It’s well known by now that African-Americans as a community are the most religious ethnic community in America. In a Pew Research Center poll from 2009, almost 80 percent of Blacks said religion was a very important aspect of their lives, compared to just 56 percent of American in general. Also, while only about 40 percent of Americans attend religious services at least once a week, more than half of Blacks do so. From the fiery Black Baptist preacher to the young Black Muslim convert, the stereotypes people have of religious Blacks are well established in American culture. But a new subculture is emerging and trying to push back on that pigeonholing.
Say hello to the Black atheists. Profiled in a recent New York Times article, the African-American atheist community is growing, and some say they wish to remain silent no more. However, it’s not an easy road for the Black atheist, who is both racially different from most of America and then religiously different from most of his or her own community. One man, Ronnelle Adams, even told the Times it was harder for him to tell his extremely religious mother about his atheism than his homosexuality:
“My mother is very devout,” said Mr. Adams, 30, a Washington resident who has published an atheist children’s book, “Aching and Praying,” but who in high school considered becoming a Baptist preacher. “She started telling me her issues with homosexuality, which were, of course, Biblical,” he said. “ ‘I just don’t care what the Bible says about that,’ I told her, and she asked why. ‘I don’t believe that stuff anymore.’ It got silent. She was distraught. She told me she was more bothered by that than the revelation I was gay.”
Though the number of Black atheists is still small — less than half a percent — atheism has a growing following in America, so it’s likely more will join the non-believing ranks in the coming years. In the meantime, there are already a number of internet destinations for Black atheists, including blogs like “Godless and Black.”
While many Black Christians might be disappointed at the rise of atheism in African-American communities, I can’t help but think it’s a good thing, regardless of your religious affiliation. For one, with fewer than one percent of Blacks subscribing to atheism, it’s not as if they’re in danger of “corrupting” all of Black America, even if they wanted to (which they most certainly don’t). Beyond that, more — and, increasingly vocal — Black Atheists will help eliminate the notion that all Black people are Bible- or Koran-thumping maniacs out to destroy things like gay marriage and reasonable sex education, things many churches have been against for years now. It’s important to remind America that the Black community is broad and diverse, and that diversity now includes atheism.
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(Photo: Sacramento Bee/MCT/Landov)