Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels NOW AVAILABLE

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Over the past several years, the Right has spun the fantasy of colorblind, post-racial, post-feminist American exceptionalism. This Orwellian narrative anchors the most blistering conservative assault on secularism, civil rights, and public education in the post-Vietnam War era. It is no accident that this assault has occurred in an era in which whites have over twenty times the wealth of African Americans. For many communities of color, victimized by a rabidly Religious Right, neo-liberal agenda, the American dream has never been more of a nightmare than it is now. Godless Americana is a radical humanist analysis of this climate. It provides a vision of secular social justice that challenges Eurocentric traditions of race, gender, and class-neutral secularism. For a small but growing number of non-believers of color, humanism and secularism are inextricably linked to the broader struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, economic injustice, and global imperialism. Godless Americana critiques these titanic rifts and the role white Christian nationalism plays in the demonization of urban communities of color.

 
Godless Americana is a MUST READ!” Kimberly Veal, Black Non-Believers of Chicago (GOODREADS REVIEW)

 

 “Hutchinson notes that being an atheist is not enough to affect any real change. One can be an atheist in isolation simply by not believing in God. Becoming a humanist, by contrast, entails working for social justice. For blacks to make atheism relevant to the larger African American community they cannot simply emphasize science and critical thinking but must instead help feed people, train them for jobs, and offer assistance to prisoners trying to reenter society, among other issues.” Chris Cameron, University of North Carolina
 
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Leaving Jesus: Women of Color Beyond Faith

Mandisa Thomas

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus.  They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing.  My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band.  She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school.  Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe only a small minority go on to four year colleges and universities.

Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual abuse scandals.  The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). Italics added.”[i]

In my book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, I argued that the literature on secularism and gender does not capture the experiences of women of color negotiating racism, sexism, and poverty in historically religious communities.  The relative dearth of secular humanist and freethought traditions amongst women of color cannot be separated from the broader context of white supremacy, gender politics, and racial segregation.  Harlem Renaissance-era writers Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston are generally acknowledged as pioneering twentieth century black women freethinkers.  Yet what few women’s freethought histories there are celebrate the political influence of prominent nineteenth century white women non-believers, [Read more...]

Religion in Black Life

By the Anti-Intellect:

For me, being a Black atheist means thinking critically about the role of religion in the lives of Black people. For far too long, few have written about the negative aspects of religion in Black life, preferring only to write about the positives aspects. Yes, religion was something that our ancestors called upon to help them navigate a White racist world that insisted on their inferiority. But, religion has also been the site of much brutality in the lives of Black people.

If we were to grade the role religion has played in Black life, particularly Judeo-Christianity, I would say that it has earned a “F.” There are simply too many instances of religion being both tool of liberation and tool of oppression in the lives of Blacks. For example, the bible was constantly utilized to justify the enslavement of Black people. I’m sorry, but an “F” average is simply not good enough for a religion that makes divine and/or supernatural claims. Surely, there should be a better track record for something that is ruled by an all-powerful god?

We have been told by the gatekeepers of Black History that religion, and religion alone, has gotten us over. We fail to take into account the secular ways that Black people have utilized in their dealings with a White racist society. For every Bishop Henry McNeal, there has been a Frederick Douglass. For every Sojourner Truth, there has been a Butterfly McQueen. While it is true that Blacks have utilized religion, it has not been the only thing that we have utilized, and our failure to recognize this stunts our collective growth, and undermines what we think we are capable of when addressing the problems that plague our communities.

I would suggest that there is a very real danger in Black people thinking we are nothing without religion. We, Black people, were a people before we were indoctrinated, and we will be someone afterwards. This is not to suggest that religion cannot be a useful tool for examining the issues facing Black people but, more often than not, it is usually a tool of conservatism holding Black people back.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a religious Black person that uses her role in organized religion to critically examine issues facing the Black community. She is not of the conservative ilk populated by Black exploiters like Eddie Long, Bernice King, and Harry Jackson. These pastors participate in the degradation of Black life by insisting that we are simple, lacking in complexity, and diversity. That we are a people only, and always, marked by conservatism. They fail to take into account the diversity of Black life, instead insisting on its monotony.

As enthralled as I am with Reverend Irene Monroe, as a Black atheist, I insist on making it known that religion, nor belief in god, are necessary in Black life. I am not of the belief that Blacks should embrace a form of cultural nihilism, because one can be atheist and very hopeful about the potential for positive transformation of Black life. I simply do not believe that Black people need religion. We absolutely need structures for coming together, and so often this has been the primary role of religion in Black life, but this can be achieved without religion and belief in god. MORE @http://antiintellect.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/religion-in-black-life/

 

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.

