Have you ever noticed the inordinate number of African-American males who aspire to be ordained ministers? Perhaps the influence and power which African-American preachers have in the Black community, and the acceptance they seem to gain in "White" society, has something to do with this. Also, although African-Americans have historically voted with liberal Democrats, their churches tend to be very conservative, socially, similar to fundamentalist Christians, (Tea Party) Republicans, and the Christian Right.
A secular friend posed this excellent question. Why so few African-American atheists?
We're hoping that a African-American atheist can provide an insightful reply. But, thoughtful analysis and comments from all are welcome. This is a phenomenon which warrants a lot of thought. Might the African-American church be the last bastion of Christianity in the U.S.?
One, I think it's a way to get ahead in the world. Not only do people make social connections in church, xians are also seen as morally superior and more likable.
Two, during the slave period church was one place blacks could meet and discuss whatever they liked without white interference. This seems to have remained true for a century after slavery ended. MLK was a minister. Civil rights activities often took place in churches - the one place a southern white man would not go - a black church. This does not appear to currently be true. There seems to be no reason why blacks can't meet and discuss ideas wherever they like today.
Three, this is true for all would be atheists. It is very hard to break away from the traditions of your family and face possible rejection.
Four, xtainity helped blacks cope with enslavement. However, it may have also prevented them from revolting as they did in Haiti where they were not nearly so xian. There are a number of bible passages that actually support slavery and weigh heavily on the side of the slave owner and say the slave should be obedient. I can't help but think xtainity has been a double edged sword for blacks. On the one hand, it seems to offer some personal solace. On the other, it is a tool of repression, mistreatment, and enslavement.
Five, and this is pure speculation on my part, because during the enslavement years black families were often ripped apart, I think they turned to the church as a surrogate family. I have been in both black and white churches and black churches are much tighter knit. Whites come and go and change churches to what suits their needs or wants. There's not a whole lot of church loyalty. A white person may stay one denomination all their lives, but they will probably change churches many times - even within the same city. Black people seem to be born in one church and unless they move to another city, they seem to stay at their birth church all their lives. They often refer to their church mates as brother/sister/aunt/uncle. Calling non related friends by familial titles is common throughout the black community, however, it appears to be especially true in the churches. So not only do they loose their natural family, they also loose their extended church family as well. It would be very difficult to loose all your family and all our friends over your religion choices. The easy thing and probably a defensive thing to do, would be to keep your mouth shut and give lip service to faith even if you were an atheist, because you want friends, family, companionship and love. Sure, it would be a lie, but you wouldn't be alone. As a white person, I have been able to remain on friendly terms with my old churchmates. They haven't rejected my hand of friendship. This could be because although I have rejected their religion, I maintain and hold the same values that I did before. I don't know if this is possible for a black person from a black church.
These are just my observations. Others can weigh in on how accurate they are.
I'm not African American, but I did become an Atheist when I was living in Africa and this question has been on my mind a lot. I think a lot of it has to do with socioeconomic status and education. People often resort to religion for hope and it's a sad fact that there is a disproportionate number of African Americans in poverty in America. Additionally you combine that with some of the rich traditions of music in the Southern Black tradition and you can see it used as a cohesive force. Obviously there are much better things than religion to unify a people, but it makes a lot of sense.
It is slowly getting better though. I saw a YouTube video with several scientists talking about evolution and they made it clear that they were all atheists. It was a really great video, and something was gnawing at my attention but I wasn't sure what. Suddenly I realized that they were all Black. That was the first time I had consciously noticed any Black atheists outside (the incredible!) Neil deGrasse Tyson and my new heroine Ayaan Hirshi Ali.
"I think a lot of it has to do with socioeconomic status and education. People often resort to religion for hope and it's a sad fact that there is a disproportionate number of African Americans in poverty in America."
