Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Call for Celebration…A Call to Action

By Naima Cabelle

After centuries of it being stated and accepted in many quarters that African people had no history, language, culture, or accomplishments worthy of recognition, efforts continue to be made to try to reverse that kind of thinking. It is for this reason that I am puzzled as to why people, particularly those of African descent, question the value of African/Black History Month. Every year, there are a number of articles and discussions which question the value of Black History Month, and at the same time voice the complaint that Black history is not "celebrated" throughout the year. Now, my father would say that as usual, I'm sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, and giving an opinion no one asked for. If I were his son, I'm sure Dad would say that giving my opinion wasn't only the right thing to do, but the manly thing to do as well. At the risk of offering my unsolicited two cents, I'll once again ignore my father's warnings because I think that open dialogue is healthy and can be constructive.

One of the statements I've heard, more than once, was that they put Black History Month in February because it's the shortest month of the year. If by "they" someone means the government and/or the corporations which print calendars, it is time to set the record straight [again]. In 1924, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American scholar, author, and historian, chose a week in February as Negro History Week, in an effort to focus on the accomplishments of people of African descent. I understand that he chose the month of February due to the fact that both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were both born during that month. During the late 1960's, the week became known as Black History Week, and as time went on, it was expanded to Black History Month. I cannot say when the month became nationally recognized as Black History Month, but it was celebrated as such long before it was nationally recognized!

Aside from many of events which occur during Black History Month, it serves for me as a reminder of what my role ought to be in society, that is if I am brave enough to live up those challenges. Recounting one's history and reflecting upon those things which still have meaning today should also inspire people to take further steps because once the celebrating is over the work must be begin. Celebration without work is "child's play," and the adults of this world know what work must be done once the celebrations end. It is simply not enough to celebrate the past. We must create a legacy consisting of our own accomplishments in our own lifetime. We have many challenges before us. In the United States alone, the challenges of race, class, and gender bias will continue to oppress and undermine the emotional, physical, and economic well-being of millions in this country if we fail to rise to the occasion. These problems are overwhelming and many of us, regardless of color, class, or gender, turn away in despair and frustration as we look for ways to just get through the day hoping that we won't have to deal with yet another personal crisis. Millions are just too worn-out from having to deal with their own burdens even as they continue to be impacted by unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence, the judicial system, military spending, etc.

There are however many brave women and men who appear on the frontlines every day, determined to make a difference in some way, determined not to accept things as they are, and determined to not turn away in the face of adversity. A few of these people make the headlines and the six o'clock news. The vast majority who will never be widely recognized, however, continue to do their work and leave their mark on those who they come in contact with in immeasurable ways. While I can read with pride about those who did extraordinary things in the distant past, I can focus much more clearly on my contemporaries who fight for decent jobs, create block associations, initiate neighborhood clean-up drives, run after-school program, challenge drug-dealers, find housing for the homeless, teach others to read, take on city hall, and stand up to the racists and sexists. These are the people I strive to be like. They walk with pride and conduct their lives in ways which show that they have purpose, direction, and integrity. Nope, they don't claim to descend from royalty. They probably won't come up with any new inventions or end up in any history books. But, what's great about them, and I mean absolutely great is that they are all quite ordinary. This means that they are setting examples which are easy for everyone else to follow!

For me, the daily celebration of Black history must involve walking the kind of walk which will help to create the kind of community and the kind of world where peace and justice are woven into the life of every human being. It's not easy, but it is possible. I'm proud to engage in both celebration and action.

Naima, an atheist, feminist, and socialist activist currently serves on the Washington Area Secular Humanist Board of Directors and is a long-time WASH member.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Call for Submissions: American Atheist Magazine

If you are a black Freethinking writer who would like to contribute an article, please contact Blair Scott, Communications Director for American Atheists, at We are not looking for a bunch of articles about what it is like to be a black atheist or why there are so few black atheists. We are looking for regular articles regarding Freethought and Skepticism written by black atheists. You can submit new articles, articles you’ve already wrote, blog entries, etc.

• All articles must be received no later than 12/31/2010 to be considered for publication in the February edition of American Atheist magazine.
• We encourage articles to be no more than 1,000 words. However, we understand that some subject matter requires a more in-depth analysis and may therefore need more than 1,000 words to cover.
• Include your name, any titles or organizations your work for/with, and a working title for your article.
• Include a high resolution picture of yourself (headshots or torso/head shots preferred).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heretics, Humanism, and "the Hood"

By Sikivu Hutchinson

As a radical humanist critic of America’s Christian slavocracy Frederick Douglass once wrote, “I prayed for twenty years and received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” What would Douglass, a trailblazing male feminist, have made of the brutal ironies of twenty first century black America? How would he have reconciled the “triumph” of its first black president with the travesty of crushing black poverty? The decline of mass movement liberation struggle with its prayer cult obsession? Or Black women’s second class citizenship with the sham of “post-feminism?”

In the spirit of Douglass, the black secular community’s moral obligation to social justice was the recurring theme of the L.A. Black Skeptics’ first “Going Godless in the Black Community” roundtable. Held in South Los Angeles, the heart of the West Coast’s Black Bible Belt, the meeting was one of the first L.A. gatherings of its kind in recent memory. The group was founded in March of this year to give non-theist and skeptic African Americans “congregating” online a real time community. Fifteen atheist/humanists from a broad array of backgrounds, ages and world views attended. The discussion ranged from critiques of the influence of hyper-religiosity in the African American community to practical strategies for developing humanist resources and social welfare institutions. I was recently reminded of the urgent need for humanist mental health and wellness alternatives at a black/Latina women’s conference I attended on “breaking the silence” about domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. Several presenters portrayed faith-based mental health and wellness “remedies” as the most viable approaches to healing. Prayer will “right you,” a woman who had been in a violent long term relationship declared to a literal amen corner of nodding heads. Relying upon prayer as an antidote to stress and trauma is a common coping strategy in communities of color, particularly for women of color. Race and gender-related stress are major contributors to stroke, hypertension and obesity in African Americans. Yet those who question faith-based healing remedies and belief systems are often marginalized as being “white-identified” and/or elitist. In some quarters evidence-based therapy is slammed as something black and Latino folks simply “don’t do” or can’t realistically afford.

