The Root Interviews Prominent Black Atheists December 6, 2011

The Root Interviews Prominent Black Atheists

The Root, a site with articles from an African-American perspective, is in the middle of a fantastic and fascinating series called “On Black Atheism.” Jenée Desmond-Harris has interviewed several black atheists and their responses are must-reads for everyone interested in how our community can become more inclusive to minorities.

Rice University professor Anthony Pinn:

TR: Could the civil rights movement have happened without Christianity?

ABP: We give Christianity too much credit. Like Martin Luther King Jr. argued, the vast majority of churches weren’t involved. We also forget there was a humanist and atheist presence within the civil rights movement. So the question is, could it have happened without determined people? No. Was it a movement that was completely dependent upon Christians and other theists? No, never.

Director of Development at American Atheists, A.J. Johnson:

TR: What are the best and worst ways that religion factors into African-American political views and political activity? How is faith leveraged to motivate or to manipulate?

AJJ: Where to begin? Personally, I loathe the rampant homophobia in the African-American community. Somehow these people don’t understand that they are being bigoted and prejudiced. We use the same book to tell gays they are not OK that says slavery is just fine. Frankly, the hypocrisy is thick!

CFO of Black Atheists of America and founder of Secular Students at Howard University Mark D. Hatcher:

TR: If Christianity — and religious belief overall — declines in the African-American community, how, if at all, will it impact the fight for social justice moving forward?

MDH: I have always been under the impression that people weren’t good people because of religion, but good people seek religion because they are raised to believe that it is necessary to be a good person. Without religion, we will still have the same amount of good people; however, we will lose a lot of the infrastructure that churches have built over the last century. With the emergence of secular black communities, organizations and activist movements, the church will find itself struggling to stay relevant in the progressive world.

Host of SPARring With Jamila: The Sex Politics and Religion Hour on the Voice of Russia Radio, Jamila Bey:

TR: Are African Americans better or worse off as a result of religion, and why?

JB: We are worse off. Religion has enslaved us physically. Religion continues to enslave us mentally. It keeps us away from scientific advancement. It tells us that we know, which gives us no reason to explore and discover. Religiosity kills your brain cells, son. It kills your brain cells.

More interviews are still to come — there’s no shortage of African-American atheists, and it’s great to see them getting this spotlight.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Trace


    My favorite: “….Frankly, the hypocrisy is thick!”

  • I love the Lean On Me reference.  LOL. 

  • Ishbac40

    Excellent read.  Please keep the interviews coming!

  • Anonymous

    like me, most black atheists i know are pretty gall durn militant. i went to div school, and the black people there all of us were pretty hostile to the BC. because we met a lot of the leadership, who were mostly selfish and slimy characters a la Eddie Long or somesuch. the churchie students were universally looked at as toadies and lickspittles. among the TT it’s more than clear that religion has ceased to be a driving force in progressive Af-Am circles. it’s sort of a shame, in the sense that i’m a romantic and don’t mind when religion is a progressive force for good and justice. it’s like any other movie or story with a happy ending; i don’t believe it’s real but it’s nice to see anyway. the BC is filled with hateful closet cases and con artists today, and that’s a shame, and a far cry from what at least a few elements were back in the day. but it underscores what we here all already know: religion only gets worse and more destructive as a population is oppressed. 

  • Hi! It looks to me that black atheists have it particularly rough and catch it from all sides. I’m reminded, though, that in the US, people on both sides of the abolitionist movement used Xianity to justify their arguments. Still and all, it looks to me that religion isn’t helping blacks move forward. I wonder if Islam and Judaism could be used to justify abolitionist AND anti-abolitionist arguments the way Xianity has.

  • Dan

    For the sixth and final interview in the series, The Root talked to Eddie S. Glaude Jr., the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University.

  • Gerry

    Thumbs up from me too. My favorite: “Without religion, we will still have the same amount of good people”. What more needs to be said?

  • The comments section of these articles is a gigantic cluster F. If anyone feels like reading some entertaining god-fearing ignorance, have at it.

  • There’s no shortage of the minority.

    wait wut?

    Nothing you quoted is a must read for anyone interested in being inclusive of minorities. You could easily get any of those quotes from old white male atheists.

  • Anonymous

    Some of the incoherent ranting in the comments section is headache inducing.

  • Anonymous

    I loathe the rampant homophobia in the African-American community. Somehow these people don’t understand that they are being bigoted and prejudiced. We use the same book to tell gays they are not OK that says slavery is just fine. Frankly, the hypocrisy is thick!


  • Trace


    As a non native speaker,  I had to google that one out. Always glad to learn something new.

    Thanks chicagodyke.

  • James

    I found his comment about the church struggling to stay relevant in a progressive world very intriguing.  I’m a christian pastor and I am really starting to see this struggle first hand.  As a pastor I’m hoping to reclaim some of the infrastructure that has been put in place by the church and use it to help those that are discriminated against in society. (homosexuals, atheists, various races, homeless, and the list goes on) But sometimes I feel like it’s a lost cause. 


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