Why Are There So Few Black Atheists? June 2, 2008

Why Are There So Few Black Atheists?

Wrath James White offers these insightful thoughts on why Black atheists are almost nowhere to be found:

In these [African American] communities you find more tolerance towards gangbangers, drug addicts, and prostitutes, who pray to God for forgiveness than for honest productive citizens who deny the existence of God. This, for me, is one of the most embarrassing elements of Black culture, our zealous embracement of the God of our kidnappers, murderers, slavemasters and oppressors.

It’s also tough to get involved with “Black Culture” if you’re not religious:

The prevalence of Christian ideology in Black Culture creates a very difficult dilemma for a Black Atheist. Our skepticism must often remain hidden for fear of exclusion. When religion comes up we tend to stay mum or quickly change the subject. Those who are more vocal soon find themselves ostracized and isolated. When it comes to our relationships with the opposite sex we often find our choices limited by mates who are looking for a “good Christian man” or woman. Community activism, particularly Civil rights groups, tend to be dominated by religious organizations, making it difficult for an admitted atheist to even participate in any organized way in the betterment of the race. Politics, likewise, are dominated by the religious-minded. If you expect the Black vote than you had better be a Christian.

And, of course, you have to deal with the women in your life…:

For most Black men, the idea of telling our mothers and grandmothers that we no longer believe in god, and thus breaking their hearts, is a painful situation to even contemplate. This is undoubtedly true in many cultures, but it is doubly true in the Black culture. This is one of the main reasons many Black Atheists tend to stay underground and in the closet.

Very powerful piece.

(via Skepchick)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • EKM

    In these [African American] communities you find more tolerance towards gangbangers, drug addicts, and prostitutes, who pray to God for forgiveness than for honest productive citizens who deny the existence of God. This, for me, is one of the most embarrassing elements of Black culture, our zealous embracement of the God of our kidnappers, murderers, slavemasters and oppressors.

    I think this is true of the USA in general.

  • W. James White must live in a very sheltered world no matter where he may say that his travels have taken him. There are just as many Black Atheists and Unbelievers – and you can meet them on a daily basis.

    I doubt very seriously if his lack of connection with his African American Black Community is solely based on his non belief of a God. I grew up Atheist and had no problem with my community for it – I find more of my community who are not believing in what they have learned ‘a White Christianity and it’s Historical Teachings’.

    Regardless if one is – black white pink purple or rainbow – If they consider themselves ‘Good Christians’ that is what they’re out to connect with – fall in love with – ‘A Good Christian Man or Woman.’

    The African American believers have no greater tolerance and forgiveness of murderers rapists etc. than any others. If you believe in the principles and laws of a God – then this is what Christians do – forgive forgive forgive.

    Christians can turn off nonbelievers with their righteousness an arrogance JUST as an Atheist can with their arrogance and self righteousness of non belief.

    I can only imagine the brash harsh judgment with preconceived notions which he just delivered as he spoke of his Black Community is somehow felt as he engages them.

    I hope whatever is keeping him from finding like minded African American people will soon come to an end.

    Go Well Be Well and Never Live in Fear for what you Believe,

  • The Unbrainwashed

    @ VickiLynne:

    I think you’re mistaken if you believe there are not differences between white middle class (where almost all atheists come from) and the African-American community. The values, experiences, and cultural tenants differ greatly between the two groups. In my personal experience, the black community does not value education. Instead, the ‘gangstas’ are glorified and put on a pedastal. Violence and rap music that is heavily a result of it galvanizes the youth, rather than the willingness to engage in education and the social mobility that comes with it. It’s not surprising then, that the amount of atheists is so small.

    Sorry I should really say more and I’m aware that what I’m saying is controversial. I know you probably won’t accept the disparity in numbers as evidence of what I’m saying either. MOst likely, you’ll contend that it’s a pathology of the entire American society and not the black community itself. However, from personal experience attending public schools, the above is surely the norm.

    Please, all the liberals here: Refrain from knee jerking out a racist retort.

  • Larry Huffman

    Well…I am not African-American, and therefore cannot even begin to speak on this as an authority…simply my observances and my thoughts as a tudent of history. I live in the Los Angeles area, but spent a few years in North Carolina as well as the Delta region of Mississippi (very impoverished and large numbers of almost exclusively African-American rural communities).

    My observances support exactly what is said above. I have noticed clearly that the African-American communities tend to have a very solid religious core…and I do not meet many African-American atheists at all. That is not to say there are not any…and in the right environment, you can find larger numbers. Most likely at the university level this can be seen. But…if you go into the communities you will find that religion permeates everything.

