Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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*From Herbert Aptheker, “An Unpublished Frederick Douglass Letter,” ed.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
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
"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."
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