The Christian Fascists’ Personhood Campaign

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Taking its “life begins at conception” assault from State Legislature to State legislature, one of the most dangerous political forces in the U.S. is stepping up its crusade for the “rights” of the unborn. Backed by an organization called Personhood USA, the latest offensive by anti-choice Christian fascists involves a renewed movement to amend state constitutions to establish human rights and personhood status for fertilized eggs. On November 8th, Mississippi voters will decide the fate of Initiative 26, a personhood amendment that could precipitate the dismantling of Roe vs. Wade. Ever immune to morality, reason, church-state separation precedents and an understanding of the basic laws of biology, the most flat earth reactionary segment of the pro-death anti-choice movement wants to circumvent constitutional protections for abortion by conferring personhood on fertilized eggs. This would eviscerate the premise that women have a sovereign and singular right to control their bodies by designating rights before implantation and a clinically viable pregnancy has been determined. For those who have any elementary grasp of the human reproductive process, conception does not automatically result in pregnancy and the vast majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. Yet if the egg crusade zealots have their way this new initiative would potentially criminalize any woman attempting to use birth control pills or IUDs, and jeopardize in vitro fertilization procedures and stem cell research.

We’ve been down this road before. In 2009, the egg crusaders were able to convince the North Dakota House of Representatives to pass a constitutional amendment on personhood. It was later vetoed by the State Senate. Colorado voters also rejected a similar ballot initiative 73% to 27%. New initiatives are being slated for Wisconsin, Florida and other states.

One of the most reprehensible arguments that the personhood campaign makes to bolster its cause is a comparison between egg rights and the movement to abolish slavery. The California campaign’s website cites Joshua Giddings, a 19th century American anti-slavery legislator who held that “God” as “author” of all life grants the inalienable right to life to every being. Following this argument it is unclear who is exactly “enslaving” pre-implanted fertilized eggs. Is it potential mothers who arrogantly lay claim to their own bodies? Is it the state for failing to protect the right of pre-implanted fertilized eggs to implantation? By cloaking its propaganda in the rhetoric of civil and human rights the movement avoids delineation of the real life consequences for women, once again reducing them to vessels with no agency, right to privacy or control over their own bodies.

This imagery draws from the same demonizing language evoked in the recent anti-abortion Radiance Foundation campaign targeting the “dangerous wombs” of women of color. The parenthood website does not specify what rights un-implanted eggs would be conferred with other than, presumably, the right to progress to the implantation stage, fetal development and then birth. There are no details about who or what could act on the behalf of the un-implanted egg as person if the host carrier (formerly known as mother) of the egg were to determine that she should receive medical treatment. There was no information on who would legally be empowered to intervene or act on behalf of the un-implanted egg as person (the state perhaps?) to object to any stance that the mother might take. It stands to reason that if contraception were used to prevent the inalienable right of the egg as “person” to implant then host carriers who did so would be criminalized and prosecuted for murder. As a preventive measure, potentially offending host carriers could perhaps be fitted with special ankle bracelets or encoded with state monitored electronic microchips to preclude violations.

The Catholic and fundamentalist Christian activists at the forefront of the egg crusade are curiously silent on these small details. In true schizoid fashion they push for special faith-based government entitlements and yet scream about government interference, rallying big government to run roughshod over women’s fundamental right to privacy through a new regime of policing. And indeed, their own “family planning” policies have proven an abysmal failure, as evidenced by the exploding teen birth rates in Bible Belt states like Alabama and Mississippi, in comparison to lower rates in the relatively godless Northeast and Northwest (abstinence-only sex education programs and fundamentalist Christian propaganda against fornication outside marriage would seem to be a source of cognitive dissonance for Southern teens).

The anti-human rights egg crusade would take this national obscenity one step further by deepening the region’s poverty and straining its already overburdened, family-averse social welfare net. Fortunately, Initiative 26 has elicited grassroots activism and backlash from groups as diverse as fertility rights organizations to Mississippians for Healthy Families to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The fervor of this “new” brand of anti-abortion activism only underscores the need for a vigorous secular defense against the continued incursions of the Religious Right. It’s either that or get ready for the ankle bracelets.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.

The End is Near–Again!

Harold Camping of Oakland is at it again. The 90-year-old minister predicited that the world would end on October 21, 2011. This is the same prophet that predicted that the world was to have ended on May 21st of this year. Amazingly–or perhaps not–he made the same prediction in 1994.

