Coffee Rhetoric: Black Folks Don't Do Atheism, But This One Does

July 22, 2012

Black Folks Don't Do Atheism, But This One Does

The one looming thing that has always been an enduring force in the Black community (since slavery was abolished), is the Black Church. The Black Church comes in several different denominations and almost seems to be a given, if you're part of the Diaspora and specifically if you're Black-American. While it may not always come up during casual conversations, it's always assumed that if you're Black, you belong to a church, or that you're in-between different congregations while you weigh your options trying to find the perfect one to suit your needs and sensibilities. As a young(er) adult, I always loathed the question, "So, what church do you belong to?" because I didn't and don't.

I would always dance around the question or come up with some evasive answer to placate the query because potential friendships, opportunities, or social settings always seemed contingent upon whether or not I attended a church or if I'd be willing (without question) to attend a prospective friend's church or religious gathering under the guise of a candle or jewelry party. I've never alluded to or written about my religious affiliations or lack thereof because, quite frankly, I never felt comfortable having these sorts of conversations and I just didn't and don't think it's anybody's business. 

Whenever the topic of religion would casually make its way into my interactions, I'd often go out of my way to pacify people's egos (at the expense of my own ego and comfort) and feign interest with the proverbial "I don't go to church, but I'm a spiritual person" canned answer. I've never been religious, even as a young girl, or had any inclination to perform the rituals of worship. I'm finally comfortable enough to publicly state this fact about myself, and have been so for a while. Perhaps age has emboldened me. 

As this current cult of personality continues to move forward, so are attitudes within the Black community about religion. Despite the backlash and collective gasps from family members, friends, and even work colleagues, the trepidation many of us feel about not being openly pietistic is starting to ebb as more of us are finally saying the controversial 'A' word out loud; and yes, I identify as an atheist and have been one for years (officially since high school), even when I never actually said it out loud, due to concerns I had about backlash from my peers. 
The derision most of us are subjected to, from others in the Black community, is palpable at times. I've heard horror stories from folks who divulged that, some of their family members were more forgiving of the criminal infractions committed by incarcerated family members or that one creepy pedo-uncle than they were of their college educated, gainfully employed, skirmish-free son/daughter/niece/nephew/granddaughter/grandson who 'came out' as atheist.

Currently, I'm not willing to compromise who I am as an adult woman with agency over her life choices, because someone else is incapable of accepting that people are different, have the right to live in the splendor of their true selves, and have a difference of opinion. I am an atheist, I don't wear in on a t-shirt or feel the need to bash anybody over the head with it; and I have no desire to condescend to anyone else for being devout in their religious belief. I don't wish to explain or offer excuses for my non-belief. Moreover, I have zero interest in listening to anybody list all the reasons why they're Christian or whatever other religious tenets they adhere to. Atheism (for me) is simply suspension of belief. I don't care one way or the other whether or not G-d or whichever other deity exists because, well, none of it exists in my world. I don't subscribe to spiritual gurus or anything New Age either. There. My 'dirty little secret' is out, though it shouldn't have any impact on how anybody else chooses to live their life. 

While I find aspects of certain religions and religious liturgies intriguing -- like *this essay about the scores of Black women who died at the 'Jonestown' commune in Guyana, in what's considered one of the largest mass murder-suicides in modern history -- the likelihood of me ever attending your church or praying with (or for) you isn't very likely, despite the recent study about Black women being among the country's most religious groups.  My suspension of belief has absolutely no bearing on my social mores or cultural universals. My being an atheist doesn't mean I lack a moral compass or the ability to be conscientious. I'm not dancing around a fire, naked and conjuring up spells nor did some major event or trauma cause me to denounce G-d in a fit of rage, contrary to what many people think. 

In a recent installment of the documentary web series, 'Black Folk Don't...' -- where the filmmakers set out to explore lifestyles and/or stereotypes ascribed to Black people -- they conduct interviews about Black spirituality because, according to popular opinion, most 'Black Folk Don't: Do Atheism.'

*Updated