    My own personal view of why this is…well, much of African-American american culture can be traced back to the slave and immediate post-slave eras. Most of the people captured for the slave trade had rudimentary superstitious beliefs…and they learned christianity while slaves. The promise of a savior and a life in paradise would absolutely appeal to a people who were viewed as less than human. The gospel of Jesus would have been like a bright light to them. Soon, the christian community and hope that it inspired became part of their culture here in America.

    After the slave era, African-Americans were mainly left to their own communities. They touched the ‘white’ world as needed, but their day to day, in large part, was spent segmented from society. They were not offered the same education or opportunities. In certain places, the idea of a black person reading or being educated was utterly shunned…so how could these people be expected to rise above the traditions that had given them hope for so long.

    Even today, many African-American communities are left to themselves, whether rural or inner city. The poverty and hopelessness of some of these places again brings the positive nature of the gospel and it’s message to a place where it does help to bring about hope and community.

    I am not supporting christianity at all…but i do understand and somewhat support the help and hope it gave many African-Americans over the years, through some terribly dark times that as a white person I cannot even really comprehend fully.

    Of course, had they been educated enough to follow logical and rational thought…they would have very easily been able to see that the very god that the white man had given them is the god who’s bible supported slavery in the first place. They would have noticed the hypocrissy of the white christian man owning the black chrisitan man. Sadly, even the positive side of christianity that helped the slaves cope with their plight pales when you consider that were it not for biblical support, the practice would most likely have died before it reached the levels it did. But, alas, the bible was in fact the very thing the pious slave owners used to justify the practice.

    African-Americans I believe, have the heritage of faith they do because of the adversities they had to face on a day by day basis in earlier generations and the hope and comfort (false as it was) the gospel offered.

    Now…the information age changes everything. I think we should expect to see, over the next couple of generations, the same trends away from religion as we do in white communities. Young African-Americans, just as any other young people in this country are all over the Internet. They will search when they seek answers, and the same eye-openers will reach them. The information age is really playing that part in seperating tradition from truth.

  • Superhans

    If he keeps on complaining about “gangbangers, drug addicts, and prostitutes” who in his view somehow cannot be “honest productive citizens” , he probably deserves to be discriminated against.

    There’s simply nothing immoral about sex between consenting adults or drug use. But it is immoral to use innocent people as scapegoats in order to prove that you’re also a “good” person because you believe in some of the more absurd laws of Christianity.

  • Brainwashed,

    Then you live in a sheltered world also. And you operate off the Making of A Slave by Willie Lynch – I suggest reading it.

    African Americans are no more violent less educated etc as you say as this blanket statement ‘White Men are child molesters rapist and thieves”. Now that is how White Folks are perceive the White Community. And, my life experience and journeys say even though there is many lots oodles – all aren’t so.

    Your prejudices and biases will be the death and ignorance of you.

    Larry Huffman get out of Los Angeles this is a large world explore go see live it – Many African Americans believe that Christianity is a White Man’s lie to control everything but see when it’s spoken of we’re termed racist.

    This isn’t something that I plan to debate nor try to make anyone believe. Why? Because until your ideologies biases prejudices are let go – it would be fruitless and senseless.

    Go Well Be Well & Goodnite

  • Brainwashed,

    Then you live in a sheltered world also. And you operate off the Making of A Slave by Willie Lynch – I strongly suggest reading it. It’s sad that Lynch is dead but still rules from his grave. His teachings live on. African Americans along with Caucasians still live out his racist hatred teachings.

    African Americans are no more violent & less educated etc as you say, than this blanket statement ‘White Men are child molesters rapist liars the first murderers and thieves”. Now this is how White Folks are truly perceived.

    And, my life experience and journeys say even though there is many lots oodles – all aren’t like this – {many aren’t}. Yet, if this is my belief system then that would be the only thing the universe and my thoughts of — would bring to me.

    Your prejudices and biases will be the death and ignorance of you. It’s a very dangerous thing when major news outlets television books, history and teachings only focus on the worst of any nationality of a people. Yet, it’s away to control.

    Larry Huffman get out of Los Angeles this is a large world explore it, go see it, live it – Most African Americans believe that Christianity is a White Man’s lie to control everything but see when it’s spoken of we’re termed racist and unpatriotic.

    Christianity was forced on slaves, just as Christianity is forced on the World. The White Man’s culture is and has been forced on all nationalities. Anything or anyone who doesn’t want to embrace the white man’s culture – garb – dress- religion – faith – language – dialect/diction or way of living — OH Well! Repercussions of the worst kind.