Camping raised millions of dollars from his followers after he made the prediction for May 21st. However, according to religious scholar Jason Bruner, there is an ugly side to Camping’s otherwise hilarious proclamations.

Slightly prior to May 21, 2011, Hmong Christians that followed Camping’s pronouncements via short wave radio broadcasts gathered at a hilltop in Dien Bien, Vietnam to await the apocalypse, and to be rewarded with their own land.

The Hmong have long been persecuted as a despised minority in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. As they gathered for the expected Good News, they became involved in a violent confrontation with Vietnamese troops, and some believers were detained by the Vietnamese government. (For more information, see Bruner’s piece, “The Other Forgotten Apocalypse of 2011,” at http://www.religiondispatches.org/atheologies/5035/)

Though the Bible teaches that no one knows the day or the hour that the world will end, religious fanatics continue to insist otherwise. The Y2K hysteria near the turn of the century led up to the biggest non-event of all time. Computers were supposed to malfunction, water, food, and other resources were to supposed to be scarce, etc. Y2K enthusiasts were hoarding food, bottled water, matches, flashlights, guns, ammunition, etc. It was all for nothing.

Did religious fanatics finally learn their lesson? Of course not! Like Camping, many thought their calculations were simply off. They said that perhaps 2007 would be the actual year of the end times. Others believe that 2030 will be the actual date.

That raises the question: What does “near” mean? The Nation of Islam has been predicting “the coming destruction of America” since 1930. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that we have been living in the end times since World War I.

Jesus taught that the end was near during his lifetime. He said that there were people to whom he spoke that would not taste death before the events leading up to the end times would occur. The biblical Jesus made such statements as “give no care for the morrow,” and “let the dead bury the dead.” Such statements make no sense whatsoever unless considered from the viewpoint of someone who believed that the end of the world was coming soon.

Rather than concede that this is obviously the granddaddy of all failed biblical prophecies, most Christians simply believe that the end is coming one day. It has been over 2,000 years, but that’s no problem. God has a different sense of time than do we mere mortals. And what if two million years pass and Jesus still does not show? Just refer to that deep time thingy.

A belief in the rapture isn’t just foolish. It thwarts genuine human progress. Imagine if the great reformers and transformers of the world had embraced this kind of quietistic eschatology. Chattel slavery would have never been abolished. The civil rights movement would have never taken place. Civil liberties would not exist. After all is said and done, end times theology seems to have no redeeming value whatsoever. On the contrary, it seems to be the most useless idea to have ever emanated from the God delusion. Yet it persists.

The idealistic dreamers have much more to offer the world than do the gloom-and-doom naysayers peddling their theologies of despair. The former are concerned with improving life in the here and now. They are striving for social and economic justice, freedom and equality. Even if their schemes are not entirely successful, some of their ideas have practical value. The eight-hour workday, paid vacations, health care, retirement benefits, anti-discrimination laws, literacy for the masses, voting rights for women, etc. were all radical ideas when they were first proposed.

It is indeed true that no one knows the day or the hour when the rapture will occur. That is because it is not going to happen. It is time that humanity kicked this utterly useless fantasy to the curb and get on with the business of improving life in the here and now.

Strong, Steady, and, of course, Secular!

By Naima Cabelle Washington

I believe that it was the African American poet, Sterling Brown who wrote that “the strong men keep on coming!” During a recent visit to Houston, Texas for the 4th Annual Texas Freethought Convention, I was privileged to meet Glenn Ellison, Jr., a man with a gentle smile and a friendly easy-going approach. I’m not a real fan of poetry but the words of that poem came to mind…”the strong men keep on coming,” each time I spoke with Glenn. Perhaps, that because he’s built like a Sherman tank, and when it comes down to foolish talk and religious nonsense, he easily shifts gears and uses an intellectual steamroller approach to effortlessly flatten every bit of superstitious claptrap which dares to raise its head around him. Born in Woodland, Georgia in 1942, Mr. Ellison is the eldest son in his family; there were eight children including a stepsister. According to Glenn, his initial rebellion against religion came at an early age. “It was all her fault,” he tells me, referring to an aunt. One Sunday, she saw him with a math book and told him he had no business reading it; he should have been reading the Bible. Glenn wanted to know, “Why?” Still sounding very much like a mischievous nephew, and still sticking to his story, he says, “It’s all her fault! She started it!”