The mental health crisis amongst African Americans is a devastating indicator of racial and social inequity, of which the prayer as therapy epidemic is an insidious symptom. During the Going Godless discussion participants focused on the importance of instilling black youth with an appreciation for critical thought and free inquiry. Reflecting on his K-12 education in L.A. schools Black Skeptics member Fred Castro said that he couldn’t recall ever being exposed to humanist curricula or anything beyond a traditional Western Judeo Christian lens. As the second largest school district in the nation, with skyrocketing dropout rates and youth who are homeless, in foster care and/or on probation, Los Angeles city schools are particularly challenged by the absence of systemic culturally relevant education. High incidences of “faith-based” bullying and harassment, degradation of young women and the culture of violent hyper-masculinity all underscore the need for anti-racist anti-sexist anti-homophobic humanist youth leadership initiatives. Atlanta-based activist Black Son spoke forcefully about having imbibed a culture of bigotry from the Bible, noting that African American youth are merely recycling the oppressive images and gender stereotypes they’ve been taught by “Christian” precepts. Parenting children amidst a sea of religious conformity and finding secular private schools with multicultural student bodies were also topics of concern. Children of color who come from atheist households—especially those who are taught to openly identify that way—are often subject to ridicule and ostracism as cultural traitors. In a world of public school Christian Bible study clubs, “mandatory” flag pledges, and teachers who violate church/state separation by using and/or endorsing prayer as a coping strategy, black children who don’t believe are marked as other.

The gathering also highlighted generational differences in atheist of color experience; from that of Clyde Young and Bella De Soto who linked religion to capitalist exploitation and spoke of the need for anti-sexist revolution, to Jermaine Inoue who suggested that socially conscious hip hop was a means of promoting media literacy. Jeffrey “Atheist Walking” Mitchell mused about whether atheists could be spiritual and materialist at the same time, eliciting a comment from artist Rachel Ross about having faith in empirical evidence versus “magical thinking.” The discussion became heated when some men wondered what it would take to make black women “less religious.” There was much debate about whether black women were entirely responsible for their overinvestment in religion or whether larger societal and cultural forces kept them overinvested. In response, I noted that there was relatively little social pressure/onus on black men to exhibit the kind of religious devotion that black women exhibit in their everyday lives and relationships. Hence, because black men enjoy patriarchal privilege, the real issue should be transforming masculinity to make men and boys more accountable for the care giving and nurturing roles that women are expected to fulfill. Merely criticizing the God-investment of black women without interrogating how patriarchy works in everyday space won’t change sexist power relations.

Reeling from recession, unemployment, wage decreases, foreclosure, homelessness and health disparities, black communities nationwide have borne the brunt of the global financial meltdown. Humanism can and should engage with the complexity of our disenfranchisement; otherwise it is a vacuous promise asking power to “concede nothing without demand.”

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of the forthcoming book Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (Infidel Books, 2011).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Humanity's Child

By Shawn Brown

“Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy.
Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude;
It is not self-seeking, nor easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongdoing.
It does not delight in evil,
But rejoices in the truth.
It always protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Seldom have more beautiful words been written. To my mind, these few lines are amongst the greatest poetry ever conceived. Humanity has rarely achieved the level of insight contained in these simple words. So profound are these words that if we could, for a moment, free ourselves from the dialectic between faith and reason we would applaud them.

We do not experience anything as deeply absorbing as love. Nothing wraps itself around us, nor runs through us like love. There is nothing in the known universe as powerful as the true love of one human for another. It is the most radical and transformative of all human emotions. It is singular. Love is greater than euphoria; love is greater than courage; love is greater than anger; love is greater than fear; love is greater even than hate. Love commands all emotion, and, when genuinely present, she will summon or dismiss them all at will.

It is humanistic love, and not that of a God, which has elevated us from the lower ranks of the animal kingdom. Love is the preface to humanity’s story.

The writer of first Corinthians may be insightful, but he is not original. It is not the tone or tenor of these words which are not original, but the underlying idea. No matter how poetically pleasing these words are- they are not philosophically original. Neither is the bible’s treatment of love in any other place. Given love’s divine origin, how could this be?

Proudly, it is we who have invented love. We gave birth to her deep in our evolutionary past. We fed love; we taught love to stand; we showed love how to walk; and, finally, we taught her our mother tongue- perseverance. Since then she has spoken unashamedly down the ages.

Theism, and in particular Christianity, often claim the high ground of love. Followers bandy the word about, insinuating that there is no truer love than that experienced in the religious context. In the theistic mind love is a gift from God. How pathetic. How revealing of our conditioned self-loathing. How disrespectful of our ancestors. While we should not compete over ownership of love, we can make clear our understanding of its nature. Whether, because the world has tended to view theism as the standard bearer of love, or because we thought other things more important, the freethinking community has not paid enough attention to love.

I do not mean that we have failed to love, but that we have not spent enough time speaking about love. We have not spent enough time communicating our understanding of the importance of love. This is sad given the deep commitment to love that most freethinkers exhibit through their humanistic principles.

Traditionally, science has been the bellwether of the freethinking community. We have relied upon science as our gladiator in the battle with superstition. After all, this makes sense; it is science which has told us of human origins and even the origin of the universe. It is science which lifted humanity from the ignorance of our unenlightened past. It is science which has allowed us to understand ourselves in a truer and clearer way.

Scientific advancement is the story of human advancement. Scientific progress has rescued us from our own primitive impulses. But, before there was science there was love. Science is humanity’s most reliable methodology. Love is humanity’s essence.

We have hidden behind science, foolishly believing that it could tell the entire story of us. There is a beauty in science and it has liberated many people, but the battle between progress and superstition is too big for science alone to win. Science needs an ally. As freethinking icon Zora Neale Hurston once put it: “Love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place.” We must stop hiding behind science and let our souls crawl out.

Advancement of freethinking principles will be made through our substantive commitment to a humanistic vision. A vision which can only be crystallized through the prism of love. Science is indeed the truest language in the universe, but love is the only language which all of humanity understands. We must embrace it enthusiastically. After all love is not a religious meme, but the muse of a once low animal which has elevated itself above all others.

Love is the fuel of human ascension, and not that of a previously earthbound messiah. It was love of one’s family that inspired our ancestors to stop following wild game and attempt to grow crops from the earth, thereby, giving ourselves a more dependable food source. From that development arose modern society, an idea which, while covered in sores, has allowed us to live longer and less brutish lives. As Robert Browning wrote so long ago; “[t]ake away love and our earth is a tomb.”

The freethinking community must relate to the world first through our love. We must show that we understand that humanity is more than an amalgamation of cells, but a repository of ideas, emotions and needs. We are measurable by science, but science is not our full measure.

If we are to convince the world of our rightness, we have to become comfortable with love. On the facts alone we have rarely lost, but, on the deeper understanding of the human psyche the question has been much closer. Religion knows nothing of our origins, and admitted as much when it told us lies of talking snakes and magic apples. But, it still garners more trust than we? Why? Because, we have not dared to push beyond our comfort zone. If the freethinking community could accept that most people are less concerned with the origin of life, than with how to fill their lives with meaning, a revolution would be at hand. Questions of meaning require answers based in love.

If we profess humanism, then let us address the full scope of humanity. This means accepting that it is love- most of all- that makes a human what she is. This means understanding that our scientific efforts are only for the edification of a being which is defined by love. And, that science is, like all other disciplines, in the service of humanistic love. Science is what taught us to build cities, but love is what makes us worthy to live in them.

