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Jun 30 2011

Ebony Magazine Features Black Atheist


In what is undoubtedly a first for a major African American publication, the July issue of Ebony Magazine contains an article featuring a black atheist. The write-up by Alix Jules, director of the Fellowship of Freethought in Dallas, was selected from user submissions for the Spirit Quest section of the magazine’s wellness section, and details his development from Catholic to atheist.

I give credit to the Ebony for providing a platform for this discussion. I hadn’t read the magazine in years, and the last time I flipped through a copy, the edition contained the venerable Most Eligible Bachelorette feature, which highlights single successful African American women. When listing qualities desired in a mate virtually every bachelorette included ‘Christian’ on the list. I suppose if the elusive, eligible educated black man happened to be a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or atheist, he need not apply. From what I can remember, this type of presumptive (Christian) religiosity permeates the stories of the magazine even when not on topic.

Jules, who prefers the title freethinker to atheist, emphasizes that freethought involves taking full accountability for one’s life, which is liberating. He mentions his efforts to bring more diversity into the freethought/atheist community, and endorses a thorough read of the Bible…noting that nothing will turn one into an atheist quicker.

The letters to the editor next month should be interesting. I am already drafting mine.

D. Frederick Sparks is an attorney living in Los Angeles.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Alix Jules

    Thank you for sharing this. Small correction though, I was actually contacted by a writer at Ebony magazine for the article out of the blue.

    The response has been great thus far, as I have been contacted by many people in different areas looking for resources.

    Alix Jules
    diversity.dfwcor.org

  2. 2
    D Frederick Sparks

    Glad to hear it!

  3. 3
    SPICEISLAND ATHEIST

    That is certainly great for the Black Atheist and Free-thought community. Great.

  4. 4
    Safi

    I think if a woman chooses to be selective about her husband or a potential mate on the basis of spirituality, then that is entirely her right. Why is it repulsive to people that people/Christians/Jews/Muslims prefer mates with like-minded thinking and faith as they? I personally see no problem. I'm a Christian. But I'm not one of these bang people over the head with the bible and tell them they are going to hell if they don't believe in Jesus as God's son, Christians–the world sees too much of that and it's truly not the love that God calls us to show one another.

    I believe we have a Creator. I believe we all have a designed purpose to carry out during our time on Earth. Carefully and lovingly designed. I'm a Chemistry major at Duke University, and I still do not believe that mankind and all of what is in the Earth began with atoms and a random globular formation of cells. Where did these atoms and cells come from? I can't help but excitedly marvel in all that God has created and done for us, and what He continues to do.

    The further we delve into scientific and philosophical theories, the further lost we get. God is real ya'll…He is in all of us :) And I pray that you all experience him in a pure, loving, and unaccosted way.

    Much love!!

  5. 5
    D Frederick Sparks

    Safi

    It is absolutely right that you are perfectly free to choose a mate based on spiritual compatibility. My point was related to the prevalence of Christian specific religious expression in a black magazine.

    Additionally, what happens often, perhaps not always, but often, is that the word "Christian" is used as a substitute for the words "moral" or "trustworthy", and not just as a description of a specific religious belief, which then implies that people who are not Christian cannot be moral or trustworthy.

    Expressions of Christian faith are also to a large degree a social expectation in black society, and a way in which one gains approval and establishes "black" legitimacy.

    With respect to science and god belief, though the well established and well supported scientific fact of evolution explains the changes in species on our planet over time, the questions of the origin of life have indeed not been answered. There is no evidence, however, that any God had anything to do with it, and that only appears to be the default answer if you have already accepted God's existence as a given. Substituting God as the answer for questions we can't answer is neither scientifically nor philosophically convincing to me. It's the god of the gaps, and human beings have a history of making up gods and demons to explain things they can't understand. Diseases were caused by demons before we knew about germs and bacteria. Thunder was Thor banging with his hammer. God of the gaps explanations do not have a great track record of being good explanations. But to each his own.

