CNN Reports on Black Atheists in the South

CNN is jumping on the “Black atheists exist!” bandwagon — their angle focuses on black atheists in the South:

Benjamin Burchall first realized how different his experience in the South was going to be while looking for something to watch on television on a Sunday night.

“I couldn’t find anything on television but religious programming,” says Burchall, 38, a former Christian minister and agricultural consultant who moved from Long Beach, California, to Atlanta for work in 2010, “And I thought, ‘Oh my God, where am I? Is this all that is on television here?’”

And he quickly found other differences from West Coast living.

“I was not used to meeting someone for the first time and having their first question be ‘what church do you go to?’”

Burchall’s proud response to such queries was, “None.” He is part of an increasingly visible minority –- black atheists living in the Bible Belt.

It’s also accompanied by this not-very-flattering image (though I suppose it does reinforce the idea that we’re talking about a pretty small demographic):

Several atheists are profiled in the piece, all of whom have compelling stories to share, and it’s great publicity overall.

But it’s not really “news.” You won’t learn anything you don’t already know. So let’s hope that other African-Americans (and everyone else, for that matter) see this article and discover they’re not as alone as they thought they were.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Itsjustafairytale

    If a photographer can’t take a better picture than that, he/she needs to put away their camera. It feels deliberate that they would base a story around this horrible photo.
    But on the positive side, I do hope that others see the article and know that there are people to contact and socialize with who share their same disbelief.

    • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

      I can see a couple of reasons for the poor photo:

      1) Someone took it with a cell phone or other cheap digital camera; they probably weren’t any kind of “photographer” beyond casual

      2) Taken from the rear, poor lighting, only the speaker (somewhat) “identifiable” – likely on purpose due to potential (and I dare say legitimate) fears that such a small group of that demographic in that location would have, that Bubba and his buddies might show up on their doorstep with a rope and a shotgun

      You would hope that in this day and age that we would be past item #2 here in America, but I guarantee you it ain’t so – especially in parts of middle America and the Bible Belt. You do see more sanity in the coastal areas, fortunately.

      Hopefully, given time, these groups and others will gain more acceptance (or at least, tolerance without potential violence) among the general population. We are definitely seeing that. Heck, the fact that this group (and similar others) exist and are public says that’s all changing – and that’s a great thing!

      • Trace

        I think 2 is probably right. I run an educational co-op where I live.Sometimes we publish pictures of the activities we do on-line. One of the families does not allow pictures of their children to be taken. Shots of group activities from behind are not always the best.

  • Anonymous

    I suppose I should count myself lucky that I’ve never been asked, “What church do you go to?”

    (I’ve had plenty of encounters with religiously motived people, but never the causal assumption that I must go to a church.)

  • Ronlawhouston

    Given the cultural factors, I’d bet it’s tough being a black atheist.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benjamin-Hamilton/1169648654 Benjamin Hamilton

      It’s tough being an atheist.  Period.  Especially in the US.  But my dignity is something I won’t have taken from me.

  • jjramsey

    “But it’s not really ‘news.’”

    I disagree. Sure, it’s not news to us, but it is to the general populace, and they’re the ones who need to see this.

    • Wendel

      The story is nwell done, but I file it in the “Our headquarters is in Atlanta, can you tell?” file. CNN has a proud tradition of dragging in whoever’s on  the street and doing a story on them.

      Hey, its the mayor of Atlanta on for an interview. Followed by storm damage when a local tree fell on a car, and America really wants to know that there’s an arts fest downtown, come by and get some good food.

      At least they looked on youtube and found some people in different states. It makes it less noticeable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000070549477 Krista Yearwood

    Where I am, introductions to new people are quickly followed up with “So what church do you go to?”. When we say “We don’t”, the invites and sales pitches about their various church groups begin. I live in a town where the Methodist church has church bells that play hymns all day long so loud I can hear them in my house 4 blocks away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    I always here about the “What church do you go to?” question, but I’ve never actually had it asked to me. I live in Mississippi where there are churches everywhere too. Maybe I just live in a more liberal part of the state.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

      i live in a suburb of Seattle and I’ve been asked that question a number of times. People just assume that everyone goes to church and I think it’s a fairly natural query for them, trying to learn more about you. I’ve had people new to the area ask me where I “church” (like church is a verb??) in an effort to try to find a church/community for themselves.

  • Anonymous

    But it’s not really “news.” You won’t learn anything you don’t already know.

    We won’t, but we’re already inside the community. This is very valuable because it speaks to a lot of people who may not even know there is such a thing as an atheist community, let alone an African American component. If it manages to reach even a small number of African American atheists who feel like they are entirely alone then it is priceless.

  • Jolly Banker

    Hello all. Sorry for the rabbit trail, but that picture got me thinking.

    What is the point of that atheist meeting in a group session like this? It seems pretty similar to a (smaller) church service. I’m not saying it’s bad to meet as groups and find likeminded people, but it seems one of the criticisms of Christians is that a lot of Christian life is just a mob mentality or it’s just a social thing. Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses and for many Christians that is likely true. However it is ignorant to assume that all Christians are ignorant or just passing the pipe around, partaking in said ‘opium.’ But I can’t help but think of that quote when I see that picture and say that these days, as science and naturalism are becoming religions in and of themselves, Atheism plays the exact same role that religion does in people’s mentalities. Now obviously that begs the question? Which is true? Most on this blog would say there is no god; nature is all there is, so even if it could be interpreted through the lens of that Marx quote (opium for the masses), it’s still true. However, this is not a point that will be settled here, or probably ever. It’s an age-old debate. I just wanted to point out that atheism and science are quite as objective as one might think.

    *edited for format.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

      What’s wrong with people coming together that share common goals and ideals?

      • Jolly Banker

        Nothing wrong. Just an observation/rabbit trail in my brain.


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