Black Non-Believers of Chicago: Interview with Kimberly Veal

Kimberly Veal is the Co-Host of Black FreeThinkers Radio and President of
Black Non-Believers of Chicago.  Kimberly is focused on community outreach and scholarship.

BS: What led you to create the Black
Non-Believers of Chicago group?  What are
some of the initiatives the group has undertaken and what has been the response
of the local community?

KV: I created the Black Non-Believers of Chicago
group because there is a lack of representation in the local community.  In order to combat negative stereotypes about
non-believers, it is imperative that we become solutions based and
visible.  BNOC will officially launch January 2012.  There has been interest
and we want to make sure that we utilize all resources available.  We would like to pioneer some programs and
support national programs that need local representation.  Some of the initiatives that will be undertaken
are working with organizations that focus on support, HIV/AIDS outreach, food
distribution, technology training, education, and scholarship.  We anticipate the initial response to be one
of curiosity.

BS: What are some of the unique challenges that you personally have encountered as a black female non-believer?

KV: One of the unique challenges that I have personally encountered with believers is not being accepted as a non-believer,
because it is expected that I conform to the stereotypical image of a black woman.  This stereotype includes me being
a faithful and dedicated member of some church with pleadings to God & Jesus coming out of my mouth every other sentence. One of the unique challenges that I have personally encountered with non-believers is being constantly asked why we have ‘black’ as a part of our name.  I would
like to believe that the freethought community, as a whole, would be more supportive of minority freethinkers/non-believers and encourage our growth.

BS: Some of the most outspoken black atheist humanist activists and thinkers are female. What do you think accounts for this
dynamic?

KV: This dynamic seems to be prevalent in many areas.  I am not quite sure why there isn’t more male
representation.  However, I would encourage them to speak up and make their presence known.  [Read more…]

Black Non-Believers of Atlanta: Interview with Mandisa L. Thomas

Mandisa Thomas is a co-founder and current President of the Black
Nonbelievers of Atlanta
.  Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black
Nationalism and a bit of Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed
various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian.
“Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an
early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences
between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder
what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence in today’s
society.” she recalls. She has been a guest on programs including The Critical Eye, Ask
an Atheist and the Black Freethinkers blogtalk radio show (of which she is now
a co-host with Kimberly Veal of the Black Non-Believers of Chicago).

BS: What led you to create the Black
Non-Believers of Atlanta group?  What are
some of the initiatives the group has undertaken and what has been the response
of the local community?

Mandisa: Benjamin Burchall and I founded
Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta to reach other African Americans who are either
questioning their religious beliefs, or whom are nonbelievers that are still in
the closet. Because religion is so prevalent in the lives of many in our
communities, we understood how difficult it could be to express an opposing
view. We also realized that there are serious consequences for many that do so,
(including ostracism from many social circles) and we knew that there needed to
be a support system created. The initiatives we’ve taken include conducting
General Meetings once a month, sponsoring a Recovering from Religion support
group, and participating in community cleanup projects.

BS: Atlanta seems to be a relative hub of
black non-theist activity. Why do you think that is? [Read more…]

Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers (on the Texas Freethought Con)

 

by Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt From: The New Humanism

The prayer warriors have descended on the Crenshaw parking lot in South L.A.
The first sentry, a slight man in athletic shorts, weaves through the parked
cars on an old Schwinn. He flags down the driver of a T-Bird. They exchange
quick greetings then bow their heads and join hands, oblivious, for the moment,
to the crash of street traffic, the manic dance for parking spots, the rustle of
grocery bags and runaway shopping carts. On this hallowed plot of blacktop time
is suspended and God vibrates through the chassis of each parked car, as the men
bond in the simple bliss of scripture.

I caught the parking lot prayer warriors a week before I was scheduled to
speak at the Texas Freethought Convention, an annual October gathering of non-believers in
Houston. It was an ironic send-off for my pending trip, reminder of the visceral
grip of everyday Jesus and the unique challenges of black secularism. Five years
ago, two men holding hands in this particular lot might have elicited homophobic
double takes or a beat down. But now, the public performance of prayer, street
preaching and proselytizing in urban communities of color is back with a
revivalist vengeance borne of the vicious arc of recession.

