Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Atheists: Yes we do exist.

You may have heard or seen the following statements or some variation of them; Atheism is a white person thing or Atheism is for white people. You may think "what the hell is wrong with that person to spout such an ignorant statement", and I think the thought is right but let's examine a few things. Due to a lot of purposeful misinformation, widespread delusions, outright lies, and intellectual laziness, atheism is perceived as a white only exercise. The fact that I and other Black atheists exist, proves the earlier statements to be false but the perception has become a reality and it's something we have to fight against. Within the black community there is a widespread and deep belief that not believing in a god, or advocating for science is akin to "acting white". The same can be said if you enunciate, wear clothes that fit you, or read some damn books. Those thoughts are not only expressed by young people but by older people too. Some older Black folks think their words, thoughts and actions are above reproach, simply because of their age and any thinking that challenges them is disrespectful. Having "too much knowledge" and the willingness to use it, express it and correct others when they are wrong can be detrimental and can lead to familial separation and social suicide among other things.

Note: "acting white" is used by people that place white intelligence in it's own special category above their own intelligence. They see themselves and their thinking as inferior and anyone who does not buy into the inferiority is attempting to "be white". To them, white people are seen as the readers, thinkers, non-believers, so if you are any one of those things, you are "trying to fit in" or "curry favor with white people". You are viewed as a traitor to your own race.

Black folks(in America) trend the highest when polling when asked do they believe in god. I take the polls at face value. Many of our recent historical figures, such as MLK Jr, are usually quoted with some reference to their particular religious belief. Sports stars, such as David Tyree, then a New York Giants wide receiver who made a spectacular catch in the Superbowl that ended the New England Patriots perfect season, has publicly expressed that his belief in God has helped him in hard times and helped him win the Superbowl. Steve Harvey, a comedian and radio show host has publicly condemned atheists as "not having a moral compass". He has counseled Black women with "relationship books" and tells them to avoid men without faith. Many pastors, reverends, prophets and "prophetesses" are heralded because of the position they have within the church. They are afforded respect and absolute deference to many things and can say and do just about anything and receive little to no push back. None of the aforementioned names may mean anything to you but my point is this; the power of celebrity, specific positions within a church or even demonstrable intelligence in academia or entrepreneurial success can/will be used as justifications for believing in God. Certain figures will be juxtaposed to you as a way of saying "they believe and look at them. You have no excuse to not believe". Those are powerful moves to a non-skeptical mind. We like to give authority to others in a multitude of areas when they've only demonstrated reason and competence in one or two fields. (perhaps that can be applied universally)

Why do I say I exist? I think there is power in numbers and I think my voice is meaningful. I want to be heard and I want to contribute.  I happen to wear atheist shirts because I want others to know that I am not ashamed. Part of the problem with "atheism is a white only thing" is that some Black atheists refuse to speak out. That's right, some of this is SELF-IMPOSED. You cannot be accounted for if you choose to remain silent and as the saying goes "closed mouths don't get fed". Now some of the silence is due to a lack of an environment in which to express the fact that they are an atheist without being peppered with negative judgments about their lives, mental/emotional states and their thinking. Some of the silence is "not wanting to proselytize" like the believers do and there is some refusal to gather because that might look "too churchy". I call bull shit on the last two. I think the we all benefit from the healthy skepticism that each one of us can offer toward religious/spiritual claims and dogma. We can also gather and do fun things together, like go to the movies, have some damn drinks, bowl, clean up the community, and PREACH the message of rational thought, advocate for science and trash anti-science and pseudo-science, healthy skepticism and critical thinking to other people. Social networking has been a useful tool in reaching out as well but when/if you can GET OFF THE NET and talk to people. I do understand that everyone is not like me and some are non-confrontational. Different people have different personalities but contribute where you can.

This post isn't to say that the Black atheist experience is more deserving of attention or is better than or harder than any other but it is to say IT IS DIFFERENT AND DISTINCT in some ways. I'm sure my post is non-comprehensive and incomplete in some way. I can say I've met other Black atheists. We exist and we are here to stay. I think we should speak out, not just about atheism, but also about women's rights, advocate for responsible and informed voters/voting, get involved in the political process and bring use the skepticism we have for religious/spiritual claims to all important aspects of our lives and our community. We should be outspoken about good solid reasoning and high standards of evidence for gigantic claims.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My father is an atheist: What that means to me.

I've only been "out" as an atheist for a little over a year. The process of dumping religious or spiritual content, thoughts, motivations etc took more than 5 years to completely shed. I grew up going to church every Sunday with my great-grandmother back in North Carolina. I was required to read the Bible and recite scripture every week(I did poorly at both tasks. I'll leave it up to you to determine why I sucked at it.). I did not grow up with my father or mother as central figures in my life. I can attribute a lot of my foundational  beliefs and attitudes to my great-grandmother. Most of the family I knew was very religious even though they only practiced in the presence of others. When I reached high school, I left North Carolina for my current city, Atlanta. The church going continued with me going with my dad's mom(my grandmother). 

In this city is where I began to learn the mitigating circumstances around my parents not being around and it's where I found the answers I wanted for a long time (some of the answers were good and others were not). I was able to establish relationships, sometimes very fractious and challenging with both of my parents. My father is a very eloquent writer and very persuasive. He'd write me a 2 page letter and leave me with more than 25 things to think about (I may post one so you can judge for yourself). He's the one that introduced me to philosophy, which I later studied in college. When we did speak any comments about religion would be made by me and me only. He never wrote to me explaining any religious beliefs he may have had and I don't recall asking him. His mother told me he was a Muslim and I was okay with that and went on believing it, until this past week. A few months ago he wrote me a 3 page letter alerting me of the similarities I have with my mother, which infuriated me to some degree (my girlfriend can attest to that) but he made some profound points. I wrote back, expressing that he was right and that I hate when he is but I also told him that I am an atheist. 

I didn't receive a reply by mail. I thought he had written off my letter and I was frustrated until he called. I asked him about the letter and he said he had received it but he wanted to know something. The looming question of course is ARE YOU AN ATHEIST? I said YES and he and I both felt a sense of relief. We both felt that we were not alone in the family (his mom knows I am an atheist but doesn't know about him). My father was relieved and shocked but not shocked all at the same time. Relieved because it's not just him, shocked that I am so bold about it, and not shocked because he expected it at some point. He told me he thought that I would eventually become an atheist due to my intelligence and educational accomplishments. He said he didn't want to influence me in any way because he did not want his mother to think my becoming an atheist is HIS fault. I told him I make my own decisions and it took a while for me declare it proudly, boldly, and to deal with any fall out. 

Now what does that mean to me? I greatly appreciate him encouraging me to investigate ALL of my beliefs. How did he do that? Simply by engaging me and asking good questions. I also had a thirst for knowledge and wanted good reasons to support what rattles around in my head and comes out of my mouth, which cannot be taught per se, but it can be encouraged. I still employ the model today and it helps me weed out bull shit. I know I'm not alone in the family, but that's an added bonus. If you follow me on Twitter, you may think I've been an atheist for about 10+ years. I'm very passionate about it and I want to share it. If I choose to have kids, I plan to employ the same method my father did with me. Encourage them to figure things out. Introduce them to philosophy and encourage them to read. I'm going to make sure they are scientifically literate and have great bull shit detectors. This is a new "tradition" in the family and one that I want to preserve and continue. Where an ugly cycle was ended, a better one has begun and I'm happy to be a part of that.