Black Skeptics’ Interview with Author Donald Wright



Donald Wright is a Houston-based freethought activist and the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go.

In recognition of the seminal yet historically overlooked impact of black freethought traditions, he has proposed the fourth Sunday in February as a “Day of Solidarity” for African American freethinkers, humanists, and atheists.

You were once a deacon and devoted member of your church. What was the catalyst for your journey to non-theism?

If I include being born into a Christian family, I have over 50 years of experience of being involved in religion. My parents and sisters were active members of a Christian church so I followed in their footsteps. Aside from the five years of college, which I did continue attending church especially since I wanted to maintain a relationship with my church going college sweetheart, I had been an active and devoted church member until September 2006. My church activities included: Sunday school, choir, usher, youth groups, fundraising committees, co-leader with my wife of new members’ orientation, and being a deacon.

To describe the catalyst for my journey to non-theism, I must provide some background information that represents my church/religious experiences. There is not a shortage of malfeasance among black church pastors and leaders. The claim against Eddie Long in Atlanta, Georgia, is a well publicized example. Describe it as naïve, but I expected pastors, men called by God, to be of higher character and dedication to the instructions of the Bible. Not that they don’t exist, but I had not been a member of a church with a female pastor so pardon my gender reference. I assumed that the God-calling provided a spiritual strength, humility, and godly insight that was unavailable to normal everyday Christians. A pastor’s inappropriate behavior was very disturbing to me and it was amplified when he lacked a display of remorse. To add to my discomfort, majority of the members were too tolerable and readily to forgive. I can’t count the number of times I heard “the pastor is just a man” as a reason to not demand accountability. Most pastors are arrogant and demand a stature position that requires hero worship and most members in black churches accommodate.

I was a member of this pre-dominantly black mega-church in Houston for 19 years. It was the church where I was a deacon. In 2003, the pastor’s involvement in a homosexual scandal was exposed. It found its way into the local and national media. The pastor was portraying a happy heterosexual marriage. This was devastating to the membership. A special meeting was held to determine his fate. The membership voted and by a small margin, the majority preferred him to remain as pastor with the condition that he would agree to counseling.

Our family was not alone in leaving, as a substantial number of members immediately chose to find another church. This situation was very disturbing because within two years the church membership decreased well over 50%. Homosexuality is a major theological challenge for most Christians and obviously I did not accept it as a lifestyle choice for a church leader.

This incident was the catalyst. Following the decision to find another church, I committed to becoming a greater student of the Bible and the religious practice of Christianity. I was no longer going to be dependent on the preachers and anointed Bible teachers for interpretation and instructions. The next two years involved intense self-study in addition to enrollment in a local Bible college to obtain a Bible teaching certificate. Some family members and friends suggested I was being called to the ministry. The study required me to ask hard and challenging questions. It required me to pursue the history and origin of the Bible. It led me to observing clear contradictions in Bible. Eventually I would find my way to reading the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and in September 2006 my religious journey was terminated. Self-study led me away from religion and into a life-stance centered on Humanism and Atheism. I am glad I finally decided to scholarly study the Bible.

What kinds of advocacy work do you do around humanism/atheism in the Houston community?

I am an active member of the Humanists of Houston organization, currently serving as vice-president. The intent of my involvement with this group, in addition to the benefits of being among more like-minded individuals, is to encourage more community service and outreach as humanists. We must become more visible in the community to offset the service provided by religious organizations. Our society needs to learn that it is not religion that gives people the desire to help and care for others.

Also, I have organized a discussion group, Radical Forum – Houston. The group assembles monthly to examine various topics and issues through an open dialogue. The group decides the topic or issue and a volunteer will lead the discussion. The primary objective of the group is to promote a better society and lessen human oppression and exploitation. The forum serves to motivate and to be an intellectual resource. Our society cannot change until people change. People cannot change until their thinking change. Thoughts and attitudes are modified through new information. My individual responsibility is to make certain that the information shared during the discussion is tested through humanistic values and examined from a non-religious perspective.

How has your involvement in the emerging community of black non-believers changed your outlook on life?

My outlook on life began to change a few years before my escape from religion. Although I did not recognize this immediately, but the start of my new worldview was when I started my engineering consulting firm in January 2002. I discovered a freedom that transcends monetary wealth. I had acquired major control of my time and priorities. I can determine what truly is important. At this time my daughter was a sophomore in high school. I cannot explain the joy of attending her basketball games in the middle of the afternoon without having to get permission from the boss. She still treasures her feeling of knowing her dad was in the stands for the majority of games cheering for her and the team. I learned to value that experience more than the acquisition of a lot of money. My business objective was then and remains to keep it small but adequate. I was beginning to reject some of the ideals of corporate America and the capitalistic influence.

