African-American Atheists –…

27 Nov

Emily Brennan wrote a piece in the Sunday Times about African-American Atheists. I was pleased to see blacks finally make the Sunday Styles section, though I didn’t know atheism was necessarily fashionable like a new speakeasy bar in the East Village or a new Stella McCartney collection. However, Stella’s dad did write “Ebony and Ivory” so maybe there’s a connection.

Jamila Bey, a 35-year-old journalist, said, “To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black.”

If being an atheist means I’m really “not black,” then I need to start carrying my copy of Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist” in my car in case I’m ever pulled over by the police.

She said the story the nation tells of African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights is a Christian one, so African-Americans who reject religion are seen as turning their backs on their history.

Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. was Christian, but Malcolm X was Muslim. Once the U.S.  as a whole combats terrorism and other perceived threats to its security by holding hands and singing, “We Shall Overcome,” I’ll know that it’s truly a Christian nation rather than actually a Roman one with pagan worship of multiple gods, such as Real Estate, Silverware, Football, Automobiles, and Facebook.

As Nietzsche argued, Christianity promotes slave morality — the belief that this world is not the real one but just an audition for the after life. Christianity was thus the narcotic that anesthetized generations of slaves in the Southern United States.

When I was a child, I read a lot about religion. I was fascinated by the literary aspects of the Bible but in the same way that I enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology. I never once believed any of it. I did contemplate the Deist idea of the Clockmaker God, who set the universe in motion and then moved on to something else, maybe retired in Florida. Presumably, he would return at some point and to his alarm discover that the dinosaurs had been replaced by tax attorneys and reality TV stars.

Brennan makes the comparison between black atheism and homosexuality (though she doesn’t make the obvious connection between homosexuality and black choir directors). It is a challenge to “come out” as either an atheist or a homosexual in the black community, and in most instances, homosexuals are more easily accepted than  atheists (again, probably because of the need for good choir directors).

I would go further and say that atheism is just as much a choice — in that it’s not one — as homosexuality. Religious indoctrination deliberately occurs at an early age, when children will believe anything, no matter how objectively false, including The Tooth Fairy, Mom and Dad loving each other, and U.S. exceptionalism. I never bought it, just like a gay child sneaking a peek at “Playboy” with his friends and thinking, “I’ll pass.”

I distinctly recall sitting in church when I was about 8 or 9 and hearing an older member of the congregation speak about his idea of heaven: “Oh, when I get there, I don’t know what I’m gonna do first. Maybe I’ll just walk around for a while.” I remember thinking that he was crazy. He didn’t really believe he was going to die. He thought he would leave this world and move on to someplace far better. That’s not death. That’s like when I moved to New York after college. I had been consumed with thoughts of death at that age — a side effect of my mother being the youngest of 10, so funerals were a regular event  — and it appalled me to see that the solution my elders had for the conundrum of death was to pretend it didn’t happen.

There was no choice for me to believe. I couldn’t fake it. However, I never tormented over my non-belief in God — no more than I tormented over my non-belief in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work after “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Fortunately, my relatives believed it all so completely they never thought to ask me if I’d fallen for it, as well.

I’m not community minded, and I view families as a more intimate and unfortunately less avoidable form of communities. I am the quintessential society of one, so I can’t relate to the isolation the black atheists in Brennan’s article experienced within their family or within the black community at large. If I believe in anything, it’s what’s right in front of me: “A is A,” so I think it’s unfortunate to live life like James White, the Austin writer, who is an “outspoken critic of Christianity” but won’t “say explicitly he is an atheist” because it “would break my grandmother’s heart.”

Mr. White should consider “coming out of the closet” and living authentically. Besides, his grandmother will know the truth eventually when she’s wandering around heaven, waiting in line for Space Mountain, and doesn’t see him there.

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Social Commentary


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