Friday, January 20, 2012

Atheism and Agnosticism in the African-American Community

For a while now, I have been hearing many reports about African-Americans coming out and declaring their atheism. To me, this is not new. There have been many figures that I have studied who were Black freethinkers who happened to be atheists. I can understand for many people that it can be a foreign concept or idea to grab a hold of, an African-American who is involved in irreligion. If you ask me, I think it's exciting but not because I would like to see people of color turn away from Christianity or their respective religions, but because it's courageous for anyone to declare their own thoughts and views. I'm sure you have heard that it is social suicide for a Black person to call themselves an atheist, mainly because we have roots in the church. Christianity is tied to the anti-slavery and Civil Rights Movements, and it is, unfortunately, gruesomely connected to the time of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage. But several are asking why. Why would anyone, especially a Black person, be an atheist?

Whether one wants to believe it or not, African-Americans have been a part of the religion war, stemming back to the voyages that took place centuries ago when descendants were kidnapped from their home continent of Africa and shipped to various countries all over the world. As years have gone by, we have grown deeper into independent thought. It is being seen as highly sinful by Black society for one of our own to call themselves an atheist. It is fact that we have had information of any sort given to us and have believed it and taken it as truth. We live in a nation where we have numerous freedoms. One of them is religious freedom, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, but some of us are blinded by that. This applies to agnosticism equally as atheism since both are under that same umbrella of irreligion.

I am an agnostic. My trajectory with religion has been insane. I grew up in a Baptist household and then when I was 16, I began researching other religions. After I came out, I became a Unitarian Universalist and joined the local Unitarian church (where I am still a member, but don't go very often). In October 2010, I became a Buddhist and around that time, I declared myself to be an agnostic atheist, emphasis on the agnostic side. How did I come to declare that? As I was coming into my own individuality, I realized that I had a lot of religious beliefs forced upon me. Everything had to be associated with God and with church, and after graduating high school, I decided that's not how I wanted to live my life. My childhood had Sunday School, Bible study, choir rehearsals, Brotherhood meetings, Vacation Bible School... I didn't want that to be a part of my life. I witnessed too many contradictions and hypocrisies in the church, suddenly didn't interpret the Bible in the ways that I was taught to, and I questioned many times. To this day, I read, I research, and I form my own opinions. In Christianity, it wasn't that for me. It was all about black and white areas. A lot about me is a foreign concept to my family.  When I left it, I decided to live my life my way.

I've run into people that have said "I don't understand how anyone doesn't believe in God". My response to that is: I don't understand how anyone doesn't like the color sea green or doesn't like to watch Turner Classic Movies on a Friday night. You cannot determine whether someone is good or bad based on their religious preference. You cannot force religion or any other philosophies or ideas on people and you must let others come into their own. Everyone has the freedom to choose the life they want to have, the freedom to be who they are, the freedom to embrace whatever ideas and thoughts. African-Americans as an overall race, we are still trying to learn that lesson. We know about "forcing on" all too well. It's something we inherited from oppressors and it repeats in our history. This should be a part of our mission of doing better.

1 comment:

  1. I understand where you are coming from. African American's place a lot of emphasis on religion and that has bothered me ever since I was old enough to form my own opinion about religion. Being Agnostic or even an Atheist isn't something that anyone should be condemned for because as American's we all have the freedom to choose and express what we do and DON't believe in.