I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.
No, I didn’t say that – John Steinbeck did, in his book Travels with Charley. And he said it better than I ever could have, even if those very same thoughts were echoing through my mind as we drove across the panhandle.
Shortly after crossing over the state line from Oklahoma, we saw a cross – a big cross – a 19-storey cross. And I began to wonder. Ten million people pass by this same cross every year; each day, a thousand or so will stop to see what it’s about. Erected in 1995, it’s the work of 100 welders and its message is that all things are possible for those who believe.
Now, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that Texas was a religious state. But after this cross, I began to see more and more crosses to the point that I soon became obsessed.
Through the bug-splattered windscreen, roadside telephone poles took on new life. I noticed the Christian signage on the long-distance trucks and the myriad billboards with bible extracts. I paid attention to bumper stickers and nearly crashed the car when I saw a mobile church.
In my head, Texas was synonymous with cowboys. And in the westerns of my childhood, all cowboys and ranch-hands said grace before meals. And churchgoing was a regular thing. So why was I so surprised at this outward show of religion, especially considering that Houston hosts the largest church in the nation, Lakewood Church, while Lubbock, Texas has the most churches per capita in the nation.
The second most populous state in the USA, Texas is home to over 25 million people, 3.5 million of whom are foreign-born. The 2010 census showed 70% white American and 64% Evangelical protestant. Texas is big… very big. So big, in fact, that if it were a country, it would be the 40th largest country in the world, after Chile and Zambia. It’s the largest petroleum-producing state in the USA and were it an independent nation, it would be the world’s 5th largest petroleum-producing nation. And even more mind-boggling, The King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas, is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.
This sort of explains why it’s said that Texans ain’t Texans if they ain’t willin’ to boast about the state they call home. Hate it or love it, when it comes to bragging rights, there’s a lot to brag about.