As the saying goes, he’s been around a while, including around the world a few times as a member of the United States Air Force. Just listen to Glenn and it won’t take long to conclude that he’s a man who lives according to his own conscience. While stationed in Vietnam he decided to read the Bible “…from beginning to end…and when I put it down, I said, ‘this is all bullshit!’” He says that up until that point, “I played the game,” but after reading the Bible he was finished with religion because according to him, “nothing matched.” He saw through the Bible’s many contradictions. His travels were so extensive that he’s lost count of the many countries he’s visited, but he’s been on every continent. I’ve met many people who have traveled extensively and some seem to lack any interest in other people or their cultures. Not so with Mr. Ellison who is upbeat and seems to thrive on personal interaction and intellectual stimulus. He sat attentively through many of the presentations at the convention, soaking up every word; evaluating every idea, but at the same time, doesn’t mind having a good laugh.

Despite his robust appearance, he’s had some very serious health challenges and in 1992 was hospitalized to undergo grueling surgical procedures. When his wife, who is a believer, was asked by the hospital administrator who filled out her husband’s paperwork for his religious denomination, she said ‘none.’ According to Glenn, when his wife was asked if she wanted to put down a religious affiliation on his behalf, she bluntly said ‘no’ and warned them not to do it either!

Some time before his surgery, Mr. Ellison was asked if he wanted to see the Chaplain; he wanted to know, “What for?” I happen to think it is cruel and insensitive to badger a patient about to undergo surgery with such questions. People who are religious won’t hesitate to request a priest, rabbi, etc. and I really become angry when I hear stories like this. But, in my own jaded way, I also can imagine a ‘bright’ side to this: A dying man’s spiritual adviser assures him that his place in paradise is guaranteed if he is willing to confess his sins. The dying man says that he not only wants to confess his sins, but has a special ‘thanks’ for his spiritual adviser as well. He confesses that for the past 25 years he’s committed adultery―with the wife of his spiritual advisor; he also wants to thank him for supporting all of the ten children that he fathered with his advisor’s wife as well as putting each of them through college! Anyway, after his surgery, Glenn was asked again if he wanted to see the Chaplin, and he asked, “Can he get rid of this pain? …Then I don’t want to see him!”

He views San Antonio, his hometown, as a place where most of the people, especially Hispanics, are controlled and impoverished mainly by the Catholic Church. In 1992, he joined the Texas Alliance of San Antonio, the freethought organization that he has belonged to ever since. The group meets monthly and closes out the year with a celebration of the Winter Solstice. When he dropped his religious baggage, he says that he also “removed the shackles, the doubts and fears.” He would do anything or suffer any consequence for the sake of his wife and children, but, “I have no fears for my own life.” He also expressed a sentiment that I and probably many other atheists share. Once freed from the burden of religious dogma, we feel relieved and happier than ever. A man who is intent on living life to the fullest, Glenn is ‘living quite well and wanting for nothing!’

Since this was his first secular convention, I wondered if he had any expectations; he said, “I came with no expectations, but neither am I disappointed!” I understand that there were over 600 people in attendance, and during the two-and-a-half days of the convention, I had conversations with many people including Glenn, who mentioned many times how much he enjoyed being around so many like-minded people. He had a good impression of everyone he met; they were “well-informed, intelligent, and well-educated…Education is what’s needed to break the bonds of religions. It’s hard to forget what one learns at their mother’s breast.”

Atheism, of course, cannot be forced on anyone and he compared the introduction to non-theistic ideas to a believer with farming, “Plant the seed, step back, and watch it grow.” He’d advise anyone who is still grappling with religious questions to “not trust anything outside of the laws of physics.” I told him about my visit to the Central branch of the Houston Public Library. I was surprised that there were a number of very good books on non-theism; but that number shrivels when compared to the several hundred books available on religion. He’s visited the library at Cambridge University in England and spoke of the tremendous volumes dedicated to religion as well as an equally impressive number of books dedicated to non-theism. When he retired from the Air Force after 26 years of service, his wife who was teaching at that time encouraged him to also become a teacher because she felt he had a real passion for it. And, so he became a teacher. He also heard his share of criticism with respect to his lack of religiosity. Eventually, he was promoted to the position of Vice Principal where he taught school, perhaps to the dismay of some of his more narrow-minded colleagues. Glenn said that one teacher, who apparently noted his refusal to bow to peer pressure by claiming to be religious, also didn’t understand how someone who didn’t believe God still enjoyed professional advancement. His colleague noted in amazement, “But, you don’t believe,” to which Glenn replied, “And, yet I prosper. Go figure.”

