Black Atheists Rising: Solidarity for Black Non-Believers

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When President Obama wants to burnish his credentials amongst African Americans he knows he will always be welcome in one place: a black church from central casting. From scripture spewing politicians to high octane Baptist gospel choirs to the ubiquitous prayer circle and Tyler Perry’s bible-thumping Madea caricature, religion and black culture are virtually synonymous in the American popular imagination. According to the Pew Research Center 87% of African Americans are religious, making them among the most religious communities in the U.S. In my predominantly African American South Los Angeles neighborhood the most common personalized license plates are righteously faith-based. Fish icons, hands clasped in prayer, and church congregation names grace cars buffed to a blinding sheen. A key component of black antebellum and civil rights era resistance, religion remains central to mainstream black identity. But recently black atheists have begun rallying around a new billboard campaign featuring African American Humanists and promoting a national Day of Solidarity initiated by author Donald Wright on February 26th.

Atheism remains one of the last dependable taboos amongst African Americans. It is a notion so foreign that some—like resident buffoon, dating guru, and game show host Steve Harvey, who notoriously bashed atheists during a round of talk show appearances in 2009—equate it with devil worship and amorality. Like many Americans in this so-called Christian Nation, African Americans reflexively associate morality with Christian belief. So even though bestselling white authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have put atheism on the global map black non-believers remain marginalized and largely invisible to mainstream America. The African Americans for Humanism (AAH) billboard campaign is part of an effort to change that. With billboards in Chicago, New York, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles, the campaign pairs contemporary black atheists with Humanist historical figures such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Frederick Douglass. As AAH director Debbie Goddard notes, “There is a rich heritage of religious skepticism and humanism in black history. By featuring the historical faces as well as the modern in our ad campaign, we show people that questioning religion is not new and that there are many of us here.”

A religious skeptic, Douglass frequently criticized the hypocrisy of European American Christianity’s role in the African holocaust, famously proclaiming that “revivals of religion and revivals of the slave trade went hand in hand.” In 1870, after having the gall to not thank god for Emancipation, he was censured for his heresy by a group of black ministers. In her 1942 essay “Religion” Hurston rejected the group think of organized religion, confessing that, as the daughter of a preacher, “When I was asked if I loved God, I always said yes because I knew that that was the thing I was supposed to say.” Hughes’ skepticism had similar roots in childhood religious indoctrination. In one vivid scene in his autobiographical essay “Salvation” he recounts going through the motions of being saved in order to appease an overzealous pastor.

Douglass, Hurston, and Hughes were part of a compelling tradition of black Humanist thought that has been all but ignored by civil rights historians. In his new book The End of God-Talk: An African American Humanist Theology, theorist Anthony Pinn proposes that “non-theist theology” is an important articulation of [Read more…]

Stop Praying and Start Acting: Interview with Juhem Navarro-Rivera

Juhem Navarro-Rivera is a political scientist, Secularism Scholar, blogger and author of the 2010 U.S. Latino Religious Identification survey:

What is your current identification (atheist, agnostic, etc.)?

Definitively an atheist since I do not believe in the existence of deities. As for labeling, I prefer the term “None” for a couple of reasons. First, sociologically it denotes kinship with the larger nonreligious community. Second, because atheism is not a religion if I were ever asked to answer a religion identification survey None would be the correct term.

What is your cultural/religious background (i.e. were you raised in a religious household) and when did you make the shift to your current belief system?

As a child growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1980s and 1990s I had contact with many religious denominations, all of them Christian (or fellow-travelers). My parents sent me to religious schools: an evangelical elementary school and Catholic middle and high schools. I was exposed to religion in other ways: Protestant neighbors who invited me to their churches, friends and family who became “born-again” Christians. In practice I guess I was a Catholic: I was baptized and had my first communion and confirmation ceremonies.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment in which I became an atheist, this happened gradually. My atheism isn’t the result of philosophy or science, I was never good at any of them, but I have always been suspicious of power. Priests, nuns, preachers make up their authority out of thin air. Being introduced to different types of Christians with different interpretations of what god and Jesus said and did was a great experience. These religious “leaders” convinced me that religion is just an institution dedicated to overpowering people: their wills and desires, their actions and thoughts. With their actions they showed that religion is also a very human institution.

 How have atheism, freethought and/or secular humanism shaped your world view?

