The Alaska Problem

So a few days ago, I noted that Alaska was a part of the country that doesn’t evoke strong antipathy from other regions. Whereas urban northerners, and particularly urban northern liberals, have an instinctive unease about the Deep South, Alaska is an unknown quantity.

Well, that could change.

What I didn’t fully reckon with is how strange Wasilla, and Alaska, really is. Yes, Wasilla is a small town of strip malls that serves a valley of 70,000. Some residents commute to Anchorage. But, as a friend explained to me last night, it is also a haven of people who’ve deliberately chosen to reject mainstream American life. This is no surprise. If you want to shield your children from the evils of cable television and consumerism, taking them to the exurbs is a common but not terribly effective strategy — taking them to the edge of the Alaskan bush, on the other hand, demonstrates that you really, really mean business. Consider the urban Californians who left for Denver and Phoenix and Portland and maybe Bozeman. I mean, they prefer the lower cost of living and the higher quality of life. Maybe they like hiking. You get the picture. Then there are those who go to rural Idaho. Something different is going on, clearly. Cost of living is a big part of it, but so is what you might call a retreat to homogeneity. Okay. Then you go to Alaska — and say you go with a devoutly religious community that then forms a bush church, where you leave according to your strenuous creed.

Wikipedia tells me that only 39 percent of Alaska belong to religious congregations — the state is said to be, befitting part of the greater Pacific Northwest, pretty secular. But the evangelical tradition in the state is very robust, and it seems to be more diverse and experimental and unconventional than what you see in the lower 48. Secular and religious utopians alike flock to Alaska, and both define themselves against the mores of the American mainstream.

This is going to become a subject of great interest soon. Someone needs to write about it. I’d like to, but I obviously have a lot to learn. If you know anything — or if I’m getting this all wrong — let me know.