Interesting Stuff: Agnostics, atheists, freethinkers

The Black Community Has Been Waiting Too Long For God’s Help by Darrell Dawsey                           February 24th, 2013

Even as Black History month prepares to close out its final week, this Sunday marks the emergence of a nascent movement that promises a radical new direction for many in African-American communities. As it has for the past couple of years now, the fourth Sunday of February has been designated the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers, a call for unity among the relatively small but fast-growing ranks of African-American atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. All around the country, local and national organizations of black atheists are holding small meet-ups, huge conferences and intense symposia in an effort both to support each other and to draw attention to the increasing numbers of blacks who are rejecting gods and churches in favor of reason and a deep skepticism toward the religious idealism that has been a traditional hallmark of black communities nationwide. The Day of Solidarity has another aim as well — to confront head-on what many black non-believers see as a refusal by some whites in the secular community to acknowledge and embrace ethnic and racial diversity. According to the Free Thought Blogs: Black Skeptics: Based on their disinterest in any recruiting efforts, the leadership of the secular community is apparently very proud of the fact that they, on the other hand, have few people of African descent in leadership positions as well as very few members. While there is no genuine intent or concerted plan to change this situation, many attempt to explain this phenomena by claiming that black folk are just too addicted to religion; otherwise, those of us who aren’t addicted to religion are either nominal or closet atheists, and therefore, need not be taken seriously. During the past 25 years, I belonged to many secular organizations; it was indeed a challenge to remain in them. When African American atheists attempt to expand their visibility and participation in the secular community by organizing with other nonbelievers—especially those who have been historically ignored by the leadership of the secular community—to publicly celebrate their freedom from religious dogma; when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round. Indeed, skepticism hasn’t erased racism. For all of their willingness to reject religious dogma and convention, far too many white atheists still haven’t figured out how to reject the insidious racist thinking that compels too many of them to either overlook people of color or fall for the same hoary stereotypes about blacks and others that poison the minds of the theists they are so quick to deride. As a result, atheist communities often seem as closed to African-Americans as some communities of believers — sometimes even more so. Meanwhile, even as the media opens itself up to more discussion about “the new atheism,” much of it tends to focus on white freethinkers such as Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and PZ Myers. Too often lost in the mix are brilliant black skeptics such as Sikivu Hutchinson, Norm Allen, Ayanna Watson, Jamila Bey and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Not only does this skewed coverage present a false picture of homogeneity among atheists, it also reinforces the myth that all black folks are Bible- (or Quran-) thumping zealots who passively accept whatever religious ideology has been passed on to them by pop culture and previous generations. Truth is, there are millions of blacks who no longer (or never did) embrace the religion of our forebears. There are also burgeoning organizations, such as the Black Atheists of America, that are dedicated not just to exploding religious mythology but to making a substantive difference in the lives of other black people through science, reason and humanist compassion. They know that, for all of black folks’ slavish devotion to theism, black churches and mosques have proven utterly incapable of transforming the material conditions of most of our people (with the preachers who get paid off these hustles being the notable exceptions). In Detroit, for instance, churches and mega churches abound in almost every part of town, white elephants towering smugly above dilapidated houses, burnt-out storefronts and vacant lots. Look out on the major thoroughfares that cut through the most depressed black communities and you’ll find churches on top of, next door to and up the street from still other churches. And yet our communities are as burdened with violence, poverty, despair and dysfunction as they have ever been. We spend hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars every week on love offerings and tithes and church “building fund” contributions and pay-ins to pastoral anniversaries. And what do we have to show for it? Sure, there may be a few church-run shelters or food programs here and there, a few mediocre charter schools and “alternative” education centers. But given all that blacks invest in religion week in, week out, is this really the best we can do? Is this all we really have to show for centuries of serving as the nation’s “spiritual compass” in many ways? Meanwhile, Christian preachers continue to make up the bulk of so-called “leadership” in our communities, at the helm of our civil-rights groups, our social organizations and our business confederations. We put them in charge of our schools and vote them onto our city councils. We depend on them to speak for us not just on “spiritual matters,” but also the pressing issues of the day in the physical world. Even as other communities send economists and lawyers and analysts to the table to address matters of public policy or criminal justice, we’re still relying on Pastor So-and-So to articulate our most complex and serious ideas and interests. While I don’t deny that the black church has indeed played a key role in blacks’ traditional fight for freedom — mostly because the church historically has been the one place blacks could gather without inviting racist hostility — I don’t believe that it does black communities any good to continue to hold on to Dark Ages religion as the panacea for our modern-day problems. We need a greater emphasis on reason, on science, on free thought. We need to quit “waiting on Jesus” and quit depending on “god’s messengers” to shape our politics, fight our battles and lead our collective struggles. We need to consider that maybe, just maybe, our pre-occupation with the supernatural hasn’t done a damn thing to change the natural conditions that delimit, and often destroy, so many of our lives. We have spent the better part of our history on American shores looking to heaven for help. It’s time to avert our gaze and begin looking to ourselves.  Sunday morning gatherings for agnostics, athiests, humanists, freethinkers. Good to know!


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