Long before it became fashionable to lament the demise of the American dream,
joblessness, foreclosure and homelessness were a fact of life for many in
predominantly black and Latino South Los Angeles. Indeed, it has been said that
when America catches a cold black America gets the flu. The titanic wealth gap
between white and black America means that fewer young African Americans will be
able to meet much less exceed the standard of living enjoyed by their parents.
Over the past decade, socioeconomic mobility for black college graduates has
actually declined. At 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African Americans are
50% of its homeless and 40% of its prison population. MORE@ http://thenewhumanism.org/authors/sikivu-hutchinson/articles/prayer-warriors-and-freethinkers

Voters Smackdown Insanity

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In a sign that humanist rationality can prevail in the American mainstream, voters scored key moral victories for civil and human rights in Mississippi, Ohio and Arizona.  The defeat of Proposition 26, the so-called personhood initiative, is a major blow to the pro-death forces seeking to turn back the clock on women’s rights.  The most religious state in the country, Mississippi already has parental consent laws, mandatory waiting periods for women seeking abortions and severely limited reproductive health options.  But if the Christian fascists can’t succeed in bible thumping ole Miss where can they? Not to be deterred, the Colorado-based Personhood USA campaign is gathering signatures for ballot initiatives in nine other states.

The Christian fascists might also want to get it straight on whether all new “persons” would be eligible for collective bargaining rights.  In Ohio, voters’ opposition to an anti-union bill was a loud rebuke to the wave of anti-union sentiment from the Tea Party and its GOP amen corner.  If it had passed, the Ohio law would have “banned public employee strikes, scrapped binding arbitration, and denied public workers the ability to negotiate pensions and health care benefits.”  In
their rush to demonize big government, “fat cat” public employee unions and their swollen pension funds, the reactionary right conveniently ignores the
fact that historic safeguards like collective bargaining essentially built the modern white middle class.  But the white nationalist rhetoric that has spawned fascist personhood initiatives and anti-union hysteria is all of a piece.

That’s why yesterday’s successful recall of anti-illegal immigrant demagogue and Arizona Republican State Senator Russell Pearce was also a vindication of national social justice movements linking living wage jobs, equitable access to education and anti-racism. Pearce was the architect of SB 1070, the first salvo in anti-illegal immigrant public policy that criminalizes undocumented immigrants and their families.  [Read more…]

My Savvy Sister Profile of Sikivu Hutchinson

My Savvy Sister of the Week Profile by Editor Te-Erika Patterson

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.   She founded the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a South L.A.-based feminist mentoring and social justice advocacy program for high school girls of color. The WLP trains young women to advocate for gender justice in their school-communities around anti-violence, reproductive justice, media representation, undocumented student rights, college access and LGBTQ rights.

MSS: Being Black, feminist and atheist sounds like a triple punch in the
face to the “Miss Manners” generation. Can you remember what it was like to form
these feminist and atheist views?

Sikivu: I grew up in a secular
household, so I had a leg up on skepticism, freethought and intellectual
curiosity. Both my parents were what I would call “activist scholars.” Some of
my earliest memories coming of age in South L.A. in the 70s and 80s were of
going to demonstrations, public forums and meetings on social justice issues
relevant to the black community, particularly around the pervasiveness of police
terrorism and police misconduct during that era. I was also exposed to authors,
intellectuals and historical figures of African descent (many of whom embraced
freethought) very early on, so this became my moral foundation. My parents
ensured that I had literature from black women thinkers and writers. My father
gave me my first anthology (by Mari Evans) on black women writers in high school
and my mother was a nationally esteemed English teacher heavily into forerunning
womanist/feminist writers like Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker and Toni
Morrison. These were my values. Consequently, Christianity, supernaturalism and
belief in God really had no bearing on my sense of ethics, justice, fairness and
identity.

MSS: Outing yourself as an atheist in this society could
be painful and scary. Why is it important to you to share your views on
spirituality or the lack thereof? [Read more…]

My Gawd! It’s a Miracle!

By Norm Allen

On October 29, 2011, the Associated Press ran a heartwarming story about an adorable dog that cheated death. (“Stray dog awaits adoption after surving gas chamber,” The Buffalo News, p. A7.)