Glenn is well aware of the racial turmoil of this country. In the 1960′s, America the Beautiful would once again expose its ugliness as groups of people desperate to maintain control of other human beings spewed hatred, acted-out violently, and told others which of their fellow human beings deserved to be hated. Glenn who is a proud African American wasn’t about to have anyone tell him who to hate or love. In December of 2011, he and his wife Manuela, a native of Spain, will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary. I’m sure they both know that it takes no character to indulge in hatred, but they each have the character and internal resources needed to resist and overcome the ugliness that fills the hearts and minds of pathetic and narrow-minded human beings. He also expressed dismay over the fact that African Americans spend more money than any other group and own less than one percent of the GNP. A person with his character, discipline, intelligence, and life experiences often has little patience for those who are undisciplined, foolish, and wasteful. Yet, our current economic system teases and tantalizes especially impoverished people, with both unobtainable and useless status symbols. Corporate America encourages nearly everyone to be foolish and wasteful; few are educated to understand the difference between substance and symbolism; between necessities and desires; between price and value. Compare the amount of advertising dollars spent encouraging people to attend college, to develop their intellect, and the amount of money spent on ads encouraging people to buy showy cars, designer clothes, flashy jewelry, cell phones, etc. There’s no doubt that the corporations peddling manufactured goods will win their way into the wallets of most people. Many people, especially those living on the margins of society, are aware of how often the necessities of life are simply out of their reach: a decent education, affordable housing in quality neighborhoods, health care, and a living wage. Many poor people have also learned from their priests, rabbis, imams, etc., that it is sinful to be poor, but also learned that poverty is also the punishment for sins and yet can be a ‘blessing’ in disguise. Advertisers preach a gospel of mindless consumerism that says if we are poor we certainly don’t have to go around looking poor; while the rest of us are told that we can look and feel better and richer with every purchase that we make―affordable or not. So in many respects, we are all targeted to become servants to the corporations; our loyalty is expected by the US politicians at the voting booth as well as by Corporate America at the cash register! The doors to the public library can lead to an unlimited access to knowledge, but when is the last time that an ad on the TV, radio, or in a newspaper encouraged the public to obtain a library card? The cost of a library card that might lead to the eradication of ignorance: zero. The cost of a wallet full of credit cards that can lead to a life of debt and poverty: priceless!

When Glenn was no longer willing to “play the game,” to indulge in religious pretense, he was more easily able to do so because he is intelligent, clearheaded, and saw the benefit of no longer playing any self-destructive games. I recently heard a talk given on the topic of ethics and the benefits of developing an ethical society―not just ethical individuals. According to the speaker, when people live in an environment which encourages and promotes ways for them to do good, most of them, in fact, will do good. Conversely, when people are in an environment that encourages and promotes ways for them to behave negatively, most of them will behave negatively. By creating a society that invests in the total development of human beings, by creating communities where people are encouraged and supported to do what is good, fewer people will end up making wasteful and foolish choices. We will always be a little better off with a few more individuals like Glenn; we will much better off in a society that teaches, supports, promotes, and therefore expects its members to do what is good and to make intelligent choices.

There are many who have traded a fearful, burdensome existence for one where they are free to enjoy the beauty of nature and the company of good people; who have rejected the demands of religious obedience and empty rituals, and have accepted the responsibility to do the right thing but not in hopes of obtaining a reward or avoiding punishment. They accept the responsibility for doing the right thing for no reason other than the fact that it’s the right thing to do. The world is a better place with people like that in it; and I’m certainly better off for having met the genuine article: Mr. Glenn Ellison, Jr.!

Mormonism and Politics

By Norm Allen

On October 11, 2011, the Associated Press carried a news story about a conservative Christian minister’s condemnation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons. The Rev. Robert Jeffress, minister of the First Baptist church in Dallas, told news reporters that presidential contender Mitt Romney is “not a Christian,” and called Mormonism a “cult.”

Jeffress has refused to back down from his statements. He believes it is his duty as a minister to let people know the supposed truth about alleged “false religions,” such as Mormonism. “Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions,” he declared.

The implication for voters is clear. Jeffress supports Rick Perry for President. The pastor is saying that U.S. voters should not elect anyone who is not a “true” Christian. Therefore, Romney or any other Mormon is unfit for the presidency.

This sounds like religious bigotry. In fact, it sounds like the same bigoted nonsense directed at the “alleged” Muslim, President Obama. Tea bigots and others still maintain that Obama–a Christian–is a Muslim, and therefore, not to be trusted as the Commander in Chief.

