African American Atheist might seem like an oxymoron to some people. After all, black Americans are among the most churchgoing folks in the nation. But for those who know the African American community is not a spiritual monolith, the existence of black atheists should come as no surprise. Nevertheless, the notion that there are African Americans who actually do not believe in God still has that “car wreck” quality to it that at once produces a bounty of incredulous rubberneckers. So there’s no wonder that a new article from The New York Times has got people talking. Here’s a roundup of some of the different opinions.
Black Atheism Is Old News
“Coming out” as an atheist is a particular challenge, according to that November 25 article in the Times, but the report doesn’t break any new ground according to Patheos blogger Hemant Mehta. Writing at the Friendly Atheist blog, Mehta says the article restates what atheists already know: “An overwhelmingly majority of black people are religious, black atheists are a minority within a minority, communities for black atheists are growing, and it’s tough to be a black atheist.”
Atheism Is for White People?
Twenty-seven year old atheist John Branch told the Times that he thinks “in the black community, not believing in God is seen as a thing for white people.” But, quoting stats from the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey, The Times reported that “88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population” and “less than one-half of a percent of African-Americans identify themselves as atheists, compared with 1.6 percent of the total population.”
The NY Times Story Is Too Predictable
At, blogger Rod Dreher snarkily declared the Times article typical for the paper, implying that it’s just more liberal reporting. It could only be improved, he said, if it “included a component about elderly secular Jews who live next door to the gay black atheist’s in a fabulous Manhattan apartment building, and who take him in over the holiday season as surrogate parents because his Christian family makes him feel rejected.”
The Dialogue Is Worth Having
Back in July,, a Christian friend of Black Atheists of America (BAAm) founder Ayanna Watson took a more conciliatory approach to the subject, interviewing Watson about her decision to become an atheist and then allowing her to interview him about his faith journey as a sometimes-restless Christian. Watson tells her friend (who goes by the humble moniker “TheMostInterestingManintheWorld”) that she came to see her Christian faith as logically inconsistent when she learned critical thinking skills in a Philosophy 101 class, but her experience with prayer also contributed to her deconversion.
“There were times when I felt that my prayers were answered. There were plenty of times when I felt that they were not answered. Back then, I wrote it off as it not being in ‘God’s will.’ The prayers that were ‘answered’ were not done so without an effort on my part. … I do not think my decision not to pray had much to do with the ratio of answered prayers to non-answered prayers. Instead, because I believed that god was omniscient, I did not see the purpose of prayer,” Watson tells her friend.
When she questions him, he says that he’s always found apologetics “counterproductive and unneccessary” becuase faith in God is “inherently illogical and unreasonable,” but that’s not a problem for him.
“One of the things I’ve always been intrigued by, when it comes to Atheism, is that it seems atheists only require proof for things unseen when it comes to religion and spirituality. I think there are plenty of other unseen forces that impact our lives daily that we cannot prove exist. One example being the entire spectrum of human emotion – from love to hate,” said “Most.”
Is Black Atheism a Function of the Church’s Waning Influence?
In April, at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Morehouse educated pastor Seth Pickens hosted a dialogue with the L.A. Black Skeptics group, according to secular humanist Sikivu Hutchinson, who wrote about the discussion at LA Progressive. Pickens was open to the dialogue because he “seemed deeply concerned about the ongoing national critique of the Black Church’s waning influence,” Hutchinson said.
What Do You Think?
Is the story of black Atheism old news or is it a function of the black church’s alleged waning influence? What is the role of reason in faith?