Kansas

Notes from the Heartland

My atheist feet are doing all they can to stop tapping along to the power chords of the Westside Family Church house band. Westside is a megachurch in Lenaxa, Kansas, home of United Parcel Service and 50,000 people. No tour of the heartland would be complete without a bit of Jesus, so on Sunday I drove out to fill my cup.

Foreigners often leave the US with a sense of paradox: how can a country combine religious tolerance with religious intensity? Few others manage it. Charles Dickens, for example, preferred the more open Boston preachers to the stuffy Anglicans back home. Yet he noted the New World’s fervour, too. “Wherever religion is resorted to, as a strong drink, and as an escape from the dull monotonous round of home, those of its ministers who pepper the highest will be the surest to please.”