Christianity Ain't For Everybody: Resources to Navigate Being Black and Non-Christian4/23/2015
by Nyah Levone Molineaux One of the amazing aspects about being Black is the diversity of our community—including the diversity of religi...
by Nyah Levone Molineaux
One of the amazing aspects about being Black is the diversity of our community—including the diversity of religious beliefs and spiritual practices. This was highlighted in C. Imani Williams' essay, “Beyond Christianity: Yes, Non-Religious Blacks Find Spiritual Connection Too,” published on For Harriet earlier this year. The article is a brilliant introduction into the religious diversity of the Black community—in particular, those such as myself who are do not follow or participate in the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
1. It is acceptable to evolve and change.Nature beautifully reminds us it is perfectly acceptable and even critical for us to evolve from one form into another. The caterpillar evolves into a cocoon and then into a full-blown butterfly. Humans transition from birth to death, experiencing a variety of life-changing events in-between. In both instances, growth and survival depends on letting go of the old and potentially toxic, allowing us to access another and greater level.
As humans, we have displayed a diversity of physical characteristics through evolution and adaptation since human civilization started in Africa. This evolution extends into religion as well, particularly as it relates to our people.
The majority of our enslaved ancestors were NOT Christian when they were kidnapped and brought to the Western Hemisphere. They were given a version of Christianity meant to make them more docile and obedient of slavery, and there were various biblical verses used to accomplish this task (EX: Ephesians 6:5, Philemon; Colossians 3:22-24; 1 Peter 2: 18-20; Curse of ham in Genesis 9:20-27). However, our people took Christianity and infused it with African spiritual traditions to transform and ultimately provide themselves with spiritual and physical freedom in the late 19th and subsequent 20th centuries. Now in the 21st century, there are an increasing number of Blacks—including myself—who find the religion to be a shackle, rather than an opportunity for growth and peace. In order to gain tranquility and an overall improvement in the quality our lives, we evolved to have a different version of God—or no God at all.
2. Your personal truth is not necessarily a universal truth.We must realize a personal truth is not necessarily a universal truth. For example, it is my physical truth that I am currently living in New York City, but for others their physical truth is they live on the other side of the country or even across the world. This concept is true as it pertains to religious thought and Christianity. I know Christians conceptually find healing in knowing Jesus loved them so much, he saved them being born in sin—and thus, from an eternal afterlife sentence in hell. And for Black Christians, they have developed communities not only around their love of God, but also as centers of empowerment for Black people in a world that is oftentimes harsh towards us.
However, this truth that many Christians hold onto is disheartening, and even abusive, to many other people. First, there is the damaging and soul-crushing belief that humanity is sinful, separate, and missing the mark from God from birth. ("Sin" is translated to hamartia in Greek, meaning “missing the mark.”) This is akin to a deadbeat parent denying their children. There are many cases where biological parents do not have a relationship with their children, but no one would say the parents are totally disconnected from their children, because the biological children are by definition the descendants of the parents.
Furthermore, if humanity was created in the image of God and is sinful from birth, I would propose God is also a sinner. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 45:7 (KJV): “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord create all things.” If the Lord creates good and also evil, why would this God punish me and the five billion other people on this planet who do not identify as being Christian for engaging in the behavior he created in the first place? Moreover, if this God is seen as love, is not the love great enough to accept a “no”?
This definition of the relationship between God and humanity is comparable to a domestic violence situation, wherein the abuser acts out when the other partner does not respond to their unreasonable demands. In a human relationship most people would decry this treatment, but this relationship is accepted as religious theology by billions of people.