    And, talk about Slavery the white man was too lazy didn’t want to work it and was too ignorant which is absent of knowledge to toil the very land and country which they stole from the Indians.

    They had to go get people of color to toil it, in order for the land to flourish etc. And how did it come about thru Violence of the worst kind against humanity a genocide of a people.

    Don’t get history twisted and quit trying to rewrite it (yesteryears todays even tomorrows. Get out of the box in which you live. Get rid of your prejudices – and you will only get rid of them – when you let go of “The Fear” in which you live.

    This isn’t something that I plan to debate nor try to make anyone believe. Why? Because until your ideologies biases prejudices arrogance and your notion of Superiority are let go – it would be fruitless and senseless.

    Go Well Be Well…

  • Garrick

    “Most African Americans believe that Christianity is a White Man’s lie”

    VickiLynne, where are they? They aren’t in Los Angeles.

  • Xeonicus

    “Most African Americans believe that Christianity is a White Man’s lie”

    I find that hard to believe.

  • Mazz

    Im not sure but it looks like I’ll be the only black person to comment on this article so I hope what I say is helpful.

    I think what Wrath said here was pretty accurate. As a black person from a predominately black area (Detroit, for anyone interested) I can attest to the fact that the church is a binding and comforting force.

    People who only go to church once or twice a year will still strongly profess belief in god, when asked will state they are christian and have bibles in their cars and homes. Churches organize most of the events in the community, and are largely the only “positive” organizations that are evident. Once youre in the community its easy to see why black people are more “devoutly” religious and less likely to profess atheism.

    The fact that African slaves were forced into christianity also plays a major role. Not only were they forced to be christians they were not allowed to actually read the bible and were only told the parts that the slave masters wanted them to know. Christianity teaches servitude and encourages it. Being told that if you are a good christian you will have ever lasting peace and happiness is a great way to ensure that you’ll remain enslaved. As time passed and slavery was abolished black people were still treated as second class citizens so maintaining the “hope” that christianity offers is important in having some sense of justice in this world. After so many years of christianity being instilled in black people in America it has become as much a part of the sense of being black as being black itself. I suspect to some people saying youre no longer a christian, and even more, that you dont believe in god at all is almost like denouncing your “blackness.”

  • Awesomesauce

    Ok, I’ve noticed that there are many anecdotal and experience-based arguments being toss around. Let’s view some statistics.

    That very large majorities of the American public, and almost all (but not all) Christians believe in God, the survival of the soul after death, miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Virgin
    birth will come as no great surprise. What may be more surprising is that half of all adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology, and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation – that they were themselves reincarnated from other people. Majorities of about two-thirds of all adults believe in hell and the devil, but hardly anybody expects that they will go to hell themselves.

    These are some of the findings of a Harris Poll of 2,201 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 21 and 27, 2003, using the same methods used by Harris Interactive® to forecast the 2000 elections with great accuracy.

    The survey also found that women are more likely than men to hold both Christian and non-Christian beliefs. African-Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to hold Christian beliefs, as are Republicans. The level of belief is generally highest among people without a college education and lowest among those with postgraduate degrees.

    * The 90% of adults who believe in God include 93% of women, 96% of African-Americans and 93% of Republicans but only 86% of men, 85% of those with postgraduate degrees, and 87% of political independents.
    * The 84% of those who believe in the survival of the soul after death include 89% of women but only 78% of men, 86% of those without a college degree but only 78% of those with postgraduate degrees.
    * The 84% of the public who believe in miracles falls to 72% among those with postgraduate degrees, and rises to 90% among women and 90% among African-Americans.
    * The 82% who believe in heaven includes 89% of women but only 75% of men and falls to 71% among people aged 25 to 29 and those with postgraduate degrees.

    On almost all the beliefs that are central to Christianity, there is a general pattern with:

    * Higher levels of belief among women than among men.
    * Lower level of belief among people aged 25 to 29.
    * Higher levels of belief among people with no college education and lower levels of belief among those with postgraduate education.
    * Higher levels of belief among African-Americans than among whites and Hispanics.

    So when things are said like

    W. James White must live in a very sheltered world no matter where he may say that his travels have taken him. There are just as many Black Atheists and Unbelievers – and you can meet them on a daily basis.

    the evidence seems to conflict.

  • Larry Huffman

    LOL…well…I ahve lived in numerous places. I will list a couple: Charlotte, NC, The Mississippi Gulf Coast, St. Louis, and Memphis. Not just LA…Just spent most of my time in LA.

