I came across this story just now and it struck me as a little strange:
A quick scroll through the Real Yellow Pages shows that Memphis has 1,692 churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.
If you're of a religious bent, it's certainly not hard to find a place to pray here.
But if you're an atheist, life in a city often tabbed as the buckle of the Bible Belt can be difficult.
"It permeates the culture," said 36-year-old Craig Wiggins, a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis. "It's sort of ingrained in the way people think and their attitudes."
"I ride the bus, and you get this: 'Have a blessed day.' There's always somebody on the bus talking religion. I have people asking me, 'Have you heard the good news?' " 45-year-old actor Michael Conway said. "It can get annoying."
Religion, the Christian religion, is everywhere, they said.
Three giant crosses stand along Interstate 40. Billboards or store marquees advertise religious messages. Jesus bumper stickers or fish symbols decorate cars.
Crosses dangle from necks. Churchgoers legally park on two lanes of Poplar Avenue during Sunday services. Writers automatically capitalize "God," "He" and "Him" in this newspaper.
Paul Neuwirth was particularly incensed at the oath he was asked to recite for jury duty, which included a religious reference.
"Everyone else said, 'I do,' except me," the 48-year-old casino dealer said. "I said, 'No.' Everyone froze." He was eventually dismissed from the jury pool.
"Say you want to go to the supermarket on Sunday morning and get your ribs, charcoal and beer, and make it home before kickoff at 11 a.m. You can't do it, because they don't sell beer until noon," Conway said. "Any law that treats Sunday differently than any other day is state religion and is unconstitutional."
After 9/11, several local atheists said they felt even more ostracized because religion was such an overwhelming part of the response to the terrorist attacks.
"Most all the ceremonies that went on after that were religious in nature. Services and memorials were held at church," Wiggins said. "You can't be included in that process."
Added Len Cleavelin, 46: "Everything was religious-oriented, and the very source of the attacks was religion."
What really confused me though was when I tried to figure out what the impetus of this story was, especilly after I read this last part:
Getting people to talk about their lack of belief wasn't easy, though. Several people declined to discuss their beliefs in a public forum.
And for Conway, Wiggins and others, deciding to reveal that they don't share what many consider their most cherished beliefs caused some trepidation.
"It's probably more acceptable to be gay in Memphis than to be an atheist," the 39-year-old Maynard said. "We are relegated to noncitizen status."
As far as I can tell, stories like this generally start when the author starts hearing complaints and decides that there might be a good human interest story to write. Apparently that's not what happened hear; in fact, the author makes a point of telling us that it was very difficult to find atheists willing to complain to him.
So why, I wonder, did he decide to write the story in the first place?