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Black, Godless, and Stigmatized: “It’s like we’re fighting for our rights all over again.”

Black Americans may struggle even more to come out as atheists than members of other groups:

Standing before a room full of fellow African-Americans, Jamila Bey took a deep breath and announced she’s come out of the closet.

Her soul-bearing declaration is nearly taboo, she says.

“It’s the A-word,” said Bey, 33, feigning a whisper. “You commit social suicide as a black person when you say you’re an atheist.”

Nearly eight in 10 African-Americans said religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the general U.S. adult population.

“You renounce your blackness,” said Bey. “You almost denigrate your heritage and history of the people if you claim atheism.”

Jonathan, a 29-year-old Washington resident who wouldn’t reveal his last name out of fear of backlash among friends and family, said his lack of religion has been nearly paralyzing.

“If I want a second date or a job in the community, I won’t say I’m an atheist,” he said. “It’s like we’re fighting for our rights all over again.”

And in addition to the alienation suffered by black atheists, it is worth noting the ways that the black church, despite being in many ways a vibrant historical force for positive social change, is limited by its dogmatic religiosity from being an unambiguously progressive force:

Many black American humanists agree that religious principles get in the way of effectively addressing the social ills facing the black community, including a higher proportion of HIV and AIDS cases compared with other races and ethnicities.

Diane Griffin, a former lobbyist for the National Minority AIDS Council, said one of her challenges while working to pass legislation was getting black leaders to encourage condom use.

“They feel that’s gonna say that they are somehow promoting homosexuality,” she said.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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