On October 3rd, a new operator of a gas chamber run by the Animal Control Department in Florence, Alabama, placed the dog into the chamber with other animals. Carbon monoxide was fed into the chamber. The lucky dog was the only survivor.

Surely a genuine miracle of a religious nature must have occurred. After all, there is no other possible explanation as to how the dog could have survived. Indeed, workers at the animal shelter named the dog Daniel, after the biblical hero that made it out of the lion’s den.

Not so fast. About four paragraphs into the news story, a spokesman for the city, Phil Stevenson, offered another possible scenario. “It may be that his breathing was shallow because of a cold or something.” Sadly, however, Stevenson added, “Or maybe God just had a better plan for this one.”

Fortunately, Julie Morris, senior vice president of community outreach for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, delved more thoughtfully into the subject. According to the news article, Morris said:

Variables that could allow a dog to survive such a gassing include the number of animals placed in the chamber, the concentration of carbon monoxide, whether the chamber is airtight and the health of the animal, with young healthy animals having the best chance for survival…Since carbon monoxide is heavier than air, it sinks, so a tall dog, or one that climbed to the top of a pile, would have a better chance of surviving….

Such cases are extremely rare. However, they do occur. A rare case, an amazing coincidence, or a mystery should never be mistaken for the occurrence of a genuine miracle of a religious nature.

However, such ignorance lies at the foundation of theistic religion. For example, Bible believers claim that God created the rainbow as a promise to humanity that he would never again destroy the Earth with a Flood. Yet we now know that rainbows are created by the refraction and dispersioin of sunlight on drops of rain. Still, people prefer the poetic religious tale.

Similarly, many theists embrace the biblical story that God created the stars. However,we have known for years how stars are formed naturally. Now, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we can see areas in the galaxy where stars and planetary systems are being born. (There is no reason to suppose that a mystery God is making it all happen.)

What about the “miracle” of life? Certainly God must have created life on Earth. However, amino acids, the basic building blocks of life, oranize themselves. Moreover, they do so selectively. Again, there is no reason to suppose that there is a God lying at the bottom of it all.

Still, certainly genuine religious miracles occur with regularity throuhout the world. For example, what about all of the wonderful faith healers doing good through the power of Jesus? Many faith healers are simply dishonest. The skeptic James Randi has exposed such faith healers as Peter Popoff. For example, Randi discovered that Popoff was able to secretly get information from his followers because he had a tiny electronic transmitter in his ear. His wife, unbeknown to his followers, was relaying him the information, and he appeared to be quite the impressive man of God. Steve Martin revisted this faith healing trick in his film, “Leap of Faith.”

One could talk about morality, the origins of life or the universe as we know it, etc. Unless there is a Theory of Everything (TOE), it is highly likely that there will always be gaps in human knowledge. However, why are theists always so anxious to rush and fill in those gaps by positing a mystery God? Why should there be so much shame in saying, “I simply do not know”? After all, once the gaps are finally filled (always by naturalistic explanations), theistic explanations come to look embarrassingly foolish. (For example, since the germ theory supplanted the belief that demons caused diseases, the demon theory has come to be viewed as ridiculously childish, and rightfully so.)

Nature is not nearly as lame as most theists seem to believe. On the contrary, nature is far more complex and powerful than most theists dare to imagine. It operates according to its own laws. Most importantly, it seems in no way obligated to humanity or any other life form to reveal any of its secrets. It is up to human beings to try to learn as much about the universe as possible. Deists used to talk about Nature’s God. However, most human beings believe they need God. Nature is in need of no God.

We should not be afraid to confront perplexing questions. Bill Cosby used to joke about his experience with philosophy. He was once faced with the question, “Why is there air?” He responded, “to blow up basketballs.” That is certainly a better answer than to simply say, “because God created it.”

After all is said and done, there is no good reason to assume that miracles of a religious nature occur. We will be confronted with questions such as, “Where does gravity come from?” However, rather than copping out and resorting to miracle mongering, we can pursue another course. We can say, “We don’t know, but in all probablity, it is the result of natural, though deeply mysterious, processes.” Such a response would certaily embolden scientists to try get to the bottom of the matter. The truth is not always poetic. Then again, why should it have to be?