Showing Solidarity with Black Nonbelievers when you aren’t Black

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.

Last weekend, Aron and I went to a presentation about the history of Black Freethought by Alix Jules hosted by Houston Oasis.  Right now the Houston Atheists boast the largest group of freethinkers in Texas with a population of 2,078.

Salute!

We happen to know Alix from being members of DFW’s Fellowship of Freethought the largest group of freethinkers in Dallas at 1,127.  If you have never heard of him, he is in charge of DFWCOR Diversity Council.

This billboard placed in a historically black section of Dallas earned Alix much scorn. It started a dialogue about how atheists don't really do good things like the neighborhood churches. In response to a pastor's challenge Alix and friends picked greens for the needy.

This billboard placed in a historically black section of Dallas earned Alix much scorn. It started a dialogue about how atheists don’t really do good things like the neighborhood churches. In response to a pastor’s challenge Alix and friends picked greens for the needy.

We happened to be in Houston because Aron was giving a speech for the Humanists of Houston, another sizable group of Texas freethinkers, about the supposed coexistence of dinosaurs with people. Yes. People still do seriously believe that.

If you’re from Texas, you know that many freethinking Texans are actively interested in seeking the community of other nonbelievers because we can feel isolated and lonely. Two words…Rick Perry, if he’d been elected president -you’d all be feeling our pain right now. However terrible the pain freethinkers feel here, it can’t be directly compared to being a black freethinker.

As many of us already know, African-Americans are the most religious ethnic group.

While the U.S. is generally considered a highly religious nation, African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life. Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87% of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Although black nonbelievers exist somewhere in the 12 percent of the African American population that is religiously unaffiliated, they earn the distinction of being triple mavericks from the American status quo as they are not white, religious, and disproportionately economically disadvantaged. Few people really set out to alienate themselves from society, but black nonbelievers are often double alienated. As Alix says

I remember the feeling of abandonment when grappling with the realization that it was my belief (or lack of it) that caused the rift in my relationships. I recall receiving a text: “write back when you’ve found Jesus.” There’s no more belittling feeling than being told that your lifelong congregation had been asked to pray for your safe passage and deliverance from Satan, yet watch the church say nothing to condemn priestly pedophilia.

 I noticed during the Q&A that non-blacks can have difficulty identifying with what black nonbelievers go through. More importantly, they struggle with how to help support blacks coming out of religion. The first question for Alix was why blacks are Christians because of slavery in the Bible.  Alix had a good answer that they identify with the bondage of the Israelites.  I want to add that black slaves like the poet Phillis Wheatley took an unintended lesson to heart from their white slave owner’s religious indoctribation.

But how presumptuous shall we hope to find

Divine acceptance with the Almighty mind

While yet o deed ungenerous they disgrace

And hold in bondage Afric: blameless race

Let virtue reign and then accord our prayers

Be victory ours and generous freedom theirs.

How could they be worthy of salvation, but unworthy of their own freedom? Unfortunately. Wheatley fell prey to the rationalization that salvation was the purpose of slavery that still exists today.  It is exactly the same type of rationalization that plagues women believers of any race.  How can women be believers with the overt misogyny in the Bible? Anyone can cherry pick among the hateful verses in the Bible to try to find a higher purpose.

Another questioner asked how one could help when for example their attempt at volunteering to register black voters was met with seeming coldness from the local black community, In some ways a better question is how can I as a non-black show solidarity or support with black nonbelievers?  The greatest voices of  African Americans have been black voices like Martin Luther King.  Alix was a bit dismayed that even today many prominent black voices are reverends.  And too, he pointed out that he originated from Haiti, a colony with a rich, cultural history of Black Freethinkers before Christian regimes governed there.

It should be self evident that Blacks are perfectly capable of speaking and leading themselves.  As an Eurasian, I would find who already has a strong voice in the community and support their efforts.  When, I was a child I went to a predominately black school.  I could sing along with the “Black National Anthem” and learn black history because it is the history of fellow human beings. So, we can join our fellow human beings in Solidarity this weekend and support them as freethinkers because their feelings of stigmatization from leaving religion are not of an unrelated category to our own. “Out of the many one” is definitely a better motto than “In God we trust”.