During the past nine years, my worldview on religion, politics, government, capitalism, our monetary system, health, and many other subjects has significantly altered. I have read more books, asked more hard questions, shared conversation with more extraordinary and brilliant people, and studied diligently to determine truth. The function of truth is to bring light to the hidden facts. Truth transforms humans only when we submit to it. Humans who seek truth cannot resist the need to transform. I may have to write another book to describe my reasons for becoming disenchanted with life in the United States.

Attending the African American for Humanism Conference, sponsored by Center for Inquiry, in Washington, D.C. in May last year was a huge impact. I have a photo of the group framed and mounted on my office wall. It was a historical event because it was the first major gathering of black non-believers in the Unites States. I met and established relationships with many other black non-believers from various cities across the country. I anticipate many of those relationships to solidify and last for a lifetime. There was so much comfort in sharing experiences and similar journeys. It was so surprising to hear the stories of individuals that had started their journey during their youth. Some of the individuals at this conference will be very influential in the humanist movement. My perspective on humanism and its place in the black community was broadened. I have more confidence and greater hope for the black community that it will lessen its dependence on religion. I look forward to the future for attending the first major gathering of black non-believers here in Houston, Texas.

What do you think are the main priorities for black non-believers?

The most important activity for a black non-believer is to make yourself available for establishing a friendship with other black non-believers. Because of the dominance of religion in our community, it is not unusual to experience a feeling of loneliness so a local friend is invaluable. Emails, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging cannot replace face to face communication. In preparation for befriending a fellow black non-believer, be certain you care enough to share your experiences and offer genuine support.

The next priority is to develop boldness in purpose because the religious institutions must be challenged. Their negative influence on our society must be exposed. When faith is tested through facts, logic, reason, or science it should fail. In preparation to confront believers, you must be solidly grounded in this life-stance and confident enough to discuss it with anyone interested in a conversation. As non-believers, we must become more visible and our voices heard. As non-believers, we offer an alternative that could make substantial improvements in our society and our community must know that we exist.

Also, we must participate with national humanist and atheist organizations to offer support as these organizations are confronting policies through the political process. The religious landscape of the United States must be removed and replaced with reason and free thought.

To my fellow black non-believers, I suggest sharing knowledge and speaking truth without any fear. Human attitudes, opinions, and behavior can be modified. A believer can become a non-believer. I am that example.

In your book, you talk about black male ambivalence toward the culture of charismatic male leadership in the Black Church. Does this ambivalence keep men away from the church and how does it encourage emotional/sexual abuse and co-dependency amongst women?

I will address the latter part of the question first.

I am almost certain that the majority of pastors in the black church are men. I have the same certainty that the majority of the members of black churches are women, which means they have the greater number in church service attendance and participation in church activities. Because of this dynamic, the pastors must cater primarily to the needs of the women. Black women are achieving more independence and earning larger incomes as professionals and business owners than ever before. Many have moved from the kitchen to the boardroom and their monetary contributions reflect this status. But note that surveys indicate that the largest segment of people that is religious and unmarried is black women. They love the church and adore the pastor especially the singles. This environment creates a playground for the unscrupulous men with charisma, authority, and fine tailored suits. These men have become celebrities and as a result of our society’s celebrity culture, many women become victims emotionally and sexually. What can be more problematic than a single woman seeking counsel and prayer for finding a husband or a companion in the dim lights of the pastor’s study? If they only knew that their best chance for a qualified mate is not in the church. Too many black women depend on and seek solace from the church.

A large percentage of black men struggle with the desire to attend church—simultaneously they lack the interest in supporting the pastor. In the black community the pastor is the church. It is not uncommon to hear a member say, “I attend Pastor XYZ’s church.” This group of struggling black men recognize these selfish and manipulative characteristics in preachers because of their own experiences and characteristics, making it difficult to ignore the negative possibilities. These negative possibilities include improper management of the building fund to justify a new car or receiving sexual pleasure from a distraught woman that attempts to show her gratitude to the pastor for paying her electric bill. In street language they see him the same as the “pimp” or “player.” The pimp controls and the player attracts. The need to attend church is ingrained in black culture. Most black men accept this as vital and prefer not to risk their soul’s salvation, but their social instincts alert them to [the pastor’s] con artist[istry]. They cannot ignore this alert so many of them stay away from church choosing instead to read the Bible and listen to gospel music on Sundays. Well, maybe not every Sunday.

