In this era of Bishop Eddie Long and other black religious “scandals”, do more black people need to put their faith in something other than God? We never realized the struggle that black atheists had within the black community but we read this piece that spoke volumes and wanted to share with the rest of the group.
Excerpted from Gawker:
Black America’s religious problem isn’t that it’s highly religious—most of America is religious—it’s that, in my experience, it’s highly religious to the point of exclusion, as if black people living their lives without God don’t count. Black atheists or agnostics are often looked at by other blacks as alien or pitiable. A black atheist quoted in the New York Times last year said his mother was bothered more by the admission that he is an atheist than the admission that he is gay. Another in the Huffington Post said that declaring she was an atheist to her black friends was “social suicide.”
It’s impossible to criticize the black community for its history of devotion to God. For a long time, black houses of worship doubled as war rooms to plan protest actions and galvanize people made weary by centuries of racist violence and legislation. When many black children attended Sunday school throughout the 19th and early 20th century, they not only received the standard Biblical lessons, they also learned to read and write, skills not necessarily afforded to them, often by law. By the time Dr. King was preaching in churches throughout the South, the strength of the black church was made obvious by how many white supremacists sought to destroy them with explosions and fire—the Klan wasn’t bombing black bars or brothels, and there was a reason for that.
Blacks are now the most religious ethnic group in America, with 86 percent saying they’re “very” to “moderately” religious compared to just 65 percent of whites. Even blacks who purport to have no involvement with any church, mosque, or synagogue whatsoever are generally unwilling to reject the concept of God entirely, making African-Americans also the least likely to call themselves atheist or agnostic. For us people of color with no devotion to religion whatsoever, a tiny minority within a minority, the internal culture clash can sometimes prove awkward. It’s this culture clash that I find so irritating and ugly.
And the job of airing the “black perspective” on cable news is very often given to people like Reverend Jackson or Reverend Sharpton or Roland Martin, who has a master’s degree in “Christian Communications” from Louisiana Baptist University, an unaccredited religious institution. I don’t care that so many African-American leaders are steeped in deep religious tradition; I care that those are the people called upon to speak for all of black America, and they always have been. Most white Americans are religious, too, and yet MSNBC or CNN would never call on the pastor Joel Osteen to dissect the problems facing all white Americans. The networks would understand, rightly, that Osteen’s deep religious conviction makes him an inapt spokesperson for a group of people with diverse beliefs. That those networks don’t afford blacks the same respect is telling, and it’s a tacit acceptance of the myth that blacks and religion, particularly Christianity, are one and the same.
So that I don’t come off as someone content to reject the status quo without offering a solution, I’d like to make a formal nomination: I nominate astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as the black leader America needs in the 21st Century. Though our numbers remain small, African-Americans willing to out themselves as agnostic or atheist represent a growing category, with one report finding that the percentage of blacks calling themselves nonreligious nearly doubled from 1990 to 2008. To that end, it’s important to begin moving away from the near monopoly religious persons have over professional black leadership. This doesn’t mean we have to stop listening to Reverends Sharpton and Jackson. Rather, I’d simply like us to start listening to and seeking out the opinions of blacks who eschew religious faith in favor of finding motivation and glory outside the church. I think we’d discover that many of the opinions religious blacks may think of as churchly are actually similar to those held by nonreligious blacks, which would be a lesson in and of itself.
One of the things that irritates me to no end about black churches is how many of them spread noxious homophobia. Many white churches do the same, of course, but those aren’t the ones preaching to communities being ravaged by HIV and AIDS. To be fair, Al Sharpton has come out against the black church’s anti-gay nonsense before, yet it still persists, supported by pastors who believe the Bible both condemns homosexuality and trumps whatever any mortal like Sharpton says. That’s always the problem with heralding a holy book while attempting to scoff at what people believe that holy book says; it’s hard to have it both ways.
Tyson doesn’t take his lessons from the Bible. Nor does he take his lessons from the Dawkins Manual on Condescending to Theists. When asked if he’s an atheist, Tyson likes to say that the only “ist” he is is a “scientist.” I think it’s time more blacks followed Tyson’s lead and, instead of looking to the Bible for answers, began looking for understanding in the realities and evidence around them. And based on what I’ve seen of the problems impacting the black community, from poverty to illness to violence to crushing racism, if there is a God up there watching us suffer this way, it’s probably time to admit that he’s not coming to save us.
What if black Americans woke up this weekend and didn’t go to church or Sunday school? What if they instead took that time to enrich themselves in other ways, like talking to their families about their worries and insecurities, or reading books? What if the thousands of black Americans who follow Creflo Dollar, a multimillionaire megachurch pastor in command of mansions and a Rolls Royce, stopped donating their money and time to him, and instead used those resources to improve their own lives? What if they, as Tyson has done, became scientists out to explore their world in new ways? Would they get happier? Would the ones who hate gays finally be able to get over their fears? Would some of them sit at the kitchen table with their mothers and sob because the world seems so confusing and hurtful all the time? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and perhaps they’re the wrong questions to ask. But I do know that improving the black community via the church is an idea that seems to have run its course, and I’d like to move forward.
Are there even any doubts about how your money would be better spent within the community than in contributing to Creflo and the likes’ Cadillac funds?
What do you think about this subject? What do you believe? And even if you do believe in God, do you agree that the “black preachers” of the world do not speak for all black people?