Still, others claim that Jeffress’ stance is not an example of intolerance. On the contrary, the Bible warns believers against following false prophets. (Is that redundant?) They would agree that Jeffress is only doing what he is called to do.

This might be so. However, the Bible often condones and encourages reprehensible behavior. The text has passages condoning patriarchy, slavery, genocide, and numerous other crimes against humanity. Only someone that believes that the Bible truly is the “Good Book” could fail to see what a colossal mistake it is to defend all of its teachings.

Could it be that the LDS Church is simply, to use a biblical idea, reaping what it has sown? After all, it was not until 1978 that the church ended its rule that Blacks were not permitted full participation in the church. (One has to wonder why the immutable, infallible God of the Mormons waited until several years after fallible human beings gave the world the civil rights movement to discover the error of his ways.)

The Black anthropologist (and atheist) Joel Augustus Rogers was highly critical of Christianity. He was especially critical of Mormonism. Rogers spoke to Mormon missionaries and other practioners of the religion. He noted that Mormons believed that Blacks could not get to Heaven because of their race. (For more on Rogers and Mormonism, see Michael McBryde’s article in my book, African-American Humanism: An Anthology, Prometheus, 1991.)

In the early 1990s, the LDS Church appeared to have made inroads in Ghana. However, then-President Jerry Rawlings started learning more about the Church’s racist past. Eventually, the Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation did an expose of the Church, and the Mormons were pretty much banished from the country.

In other African nations, the LDS Church has been frowned upon. Yohannes Gebregeorgis, former head of the Ethiopian Humanist Organization, has been critical of Mormon missionaries in Africa. In my book, The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion (Prometheus, 2003) he wrote that Mormons and other religious groups “are infecting the minds of young people with their pie-in-the-sky and reward in the afterworld nonsense.” (p. 103) (Gebregeorgis won a CNN Hero Award in 2008. He heads the literacy organization, Ethiopia Reads.)

Despite the Church’s critics, the faith is growing rapidly throughout the world, including Africa. In any case, it is no more a cult than is the Nation of Islam (NOI). Adherents of the NOI believe that Master Fard was God in human form. They believe in an extraterrestrial Mother Plane (complete with baby planes), etc. Still, the NOI is embraced by many influential Muslims throughout the world. They still worship Allah, assume Arabic names, make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they can afford it, etc. Similarly, the LDS Church has many teachings that do not conform to mainstream Christianity. Yet, they embrace the Bible, consider Jesus to be their savior, etc.

Religion and polticis always makes for a dangerous concoction. It can certainly be valuable to know a candidate’s religion or worldview. However, it is bigoted (and unwise) to judge someone as unworthy of political leadership simply because he or she allegedly worships a “false” God.

Interestingly, Jeffress did not raise any objections to any particular Mormon practices. If he would have said that, as a practicing Mormon, Romney is sexist or patriarchal, for example, that would have been relevant. However, no matter how irrational or old-fashioned the beliefs of a church might be, ultimately, people have to be judged on what they actually do. After all, most people compartmentalize their beliefs on some level. For example, one can believe in the Bible without believing that alleged witches should be stoned to death.

Generally speaking, in politics, people from all but the most thoroughly bigoted and dangerous religions or philosophies should receive a fair hearing and be judged on the content of their character, and not whether they have the One, True Religion. Religious bigotry should have no place in politics or anywhere else.

Atheism for the New Millennium

By Naima Cabelle Washington

In his autobiography, Mirror to America, Dr. John Hope Franklin writes, “From the very beginning of my own involvement in the academy, the goal I sought was to be a scholar with credentials as impeccable as I could achieve. At the same time I was determined to be as active as I could in the fight to eradicate the stain of racism that clouded American intellectual and academic life even as it poisoned other aspects of American society…. While I set out to advance my professional career on the basis of the highest standards of scholarship, I also used that scholarship to expose the hypocrisy underlying so much of American social and race relations.”

During his career, John Hope Franklin encouraged his students and colleagues to embrace both scholarship and activism. On October 7, 2011, I thought about those words while listening to Sikivu Hutchinson, author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, as she made her presentation at the 4th Annual Texas Freethought Convention in Houston, Texas. I have no doubt that Dr. Franklin, who is the recipient of hundreds of awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a prominent historian and noted African American scholar, would agree that Sikivu is using her own scholarship, her credentials, and her professional career in her fight to eradicate the stain of racism that is clouding the vision of the intellectual, academic, and secular communities.