You stole the words right out of my mouth. I think this is the single greatest reason why there are so few black atheists. Although I think it has got more to do with education and less to do with hope. Poor people are poorly educated, and the poorly educated cannot expand their minds past the dogma of their in-groups as well as the well-off. The entire black culture is an appeal to their baser instincts. Poetry is fine, although I sometimes think it is a poor-man's philosophy, and rap is a poor-man's poetry. It is a lot to expect that many people born into a ghetto, or an authoritarian Muslim country, or a place like Haiti, would work their way past their circumstances to enlightenment.
ha. who wants to get fired from their jobs right? LOL ... well..
you have Ayanna Watson from BAAM
Greydon Square to performing at the next American Atheists convention...
so... on top of that there's many on youtube
on top of that... well... guess you'd have to ask around. . .
there's been so much media hype and influence of corruption through corporate/music crap
mainstream crap that it's ok to steal rape and kill before your 18... imho.. whites blacks indian whatever
so. when kids of any color learn that their so-called leader is a cheater and all they see is rambo or big boody gals all the time... who's gonna care about the future? well.. i digress. there comes a point where reality hits like a slap in the face is all i'm sayin'.
I might not be the most knowledgeable person of this subject as far as experience goes (I'm biracial, and have been to both black and white churches in the past, but only a handful of times), but I can understand it on a cognitive level. I agree that it's probably more to do with socioeconomic standings than anything else.
It's a kind of comfort. The black community has been (and still is, just not nearly to the same extent) oppressed, and the camaraderie and importance that religion offers is a major factor; they have a sense of community, a sense of being part of something bigger, and having a god who loves them when the world seems like it doesn't provides a lot of incentive for them to be religious. Of course, majority races go through the same thought process as well, but it seems to be more prevalent in those who have been oppressed and who need something that allows them to be equal with everyone else, including their oppressors- All are equal in the eyes of God and all that.
ey wuz up guys. Well a Latino Atheist over here but i feel what you saying Garaidh. The link is a video on youtube, its made by RationalWarrior wich he explains how he handles this situation. He is really good, let me know what you think.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jox38cR7L0
Thanks for sharing this YouTube video. It provided some of the insight we've been seeking.
The Unbelievers, By EMILY BRENNAN
“…88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population, with more than half attending religious services at least once a week.”
That stat is why. The majority of blacks are holy rollers. I have been at non-church functions, around my people, where the first question is what is your name? The second question is what church do you belong to? When I respond that I don't belong to a church, then they want me to join their curch stat! When I respond that I am not a church goer, I usually get the "it's ok as long as you believe in god" response. Or, why don't you go to church? Sadly, if you're black then you believe/go to church, it goes hand in hand. If you're a really good christian you'll go at least twice a week AND participate in choir.
For me, it's difficult enough finding acceptance in the "regular" world, due to my non-belief. In the "black" world it is pretty much a death sentence. For those I have shared my views with, I have been told that I am a disgrace to my race. It makes me feel as though I have to choose between being black - which means accepting god. Or, being an outcast but sticking to my views.
For now, I am mostly in the closet. However, I refuse to act like I am a believer. I just keep quiet or dodge around it when the topic comes up, unless I am in a situation where I can't. And Grace nailed it with the slavery reference.
At least, what church do you belong to is your second question? That is the first question people ask and I have to remind that their question is so rude and none of their business. I also remind that that their mentality is totally unacceptable, if they cannot show me any form of respect of introducing themselves to me. That's when they look stupid and I walk away.
Last nite, I was taking out the garbage and as I was walking to my apartment, this woman walked up to me and said, "hey, I never see you in bible study." I said, I am not into religion, and she asked, 'well, why not?' I said, I did not realize that I was violating a mandate to have some form of religion. I also said, that this is a personal issue for me and not for you to try to convert me. She said, oh, I have plenty of time to convert you and I said, update your will and get your affairs in orders. She asked why would I say something so terrible and I said, people like you who try to convert me to xtianity, end up dying trying.
Yeah, I notice the lack of ethnic minority members whenever I attend atheist groups. It makes us seem as if we're in the dark ages.