“In a word, there are three things that last forever:
Faith, hope, and love;
But the greatest of them all is love.”

--1 Corinthians 13:13

Even as a skeptic, I am not afraid to accept these words as true and neither should you be. Gladly, in so doing, I need not accept the wrong headed assumption that love is supernatural. It is not the gift of a benevolent God to a pitiful humanity. Love is, however, a gift from our ancestors for the exaltation of humanity. Love is humanity’s child.

Shawn Brown is an attorney who has studied law both in the United States and England. He has been a freethinker for several years and currently resides in the southwestern United States.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steve Harvey's Comments Still Excite Black Humanist

Once again, Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson seems to be taking aim at Steve Harvey. Harvey's comments regarding his experiences with atheists are "featured" in a promotional ad for an event Hutchinson's newly formed organization is hosting. The Black Skeptics Group of Los Angeles in promoting the event, An Open Dialogue On Living Morally And Happily Without Religion, used a picture of Harvey and makes note of his comments "Steve Harvey says we have no morals..."

In March of this year in an article entitled "Black Infidels" Hutchinson begins the article by strongly criticizing Harvey's comments "self-proclaimed dating guru Steve Harvey charged that atheists had no moral values. Anyone who didn't believe in God was an "idiot," he said, and women should steer clear of these rogue blasphemers at all costs."

Jeffery S. Mitchell who met Dr. Hutchinson at the Atheist Alliance Intl 2009 convention, remembers seeing Steve Harvey on Larry King restating his comments. "At the beginning of his (Harvey) comments, I felt he sincerely meant he was at a loss for words to say when communicating with an atheist. I thought he was almost expressing a desire to understand the non-believer's side" says Mitchell. "Then as the interview went on, I believe Harvey went into his "obnoxious" character routine. He is an entertainer, so I understand completely why he went there." Mitchell is also a member of the Black Skeptics Group and created the promotional ad from text he received from Hutchinson. "I'm hoping to reach out to Mr Harvey, as I'm from Northeast Ohio too, and maybe if he is into we can dialogue to better understand each others position."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Black Skeptics Group To Host Los Angeles Event

An Open Dialogue On Living Morally And Happily Without Religion
Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 1:00pm
Lucy Florence Coffee House
3351 W. 43rd Street
Los Angeles, CA

"A growing number of blacks are 'going Godless.' Steve Harvey says we have no morals, but what about the Catholic Church scandals, predator preachers and Koran-burning crazies? Come join the Black Skeptics Group at Lucy Florence coffehouse in Leimert Park on November 7th at 1:00 in a candid discussion about living happily and morally without religion." -Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson

We are a group of people who meet in the Los Angeles area to discuss (not argue or debate) our experiences with religion and church as it relates to the black community (all are welcome). We are not here to convert anyone or change anyone's views. We provide a place to exchange ideas and stories to those people who have questions but feel they cannot openly discuss their faith and belief without persecution.

Sikivu Hutchinson, Richard Dawkins, Anthony Pinn To Discuss Faith In the Black Community

Black Skeptics Group founder Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson will be participating in the event Dialogue of Reason: Science and Faith in the Black Community on Sept. 28 in Washington, DC.

Hutchinson along with famed evolutionary biologist, author & Professor Emeritus Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, Anthony Pinn and others will meet at Howard to discuss the issues surrounding science within the Black Community as well as the impediments imposed by superstition and religious dogma. The public event is hosted by the Department of Physiology & Biophysics of Howard University, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Secular Students of Howard University, The James Randi Foundation, Center for Inquiry - On Campus, Black Atheists of America as well as other local and national secular groups.

Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, noted author and activist: "The Black Church's policing of the bodies and destinies of black women and the lives of gays and lesbians represents a bankrupt 'morality' which is just as pernicious as that of the Religious Right... if being black and being Christian are synonymous, then being black, female and religious (whatever denomination) is practically compulsory. Insofar as atheism and humanism provide an implicit rejection of both black patriarchy and 'authentic' blackness, those who would dare to come out of the closet as atheists are potential race traitors."

Professor Emeritus Richard Dawkins, Oxford University: "Science is for everybody. It is of course useful, and we can use it to solve humanity's problems. But useful is not all that science is. Science is also beautiful, and its beauty, too, is for everybody. Science tells us the truth about reality, about the real universe which we all inhabit. There is a savage beauty in the cosmos, which dwarfs our petty human concerns and quarrels. Raising our sights to our telescopes' far horizon, cosmology unites us in awe. At the same time evolution, the unifying theory of all biology, not only explains our very existence but teaches us we are all one family, all kin, regardless of race, with a shared ancestral heritage which binds us into hopes of a shared future."

Professor Anthony Pinn, Religious Studies at Rice University: "This is an ideal time and this event is an important opportunity to stress the importance for African Americans to critically engage the world and, through reasonable means, assess the issues impinging upon quality of life for African Americans across the country."

The Black Skeptics Group meets in Los Angeles to provide all races of people (though dedicated to African Americans) with an outlet to express their religious stories and questions. The Group is planning an event of its own: Going Godless In The Black Community on November 7 in Los Angeles, Ca.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oratory of Division: A Humanist Response

From The New Humanism Magazine

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Newt Gingrich's new book, To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, has harsh words for nonbelievers—or at least those who in his view are complicit with the president in a "secular-socialist" conspiracy that imperils the nation's survival. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, conservatives have been relentless in their vilification of Obama as a mortal enemy of American democratic traditions, free enterprise and the moral authority of the United States. Gingrich's canard is noteworthy because of its hackneyed Cold War-style conflation of Obama's liberal domestic policies and the lurking evil of secularism. The scorched earth culture wars that characterized the Reagan-Bush and George W. Bush eras made "secular" a dirty word. Secularism was blamed for everything from abortion, teen pregnancy, divorce, pedophilia and political radicalism. In this latest iteration, secularism was once again code speech for being anti-American, un-patriotic and amoral. Gingrich's charge against Obama was part of a growing wave of anti-government hysteria incited by the far right Tea Party movement. This hysteria is informed by the belief that secularism is the ideological linchpin of an administration caricatured as the architect of big government wealth redistribution.