Secularism has shaped how I view politics and power. Religion is an excellent example of how easily corruptible human institutions are. Part of my research as a political scientist is the link between constituents and representatives and how they influence each other, but more importantly, how constituents can keep politicians in check. In a secular republic we can ask for accountability from our representatives. In a theocracy, you’re basically questioning the will of god. Needless to say, I love secular republics. [Read more…]

Celebrating Freedom of Religion

 

Donald Wright w/Black Skeptics L.A.

 

By Naima Cabelle

In 2010, activist and author Donald R. Wright of Houston, Texas proposed a Day of Solidarity in hope of unifying black atheists and getting them to become active in the secular community. This year, on Sunday, February 26th marks the third annual National Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers, however it is vital to focus beyond the 26th and to continue to celebrate and promote freethought, social justice, and universal human rights year round.

Everyone in the U.S. has the right to worship as they please; the government has no authority to dictate if or how its citizens engage in religious rituals or religious beliefs. Those who believe in god(s) may openly say so; openly attend a house of worship; and may freely join or leave a religious denomination.  The rights of all believers are protected by the US Constitution, and although religious beliefs may be sacred to those who follow them, what is also protected is the right of others to openly challenge or reject any or all religious beliefs.  Laws prohibiting blasphemy are nothing more than attempts to silence not only non-believers but to keep other theists from challenging religious beliefs as well. Laws designed to prohibit the critique of religious beliefs are in fact laws that are designed to prohibit free speech; and such laws in this country are unconstitutional.

Many believers, particularly those who are interested in recruiting atheists to their religious denomination, often avoid giving explanations about their beliefs by equating atheists with infamous figures such as Adolf Hitler; but not because the atheists are anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, genocidal maniacs. By accusing atheists of being followers and/or the equals of Adolf Hitler, the believer seeks to avoid explaining as well as proving their incredible beliefs by focusing on the ethics, motivations, and behavior of the atheist. [Read more…]

Denzel Washington Steps In It

From the Steve Harvey school of armchair anti-atheist philosophy, Denzel Washington discusses preparing for the new film Safe House with NBC’s Matt Lauer:

“I read this book called ‘The Sociopath Next Door,’ and that was like my Bible, that I related to,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “The traits of a sociopath: No conscience, no sense of remorse, usually atheist, just always want to win, dominate…. He’s about to get waterboarded and he’s telling the guy he brought the wrong towels. He’s still trying to win.”

Talk to us about atheist sociopathy Denzel: Endorsement of waterboarding as a no-torture zone: good Christian fascists George W. Bush , Dick Cheney

Extension of war, torture, slaughter of innocents through endless drone and troop deployment: “He will guide” us Christian soldier Barack Obama

 

 

God’s Body, God’s Plan: The Komen Foundation and Abortion as Black/Latino “Genocide”

By Sikivu Hutchinson

This is God’s body, the girl says. She is one of a group of middle school students participating in a youth workshop on misogynist images in media. The subject has turned to abortion, and her peers nod vigorously in agreement. Imani Moses, a high school senior who is facilitating the workshop as one of my Women’s Leadership Project students, challenges her to examine her position—“does God sleep, eat, live in and control ‘this body’ 24/7?” She asks, pointing to her own body. “No, this is my body, and I control it.” A ripple of unease goes through the room, as the girls chew on Imani’s defiance. Making the leap from God to self-determination is blasphemous for some. Yet, the persistence of these beliefs underscores the special peril the current fight over abortion rights poses for women of color.

Over the past several years, Black and Latino fundamentalist anti-abortion groups have vigorously aligned themselves with the white Religious Right in the battle to takedown family planning. Indeed, the recent furor over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding for Planned Parenthood highlighted the role of Eve Sanchez Silver, founder of a little known group called the International Coalition of Color for Life. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sanchez Silver, a former medical research analyst for and charter member of the Komen Foundation, has been a leading advocate against Planned Parenthood within Komen.

The International Coalition of Color for Life frames its mission as “protecting minority life from birth to natural death.” Its website is chock full of shrill abortion-as-God’s-scourge propaganda. To bolster its claims that abortion is genocide images of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are stamped with Nazi swastikas. Historically revisionist assessments of Planned Parenthood conveniently omit the connection many early 20th century progressive Black activists made between family planning, birth control, abortion, and black liberation. Tellingly, prominent Nazis like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells supported Sanger’s controversial work with the Birth Control Federation of America. As African American historian Dorothy Roberts contends in her book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, “Sanger (may have) adopted the eugenicists’ view of the dangers of racial deterioration…but she rejected their biological explanation for its cause…she held uncontrolled fertility responsible for bringing children into conditions of poverty and deprivation.” Roberts unpacks the nuances of Sanger’s views and policies, noting that “it appears that Sanger was motivated by a genuine concern to improve the health of the poor mothers she served rather than a desire to eliminate their stock.”