    On a final note, telling atheists that you are praying for them to experience God is no different than a Muslim telling a Christian that said Muslim is praying for that Christian to embrace Allah and reject the belief in Jesus as the Messiah. It may be done with the best of intentions but may not always be received in that way.

    Good luck with your studies. It is an amazing accomplishment that you are where you are.

  6. 6
    Black Skeptics

    Thanks for the excellent rebuttal Frederick. The other issue that is salient for me is the policing of women's personal and social choices vis-a-vis compulsory Christianity. Due to the racist/sexist construction of Black women as the hyper-sexual feminine Other (reinforced of course, by that loving Christian dogma and ideology) they are held to a higher moral standard than are men. Hence being Christian and cleaving to the God-belief is virtually a requirement for affirming one's feminine moral worth in a good Christian universe shot through with misogyny.

  7. 7
    Gerard26

    I wonder if Safi is a chemistry major only so the relevancy of science can be attacked by creation science/intelligent design proponents and therefore discredit the fact of evolution? I think this is what is at work here.

  8. 8
    D Frederick Sparks

    Gerard, I took Safi's word about being a chemistry major, though it was no doubt mentioned to add scientific bona fides to the claim of intelligent design and to deflect any criticism related to a lack of understanding of science.

  9. 9
    Gerard26

    D Frederick, I agree completely with your understanding of the implications of Safi's statements about science in general.Religion and science cannot be reconcilled; I,too,wish her luck with her studies.

  10. 10
    Safi

    Thanks for the well wishes everyone! I appreciate it. I'm doing well here at Duke and have really enjoyed my time here. Frederick, I wasn't trying to offend you by saying I was praying for you all, so I sincerely hope you didn't receive it that way. I do understand the correlation you made though.

    Anywho, have any of you read Francis S. Collins's book, "The Langauge of God: A Scientist's evidence for Belief" ? Collins describes his journey from Athiesm to belief in God. As you all seem to be scholars, I feel like I can assume that you all find value in approaching controversial topics like this from all vantage points? And perhaps you wouldn't be turned off to reading a book explaining an opinion that you currently disagree with? Just a thought. Frederick's mention that there is no evidence that God had anything to do with the creation of Mankind made me think of this book.

    I have found great value in reading scholarly works that present differing views to those that I have (especially at Duke), so here's the link incase you're interested.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/1416542744/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=3291108161&ref=pd_sl_36x8t38q9m_b

    again, thank you for the well wishes!!!!

  11. 11
    Safi

    correction: Collins describes his journey from Athiesm to belief in God, and how science and theology can, in fact, be reconciled. I was very fascinated by what he had to say. Especially since he is one of the people who headed and began the human genome project. Cool right?!?!

  12. 12
    D Frederick Sparks

    Safi, good to hear from you again. My Stanford Cardinal were just there visiting your Blue Devils for a football matchup…let's just say I know you'll be happy when basketball season arrives :)

    I think you will find that many online active atheists are familiar with Francis Collins and his position on god, religion and science. When Collins says that science is a way to appreciate and worship God's creation, he is both repeating something that has been said by others before him and taking God's existence as a given.

    And the argument that Collins makes for God's existence is no more sophisticated or scientifically rigorous than the argument made by folks who have never heard of Watson and Crick or the double-helix. It's the same Argument from Ignorance: "we don't have an answer for where all this complex stuff came from, therefor the answer must God." Again, Collins found no specific evidence of God whatsoever in his study of the human genome.

    Even more laughable is Collins anecdote on what pushed him to specifically embrace Christianity. He's out taking a walk and he sees a frozen waterfall in three parts and he thinks "Father, Son and Holy Spirit!". This is hardly serious scientific reasoning.

    What Collins represents to me is the degree of compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance human beings are able to maintain. And if Collins point of view is given credence because he is a scientist, the point of view of other scientists of Collins caliber should be given more credence, since the majority do not come to the same conclusion he did.

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