The content of her talk presented a secular audience with America’s historical inequities, as well as a contemporary picture of America, and it is not a very pretty picture. The grim unemployment figures, the housing crises, the lack of access to a quality education, the abysmal health care crisis and the frontal assaults on the human rights of people who are denied access to basic services have all served to further marginalize the already oppressed or under-served segments of our society: people of color, women, children, the poor, sick, elderly, and disabled. In the most professional, eloquent, yet no-nonsense fashion possible, she delivered some very bad news to her audience. I was proud to be in that auditorium and to witness a presentation that met every standard of excellence. Here was an activist and a scholar who was at her best, yet privately she expressed doubts as to whether the audience, which was virtually all-white, really heard and understood what she said, or if her message, had in fact, fell on deaf ears. She said the members of the audience appeared to be uniformly unresponsive; that their faces were blank and expressionless. I have tried to picture an audience as it listens to the recounting of the social, physical, and economic horrors inflicted on human beings who lived in the past. I’ve tried to picture an audience that has also been made brutally aware of the continuation of those horrors even in the year 2011, and frankly, I can only imagine faces that may appear to be expressionless. The audience members who were already aware of some of the things she spoke of were certainly confronted with a new awareness as she explained with a new clarity how race, class, gender, and religion are issues that are connected, interwoven, and are literally devastating hundreds of millions of people in America and throughout the world.

Whenever these issues are raised, I’m reminded that I must assume both the collective and personal responsibility for aiding and abetting in the ultimate dismemberment of these anti-human power structures. The content of her presentation failed to mirror that of the usual hand-wringing lectures concerning the religiosity of African Americans. Instead, her presentation put each member of the secular community on notice; and let them know that beyond the challenges to theism, they also have the responsibility to challenge all anti-human power structures. I happen to believe that the members of her audience were serious people because frivolous non-thinkers won’t attend, much less pay to hear, thoughtful discussions. If the members of the audience were hearing for the first time the genuine “state of the union” spelled out for them in unapologetic language, then they had good reasons for looking expressionless. There was much to think about, and there is even much more to do!

Religion has certainly taken a toll on humanity. The cultural and psychological wounds will remain long after the stranglehold of religious instutitions on society is broken. But religious institutions clearly have not functioned without the assistance of nearly every corrupt secular institution; and over time, religious institutions have interacted with, replaced, and certainly worked in concert with secular institutions whenever possible and whenever necessary. Yet, breaking religious institutions’ stranglehold on society (which will indeed be a cause for celebration) will still leave much of our ethnic, gender, and class issues unresolved. Currently these issues are scattered throughout the social landscape just like landmines ―- hiding in plain sight as they readily explode as though connected to motion-detectors. A presentation that notes how most forms of oppression reinforce one another; cites historical data; uses contemporary models, and points to an even more horrific future should we fail to address all power structures designed to deny social justice and universal human rights, certainly delivers the psychological equivalent of physical blunt force trauma.

We must have a total transformation of values that informs all relationships ―- a system which evaluates and improves how we deal with societal ills; a system that leaves little room for the exploitation, violence, and inhumanity which is currently taking place. We must all elevate our private and collective consciousness if we are to effectively answer this urgent call. Having open, respectful, and honest dialogue in the secular community would be a good place to start; educating ourselves about the issues is a must; collaborating, working in concert with people both inside and outside of the community is also a must; toward the development of a collective leadership within the secular community. There are no easy answers and no shortcuts for transforming our society. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, and the process will last as long as humanity lasts.

After our boldest and most influential critical thinkers in the secular community have confronted and confounded the enemies of reason; after they appear to have said all that there is to say, Sikivu Hutchinson has stepped forward to demand the expansion of the discussion beyond the separation of church and state by illuminating the conditions that exist in America, especially with regard to oppressed and marginalized people. She is a disciplined, first-rate intellectual and speaks with authority on the issues of race, class, gender, and religion. She represents the role model for the atheists of this millennium who are ready to work towards a total societal transformation and who reject a piecemeal approach. With respect to her ability to accurately articulate the totality of the problems that we must face as well as outline what must be done to move towards the achievement of social justice and universal human rights, Sikivu Hutchinson has no equal.

Naima Cabelle Washington is an atheist, feminist and socialist activist who currently serves on the board of the Washington Area Secular Humanist Board of Directors and publishes the D.C. Atheist Advocate.

