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Black Atheists Fight Notion That 'Not Believing in God' Is 'a Thing For White People


"To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black."

Atheism is on the rise in America. Though the growth is slow and non-believers are certainly a minority, atheists, agnostics and "freethinkers" are gaining ground.

While it's always intriguing to look at the demographics associated with this collective group, it's even more interesting to examine the subgroups within the larger context of non-believers. Among them are African Americans -- a group known for its fervent religiosity.

When examining the overall population, 71 percent of Americans believe in God with absolute certainty. Among African Americans, though, this proportion jumps to 88 percent, showcasing an even more fervent attachment to a belief in a higher power. This information comes from the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey.

When looking at atheism, in particular, a true pattern can be seen. While 1.6 percent of the overall population classifies itself as "atheist," less than one-half of a percent of African Americans identify themselves as the same (this does not include other non-believers -- only those who select this, specific designation). Thus, African Americans are less likely to be non-believers and are more likely to believe in God.

Certainly African American atheists are harder to come by, but, like atheists on the whole, they may be increasing in number. In 2009, Ronnelle Adams, a gay atheist, launched a Facebook group called "Black Atheists" to assist him in finding other non-believers.

In two years, the group has grown from 100 members at its start to 947. While not a substantial growth in the eyes of some, considering the small number of atheist African Americans, this signifies a relatively grand uptick.

Here's a screen shot from the group's Facebook page:

Adams also published an atheist children's book called, "Aching and Praying." According to a profile on Amazon.com, the book "...illuminates the world of slavery and the role of religion and the Christian bible in justifying and supporting the institution of slavery."

Another group, Black Atheists of America, is a non-profit organization that seeks to bridge "...the gap between atheism and the black community." On the group's web site, programs that target young people and encourage "critical thinking" are touted.

Watch Ayanna Watson, the group's founder, explain how to "come out" as an atheist:

And here she is, again, discussing the black community and the difficulty African American atheists often encounter:

Because faith and religion are so prominent among African Americans, atheists may find themselves alone, misunderstood or disconnected from their culture. The New York Times reports that faith is so inherent that some blacks, despite their non-belief, still go to church out of tradition.

These individuals culturally identify with faith and religion, though they lack the personal connection that is typically present in one's relationship with a higher power. “To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black,” says journalist Jamila Bey.

The Times has more about the struggles that atheist African Americans may have:

Feeling isolated from religious friends and families and excluded from what it means to be African-American, people turn to these sites to seek out advice and understanding, with some of them even finding a date. And having benefited from the momentum online, organizations like African Americans for Humanism and Center for Inquiry-Harlem have well-attended meet-up groups, and others like Black Atheists of America and Black Nonbelievers have been founded.

In 2008, a young man named John Branch posted a YouTube video called "Black Atheism," during which he explained the dearth in the number of black atheists. The video, as the times notes, has over 42,000 hits. Watch it, below:

The black atheist movement is surely growing, as Facebook groups, organizations, and the like are helping non-believers "come out." In various cities, non-believers are meeting up to discuss their atheism and to serve as a support system for one another. Newser and the Times have more:

Now black atheist meet-ups are held in cities like New York, Houston, and Atlanta. But the movement is running against two powerful perceptions: that "not believing in God is seen as a thing for white people,” as one black atheist put it, and the idea that religious belief fueled the civil rights movement. True, churches were the only all-black refuges during Jim Crow, "but the story that gets told is, ‘Jesus delivered us,’ ” says one journalist. “Frankly, it was humans who did all the work.”

Considering the unique role that faith and religion play in the black community, it will be interesting to see the battle unfold between believers and atheists, especially as the latter group continues to grow in prominence and influence.

(H/T: The New York Times)


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