Black Atheists Survey »« The Infidel Frederick Douglass

From, Black Infidels: Humanism and African American Social Thought


By Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt from www.thenewhumanism.org

…Then, as now, the overwhelming association of religiosity with authentic blackness makes it difficult for black secular humanists who are atheist or agnostic to be vocal about their beliefs. In the introduction to The Black Humanist Experience, Norm Allen notes, “Humanists often feel…that they are a misunderstood and despised minority. Many are afraid to come out of the closet due to fear of being ostracized…by intolerant religionists.” On websites and in chat rooms, many African American secular humanists who identify as atheists or agnostics express anxiety about “coming out” to friends and family. David Burchall, founder of the Secular Community in Long Beach, California said that he has struggled to attract African Americans due to this factor. Burchall’s organization focuses on providing secularist individuals of all ideological persuasions and cultural backgrounds with a welcoming community meeting place. For his own part, he “rarely meets a black person who says he or she is an atheist.” In this regard, invisibility fuels isolation and reinforces social conformity among secular African Americans. Thamani Delgardo, a health care professional and agnostic who grew up in the Black church, said she is reluctant to come out because, “I’m afraid that my family members will think less of me and will be very disappointed.”

As the Religious Right has become more vociferous, black atheists in particular have been challenged by a sociopolitical climate that has grown more hyper-religious, more evangelical and more deeply superstitious. According to a 2005 Pew Survey, a majority of African Americans believe in creationism. Many also believe that secular liberals have “gone too far” to keep religion out of schools and government. Consequently, black secular humanists often question the blind faith of African American believers, arguing that unquestioned acceptance of religious dogma has jeopardized African American academic progress, particularly in math and science. It is because of religious dogma, Delgardo says, that young African Americans believe “God will make a way for their survival, so they may drop out of school, have children with no visible means of supporting them, or simply not plan for their financial future because they believe god will handle the hardships and the details that rationalists plan for…”

This critique has particular resonance for Kwadwo Obeng, author of We Are All Africans: Exposing the Negative Influence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religions on Africans. A native of Ghana and an L.A. County resident, Obeng is a former Jehovah’s Witness who broke from the sect after rigorous independent study of the Bible. In his book, Obeng acknowledges the constructive role Christianity played in African American communities during the slave era, when it provided a cultural and philosophical context for black human rights resistance. Yet he cautions that contemporary Christianity is just a diversion for black folk. Poor blacks have been given few avenues for systemic redress of racism by either self-serving black preachers or “Christian-identified” black politicians. As “the church has become part of our DNA, Black politicians feel they need to wrap Jesus all around them to be successful.” Many black secular humanists argue that the business of organized religion has been particularly detrimental to poor blacks, who tithe millions to churches while their communities are falling apart. They point to the rise of “prosperity gospel” oriented preachers like T.D. Jakes, Fred Price and Creflo Dollar as an example of the Black church’s betrayal of the social justice legacy of Martin Luther King.

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