Tag Archives: Gina Welch

Welch: What we talk about when we talk about Berkeley

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With no apologies for having special access to Gina Welch, we asked the author of the newly published In the Land of Believers to write for us about outsiders’ perceptions of Berkeley.

Since my book In the Land of Believers came out a couple of weeks ago, most of the articles covering its release have made good use of some startling shorthand in headlines — “Atheist Jew From Berkeley Goes Undercover In Evangelical Church”, kind of thing.

“When I say you’re a secular Jew from Berkeley, California,” a Christian radio show host recently asked me, “everybody in this audience immediately knows where you’re coming from, don’t they?”

Well, sort of. Not really. The word secular carves space for a vacuum, not a shared system of principles. I’m a Jew, sure, by the matrilineal definition of the word, and by some dim cultural associations, but I don’t practice. And the word Berkeley rings very differently to the ears of people who haven’t lived there.

Joe Scarborough generously had me on his radio program a couple of weeks ago, and he asked if, while I was at Thomas Road Baptist Church [the late Dr Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia], I’d noticed young Evangelicals “dressing like they were from Berkeley, California”*.

If you’re from Berkeley you might bristle at the notion that there’s such a thing as dressing Berkeley, knowing, as you surely do, the Berkeley label tends to blankly pave over byzantine cultural complexity. You know the muscle of the Berkeley Left is actually made up of a million fibers, often flexing at cross purposes — the Green Partiers, the Clintonites, the Obamaphiles, the Slow Foodists and Dumpster Divers, the Second and Third Wave feminists, the Marxists, anarchists, and Revolutionary Communists, the vaguely apathetic left-leaners, the merely apathetic.

You know there’s a strong libertarian contingent in Berkeley, just as sure as there’s a North Berkeley mood contrasting that in the South and the West. You know that slight change in cabin pressure as College crosses Claremont into Berkeley from Oakland, once marked by the blazing orange ball of the 76 station. You know how the airy warehouse grandeur of Berkeley Bowl West departs from the alleyway cramp of the original Berkeley Bowl. You know about racial tension at Berkeley High, you know the socio-economic difference between the hills and the flats. You know that Berkeley’s diversity doesn’t always translate into integration. … Continue reading »

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From the land of non-believers

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Here’s an unlikely story. A young woman, raised in Berkeley in the best Berkeley fashion — left wing and atheist — spends two years “undercover” in Jerry Falwell’s church in Virginia to write a book about Christian evangelicals today. The unlikely part? She re-examines her former intolerance to evangelicals and finds real human connection and warmth. Even after she reveals her deceit, the friends she made in the church extend “acceptance, affection, and forgiveness”.

That’s the story behind Gina … Continue reading »

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