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Jun 27 2011

Black Atheists and Reactionary Black Nationalism


By Norm R. Allen Jr.

Members of the Black Atheists of Atlanta are causing quite a stir on the Web with their provocative conception of Black atheism. They embrace a reactionary, African-centered worldview, from which they inevitably denounce homosexuality, Western civilization, and White people in general. In particular, they are all too willing to sacrifice the rights of LGBT people on the altar of African culture.

With so much conceptual confusion running through their minds, they are bound to experience much cognitive dissonance. For example, though they denounce Greek civilization and culture, they embrace the Greek term “atheist,” which means without a belief in God or gods. What is even more problematic is that many Afrocentrists, such as the late John Henrik Clarke, believe that atheism will never take root among people of African descent. Some Afrocentrists claim that atheism is so foreign to Africans that there is no word for atheism in any African language. The late Afrocentric scholar Asa G. Hilliard said that church/state separation is a concept that is totally foreign to Africans. How do reactionary, African-centered atheists deal with these problems?

To their credit, these reactionary Black atheists of Atlanta have learned well from the handbook of reactionary Black militancy. They poison the well by claiming that their critics are wrong because they are Whites, or Blacks that have been brainwashed by Whites. These dogmatic atheists are not above questioning the Blackness of their Black critics.

Ironically, the Blackness of reactionary nationalists is never questioned. Marcus Garvey formed an alliance with the KKK. Elijah Muhammad used Malcolm X to forge an alliance with George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party. Louis Farrakhan formed an alliance with Tom Metzger and the White Aryan Resistance. Moreover, the Nation of Islam (NOI) leader has served as an apologist for bigoted slave owners in Sudan. If ever there is a time to question one’s Blackness, it surely ought to be when that person joins forces with the sworn enemies and murderers of Black people. Yet in these cases, reactionary Black leaders were given a free pass, while their Black critics were viewed warily.

The reactionary members of the Black Atheists of Atlanta view antipathy toward homosexuality as an African virtue. Due to exposure to good scholarship, however, they have quietly retreated away from the absurd claim that homosexuality did not exist in Africa before it was introduced by White Westerners. Still, they claim that Africans did not approve of it.

In truth, laws against homosexuality were introduced into Africa by White Christians. Today opposition to same-sex relations is fueled by White missionaries and Eurocentric Christianity. The proposed “kill the gays bill” in Uganda was deeply influenced by White missionaries. White missionaries have also influenced widespread homophobia in Malawi and other nations.

The reactionary nationalists of the Black Atheists of Atlanta insist that homosexuality is unnatural; hence they are opposed to it. However, this rationalization is weak. After all, for millennia, oral sex was considered unnatural, but today there are no major efforts to oppose it. Furthermore, men and women engage in anal sex, which for them could also be considered “unnatural.” Again, where is the outrage against heterosexuals engaged in this alleged abomination?

Regardless of what one thinks about homosexuality, consenting adults should have the right to do what they please as long as they are not hurting anyone else. Such an idea might be considered un-African by some, but it is a cornerstone of liberty.

These Reactionary Black Nationalists have much in common with religious fanatics. Religious fanatics insist that they have the one, true God. Similarly, these Reactionary Black Nationalists insist that genuine African culture and values are perfect. Conversely, all ideas that are believed to emanate from White people are to be immediately deemed suspect.

It is obvious to Reactionary Black Nationalists that Whites can learn much from Blacks. But should true knowledge and wisdom be color-coded? Can Blacks not learn a great deal about humanity from Shakespeare, about freethought and liberty from Robert Ingersoll, about philosophy from Bertrand Russell, etc.? Surely it only makes sense to embrace important truths wherever they are to be found, regardless of their source. This is what critical thinking is all about.

As quietly as it’s kept, one can be African-centered and progressive. The great freethinker Hubert Henry Harrison was consistently progressive in his pursuit for justice for people of African descent. W.E.B. Du Bois, considered by many to be the father of Pan-Africanism, was progressive. Today Black freethinkers such as Gary C, Booker of Atlanta and Kwadwo Obeng of California via Ghana are progressive African-centered thinkers.

