“No, Sir you’re not an "atheist." You just a negro with issues with the church.”

As a grown ass black man, who dropped the god obsession as I matured into my thirties, I’m not sure that anything messes with my vanishing hairline and gives me more gray stubble than religious presumption. Religious experts, particularly the seminarian types seem to have all the time in the world to hypothesize why black folks dump the god idea but rarely have the same energy to understand the complex reasons why.

It seems apparent to me despite my subpar visual acuity, that atheism is wilfully misunderstood but especially so by so-called religious experts and high church Negroes. You are more likely to find vested in the imagination of the religious that atheists are by definition disrespectful, evil, nihilistic, vindictive, worthy of pity and incapable of moral intuitions.

Loud, black atheists have the perpetual, intrepid undertaking to provide evidence they aren’t beholden to the aforementioned character traits before they even are taken seriously. The statement in the title of this piece is a go-to weapon of choice in the arsenal of atheistic straw men and these thoughts are a contemplative reasoned response to such tropes.

The first obvious question that comes to my black thinking cerebrum is:

Are the ideas of being an atheist and having issues with the church mutually exclusive?

In short, the answer is TF No.

I agree that some ex-Christians are simply mad at their personal church experience, and project that onto everyone else’s faith but that is something that hurting people do.

I think it’s also important to state the obvious that not all black atheists were previously Christian, and not all of them had terrible church or religious experiences either as the trigger for their unbelief.

I enjoyed damn near most of my church experiences growing up in Christ. I fondly reminisce on my first trip away to Vacation Bible School in the countryside where I had an encounter with the Lilly-white Jesus I often saw on the mantelpiece portraits in black homes, who loved my black ass like he did my ancestors. The experience I most treasure from that trip rather ironically was my first kiss on my melanated cheeks by anyone other than my mother. I have no problems with my religious childhood experiences other than the fact I was indoctrinated into ideas I’ve painstakingly spent the last few years trying to disabuse myself of. Religion got weirder the older I got, the more discerning I became if it’s vices. Children are naive by definition and how impressionable they are is the reason they can’t go anywhere without adult supervision. I grew out of that naivety pretty late in life but once the awakening came then all childhood folklore was on the table for investigation.

Moving onto church issues.

Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash

As a product of the black church, I have seen it all. I am well acquainted with its vibrant history, it’s commendable accomplishments, it’s diverse theology and sectarian divides. The black church as an institution has been a sanctuary for black despair, an opioid for black pain, the adrenaline for black joy. But none of this makes it inscrutable, perfect or incapable of great harm even towards the people it has most lovingly rescued. Scandals that have erupted in the recent wake of the #metoo movement only scratches the surface of the culturally safeguarded spiritual, financial, emotional and sexual abuse that occurs under the guise of ministry. The bible has been used as both a scalpel and a dagger and most church folk can’t tell the difference. Those who love the church, who praise its legacy, but really care about people are obliged to criticize what the church has done wrong WITH THE SAME ENERGY.

Church victims.

Photo by Olu Famule on Unsplash

There is a kind of church victim that doesn’t get as much attention as those groped by clergymen. While this isn’t the victim Olympic tryouts, I thought it would be important to shed some light on this often overlooked victim. Churches have a vested interest to protect their dogma and doctrinal tradition at whatever the cost. This understandable mandate has lead to the silencing, ostracising and gaslighting of anyone who dissents or diverts from doctrinal consensus all the way to those who abandon faith altogether. There are innumerable receipts for the egregious impact this has had on the health and wellbeing of many who have suffered at the hands of this kind of religious tyranny. I won’t bore you with the litany of complaints.

Just like you wouldn’t tell a rape victim " Not all men rape" in response to her critique of a male created rape culture; telling an atheist who felt victimized for his religious experience in the context of religious imperialism and bigotry: "not all religion" is ridiculous and disgusting.

It’s often said to atheists who live in a majority Christian nation, with Christians in politics who claim to make policy decisions on behalf of their preferred deity:

“You ain’t even against ALL religion, you just mad at Christianity ”

Would you expect an atheist whose only religious experience was Christianity to get regularly mad at the abuses of Zen Buddhism?
You can’t be legitimately, perpetually mad at what doesn’t affect you or else you will most certainly nosedive into a certifiable psychosis. What has no existential impact on your life isn’t going to entertain equivalent attention or outrage as what does. But for what it’s worth, there is much to critique about most religions but I like many non-believers choose to focus on my proximal religious experience as that has the most significant impact on my life, the people I know negatively impacted and my wider society.

Folks will say… “if you were against faith in general, you’d come for errybody with equal vitriol but you don’t.”

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Telling people that equal opportunity protest shit doesn’t work. All causes don’t matter to all people to the same degree. We don’t tell black lives matter activists to equally protest about the discrimination that Chinese people face from the Japanese to legitimize their antiracism position.

There is a strange idea that atheists specifically attack Christians only because we see them as an easy target.

Firssofall….. as a former Christian I find this notion patronizing and insulting to Christians. Other than reasons I hopefully explained sufficiently above about atheists tending to criticize their most proximal and dominant religious experience encountered with, atheists also tend to counter-attack the religious groups that spread the vilest mischaracterizations about them. If you have ever heard an atheist be unfairly dismissed from a job or be refused promotion or barred from office on the grounds that he “has no morals”, it most likely happened at the hands of a Christian.

The thoughtful black, Christians I keep company with are quite capable of outthinking the smartest atheists I know on non-religious matters and they understand that black Christianity isn’t a monolith and that there are legitimate folks and fuckbois within all walks of life including the church. My black Christian friends worth their salt don’t actually feel personally attacked even when their precious religious experience or wider tradition is critiqued. Those who do feel personally violated by those who question the claims or abuses of religion either have religious fragility syndrome or hit dogs holler.

Again, my writing and public social media engagement isn’t the aggregate of my interaction with the religious nor my opinions of them. As a secularist I actually believe and safeguard religious freedom, I just equally believe we should be able to critique religion in the public square too without being unfairly mischaracterized.

Many religious people are entrenched in group think as that is definitional of religious tribalism. Those who aren’t conformed to a particular creed recognize that there are heterogeneous perspectives and ways of doing life. While atheism isn’t a religion despite what Christian apologists claim, there are a million ways to “do atheism” and just because you don’t like a particular atheists approach to religious discourse this doesn’t mean you get to determine the veracity of their position on atheism.

That’s just not how this works.

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There are atheists who ignore religion for what it’s worth, then there are those who have taken on the specific project of secularism to critique the public influence of religion on policy, education and the way of life for everyone regardless of their religious persuasion. Some will offend you, some won’t. But most of the time when you feel offended, check your religious privilege.

Atheism defined

Atheism is simply a state where one lacks a belief in god and has nothing to do with what a person goes on to do motivated by that lack of belief.

Religious folks need to actually listen to your atheist friends and let them define what their beliefs about god are and how they got there. Presuming what all atheists are like and why they hold certain beliefs based on your observations of a few atheists or what your Bible says is the epitome of religious privilege.

Believer, MD, Activist

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