Historians such as Gary Wills, Robert Middlekauf and Robert Boston have ably challenged the grossly misguided notion promulgated by conservatives that the U.S. was a founded as a fundamentally "Christian nation." Yet the persistence of this myth continues to cast long shadows on American politics, culture and education. In March 2010, the Texas Board of Education proposed substituting the term "Atlantic triangular trade" for the term "slave trade" and revising historical representations of the separation of church and state in its textbooks. Dominated by conservatives, the most prominent members of the Board were a dentist and a real estate agent. No historians, sociologists or political scientists were consulted. The Texas debacle was significant because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the U.S. and has a broad national influence over school curricula. One of the most extreme examples of the backlash against "secularism" was the Texas Board's decision to omit Thomas Jefferson from "a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone." In lieu of Jefferson, the National Rifle Association, The Moral Majority and Gingrich's "Contract with America" brainchild were added to state content standards to restore "balance" to an egregiously left-leaning curriculum. Based on the Board's view that capitalism had gotten a bad rap, the word capitalism was replaced with free enterprise...MORE@

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We Are All Africans by Kwadwo Obeng

Talk given by Kwadwo Obeng, Black Skeptics Group member and author of We Are All Africans on the influence of religious dogma, colonialism and capitalist exploitation on Africa and the diaspora.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

California's Draconian Proposition 8 Overturned

In one fale swoop, U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker's ruling overturning Proposition 8 has dealt a formidable blow to the flat earth forces of hyper-religiosity, bigotry, hysteria and unreason. Although Prop 8 supporters are gearing up for a Ninth Circuit Court challenge that may eventually proceed to the Supreme Court, Walker's defense of LGBT couples' inalienable rights under the Constitution are a legal watershed. Here are his linchpin arguments:

1. "Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation."

2. "California has no interest in asking gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation or in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in California."

3. "Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners."

4. "Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals."

5. "The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships."

6. "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."

7. "Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society."

8. "Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage."

9. "Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents."

10. "The gender of a child's parent is not a factor in a child's adjustment. The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Angels and Innocents

By Sikivu Hutchinson

I have a vivid memory of the first time I became aware that children could die. It was early evening in the leisurely dusk of summer, and after eating with my mother at a local coffee shop, we passed by a newspaper vending machine outside. A child victim, kidnapped, murdered and disposed of like garbage, stared ominously out at me from the front page of the paper in grainy black and white. I remember my sense of horror when my mother told me that the child, who was approximately my age, would never see his parents again. Associating death with old people, I was stupefied by this seeming contradiction. Although raised heretically in a secular household, I had been corrupted by the prayer-saturated social universe of waxen blue-eyed Jesus’ plastered on my friends’ living room walls. Alone in my bed that night, I wondered how “God” could have countenanced such unspeakable evil.

Decades later there is an aching space where this child’s life would have been, his personhood “frozen” at abduction. Violent death by homicide at an early age is a grim reality for many youth of color. Gangsta rap romanticizes it and dishes it up for the voyeurism of white suburbia. Mainstream media ignores it or relegates it to social pathology. Every semester when I ask my students if they’ve had a young friend or relative die violently at least half will raise their hands. Their tattoos, notebooks and Sidekick phones are filled with vibrant mementoes for the dead. It is not necessary to go to Iraq, Afghanistan or some other theatre of American imperialism to experience the devastation that the killing fields of disposable youth inflicts. Yet, God takes care of children and fools, or so the shopworn saying goes. In the midst of sudden death there is refuge in the belief that the Cecil B. De Mille epic doomsayer of the Old Testament must have a special place in his heart for this tender constituency. Pied Piper religionists pat children on the head and whisper into their dewy ears that the murder of an innocent child is part of some grand design. They dish up the concept of divine providence like hard candy. They lure sweet-toothed youth with a ready “antidote” to the quandary of trying to make sense out of the senselessness and randomness of evil. The Wynken, Blynken and Nod bedtime story of grand design is chased down with the simple carrot of eternal reward for slain innocents. The inexplicable is assimilated. Senseless evil, evil that befalls the good and stalks the innocent, is legitimized as part of the divine’s hardscrabble boot camp for the living.

If it can be understood, it isn’t God, said Augustine. In ambiguity then, prayer is the great equalizer and potential redeemer. As American children we grow up with recurring images of kneeling girls and boys, hands clasped solemnly in prayer. These images propagandize faith as a normal, natural phenomenon. The magic bullet of prayer is trotted out as an escape hatch from the small indignity to the unspeakably cruel act of wild-oats-sewing youth. Bad kids pray obsessively for forgiveness. Good kids pray strategically in crisp starched pajamas for family members, friends, and Fido to be delivered to the top of God’s check list. Sinful thoughts can be defused by requesting a special audience with God. Good thoughts can be “deposited” into one’s virtual piggy bank of moral worth.

Blasting the hypocrisy of this brand of yo-yo morality in the Doors’ song “the Soft Parade,” Jim Morrison bellows:

When I was back there in seminary school, a person put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer…petition the Lord with prayer…petition the Lord with prayer…You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!!!

Morrison’s fierce monologue highlights the absurdity of prayer as a form of negotiation. Clearly, the more meditative personal and intimate benefits of prayer can be therapeutic to the believer. Yet, the assumption that prayer can be a bargaining chip in moments of crisis merely allows individuals to refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Children who are indoctrinated into this escape hatch mentality are forced early on to reconcile an out of control, evil, morally rudderless world with the illusion of a forgiving tailor-made God that they can summon like hocus pocus. Picking and choosing morality and dividing the world into the Christian “us” and the immoral, unwashed secular/Muslim/Hindu/“them,” “faith-based” children are socialized to see and enforce hierarchies of personhood rather than embrace fellowship.

Since God sees and “forgives” everything that is petitioned, the moral universe of children is a tiny, confining funhouse of mirrors. In communities where death at an early age is considered unremarkable by mainstream media and policymakers, the deferment demanded by faith is an insurance policy against social oblivion. When death is near, it is easy to arm a child with the “faith” that their 15 year-old cousin, killed in a drive-by shooting, has gone on to a “better place.” When death is near, the fear of retaliation for being a “snitch” compels crime witnesses to remain silent. As a result, homicide cases remain open indefinitely while perpetrators walk around free and clear in the same neighborhoods. Yet faith allows victims and witnesses to rationalize this seeming contradiction. God will take care of the evildoer in the afterlife, whilst granting the departed everlasting peace and deliverance in heaven.

And for the parents of a dead child it is said that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Having lost a child to a congenital disease, this is bitter refuge and rank fraud. This reductive homily has been especially tailored to domesticate and seduce women, saddled with a thousand obligations, the primary care of children and infirm relatives, dead end jobs with marginal pay. It is God’s will that you be eaten alive by the “womanly” stress of always being expected to defer, sacrifice and persevere. And it is God’s will that you must bite back your Eve-bequeathed rage in silent complicity.

In my infant son’s final hours, I stared down at the phalanx of tubes that separated him from death. Soon, they said, he will be an angel. I could feel nothing but the obscenity of divine providence, the mockery of robust babies whisked from the delivery room to pink and blue splattered nurseries without incident, innocent of the antiseptic drone of the neonatal ICU.