Aron and I will show our solidarity this weekend at an event where Alix Jules will be speaking at to kick off the newly formed Black Nonbelievers of Dallas. This is a post by Mandisa Thomas that might help you hook up with a local event.

If only more schools could display more nativity scenes and menorahs…

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston filed a bill in the Texas legislature that is expected to receive bipartisan support to help religious-minded teachers and schools use holiday greetings like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” and to “display Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, menorahs and other cultural icons of winter celebrations”.

 

Not a menorah to be found in the Texas Legislature fancy that.

Not a menorah to be found on the Texas House floor. Fancy that!

So technically a Wiccan teacher, could erect a Yule tree (Christmas tree), a straw Yule goat, and eat a Yule Boar (Christmas ham) in honor of the Solstice and the pagan god Odin.  Ironically if there were such a teacher, that person would most likely not do any of those things knowing that it would offend the religious majority of their parents.

My teacher said we made this to placate the harvest god Freyr.

My teacher said we made this to placate the harvest god Freyr.

This ham tastes remarkably pagan.

This ham tastes remarkably pagan.

Sort of the way, Bohac was offended when his son came home telling him that the teacher has erected a holiday tree with holiday ornaments.

“After inquiring with school officials as to why the term ‘Holiday Tree’ was being used, it became apparent that the school was fearful of litigation,” Bohac said. “It was that moment that inspired me to file legislation that would provide students, parents, teachers and administrators a safe harbor for openly celebrating a Federal holiday.”

One has to wonder how offended he would have been if his son’s teacher was a pagan, and they honored Odin during Yule.  Aside from nativity scenes there isn’t one popular Christmas ritual that doesn’t have a pagan origin.

Putting a symbol of fertility on an evergreen tree.  It's pagan!

Putting a symbol of fertility on an evergreen tree. It’s pagan!

Deck the halls with the pagan symbol of the Holly King.  So very pagan!

Deck the halls with the pagan symbol of the Holly King. So very pagan!

I’m sure some of the pagans were a bit miffed too about having their Thor’s Oak replaced by the tradition of a Christmas tree. It’s also curious how Christians erect Christmas trees, given that Jeremiah 10:1-10 expressly forbids this particular pagan practice.  A Christian legend was concocted which attributed the demise of the pagan tree to St. Boniface, an eighth century missionary to Germany.  After just one chop of his holy axe, a mighty wind blew down Thor’s tree. The credulous pagans were impressed and amazed and thereafter they celebrated Christmas, or so the story goes.

Watch where you swing that axe! Now look what you did!

Watch where you swing that axe! Now look what you did! There ought to be a law.

If only they could have filed legislation to protect their cherished religious beliefs from succumbing to the popularity of a new belief. They didn’t really have a say back then because religion was dictated by the state.  Which in a roundabout way is exactly what Bohac is doing with his bill.

Yes he leaves it up to teachers and schools to choose which religious tradition to follow.  Realistically in a majority Christian country, I’m betting on more mangers than menorahs.  The few brave souls celebrating different traditions can either try to buck the majority or just give up and say “Merry Christmas!”

So again Jesus’s birth will be celebrated boldly in Texas public schools funded by taxpayers of different faiths or no faith. The people with the dominant religious belief will determine what holiday is celebrated. The Christian ruling class will be able to promote their religious beliefs and drown out different religious beliefs.  The Jewish students in my classroom, who talked about their traditions when we were reading A Christmas Carol from a secular perspective, will be de facto second class citizens.

Except in a neighborhood where a minority religion like Islam is the most popular.  Imagine the Christian outrage then. Imagine it when they no longer have the numbers to be the ruling class.  Their best hope in that scenario is that the next religious ruling class  keeps their religious beliefs out of government.

 

*Update.  I posted a link to the post to Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s Facebook page.  Let’s see if he will address the criticism of what he calls “The Merry Christmas Bill”.  Maybe he could at least put Happy Hanukkah in parenthesis next to the name of his bill right?  Just to show this isn’t about promoting Christianity over all other religious traditions of his constituents.

If you like go on over there and give your opinion. My opinion: civil and articulate opinions will accomplish the most.