Black freethinkers must not succumb to the seductive rhetoric of Reactionary Black Nationalists. With enough humanity, originality, and creative intelligence, Black non-theists can come up with a progressive vision for society that can positively transform the world.

For 21 years, Norm R. Allen Jr. was the only full-time African American secular humanist activist traveling the world promoting secular humanism. He is the editor of two books, The Black Humanist Experience and African American Humanism.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    SPICEISLAND ATHEIST

    Well said Mr. Norm R. Allen. These comments made and stance taken by these Black Atheists are right out of the book of Afrocentrism, and although, I think one can be "Afrocentric" and Atheist,in that I mean one can accepting his/her African culture/Cultures heritage, but, at the same time must acknowledge that these African cultures are, like Euro-centric cultures, full with irrationalities and fullish beliefs that needs to be eradicated.
    As a black Atheist and a believer in equal rights for all, I am disappointed by the comments made by these characters.

  2. 2
    Gerard26

    Well said Norm, these clueless people need to be called out and their bigoted pronouncements denounced and condemned by all who believe in human rights for all.

  3. 3
    Dr. Terrence Ward

    "They (i.e. Reactionary Black Nationalist) denounce Greek civilization and culture; yet, embrace the Greek term “Atheist,” which means without a belief in God or gods.

    That's not completely true, Norm R. Allen! Black Nationalist understand that the ancient Greeks according to the Father of Greek History (i.e. Herodotus) owe a lot to the education they received from black people. Remember! A lot of the ancient knowledge of blacks was destroyed; so, in that effect we can't necessarily claim that the "conceptual framework" of Atheism is a purely Greek phenomenon! I think Norm R. Allen is being too critical and willing to denounce Black Nationalism in favor of his multi-cultural progressive ideals. Nevertheless, I'm sure Black Nationalist wouldn't go so far as to reject everything of Greek culture. I surely don't; yet, I identify myself with Black Nationalism.

    Historically speaking Atheism has it's roots firmly planted in ancient Africa (i.e. Egypt) although the term Atheism wasn't invented then. Egyptologist, James P. Allen, investigates that in Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (i.e. 2040-1640 B.C.E.) there was a poem (i.e. The Song of The Harper) found in the tomb of King Intef.

    This poem suggested that: ‘a person should enjoy the good things in life, avoid contemplation of death, and expresses doubt about the reality of an afterlife’ [End Quote]. Nevertheless, I applaud Europeans for preserving Atheism and even acknowledging that Atheism has historical roots in ancient africa (i.e. Egypt).

    The Greeks cataloged the word Atheist, while the later French Enlightenment of the 17th century made it intellectually respectable to identify oneself as an Atheist. Now upheld and translated through wider forums with a larger audience in the 21st century.

  4. 4
    Dr. Terrence Ward

    "The late John Henrik Clarke believes that Atheism will never take root among people of African descent". [End Quote]

    Really? I would like for Norm R. Allen to provide source citations for that claim because I'm pretty sure Dr. Clarke said no such thing! In any case, the late professor Dr. John Henrik Clarke always held the belief that whatever it is that black people do we need to place a Black Stamp of approval on it! Dr. Clarke was against the White Atheist Materialist of Europe and embraced the Black Atheist Spiritualist beliefs of ancient Africa (i.e. Egypt) which is verified by Afrocentrist John G. Jackson (i.e. whom personally knew Dr. Clarke and his literary works) in his study of ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs:

    1). “The Africans (i.e. Egyptians, Kemetians, e.t.c.)had an Atheistic type of religion, and they were a deeply religious people! They believed that Man not only has a body; but, he also has a mind, soul, or spirit! For instance, if you went to a temple in ancient Egypt and told the priest that You wanted Horus (i.e. the Egyptian Christ) to save Your Soul- He would tell You not to waste His time! That Horus, Osiris, Isis or nobody else is going to save Your Soul except You! If you want a better life the next time you comeback You’ll have to have to earn it Yourself! The Gods are not going to give it to you! The Egyptians told these people if You want a better life the next time You come back to Earth, you live a good life now…then when you comeback You’ll have a better life, but if You lead an evil life then the next time You comeback it’ll be worse. So it’s up to You! They told people not to pray to God(s) or angels or anything to save them, it was their job to save themselves!” [Dr John. G. Jackson, Pan-African Historian; April 1st 1907-October 13th 1993]