But then, there is the stripped-to-the-bone eloquence of women waiting for deliverance; like that depicted in a story I read recently about a homeless Haitian single mother’s heartbreaking quest for permanent shelter. Desperately she waits for God to “put something into her hand,” to perhaps give her a sign that she won’t be like scores of parents fated by this rudderless God to outlive their young children.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a senior fellow for the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What If...

By Shawn Brown

Black atheist! Do these words mean anything? Certainly not if such a person does not exist.

Everyone knows that black people love Jesus. With tears in our eyes and a bittersweet joy in our hearts, we marvel at the wonder of the divine. With hands raised high we sway to our own celestial rhythm. With a look of transcendent torment upon our faces, we sing His praises. Don’t we love Jesus? Don’t we all love Jesus?

I’ve heard it said that black people have a “Jesus fixation”, a single minded focus on God. From our earliest days we are taught that there is a mysterious and powerful man in the heavens above- enthroned some place between time and space. Omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient- He is God-the-Father. The ethereal embodiment, if you will allow, of benevolence and love. We are taught by parents, grandparents and the preacher that “God is good!”

But, as the lesson of God’s goodness is taught with one breath, we are taught that God is awful with the next. He knows our thoughts, He knows our feelings, He knows what we will do next, and He knows our secrets and the hour of our deaths. This God is not to be trifled with. What fool would question Him- even in the quiet of one’s own mind?

Respecting the God that black Christians serve means not speaking doubt or even thinking it. How could there ever be such a thing as a black Atheist?

You serve the Lord with fear and trembling. You serve Him in perfect submission. You must love Him always. You must never think ill of Him. He is without fault. He is responsible for everything good in your life- not you. You are responsible for everything bad in your life- not Him. Praise the Lord when things go right; beg His forgiveness when they go wrong.

Now, how did we end up with this particular religious system? Well, that’s simple: Slavery. One of the original justifications for slavery was to bring the “heathen” African into contact with Christianity. The earliest enslaved Africans were converted by force before even leaving the slave castles of western Africa. They were now Christian by virtue of the slave trader’s power.

As time passed, many slaveholders ceased to rely on this pre-textual justification for slavery. After all, if you do not free the enslaved once they have become Christians, then providing them salvation seems a flimsy rationale. Continuing to parrot the old justification of Christianizing the African would be too absurd even for a slaveholder. However, Christianity was still useful to them. Logically, the slaveholder continued to teach Christianity in a way beneficial to their more genuine economic motives. From Ephesians they likely taught “slaves obey your masters here on Earth…” From Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.” From Matthew 18:4 “[w]hoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The slaveholders’ true intention was not to save souls, but to create a docile workforce. Unfortunately, this strategic impartation of Christianity began to take root.

As time passed, African-Americans began to replicate these religious norms independently. With each passing year our addiction to religion grew more complete, until finally Christianity became synonymous with blackness. The imposing nexus of historical indoctrination and present day hardship conspire to keep African-Americans chained to religion. Christian faith and hardship stand in equipoise within the black community- and understandably so. When people are oppressed there is a hunger for hope that can never fully be satisfied so long as the unjust conditions persist. The desire for justice is transferred to hope for happiness in a time yet to come.

This is why we love the Lord. This is why there are no black atheists. This is why we all love Jesus.

But, what happens if you do not? What happens if you began to doubt Jesus when you stopped believing in Santa Clause? What if you realized early on that there are two creation stories in Genesis, and that they are not the same? What if you realized that no god could be simple minded enough to use either method to create the universe? What if you believe that culture and isolation explain linguistic differences, and not the Tower of Babel? What if you believe it wrong to stone children- even when they disobey? What if you believe that eating an apple, which God intentionally put within Eve’s grasp, is not a just reason to thrust the world into suffering? What if you do not believe that a person could survive three days in the belly of a whale? What if you think it silly for an all knowing god to create his own nemesis? What if you think it odd for God to send Himself, to save us- from Himself? Would not it have been easier to simply forgive our sins without the blood soaked spectacle of Calvary? What if you find it inconceivable for an all-loving god to create an unimaginable hell for His own children? What if…

What if we stopped waiting on Jesus and started planning? What if we realized that deferring justice until the next life meant deferring it forever? What if we understood that following a religion which too often perpetuates patriarchy has a chilling effect on the development of millions of our potential leaders? What if we knew that our gay brothers and sisters had just as much right to exist as the rest of us (something that would be obvious to a historically oppressed people but for religious influence)? What if we could drop the inaction of religion, for the urgency that comes with knowing that it is up to us? What if we could drop the divisiveness of faith for the loving kindness of humanism? What if…

Of course this could never happen, not if you are black. No! You see, being a good Christian is never to question aloud. Being a good Christian is never to allow a question to linger in your mind. Being a good Christian means to turn off your rational mind when it becomes bothersome to your faith. Unfortunately, black people are good Christians.

If you are the type of person who believes that love began with Jesus, that morality was created by God, that mercy and justice are religious concepts, then you find my words striking. However, if you have dared to think beyond what you were told, if you prefer enlightenment to conditioning, then you may just see it differently. You will have realized that love, courage, empathy and kindness are all human inventions-not the altruistic inventions of a cosmic overlord. You will have realized that we are not abject by birth, but just as valuable as our ancestors have made us.

If you believe these things as I do, then you know that the justice we have long been denied is within our grasp. We can believe in our own virtue, instead of dismissing any notion of our own human goodness. We can accept the challenges of the present and master them completely. If we are courageous enough to examine our beliefs, we can break the chains placed on our minds so long ago. In so doing, we can, for once, live in a world of our choosing - but only if there exists such a thing as a black atheist.

Shawn Brown is an attorney who has studied law both in the United States and England. He has been a freethinker for several years and currently resides in the southwestern United States.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Atheist Shout Out to the Movement

Black Skeptics member Jeffrey “P Funk” Mitchell has produced a new video encouraging diverse expressions of atheism. What does everyday ordinary atheism look like for the average non-believer not connected with academia or the scientific community? What challenges do atheists of color face on a day-to-day basis? What does silly/crazy "in-your-face-atheism" look like and how can public advocates defang it for the middle American God-smacked layperson who equates atheism with “devil worship?” Check out the Atheist Walking's new video.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Forked Road Ahead: African Americans for Humanism Conference

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The L.A. Times news item was buried at the bottom of the page in the bloodlessly tiny print reserved for marginalia. A 7 year-old black girl named Aiyanna Jones had been murdered in her sleep by the Detroit Police after a military-style raid on her home. In the wake of the shooting neighbors and loved ones placed stuffed animals in front of the house in memoriam. Rows of stuffed animals stared out from Associated Press photographs of the crime scene in dark-eyed innocence. In black communities across the nation Aiyanna’s death elicited a firestorm of outrage from activists critical of police misconduct and excessive force. Recalling New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and scores of other cities where black lives have been cut down by trigger happy police officers, many condemned the murder as yet another instance of law enforcement’s criminal devaluation of black lives and “inner city” communities.