Black Skeptics Group: Book Review: “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Ar…

Book Review: “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins
By Don R Barbera
Proselytizing for Professionals
As a researcher, I’ve found the Barna Group to be highly professional and focused on making sure the minutiae often lost by others receives attention. Although the latest book from Barna Group president, David Kinnaman, receives the same attention it’s appeal is limited defined by its focus on evangelism and “discipleship.”
For churches, pastors or even parents, Kinnaman’s new book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith,” holds some interesting ideas to connect with the younger generation and foster discipleship. It might be interesting reading for those thoroughly steeped in religious mysticism and evangelical Christian tradition that hope to slow the leak of young Christians from the church, but for the informational reader or researcher, it holds little of interest.
“You Lost Me” is primarily a book about recruiting that seeks explain and mend generational fences by pointing out changes in today’s society that affect a younger society’s views of Christianity. The information presented may be news for those sheltered within the evangelical faith community, but most of it is nearly common knowledge. Although a bit “preachy,” considering the target audience it may ring a bell with conservative Christians trying to understand losses in young membership and what to do about it.
Research from hundreds of interviews contribute to the book’ best segment, reading what young Christians had to say about the church and its practices. Kinnaman’s previous book, “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… and Why it Matters, contains much of the same information, but presented in a different fashion. In that book Kinnaman reveals Christianity’s public relations problem and uncovers the opinions of the 18-29 age group. “You Lost Me” is the follow-up to the views revealed in that book.
Other research lists proselytizing among the things young Christians find out of date and bothersome, but “You Lost Me” is a blueprint promoting recruiting and how to do it. To be fair, there are other ideas in the book such as creating two-way communications between church generations to bring about better understanding between generations. Still, recruitment is the book’s main focus.
Religious research is one of my specialties and one of my favorite resources for information on current religious events and trends is the Barna Research Group. There are many others, but what distinguishes Barna from many is a willingness to let the “chips fall where they may” for the most part. Publication of the group’s research often meets opposition from fellow evangelical groups that apparently believe keeping unfavorable or questionable information quiet as a better policy.
Except for a select group, there is little of merit to recommend the book as it does not address the main problems facing the Christian church in general such as relevance of religion in today’s scientific world. Neither does it address the problems of the much quoted Bible compared to the very real world in which potential recruits dwell. Falling back on scripture is not a valid choice for many that seek spirituality, but evade organized religion. Whether Kinnaman’s ideas will appeal to those that escaped the church is doubtful. For those teetering on the edge, it may be enough to bring them back or finish the job of pushing them into the first group.
If you are a Christian and concerned about the continuing loss of adherents, this book might give you a few ideas about bringing people back to the church or it could forever make you persona non grata at any social gathering. “You Lost Me” is the first book I read electronically and I’m sorry I paid $9.99 for the download, but it could have been worse, as the hardcopy version cost three dollars more plus shipping.

HATE IS BLIND

A wise man once said that “the mind of the bigot is like the eye of the pupil. The more light you shed upon it, the more it contracts.” This thought came to mind after my incredibly brief appearance (perhaps ten minutes at the most) on a recent podcast hosted by the Black Atheists of Atlanta. (Gluttons for punishment can tune in to the show on Mondays at www.wain-tv.tv. Click on “live broadcasts” from 7:00 pm-8:30 pm EST.)

The sheer hatred that the hosts of the show directed at me was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. It was the kind of hatred I would expect to have directed at me by Tea bigots and their ilk. (In fact, the Black Atheists of Atlanta seem to be a sort of Black version of the Tea Party.) I wondered why Black atheists would be so hostile toward other Black atheists. Then it dawned on me that hate often knows no bounds. Hatred often takes people places they thought they would never go. It is never satisfied. It always seeks new victims. It is an insatiable beast that must be constantly fed by any means necessary. And when all other possibilities are exhausted, it feeds upon itself.

A great example of this goes back to the Nation of Islam (NOI) during the days of Malcolm X. Members of the NOI grew to hate Malcolm and other alleged “hypocrites” as much as they hated Whites (especially Jews), homosexuals and women. Indeed, though Louis Farrakhan never implicates the NOI in Malcolm’s assassination, he admits that he helped “create the climate of hate” that ultimately led to Malcolm’s murder.

Former talk show host Phil Donahue used to say that “racism is a lot like cancer. You don’t always know you have it.” It is indeed true that many racists cannot imagine that they could possibly be racists. However, the Black Atheists have not only expressed hatred toward me. They have also expressed it toward Ayanna Watson and her organization, the Black Atheists of America, the Black Non-Theists of Atlanta, and others. They are as hostile toward us as they are toward Whites and people that engage in same-sex relations.

