As a recently repatriated Arkansan, I find that fifteen years of absence from this wonderful state has caused a bit of culture shock that I wasn't entirely prepared for. I spent twelve of those years toiling in North Carolina. Those were preceded by three years in Maryland/DC, which I have mostly tried to block from my active memory.
If you have never lived in North Carolina, or known someone who lived in North Carolina, you might not be aware of the fact that despite their distinctly Southern heritage, North Carolinians tend to view themselves as cosmopolitan in a way that doesn't exactly find purchase in other parts of the South.
Atlanta is, I think, probably the only Southern city that has any claim to being a "world city" in the sense I mean, but Atlanta is, in my experience, entirely wrapped up in its Southernness and its Southern ways. I do love that city--I spent most of my honeymoon there--but the things that make Atlanta world-class seem to be things that Atlantans tolerate rather than trumpet. (They do hate them some General Sherman, even now.)
But North Carolina is different. North Carolinians look down on the "other" Carolina, which they regard as backward, with low taxes and the infrastructure to match. Perhaps it's the influence of outsiders. North Carolina has grown explosively over the last thirty years, largely due to growth in the banking and technology sectors. In living there, I found that, like me, a large number of my neighbors were from somewhere else. Charlotte in particular is "all business," a buttoned-down prig of a city that had to will into existence any sort of nightlife. Even its hipster population isn't organic. It's like an ill-tailored jacket: the right size, but somehow just not quite the right fit.
That isn't to say that it was all bad, or that the kind of culture that inhabits North Carolina is altogether negative. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about living there--and in the end, the only thing that mattered to whether I could stay there any more was the one thing it could never be: home.
And it's different here.
Having been absent for so long, I find the affection Arkansans seem to feel for public religion to be sort of jarring. I cannot help but feel that the populace has gotten more religious, more tied to public declarations of faith, than it ever was before. Maybe it's not so; maybe it's just that I spent so much time away from the culture that I notice things now that would not have been conspicuous to me before I left.
But a great many of the people I encounter seem to be able to talk about nothing else, and I really don't understand why. The Arkansas of my youth was a much more progressive place than it is today. This is a state that repeatedly elected liberals to high office, again and again. I can scarcely believe that this is the same state that sent Bill Fulbright, Bill Clinton, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Jim Guy Tucker to high office. None of those men could be elected today except on the nostalgia of their prior service, if at all.
One of the things that happens when you move to a new state is that you need to find new doctors. That has been a bizarre process to say the least. When I choose a doctor, I am looking for two things: scientific competence and a willingness to treat me as a partner in my own health. I research doctors before I call for an appointment in an effort to determine who is most likely to meet those criteria.
There is an unreasonably large number of doctors in this state who feel compelled to assure me of their Christian bona fides in the biography sections of their websites.
(This has been exceptionally acute in the case of Michelle's efforts to identify a good gynecologist. I imagine that part of that is driven by the absolute loathing that many Christians have toward gynecologists because of the abortion issue.)
Don't get me wrong...I certainly don't have a problem with doctors being Christians. I don't exactly "get" it, but physicians have the right to their own religious beliefs.
But these doctors give the impression that they put their religious beliefs first and foremost in their medical practices. That probably makes them excellent Christians, but it makes them suspect as doctors.
A doctor should be dedicated to providing the best advice, diagnosis, and treatment to his or her patients, consistent with a scientific understanding of the body and its diseases. I simply cannot tolerate a doctor who would provide advice, diagnosis, or treatment on anything other than what is, from a scientific standpoint, best for the patient's life and health. I simply cannot trust a doctor who gives me the impression that he or she would allow religious beliefs to govern his or her activities in respect of my health.
I think few people would disagree with me as long as we posit that the doctor is of a different faith from the patient. Would you have confidence in a Hindu doctor who professed to base his diagnostic decisions on what he read in the Bhagavad Gita instead of what he learned in Anatomy and Physiology?
I would be profoundly disappointed in a doctor who knew that a particular procedure was scientifically the best for my health but failed to recommend it on the basis of some religion-based moral code that I don't share. It is a simple question of priorities.
To be fair, we encountered this a bit in North Carolina, too, but it has been much more common here. The simple fact is that I don't care what church my doctor attends.
I will, however, take solace in the fact that these otherwise inappropriate public declarations of faith do serve a purpose, in that they make it much easier to identify the doctors whom I should not patronize. Silver linings, I guess.