Reading the news about Aiyanna after I’d returned from Washington D.C. to speak at the first African Americans for Humanism (AAH) conference was a stark reminder of the social justice challenge and progressive potential that Humanism represents for many freethinking people of color. Coordinated by D.C. Center for Inquiry director Melody Hensley, the gathering spotlighted the voices of Humanist freethinking and predominantly atheist-identified African Americans. A generationally diverse group, representing a spectrum of regional, political and cultural backgrounds, the gathering was an often intense reminder of the gulf that separates the politics of black humanist discourse from that of European Americans.

It is a politics that emerges from the legacy of the African slave holocaust. One in which it is difficult to imagine a universe where the murder of a little suburban white girl would be tolerated as “collateral damage.” And one where it is impossible to fathom a historical moment in which innocence has not been associated with the lives of little white children. At this historical moment in the U.S., the reactionary right’s demonization of President Barack Obama as a terrorist-illegal alien-monkey-socialist-infidel underscores the deep and intractable heritage of white supremacy. Trashing ethnic studies programs in Arizona, striking references to slavery in the Texas school curriculum, the right’s vociferous historical revisionism and backlash against social justice is reaching fever pitch. Deep in the wilds of 21st century “post-racial” America, the question of the “human” continues to define and terrorize African Americans in our quest for moral and political agency.

Commenting on the challenge of diversifying the humanist movement in her blog, Institute for Humanist Studies managing director Mercedes Diane Griffin noted, “Most programs looking to address the lack of diversity within the humanist movement are quite limited in their scope, often focusing solely on the low income African American community, ignoring all other communities of color (and economic strata within these communities) and rarely addressing the practical aspects of what feeds religiosity amongst the members of these communities.”

Indeed, in communities of color where religion has indeed become the opiate for African Americans under socioeconomic, political and cultural siege, the reductive science worship of the white non-theist world is a luxury that many black secular humanists find problematic. Colonialist practices in which the bodies of African, Asian and indigenous peoples were used by the scientific establishment to “measure” racial difference and verify social pathology were key to advancing Western rationalism and empiricism. In his book By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism, humanist scholar Anthony Pinn notes that, “Black humanists can continue to make important contributions to humanist theory by challenging many of the assumptions made by Eurocentric, middle-class humanists…many white humanists embrace a dogmatic scientism. They believe that scientists are without biases…Black humanists…are less likely to rush blindly to the defense of science whenever controversial problems arise.” This blind defense of science is informed by the framing of science as the antidote to all social ills, at the expense of a broader lens that emphasizes social justice. At the AAH conference CFI field organizer Debbie Goddard challenged the insularity of prominent atheist and humanist organizations such as CFI, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Atheist Alliance International, noting that their virtually all-white all-male boards becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of Eurocentrism (one need only look at the lily white line-up of this year’s AAI Convention for further confirmation). Such that atheist and humanist discourse is reduced to an endless echo chamber of evolution and the glories of the Enlightenment, the tyranny of religious belief, the “backwardness” of believers, church/state separation, and more doses of evolution. Questioning or deviating from the playbook by historicizing the cult of science worship is viewed with scorn by some non-theist whites unaccustomed to having the primacy of their cultural assumptions challenged.*

Whereas institutional racism within the American humanist movement limits the full inclusion of people of color in the U.S., Africa is home to a burgeoning humanist movement. During the conference AAH Executive Director Norm Allen spoke of the positive reception his work has received in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, where Humanism has emerged as a counterweight to religious persecution and ritual killings, oppression of women and homophobia. Although both Christian and Muslim indoctrination remains strong in many African countries, Allen stressed that African humanists have been emboldened by a growing community of like-minded skeptics. Critiques of the colonialist imperialist origins of Christian and Muslim indoctrination have also fueled secular movements in Africa. Addressing the issue of homegrown American “colonization of the mind” Christopher Bell, author of The Black Clergy's Misguided Worship Leadership, assailed the black community’s fixation on the white Jesus figure. Bell, who identifies as a religious skeptic, argued that misguided worship was a key factor in black “emasculation,” resulting in high rates of incarceration and underachievement among African American males.

Certainly misguided worship based on Eurocentric ideation undermines the black self-image. But the larger secular humanist challenge to the centrality of organized religion in black life was left unaddressed in Bell’s presentation. Moreover, the claim of black male emasculation has been widely criticized by black feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins, who argue that this premise relies on oppressive gender hierarchies which reinscribe masculinity and femininity as polar opposites. For example, the argument that white racism fundamentally deprived black men of patriarchal privilege is belied by the public dominance of black men over the Black Church. The correlation between the overwhelming religiosity of black communities and skyrocketing rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and HIV/AIDS contraction among black women bespeaks the gender crisis of African American faith-based traditions.

The influence of black patriarchy and institutional sexism on the Black Church and black Christian religious indoctrination has been a major topic of concern for black feminist secular humanists. My presentation examined this influence vis-à-vis black religiosity and the Christian ideal of the sacrificial good woman. Although black women have played a critical role in black liberation struggle, full enfranchisement of women has taken a backseat to the “restoration” of black patriarchy. Judeo Christian ideology reinforced patriarchy and provided African Americans with what black feminist historian Paula Giddings has dubbed “biblical sanction for male ascendancy.” White supremacist notions of black female hypersexuality fueled black women’s devoutness. Being in service to the Lord, biblical scripture and the family was a means of uplifting the race and resisting the slave era racial hierarchy that idealized white womanhood.

The terroristic conditions of slavery often compelled black parents to adopt harsh disciplinary practices with black children. These practices were reinforced and sanctioned by the Bible’s endorsement of parental force. In her conference presentation journalist Jamila Bey challenged biblical justifications of force for black disciplinary practices. Bey argued that black emphasis on corporal punishment in the home often influences violent behavior among some black youth. Hence, cultural and religious factors, coupled with the normalization of violence in mainstream media and the dominant culture, contribute to high rates of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse amongst African Americans. The dominant culture’s near deification of violent masculinity is a human rights crisis that is pervasive in the U.S. but remains largely unaddressed by mainstream humanist and atheist discourse. While many Western humanists and atheists are quick to condemn misogynist violence, repression and terrorism against women in Islamic cultures, outside of feminist discourse there is little focus on the normalization of secular and Christian violence against women in West.