  5. 5
    Dr. Terrence Ward

    "Some Afrocentrists (i.e. Asa G. Hilliard) claim that Atheism is so foreign to Africans that there is no word for Atheism in any African language". [End Quote]

    No it isn't! The "conceptual framework" of Atheism certainly existed in ancient Africa (i.e. Egypt) before the arrival of any foreigner. Dr. Asa G. Hilliard is simply mistaken or hasn't really delved deep into this subject to give any kind of absolute certainty that noone in Africa didn't believe in the deities or at least used these archetypal motifs AS IF there was a God, while at the same time holding a deeper understanding that God is the Self, e.t.c. This is why in Africa you will find socities that are atheistic in content and at the same time hold a spiritual belief. Atheism is compatible with spirituality and quite a few modern Atheist have testified to this!

    In Conclusion:

    As a black African centered so-called reactionary black Nationalist I think that Norm R. Allen is simply writing to appease his audience of progressives; yet, in so doing he manages to throw black nationalist under the bus at the same time. He often misquotes or re-interpret what he reads from the writings of afrocentist like Dr. John Henrik Clarke to support his belief in racial mixing, multi-culturalism, pluralism, e.t.c.

    Dr. Terrence Ward a.k.a. Saint Max
    Doctorate of Arts in MMO Conspiracy Studies
    Company: Atheos Records
    Website: Youtube.com/AtheosRecords

  6. 6
    cinnabar

    So as an out Atheist in an Afro-Centric Intentional community in Northern California, I feel I should jump in on this.

    @Terrence I agree with his analysis, Atheism definitely existed in Africa. and @Norm I agree, homosexuality definitely existed in Africa.

    I have gotten beaten up for years by "reactionary black nationalist" on the question of homosexuality.

    However I see the tides turning and if the Afrocentric movement is to stay relevant to our youth, we as Afrocentrist are going to have to join in with our youth and embrace, and treat folk equally regardless of their sexual orientation, and even race.

  7. 7
    NORM ALLEN

    Dr. Terrence Ward has much to say. First, I spoke with Dr. Clarke, and interviewed him for a segment of a radio news program called Voice of Inquiry back in the 1990s. Prior to that, Dr. Clarke expressed his doubts about the possibilities for atheism in Africa on the late Listervelt Middleton's South Carolina Educational Television program "For the People,"which aired on Howard University's television station in D.C. and elsewhere in the 1980s. In any case, I did not denounce Black nationalism per se. I denounced REACTIONARY BLACK NATIONALISM. As far as the term "atheism," it is a Greek term. I never said that atheism is a purely Greek phenomenon. Still, why are Reactionary Black Nationalists using a Greek term to identify themselves? Anyway, Dr. Ward claims that the Egyptians embraced atheism as a type of religion in which they believed in a soul or spirit. If this is not conceptual confusion, what is it? Did they also believe in square circles and circular squares? And if you die, what true atheist believes that you are going to come back? Dr. Ward is simply mistaken if he believes that atheism is compatible with spirituality. They are complete and utter opposites. Finally, I don't write to appease anyone. I write to express myself and to hopefully leave the world better than I found it. Still, I would like to know who Dr. Ward is trying to appease.

  8. 8
    Bruce Dixon

    Who are these reactionary black nationalists atheists in Atlanta anyway? I live near Atlanta and am wondering if I know any of these folks.

  9. 9
    Kenneth Tucker

    This article hits on why arbitrary atheist grouping is a fools errand. A group that is associated on a mere negation is directionless and subject to irrational manipulations.

    Humanism and skepticism seem to be a more appropriate focus where atheism is just one pragmatic attribute on a frequently debated list.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    ankhkakek

    blackafricanpower,always looking for a good debate.

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