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...]

Aurora, Colorado: Tragedy, Wingnuttery, and a possible racial angle?

By Frederick Sparks

The senseless tragedy in which 12 moviegoers were murdered and scores other injured at a screening of the new Batman film may have been enough to “halt” the presidential campaigns, but the predictable conversations about gun rights, gun control, and of course “God” march on.  Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert blames the shooting on the fact that:

 

We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country … and when … you know … what really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless, crazy act of terror like this takes place.

You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, we don’t let … in fact we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed….etc etc

 

This asshole apparently worships an asshole God who allows babies to get shot because He is so butthurt that  His name isn’t said at high school graduations.   Gohmert also repeats the standard canard that “if only the theatre patrons had guns”…because of course everyone with a gun is a good enough shot to take out an armed assailant in a dark theatre while chaos is breaking out, without hitting an innocent bystander.

 

On another note,  Aurora has become a suburban destination for black Denver area residents and has one of the highest concentrations of African-Americans in the state of Colorado.  An Aurora resident who met the alleged shooter James Holmes  in a bar two weeks ago claims Holmes made “slightly racist statements” about rap music fans.   Reports are that Holmes is not cooperating, however, so no motive has been determined.  

My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

 

Born Atheist

By Sergio Ortega-Rodriguez

I was born an atheist, and so were you. It is our natural right as I claim in my unpublished book with the tentative title Born Atheist. In it I also describe the development of religious influence in people’s lives and how people can choose not to live under such influence. I do so by combining biographical as well as social observations. My parents, for instance, made every effort to instill in me the belief in god, but could not answer my questions because their religion did not encourage, much less allow it. Thus, I soon realized all supernatural beliefs religions promote are false, and most children see this. We have millions of children telling us religions are not wearing any clothes, but most adults see religious views as a “need” they were been born with when they were not, nor were their children or anyone else.

I grew up in Mexico, a country where 99% percent of the population was Catholic (now it is about 85% due to Evangelist missions from the U.S.). People saw me as an anomaly to be tolerated and people simply assumed I would believe in god when I grew up. But years later, while attending high school, a professor gave us a final where he asked, “Do you believe god exists? Why or why not.” It was exciting to be able to express my convictions and I was the only one who explained how god could not exist. And, when I did an oral presentation, no one had questions. It was then that I decided I would embrace these feelings and thoughts since I did not want to join the herd mentality I had just witnessed. Besides, I am completely convinced gods do not exist, but religious people are never completely convinced of god’s existence.
Most religious people do not see religion as optional because they are never given this choice. If true religious freedom existed, we all would have the option to opt out of it, but we do not. If we were free to choose, we would find families of, say five people, who would follow different spiritual paths, but we do not. If people were free to choose, they would encourage everyone to learn about all gods since believing in a god would be the most important of all life decisions; but they are not. And, since practically no religious person promotes the choice to leave a religion, or not to follow a religion, the concept of complete freedom of—and from— religion is impossible to implement. Thus, lacking choices makes religions extremely oppressive.

In my book I explain these developments in people’s lives. I write about religious people I interacted with as well as about how religious leaders influence people’s choices. The fact that most people seek counsel for any reason with them is mind-blowing to me. And, when public officials do this, such religious leaders sound more credible and people believe them because they see them as the “experts” they are not. I also talk about “sacred” books where I propose the following: when given a sacred book to read from an unknown religion, do we think of it as fact or fiction after reading it? Invariably, the answer is always fiction. And these books are where all religious leaders get their tyrannical ideas from, not from the god or gods they always use as a wild card.

Lastly, I explain the benefits of being—or becoming—an atheist. Religious people need information on how they can escape from superstitious beliefs; on how such beliefs have always divided people of good moral character, and on how people are misguided by religious institutions. A chapter in my book expands on how missionaries accost people all the time, and how not even other religious people accept missionaries from other religions. (Imagine how people would react if missionary atheists visiting them.) My book, however, gives more decent approaches to promote atheist views rationally. I also ponder as to why atheism is not more prevalent and relevant to all of us since, without exception, we are born without a belief in the supernatural.

Sergio Ortega-Rodriguez migrated from Mexico City over twenty years ago. After learning English in the U.S. he received an A.A. at Santa Monica College and a B.A. in Sociology at UCLA.