During the conference I called for a Humanist politics of intersectionality that is unswervingly committed to social justice redress. One that embraces multiple subject positions vis-à-vis race, gender, sexual orientation, class and disability. And one that acknowledges the complexity of living in a national context in which the historic election of an African American president coexists with third world levels of incarceration of African Americans, state-sanctioned racial profiling of Latino communities and a re-segregated educational system that hearkens back to the era of June and Ward Cleaver. If some white humanists are content to cleave to scientism, deny the contemporary influence of racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism and remain swaggeringly blind to their own privilege they must not be allowed to define the humanist or atheist movements. For if Humanism is to be a truly culturally relevant movement, a 21st century moral affirmation of social justice values, rather than a philosophical antidote to organized religion, there must be a reckoning with the kind of moral universe that tolerates the execution of little girls like Aiyanna Jones as just another ghetto blip on the national screen.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of She is working on a book entitled Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America.

*For example, see responses to my December 2009 article "The White Stuff."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where's the Religious Left?

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The intersection between the black civil rights movement legacy and religiosity has produced a curious schism in African American communities. While the African American electorate remains politically liberal it is socially conservative on so-called values issues like same sex marriage, government vouchers for private schools and (to a lesser extent) abortion. The 2008 debate over same-sex marriage in California underscored this tension. After the passage of Proposition 8 some same sex marriage advocates scapegoated African Americans. Initial news reports from the Los Angeles Times and CNN touted up to 70 percent African American support for Prop 8. Branded as moral hypocrites, blacks who supported the measure were accused of betraying their commitment to civil rights. After the dust settled from the election season, the oft-cited statistic of overwhelming black support of Prop 8 was refuted by a study by Fernando Guerra from Loyola Marymount University.

Despite this timely corrective, opposition to same-sex marriage among African Americans has remained relatively solid. The religiosity of African Americans and long-standing black hostility towards designating gay rights as a civil right has made same-sex marriage a third rail issue among many straight Christian and Muslim African Americans. During the campaign, progressive political analysts of color often drew parallels between prohibitions of interracial marriage prior to the 1967 Loving vs. the State of Virginia anti-miscegenation ruling and prohibitions of same-sex marriage. For the most part these analogies were rejected because of the belief among African Americans that discrimination against gays and lesbians is not comparable to racial discrimination. Proponents of this view point to the absence of Jim Crow laws expressly barring gays and lesbians from housing, education, employment and other major sectors of public life. Some go even further, arguing that homosexuality is a European “aberration,” imposed upon people of African descent post-diaspora.

Unacknowledged homophobia within African American communities, coupled with biblical literalism, make Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) African Americans largely invisible. Moreover, the perception among some African Americans that white gays have opportunistically appropriated the civil rights mantle exacerbates black suspicion of the LGBT community. In this charged climate it is often difficult to assess the legitimacy of grievances about conflating anti-gay discrimination with racial discrimination.

Yet the fact remains that scores of LGBT worshippers and closeted church officials pack Black Churches every Sunday and worship elbow to elbow with their straight brethren. And these very same congregants see their families, relationships and right to love marginalized if not demeaned in biblical scripture and in the homophobic rhetoric of “fellowship” that some congregations promote. During and after the election season, a few progressive black ministers and church figures—most notably the Reverend Eric Lee, the Southern California head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—spoke out in opposition to Proposition 8. But their viewpoints were not widely aired, and the general impression of black hostility to same sex marriage solidified in the public mind.

The failure of black religious progressives to critique the destructive role that fundamentalist religiosity plays in contemporary skirmishes around civil rights points to a moral crisis. When it comes to “values” issues in the U.S. the most visible and vocal constituency is the attack dog army of the Religious Right. Unfortunately, national politics has not yet produced a vigorous counterpart to the Religious Right on the Left. According to writer Frederick Clarkson, the Religious Right has been so successful because it has mobilized a broad Christian constituency around electoral politics. Since there is no comparable organized coalition on the “Religious Left” the Religious Right has been able to singlehandedly define, frame, and distort the debate about the role of religion in the so-called “public common.”

This leadership vacuum has allowed the Religious Right to hijack public discourse around “values” issues and fetishize morality from an ultra-conservative stance. The absence of “counter-voices” has eclipsed secular-religious coalitions such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Perhaps the most pernicious Religious Right strategy has been its appropriation of the language of civil rights in its campaigns against choice, church-state separation and gay rights. In this regard, black religious progressives could play a vital role in shifting the terms of debate from the shrill reactionary anti-civil rights agenda of the Religious Right to a more social justice-oriented compass. Proposition 8 backers such as the rightist Mormon Church were able to exploit the absence of moral leadership on the Religious Left by appealing to the most conservative elements of both the black and Latino communities.

In this regard, the absence of high profile national mobilization among the left-leaning faith community is not an insignificant point, because it effectively allows the Religious Right to assume the moral high ground on public policy. Perhaps the only figure with national stature on the “religious left” who has been consistently vocal in his opposition to fundamentalist Christian orthodoxy has been Jimmy Carter. Clearly, if a comparable coalition existed on the Left the Religious Right’s moral and political influence on such issues as abortion, same sex marriage, stem cell research and intelligent design would be balanced by dissenting forces. That such a coalition does not exist underscores the bankruptcy of organized religion’s monopoly on morality and moral principle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Black Atheists Survey

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

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

How has atheism or freethought shaped your world view as an African American?

As an atheist/freethinker what are some of the main issues you’re concerned with?

How can atheism and/or secular humanism be promoted to appeal to larger numbers of African Americans?

If you are an “out” atheist what has your experience been with black family and community members?

If you are “closeted” what are some of the main issues that keep you from revealing your “orientation”?

If you have children how have you (or will you) negotiate their upbringing with regard to organized religion? Have you had any experiences with religious folk that reflect this difficulty?

Does religion have any role to play in African American cultural life and communities? On a scale of 1-5 (1=tolerant, 5=intolerant), how tolerant are you of organized religion’s role in African American cultural life and communities?

What are some reasons African American women should question and/or forgo organized religion?

How can atheism and/or secular humanism aid African Americans in developing a moral outlook on life and the world?

What role does atheism have in politics? For example, are you involved in advocacy efforts or groups that address separation of church/state issues?

What kind of visibility would you like to see from black atheists/agnostics/freethinkers in the African American community?

If you have traveled and/or lived in other areas have you noticed any regional differences in acceptance or “tolerance” of black atheists?

Have you noticed any regional differences in the numbers of black atheists who are out of the closet (more on the East Coast vs. West Coast, etc.)?

Thank you! Please email your responses to:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From, Black Infidels: Humanism and African American Social Thought

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Excerpt from

...Then, as now, the overwhelming association of religiosity with authentic blackness makes it difficult for black secular humanists who are atheist or agnostic to be vocal about their beliefs. In the introduction to The Black Humanist Experience, Norm Allen notes, “Humanists often feel…that they are a misunderstood and despised minority. Many are afraid to come out of the closet due to fear of being ostracized…by intolerant religionists.” On websites and in chat rooms, many African American secular humanists who identify as atheists or agnostics express anxiety about “coming out” to friends and family. David Burchall, founder of the Secular Community in Long Beach, California said that he has struggled to attract African Americans due to this factor. Burchall’s organization focuses on providing secularist individuals of all ideological persuasions and cultural backgrounds with a welcoming community meeting place. For his own part, he “rarely meets a black person who says he or she is an atheist.” In this regard, invisibility fuels isolation and reinforces social conformity among secular African Americans. Thamani Delgardo, a health care professional and agnostic who grew up in the Black church, said she is reluctant to come out because, “I’m afraid that my family members will think less of me and will be very disappointed.”