    The african-americans in LA are far LESS religious than anywhere else in the US I have seen. So leaving LA will not prove what you are stating…it will only show you do not know what you are talking about. And…to be clear…I said that is was MY observation.

  • well, hemant, at least now you know who i was asking for when i said i had a friend looking for information about black atheists.

  • Wrath James White


    For the record, I lived in LA for 2 years and it’s no less true there than it is anywhere else in the country. I’m talking about the Black Community, Crenshaw, Slauson, not the handful of Blacks you’ve met in Hollywood. I know that sounded condescending but I really don’t mean it to be. Anyone who was as immersed in the Black community as I am would come away with the same impression. If you are not an atheist that might explain why you think you see so many of them. There is an impression among White people in Vegas that there are a lot of Blacks here even though we are only 8% of the population in Vegas. When my White friends come back to Philly with me where we are nearly 50% of the population they understand what i mean by there being no Blacks in Vegas.

    Trust me, if you were to count Christians versus atheists in your acquaintence, I’m sure you’d quickly see that there is not anything approaching an equal number. That would be impossible since there aren’t an equal number of atheists compared to Christians in the US of any race. Atheists are only 3% of the American population unless you include agnostics and the non-religious in which case it jumps to twelve percent. In the African-American community, those numbers are even smaller.

    Thanks for those stats Awesomesauce. It is far more admirable when someone does a little research before throwing out random subjective opinions.The Barna Research Group collects religious stats and makes them widely available to anyone who might be curious. The US Census is another good resource. I would challenge Ms. Lynne to find one statistic from a reputable research group that contradicts anything that I have said.

    Blacks attend church more often than Whites or Hispanics. Our services are, on average, 70% longer. Blacks (94%) are more likely than whites (83%), Hispanics (81%) or Asians (58%) to pray in a given week. Results from a recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group revealed that the number 1 goal indicated by 94% of African-Americans was “to have a personal relationship with God” above health, education, family, social or economic equality, political status, or business oportunity. 84% of African Americans consider their church leaders to be the spokesperson for their community. Telling results indeed.

    I am not some Ivory tower elitist. I grew up in Philadelphia in the type of ghetto that only exists in the old industrial cities. My family is originally from North Carolina. As you mentioned derisivelyin your post, I have travelled quite a bit. Even still, I would not throw my opinions out there if they were merely subjective and I had not verified them objectively. Any objectuve study of Black religious habits would more than uphold my position.

  • Wrath James White

    For some reason a few of my stats got lost when I hit save. Just in case anyone was interested:

    Blacks (82%) are the group most likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings compared with 68% of whites, 62% of Hispanics, and 39% of Asians. Blacks (66%) are the ethnic group most likely to have read the Bible in the past week, follwed by whites (45%), Hispanics (41%) and Asians (20%).

    Again, that would seem to indicate that I wasn’t just pulling opinions out of my asshole.

  • From back in the days of captivity, Black people were taught to obey and believe. It was inbeded in blacks by the so called “Master” and because blacks were only allowed to learn just what was ordered to them to learn and obey, that’s what they did. So one generation after another they taught the children to do the same.They didn’t Question,or Explore to seek the truth, whatever the elders told the children they obeyed and some of the adults that were the main leaders couldn’t even read! They would say ” The peacher said this.” or “The bible said that” and that was what was accepted, Through all of that training, the fear of God was put in the mix too. They taught if you fear out of respect what the “Master” taught your parents or elders, and they obeyed,and believed, then you shouldn’t have to question it. It was also taught that it was “Taboo” to question. God was taught and the Bible was the Evidence and that’s all a Black person needed to know. If Question and Exploring was taught back in the day Times might have been different. I still say things come back on you, so if you look in the right places and go through enough experinces,and explore enough knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Not only read everywhere about God, be a witness to the negitive and the positive. READ!!! Then after you learn and comprehend the true meaning of life then you be the judge, All the things that were inbeded in Blacks only made them stronger, I say there’s lots of proof there is a God! especially what blacks had to experience through all of these ages in America, but it’s up to YOU to learn the truth, God is not holding a thing back now! All that’s going on in the world today, if you still have questions, then you still need to learn! and hey, we learn something different everyday, and there’s nothing New under the SON (SUN)…God bless You more.