Another truth our community must acknowledge is there are many people who live a life full of purpose and honor without worshipping a God. Before all the texts and religious rituals were made, human beings were involved in the process of understanding our humanity and determining how to live with each other and nature in as harmonious a way as possible. Our ancestors—such as Fredrick Douglass, A. Phillip Randolph, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and other Black atheists—made a huge impact in the community. Their “moral barometer,” as Steve Harvey would put it, did not come with a book listing edicts to follow. (Do we really need a book with a list of rules to be humane?) Instead, it came from a desire to facilitate improvement and transformation in human relationships and creativity. One of the things religious people—including Christians—should admire from our Black atheists is their focus on making a profound impact on humanity while they are alive, because the physical reality (birth to death) is all there is.
This offers questions for all theists, Christian and non-Christian alike: Are we acting based on what is worthwhile to our humanity, or are our actions guided and/or tainted by the anticipation of a “goodie” prize (heaven) or fear of eternal punishment (hell)? If there were no heaven or hell to deal with, would we act with reckless ill will, or still act responsibly towards others and ourselves?
3. Non-Christian and non-religious Black folks may still want community support and resources.We often assume that Blacks who identify as atheist, agnostic, or follow another spiritual practice outside of Christianity do not still want the same kind of community support the Black Church offers to its adherents. This is false. Included below are numerous resources to provide access to information and communities in which you can be free to express and develop your own personal beliefs and practices.
Atheism, Humanism & AgnosticismSecular Sistahs: An organization of Black Atheist women based in the DMV area and headed by Angela Barnes, striving to change the face of atheism and provide support to marginalized communities.
Black Non-believers: An organization headed by Mandisa Lateefah Thomas, which aims to provide support to African-American atheists across the country. She recently wrote Confessions of a Black Atheist, highlighting diversity within atheism.
African Americans for Humanism: An organization that also provides support for Black atheists/humanists. There is also a listing of historic black humanists on their site.
Center for Inquiry: An organization that provides support and information for humanists/atheists of all backgrounds.
Chocolate City Skeptics: An organization providing support to Black atheists/humanists in the DMV Area.
American Ethical Union: An organization offering support and information for humanists/atheists of all backgrounds.
Dr. Anthony Pinn: A theologian and professor who is known for writing books on humanism/atheism, including End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology.
Sikivu Hutchinson: A Black atheist and feminist who has written books such as Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.
A Society of Free Thinkers: A community headed by Mona Symone Goyens that provides support to “freethinkers” of all types. She has an extensive academic background in the intersection of theology and psychology.
Spiritual and Other Faith-Based PracticesCelebration Spiritual Center: A spiritual center led by Pastor Yolanda Batts and Pastor Greg Stamper, based in Brooklyn, NY. The Center provides the God experience in each service. First time visitors are considered guests while second-time guests are considered family. As a member, I am continually blessed and inspired to live a full life after their services. One of the best sermons of the year that I would recommend listening to is “I am Entitled to Miracles” by Pastor Yolanda Batts, where she gave life and a half in this sermon.
Orisa Community Development Association: A religious spiritual organization based on African spiritual practices, such as Vodun, Santeria, Candomble, Obeah, and others.
Ifa Foundation International: A religious/spiritual organization based on African-based spiritual practices, mainly focusing on the traditional Yoruba faith.
Centers for Spiritual Living: An organization that offers centers around the world committed to the support of and fellowship for people to develop spiritual tools to transform their lives.
Unitarian Universalist Association: Unitarian Universalist churches provide fellowship and theology that encompass both theistic and non-theistic beliefs. All Souls Unitarian Church, based in Tulsa Oklahoma, provides services that are humanist, traditional, and contemporary.
Agape International Spiritual Center: Based in Culver City, California and headed by Michael Beckwith, the aim of the center is to provide tools to enable people to live their best lives and be aware of the presence of God within each of us.
New Dimensions Chicago: A New Thought Church based outside of Chicago headed by Bishop Carlton Pearson. New Dimensions offers a radically inclusive faith community.
Spirit and Truth Sanctuary: A spiritual center based out of Decatur, Georgia, which aims to provide a radically inclusive spiritual experience and reconciliation to each of their members.