The Rose City, along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, has long been known (and, by many here, celebrated) as one of America’s “least-churched” regions. Twenty-five percent of us—three times the average of the rest of the country—declare no religious affiliation at all.

Sure, we have a long history of deists and cults, but Portland has also become a breeding ground for liberal forms of Christianity, ranging from one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the country to a swiftly expanding community of believers who are looking beyond well-established churches and theologies to pioneer a movement often referred to as “postmodern religion” or the “emerging church.”

As USA Today religion columnist Tom Krattenmaker recently argued, there is “the strong likelihood that Christianity’s best face is showing up here in the unchurched mecca not in spite of the city’s secularism and skepticism, but because of them.” Or, as City Commissioner Nick Fish speculated last spring when an unprecedented collective effort of churches called the Season of Service presented our openly gay (and famously sinful) mayor with a $100,000 check to curb dropout rates in schools, “Perhaps someday we’ll be known as Jesus’s favorite city.”

So, to welcome journalist and proud atheist Christopher Hitchens to town for a January 5 appearance in the Portland Arts & Lectures series, we offer a conversation about the value of religion with some of Portland’s liberal church avant-garde.