If you can recognize the hatred of Black bigots, they are likely to accuse you of “thinking like White people.” Even worse, they are likely to accuse you of suffering from “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” Imagine that! You have crazy people trying to diagnose sane people!

I wonder how much this animosity has to do with arrogance, competition, and megalomania. After all, Black Son of the Black Atheists of Atlanta is the self-styled “King of Black Atheists.” (He also professes to be the “King of Electronics.”) From what I can gather, he seems to believe he is fit to be king because he has close ties with the NOI and members of a Black Israelite sect, two of the most reactionary (and religious!) Black groups in the U.S. In any case, perhaps Black Son is worried about pretenders to his imaginary throne. (Just for the record, I don’t want it.)

The Black Atheists of Atlanta seem to have very little complimentary to say about Black atheists, in general. They often compliment Black religious leaders such as Malcolm, Martin Luther King, Khalid Muhammad, and even the alleged sexual predator Bishop Eddie Long. Yet they never promote Black atheists in any substantive way.

When the Black Atheists of Atlanta first came to the fore under Black Son’s direction, I wondered, “why us?” Why do Black non-theists have to deal with this madness? But then it hit me with the force of a revelation. Practically every movement has its lunatic fringe. Why should we be any different? However, it is up to courageous, principled people to stand up and oppose this foolishness. We are confronted with the bigoted, reactionary lunatic fringe of atheism, and we must combat it before blind hatred makes victims of us all.

MALCOLM X FROM A BLACK HUMANIST VIEW

Malcolm X was saved from a life of crime by Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam (NOI). However, after Malcolm left the NOI, he said that he felt a sense of intellectual freedom. He no longer felt compelled to say “the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us…” before every utterance. He no longer thought inside a box. He said that he felt free to think for himself.

As far as Black leaders of national renown go, Malcolm seems to have been the leading critical thinker. He seemed to examine every angle in sincere efforts to achieve liberation for people of African descent. He studied history, politics, religion, socialism, capitalism, etc.

During and after his involvement with the NOI, Malcolm challenged some deeply cherished beliefs among African Americans. First and foremost, he forcefully critiqued Christianity. He questioned how Black people could embrace a White Jesus, a White Mary, white angels, etc. He said that doing so amounted to supporting “White nationalism.”

He was critical of the belief that Black Christians would be rewarded in heaven “when they died.” He questioned the value of Christianity to Blacks, and remarked, “If your religion hasn’t done any more for you than it has, you need to forget it, anyway.”

Perhaps what Malcolm disliked most about Christianity was its emphasis on turning the other cheek. It infuriated Malcolm to no end that so many African Americans were unwilling to defend their people against racist violence inflicted upon them by White supremacists. In his famous “Message to the Grassroots,” Malcolm said that Blacks anxiously fought in wars condoned by the U.S. government. However, when it came to retaliating against White supremacists for murdering Black girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, violence was not an option.

Malcolm also wondered why civil rights workers were quick to denounce Blacks that advocated self-defense against white supremacist attackers; yet, they never denounced Black-on-Black violence. He noted that on any given Friday or Saturday night, men in Black neighborhoods all over the U.S. could be found committing acts of violence against one another. This, however, was not being addressed by civil rights activists.

After Malcolm left the NOI, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU). He also formed the Muslim Mosque, Inc. However, he gave the bulk of his time and attention to the OAAU. It was a secular organization open to Black Christians, Muslims, Confucianists, atheists, and others committed to meeting its aims and objectives. Malcolm had long believed that religion should be personal and kept out of efforts to organize the masses.

Malcolm was deeply influenced by secular thinkers. A great influence upon him was the Black atheist and anthropologist Joel Augustus Rogers. Malcolm read Rogers’ three volumes of Sex and Race and Africa’s Gift to America. Malcolm drew upon Rogers’ writings in his speeches on African American history.

Of course, Malcolm was not without his faults. For example, he had sexist views. However, he was always trying to become a better person. His emphasis upon the importance of critical thinking is one of his most important legacies to people of African descent. The way forward must always be guided by human thought and human action. Though he was a Muslim, Malcolm always seemed to understand that. Indeed, he seemed to agree with his friend, the Rev. Albert Cleage, Jr., that there is nothing more sacred than the liberation of his people. This is certainly a sentiment that secular humanists could greatly appreciate.