As the Religious Right has become more vociferous, black atheists in particular have been challenged by a sociopolitical climate that has grown more hyper-religious, more evangelical and more deeply superstitious. According to a 2005 Pew Survey, a majority of African Americans believe in creationism. Many also believe that secular liberals have “gone too far” to keep religion out of schools and government. Consequently, black secular humanists often question the blind faith of African American believers, arguing that unquestioned acceptance of religious dogma has jeopardized African American academic progress, particularly in math and science. It is because of religious dogma, Delgardo says, that young African Americans believe “God will make a way for their survival, so they may drop out of school, have children with no visible means of supporting them, or simply not plan for their financial future because they believe god will handle the hardships and the details that rationalists plan for...”

This critique has particular resonance for Kwadwo Obeng, author of We Are All Africans: Exposing the Negative Influence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religions on Africans. A native of Ghana and an L.A. County resident, Obeng is a former Jehovah's Witness who broke from the sect after rigorous independent study of the Bible. In his book, Obeng acknowledges the constructive role Christianity played in African American communities during the slave era, when it provided a cultural and philosophical context for black human rights resistance. Yet he cautions that contemporary Christianity is just a diversion for black folk. Poor blacks have been given few avenues for systemic redress of racism by either self-serving black preachers or “Christian-identified” black politicians. As “the church has become part of our DNA, Black politicians feel they need to wrap Jesus all around them to be successful.” Many black secular humanists argue that the business of organized religion has been particularly detrimental to poor blacks, who tithe millions to churches while their communities are falling apart. They point to the rise of “prosperity gospel” oriented preachers like T.D. Jakes, Fred Price and Creflo Dollar as an example of the Black church's betrayal of the social justice legacy of Martin Luther King.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Infidel Frederick Douglass

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The 19th century human rights giant was no passive consumer of religion or religiosity. Douglass frequently criticized the complicity of organized religion in the barbaric institution of slavery. He often locked horns with black church leadership who faulted him for not “thanking” God for the progress the country and the abolitionist movement made in dismantling slavery after the Civil War. In 1870, Douglass said “I dwell here in no hackneyed cant about thanking God for this deliverance,” and “I bow to no priests either of faith or of unfaith. I claim as against all sorts of people, simply perfect freedom of thought.” Douglass’ rebuke of the knee jerk dogma of religious observance was made in response to the passage of the 15th amendment during an Anti-Slavery society convention address in which several speakers waxed on about God’s divine intervention and influence upon Emancipation. Then, as now, a group of Negro preachers came out of the woodwork to wield their “God-given” moral authority like a bludgeon. Outraged by Douglass’ opposition to teaching the Bible in schools, they quickly passed an anti-Douglass Resolution that said:

That we will not acknowledge any man as a leader of our people who will not thank God for the deliverance and enfranchisement of our race, and will not vote to retain the Bible…in our public schools.*

Buried in the over-heated rhetoric about the critical role of organized religion in the African American experience is seminal criticism of Christianity by Douglass and other forerunning African American activist thinkers. So Douglass’ example is important for two reasons. One it highlights the intellectual resistance to the received norms that prevailed during the post-bellum period. Secondly, it allows African American skeptics, freethinkers and others to claim a parallel humanist tradition amidst the theologically tilted legacy of black liberation.

*From Herbert Aptheker, “An Unpublished Frederick Douglass Letter,” ed. Anthony Pinn, By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Planned Parenthood Counters Super Bowl Anti-Choice Ad

Planned Parenthood has released a "pro-woman" ad with athletes Al Joyner and Sean James. The ad is designed to counter the controversial CBS-approved anti-choice ad sponsored by the ultra right wing evangelical group Focus on the Family that will run on Super Bowl Sunday. CBS has come under fire from progressive groups for refusing to accept ads from gay and liberal-progressive groups while showing preference to conservative ad companies. Althouth the word "abortion" is not used in the ad, the Focus on the Family spot features Christian football player Tim Tebow with his mother, reflecting on her "pro-life" decision to have him. According to CBS executives not only green lit the ad but worked closely with Focus on the Family to develop it.

Planned Parenthood ad:

Women's Media Center petition against ad:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Critical thinking and religions don't mix

Wow, I feel so much better knowing that at least some of our unknown and oft forgotten ancestors were not deceived! How people of African ancestry can continue to believe in the judeo-christian god speaks of a willingness to be told what to think, do and believe rather than to take the lead in our own lives and create a new and improved culture for ourselves as a people. A willingness to step over the critical thinking process, in lieu of wishful, blissful thinking, is the source of many of our people's social ills. You name the negative issue affecting our community and I can trace it back to a break down in the critical thinking process. It is this very lack of logic and reason that keeps us chained to an imaginary super being in the sky.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No Gods, No Masters

"The slaves...scoff at religion itself—mock their masters, and distrust both the goodness and justice of God. Yes, I have known them even to question his existence. I speak not of what others have told me, but of what I have both seen and heard from the slaves themselves. I have heard the mistress ring the bell for family prayer, and I have seen the servants immediately begin to sneer and laugh...they would not go into prayers; adding if I go she will not only read, 'Servants obey your masters,' but she will not read “break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.”

--Daniel Alexander Payne, founding bishop of the AME church, 1811-1893

To be black is to be congenitally religious, pious, Christian, intractably devout, God crazy, God loving, God fearing, and God obsessed. This is the conventional wisdom and “commonsensical” myth that has been perpetuated since slavery. Yet, contrary to myth, a black skeptical tradition exists and is quite robust in contemporary United States. In her groundbreaking novel Quicksand, Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen's protagonist Helga stated the following:

"The white man's God--and his love for all people regardless of race...was what ailed the whole Negro race in America, this fatuous belief in the white man's God, this childlike trust in full compensation."

This space is committed to highlighting the work of black skeptics, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, humanists and other heretics. To those who would dare to buck the black orthodoxy of blind faith.

We Are All Africans, By Kwadwo Obeng

Exposing the Negative Influence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religions on Africans (Two Harbors Press; May 2009; 978-1-935097-31-0). Positioned for a diverse audience, We Are All Africans challenges the teachings of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions from an African perspective. Readers of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faith will discover an honest evaluation of their religious teachings and the effects on society.

Two Harbors Press: 978-1-935097-31-0