I remember reading Lorraine Hansberry‘s “Raisin in the Sun” the summer before I entered high school. Which means I read it before I became an atheist.
Maybe that’s why the following passage didn’t stick out in my mind (video below) back then. A reader brought it to my attention recently, though, and I’m just in awe of it…
Mama (Kindly): ‘Course you going to be a doctor, honey, God willing.
Beneatha (Drily): God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.
Mama: Beneatha — that just wasn’t necessary.
Beneatha: Well — neither is God. I get sick of hearing about God.
Beneatha: I mean it! I’m just tired of hearing about God all the time. What has He got to do with anything? Does He pay tuition?
Mama: You ’bout to get your fresh little jaw slapped!
Ruth: That’s just what she needs, all right!
Beneatha: Why? Why can’t I say what I want to around here, like everybody else?
Mama: It don’t sound nice for a young girl to say things like that — you wasn’t brought up that way. Me and your father went to trouble to get you and Brother to church every Sunday.
Beneatha: Mama, you don’t understand. It’s all a matter of ideas, and God is just one idea I don’t accept. It’s not important. I am not going out and be immoral or commit crimes because I don’t believe in God. I don’t even think about it. It’s just that I get tired of Him getting credit for all the things the human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simple is no blasted God — there is only man and it is he who makes miracles!
(MAMA absorbs this speech, studies her daughter and rises slowly and crosses to BENEATHA and slaps her powerfully across the face. After, there is only silence and the daughter drops her eyes from her mother’s face, and MAMA is very tall before her)
Mama: Now — you say after me, in my mother’s house there is still God. (There is a long pause and BENEATHA stares at the floor wordlessly. MAMA repeats the phrase with precision and cool emotion) In my mother’s house there is still God.
Beneatha: In my mother’s house there is still God. (A long pause)
I’m sure the slap is what Jesus would’ve done.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised to see this sort of dialogue, especially in a play about African-Americans. Though the play debuted in 1959, there’s a proud legacy of Humanism in black America in the early part of the 20th century.