Recently, while writing in a Beacon Hill cafe, I overheard a conversation between two women sitting at a table next to mine. The two (both in their 30s) tried to conceal the contents of their conversation with very low voices—with the more critical words exchanged at the lowest level possible, the level of a whisper. But whispering and low voices only excites the curiosity of others, only excites the instinct to eavesdrop. I caught the word "church." These two women, who, I gathered (or deciphered), were meeting for the first time in reality, and most likely first connected in cyberspace, were Christians. But they did not want the whole cafe to hear them talk about Christian stuff: being born again, defeating temptations, finding the right pastor or Bible study group. In this city of nonbelievers, this kind of talk sounds completely out of place and anachronistic. Best not to be all loud about it.
One of the women said in a low voice: "Seattle is not like back home. People don't really believe in community here. They are such individuals. It's a frontier kind of mentality. That's why they do not go to church. They do not need community." Later, she said: "I'm a spiritual person. I need spiritual nourishment." This woman, who has lived in Seattle for five years (I failed to hear where she was from exactly), had no idea that she was no longer a really real American Christian type. She was already much more a Seattleite. In this city, the common answer to the question "Are you religious?" is: "No, but I'm spiritual." The common American Christian is never spiritual but simply religious (or faithful). Spirituality is to Christianity what excellence is to culture.