On Black Atheism: A.J. Johnson
The director of development at American Atheists says that the hypocrisy is thick when it comes to blacks, religion and tolerance.
A recent New York Times article profiled African Americans who don't believe in God or who have eschewed the faith that many assume is central to the black experience. What does the apparent rise in atheism and agnosticism (pdf) among blacks tell us about the utility of religion for African Americans in today's social and political climate? Interviews with academics, activists and advocates from everywhere on the religious spectrum reveal the diversity of views on this historically fraught -- and, for many, highly personal -- topic.
For the second in the series, The Root talked to A.J. Johnson, a bisexual African-American woman who is development director of American Atheists, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect the separation of church and state and ensure equal rights for nonbelievers. She describes herself on Twitter as an "atheist/humanist/skeptic" and "professional blasphemer."
Read the other interviews here.
The Root: Are African Americans better or worse off as a result of religion, and why?
A.J. Johnson: Religion might have been useful along the way, but it has become a liability. I believe there is still some good in religion -- and there are a lot of good religious people -- but the net effect is negative for at least three reasons: complacency, money and truth.
Religion teaches us that God has a plan -- after all, he knows everything. This kind of thinking is counterproductive to the advancement of any group and breeds complacency. Furthermore, the belief in a perfect afterlife translates [into] you don't really have to fix the problems in this one.
Tithing is simply paying "God" money for your preacher's new Lexus. We don't have the money to waste for Eddie Long and his ilk to have nice things. We need to invest in our children and our future. Where white people pass on wealth to the next generation, we pass on debt. Yet the collection plate is full on Sunday.
Finally, is it true that a Jewish man that lived 2,000 years ago was the son of God, born of a virgin, and died to save us all from an original sin committed by Adam and Eve? If we believe this story literally, we are fools. If we do not believe it is literally true, how and where do we draw the line?
The natural laws of the universe do not allow for this or any other religious fables to be taken seriously. We seem ignorant for being so adamant about reinforcing the lies of the book that justified our slavery.
TR: Research shows that African Americans believe in God at higher rates than the general population. What explains and sustains the higher rate of spirituality in the black community?
AJJ: I believe it is a combination of access to cognitive resources and social structure. Sadly, African Americans have not had equal educations in this country for a very long time. A strong educational foundation moderates religiosity, and personally, I credit my education for my atheism. [Religion] is also part of our history. To some, I am less "black" because I don't believe in gods; others think we [atheists] are dishonoring our ancestors.
TR: While less than one-half of a percent of African Americans identify themselves as atheists, compared with 1.6 percent of the total population, this group has become more vocal in recent years. What's changed that has allowed blacks to feel more comfortable admitting that they don't believe in God?