However, by using Sanger as a smokescreen to vilify abortion, anti-abortion foes of color are really savaging women’s right to agency. Twenty first century women’s liberation demands that women of color have safe, legal, and unrestricted access to abortion. As reproductive justice organizations like Sister Song have made abundantly clear, contemporary women of color are not serviceable wombs for the agenda of patriarchy, the state or organized religion. It is precisely because of right wing opposition to universal health care coverage that Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women are more likely to rely on the wraparound health care [Read more…]

Tips for Tim Tebow

By Bob Avakian

Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos in the National Football League, is being widely, and seemingly endlessly, promoted—as an icon not only in the realm of sports but much more broadly.  I have followed sports, including football, for many decades now, and I cannot recall ever witnessing anything like this. In a highly orchestrated and concentrated campaign, Tebow is being held up as a “worker of miracles” on the football field but, more than that, as a “role model” and moral standard-bearer.

This hype around Tebow is completely and strikingly out of proportion to any demonstrated ability or actual accomplishments on Tebow’s part, in terms of performance as a professional football quarterback. If you have been paying attention not only to the arena of sports but to things more broadly in this society and the world, you should be able to quickly guess why this is: Tim Tebow is a religious fanatic—of the Christian fundamentalist variety—who aggressively promotes his medieval views and values in a way that is obviously considered useful by significant sections of the powers-that-be in the U.S. Among other things, during the Super Bowl (the American professional football championship) a couple of years ago, Tebow was the centerpiece of an ad whose purpose was to oppose the right of women to reproductive freedom, in particular abortion. The ad was sponsored by a right-wing Christian organization which aggressively opposes the right of women to abortion (it is also a fact, and highly revealing, that as a general rule the reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces that oppose a woman’s right to abortion also want to ban birth control).

This promotion of what is in reality a fascist outlook and program, in the form of fundamentalist Christianity, is aided by the notion—aggressively championed by some, and far too often unchallenged by others—that there is a direct connection between how religious someone is and how “moral” he or she is. Which avoids the critical question: What is the content of this morality? More specifically: What, in fact, is being promoted through the propagation of religious fundamentalism, [Read more…]

Eddie Long crowned a King with help of the Torah

By Frederick Sparks

In case you’re short on *facepalm* moments today, check out this video of  an odd coronation of scandal plagued pastor Eddie Long as a Hebrew king by a fellow who appears to follow some variant of Messianic Judaism and who, because he has dual citizenship with Israel, speaks on behalf of the “Jewish people”.

In the sea of inanity that is this video, the stretch I found particularly interesting was the segment on the number 22: 

 “There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet…22 chromosomes in the human body (the 23rd was added by man)..22 amino acids…Jewish doctors say if you look at cells through a microscope, they look like Hebrew script.” 

OK……

An associate professor of Hebrew critiques the scriptural claims here.  I’ll leave the rest to those with a working knowledge of biology and biochemistry.

Interview with Nicome Taylor, Black Skeptics L.A.

Nicome Taylor is a member of Black Skeptics Los Angeles

What is your current identification (atheist, agnostic, etc.)?

Currently I identify myself as an atheist, although growing up I considered myself to be Christian up until the time I begin to research the origin of my beliefs.

What is your cultural/religious background (i.e. were you raised in a religious household)?

Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I was not familiar with atheism at all. I was raised in a household where I attended church regularly as a child, but primarily on religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Attending church on Easter was an essential part of my family tradition. During these times, it was a must that we acknowledge what I then believed to be the “Savior” of humanity-Jesus. Questioning specific scriptures in the bible was something that I’ve always done in my moments of silence, but whenever I would question any elders about specific immoral scriptures I was given a soft apologetic response or was told not to question God. Questioning God was prohibited growing up and perceived as a sign of rebelliousness. I later discovered that the only way to be clear on all that was to be understood about the bible was through questioning the unknown and properly reading the context of scriptures and the origin them.

How have atheism or free thought shaped your world view as an African American?

I have always been an outspoken person. Being able to express my atheist views as a Black woman has been a little challenging considering the majority of my friends and family are believers of the Christian faith. It was not challenging out of fear of acceptance, but out of fear of being deemed offensive because of frame of thinking. I have always been out spoken when it came to certain subjects, but being vocal on a subject where you think you stand alone within your thoughts was not something I looked forward to. [Read more…]