The first time we drove into Pigeon Forge, I was awed by the glitter and lights, delighted by the themed museums and curiously charmed by the emphasis on Scripture.
I still love the glitter and kitsch, and the architecture of the town’s many museums is fabulous. Yet this time the bold public exhortations to love God, trust Jesus and be saved felt hypocritical and vaguely threatening.
Each property along the main strip proclaims its faith more loudly than the last. While I admire the depth of their belief, to an outsider it seems like they’re trying to score points with God.
I seriously doubt some sinner will, one dark stormy night, crash his Trans Am into a lightpost outside yet another tacky tourist trap and have an honest-to-god come-to-Jesus moment because he regains consciousness under a storefront with two taxidermied bears and a giant JESUS SAVES sign.
Added to that is that most stores display or sell Confederate flags with the brazen sort of idolatry one can only wonder about.
What would Jesus do? Probably overturn some tables and call it a day.
The Christians I know are sincere and welcoming in their faith. Prayers and Scripture are offered unconditionally and without judgment. Godliness is not a competition.
Pigeon Forge hasn’t changed in the past five years, but I—an unbeliever still—have been changed by the gentle evangelizing of kind people who do not wag fingers or post road signs condemning my family and I to damnation.
Melani used Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to explain the death of this roadside attraction: “I mean when a place is less sacred than any other place. Of negative sacredness. Places where they can build no temples. Places where people will not come, and will leave as soon as they can. Places where gods only walk if they are forced to.”