You recently proposed a “Day of Solidarity” for African American non-believers. What was the motivation for this initiative?

The idea of a Day of Solidarity occurred as a result of me pondering Black History Month with more focus on black free thinkers and non-believers. I felt that an effort should be given to assemble black non-believers in our local towns and cities eliminating the need for expensive travel. I visualized a special day of observance once a year on the 4th Sunday in February to promote fellowship, share experiences, meet new non-believers, and discuss the lives of black non-believers that our typical history books omit. Also, this could be the opportunity to encourage community activism. The gathering is to be provided with minimum requirements and cost. Two or more people could meet in the park if the weather permits.

I was really hoping the fellowship would be the attracting piece in the purpose for the gathering. Since the beginning of my journey away from religion in 2006, I desperately needed and still need to meet more black non-believers. Fellowship, a sustaining characteristic of the church, is valuable in our society regardless of the group’s purpose. We need each other. Our technological advancements allow us to communicate with many people around the world, sharing information at the click of a button. We are meeting and making new friends online everyday. But no technology can replace the need for human interaction, face to face, the look into another person eyes during the moment of a true passionate expression, or the sight of sharing a gut wrenching laugh. We still need a hug or a little rub on the back when times get tough. Communicating through emails, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging can’t tell the whole human story.

So far, the response has been a little disappointing. It has caused me to reflect on what it takes to get people to support a cause. Our society needs so many positive actions to offset the decay and turmoil. In our celebrity culture, in order to initiate a peoples’ movement do you have to be a celebrity? Would the idea been received with greater interest if it was presented by someone such as Tavis Smiley? I was baffled by a number of people in particular that chose not to offer a simple comment, for or against the idea. For new ideas, criticisms can be a benefit. But I’ll be fine. I have no interest in becoming a celebrity. I’m only trying to make a contribution before my days are done.

I am hopeful that the gathering is received in truth and for its intent. So get from behind those computers and build solidarity with your fellow non-believers.

Many women of color and some men of color embrace humanism/atheism as part of a feminist and anti-heterosexist world view. What is your perspective on the relationship between gender equity and humanism/atheism? What specifically can black men do to advance gender justice?

The significant phase of my transformation was when I began to truly embrace humanism and atheism. Being humanist is much more relevant than being an atheist. An atheist simply is an individual that do not believe in a god. I don’t believe in a god because I don’t have to. I do not have enough evidence that proves a god exists. I am a humanist because I support the betterment of all humans and sustaining their innate ability to make rational decisions regarding life. I support peace and harmony in the universe and maintaining its natural order and resources. Humanism is my fundamental worldview. It is the guiding principle by which I use to take a position on all issues affecting our society. Humanism is tolerant and respects individuality. Humanism is fairness and strives for truth. I can’t be a humanist and support or practice any organized religion that exists in our world today according to my awareness. Religion is in opposition to humanism and most religions encourage the recognition of some type of god.

I hope to witness an overwhelming increase of blacks in the United States that make a rational decision to move away from religion and choose to embrace humanism.

In terms of gender equity, I think humanism is the means to assure its existence. There is overwhelming evidence of how religions, particularly the most dominant ones here in the United States, promote gender inequality with men being in positions of authority. The Bible is a collection of this ideology. Women recognized this fallacy and demanded a different society that acknowledges the rights of women, which is evident today, but some remain in bondage to their religious dogma and continue to be subjugated to a fictitious role. Our society fails, primarily due to religion, in the attempt to identify the roles of women and men and many of us become deranged in the struggle for adherence. We should allow science to help us to understand the true natural differences between women and men, then as individuals we determine our role as we adapt to our society. We should learn and understand personalities and weigh the factors that shape our character. This is especially significant when we are developing relationships or partnerships, more commonly known as marriage, with other humans. Religion distorts this concept also. Who should determine the make-up of the partnership and head of the household or the need for one, the church, Paul the self-proclaimed apostle, or the individuals involved? Humanism is not about defining gender or sexual orientation; it is systematic in determining what’s best for human beings.

For black men to advance gender justice, my primary suggestion is stay away from religion. Free your mind from the bondage of religious dogma. Become a free thinking individual. Black men must understand that gender injustice is a human malfunction just like racism. Our community cannot afford this behavior. Black men must relinquish this misguided attitude of the male authoritative perspective as practiced in the black church. Appreciate the qualities and skills of our black women equally without restrictions. We need each other operating at its highest efficiency to promote an equitable society. Human injustice, oppression and exploitation are inefficient.

Contact Donald Wright, wrightengr@sbcglobal.net, www.drwrightbooks.com