  • I love seeking out, questioning and exploring. Today You can do it in your own back yard. We were taught that every man that supposed to had been lead by God was pure. So our leaders were considered to be respected as “pure”. Today after pulling all the lies and secrets out of the “Religious” closets,People don’t have anything to lean on,we don’t have no man to trust,because we caught most of the leaders that just prooved that they were nothing but men, men just choosen to give us hope, Suprise! Jesus Christ turned out to be the only man who didn’t have any mistakes on earth. We still follow him today. But what about these other so called followers of God? If people depend on a man or woman to show them the way towards God, then that’s when they loose the faith. You find out NO MAN or Woman is perfect. none. So now since we are aware of that now, We done lost our minds. JUST Because we found out the truth about Man, does not mean God donnot exist, After everything clear, God is still here. We have to know the difference between imagination and what truley exist. I know life is frustrating to see one thing You say is good to you then you see another thing that tares you apart. Then you say “Why?” for both things. Which if you’re not wise enough, it will confuse you, but things must happen for the world to go around,but like how we bake a cake, it all depends on the ingredients, how it turns out and it stays that way once you bake it. If you mess it up you learn about what you did wrong,but it may be a time the cake turns out just right. Otherwise you have to learn. Life has a ballance and that’s why things happen the way they do, and it happens with time. People probably are responsible for what went down in the pass and now or the future, but God our creator, gave us the power to decide between right and wrong and the strength to learn how to face or fix the situations. He gave us the will to think with our hearts and mind before we striked, which was his choice and our human decsions. Until God says “CUT” We just live here in what we call our lives, being born, living to our destany and passing on. As long as we have the Breath of life, we know God is here… So just breath because life is what it is.

  • The people that are followers of The Most High “God” can live and breath better because with just the thought of his existance, they have hope no matter what they have to face. God let you see rich the way you want to see rich, and poor the way you want to see poor. He gave us something that could only exist in our bodies for a while and it is called a soul. A soul is what identifies spirits. Sometimes spirits and feelings get twisted. You can just look at all people and see all kinds of spirits, but our souls are simular, to keep the soul alive we accept or reject the spirits, the spirits are like the opperators in a phone, connect us to others and make us feel, the question, “Is this right or wrong?” Your heart and mind figure out the rest. So it feels good or bad to you. Your soul let’s you know the things you will have to face, it feels all of the spirits but it lets you know which one is best for it to lead your body where it goes and for you to say or accept what to do for you and towards others. We borrowed these souls, it’s just a least for the body, once it’s gone you are too, but it’s the only chance your body have to reach God. YOu can speak to God though people sometimes, and them through you, but to really feel That God exist, You must have a soul. Things on earth make you question, but Your SOUL reasures you that God exists. Amen

  • One last thing, Somebody from any part of the world knows God exist, and they respect him Highly. It’s not just from People here in the U.S.A. It don’t matter how we address God or the name he goes by. We all knows he exist. Our poor babies on the other hand of this generation, all they can see and feel is what they imagine and they exspect to see what they were taught,after being told that the Easter Bunny and Santa, and Ferries, Where they come from, I don’t know. When you’re teased with those theories, all of your life, it disapoints you later and makes you question about God too, since they can’t see him. Then children question everything, and if the answer is not perfect or misunderstood, then they believe and handle life in any fashion they please. They also want to break that barrier to say “YOU CAN’T do what you want to do, God don’t like it, if you did.” Like as a child you had to be good for Santa,to get what you wished to get for Christmas. But, Life is you have to be good for life in a certain order, “for God” If you want to get good out of life, or else things will go bad. Today if You can get by with it, it’s done.No remorse. People can usually tell things that are really against God’s nature,and still go against it. One day Just like way back with Noah and other stories from the bible, this happened way over seas, So God is everywhere, but we seem to be ignoring him like the children of Israel did. They thought God wasn’t going to never show up, but he did, There were a lot of sad endings in the bible because God said do one thing, and people did another. God want us to live,and he gave us so much power to dwell anyway we want to, but he prefer us to live by his rules of nature, It’s up to you to face the future and see if the things that happened in the bible will come back around and we get what’s comin’ to us because we didn’t listen. That’s why most blacks fear God more because they were taught in their hearts and SUNDAY SCHOOL! To obey God’s Rules. Obediance is the name of the game, but our children are stuborn and they hate rules, just like those children in the bible, but somethings going to give…and it’s not going to be pretty. God gave us too many warnings from the past, for Us to be foolin’ like we do now, be all free now, and pay later. I love God’s rules of nature, because by following them, I know life will be normal, if we break the rules, Just like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, You never know what we gonna get. Bye ya’ll GodSpeed

  • I’m not sure what you are disagreeing with but thanks for the link.

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