mail Boxes, Etc., the staff is listening to Christian talk radio. During a recent morning walk, a friendly older man wanted to demonstrate his dog's best trick. I witnessed the apparently charismatic pooch "praise the Lord" by rising on her hind legs and waving her paws in the air on command. Honest.

If I walk into the local discount warehouse, the genial older gentleman who greets me will very likely bellow a few bars of "Amazing Grace" into the public address system. The first time I heard it, my West Coast urbanite paranoia kicked in. "He's singing a Christian hymn in a public place. He can't do that! He'll be fired for sure." Six months later, he's still singing at the top of his lungs. I now know that Colorado Springs shoppers consider him a bit of local color rather than a one-man assault on the separation of church and state.

So what is atmosphere like in your neck of the woods? Open hostility to the faith, indifference, or surrounded by believers? How does that affect how you live and express your Catholic faith?