Shades of Black Atheism #8: Mythology Lover, Vance Salley

To learn more about this series, please click here.

Although 38-year-old Vance Salley of North Carolina is an atheist now, that hasn’t always been the case. With an Islamic father and a Catholic-raised mother, there was confusion growing up. He says now that although he believed in a “higher power,” deist may have been the most accurate description of his beliefs until he reached the age of 15. It was at that time that he became interested in reading about Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology.

“I began to think, if this is what all of these people believed to be true and they worshipped these entities as immortal beings and now we know them not to be real, shouldn’t the same hold true for the mythical beings in the Bible? So there you have it, I just shed all of my ideas about a god or gods.”

His disbelief in the Biblical God was consistently reinforced by the following (These are excerpts from an essay Vance wrote about why he no longer believed):

Human Arrogance — There are over 50 sextillion (thats 50 with 21 zeros after it) stars in the obsevable universe. A large portion of those stars  have plantetary systems around them similar or not similar to ours. In short the universe is a HUGE place. Do you honestly think that if there was a supreme being he just so happened to pick this planet “in the backwoods and boondocks of the Milky Way” to base the whole creation from. And then to say “He created us in his image”? This is arrogance and vanity. 

“Emotional” God — If there were is a god that is supposed to be all-knowing and all-powerful, wouldn’t he be “bigger” than such human emotions as anger, jealousy, and revenge? Unfortunately, time and time again in the Bible, God has either “caught feelings” at something someone has done to him and decided to destroying men, women and children who had nothing to do with the offense but happened to live in the vicinity of said offense. “Grow up God quit being so sensitive!!”

“Racist” God — Throughout the Bible, God had certain groups of people that he liked and others that he cursed. Supposedly, Ham, the darkest of Noah’s sons was cursed. “Is God really that petty that he chooses certain people and doesn’t like others?”

“Pathetic Loser” God — He creates human beings with free will and dominion but tells them that they are to worship him? Why would an all-powerful being have to create creatures to worship him? Is he that much of a loser that he needs a boost for his self-esteem. Was he just lonely and needed someone to kiss his ass? If so then why not create a bunch of robots that did nothing but praise him all day?

“Magical Daddy” God — If you had never heard the story of Jesus Christ and I came up to you and told you that God came down from heaven and impregnated a virgin 14 year old girl who then gave birth to a baby who is actually God, grows up, does a bunch of miracles, gathers a following, is captured by the Romans, “sacrifices” himself for the good of our world and then comes backl in 3 days to go back to rule as God again in heaven you would probably say I’m crazy.

Vance’s family knows that he is an atheist and, fortunately, they support his right to voice his viewpoints. “It would stand to reason that they would because as a family we are all kind of different when it comes to the idea of the supernatural.”

That being said, Vance recognizes that within the black community, such acceptance isn’t necessarily the norm. He went on to state that “the Black atheist experience is a little more complex than the white atheist experience. When you’re black and a nonbeliever you’re basically a minority within a minority. And you’re surrounded by people who are a lot less accepting of a person of non-faith. For some reason, faith in Jesus Christ in the black community is to some supposed to be a given.

“Everyone believes in God!!” is what you tend to hear. Most African-Americans are born into church life and raised in it without ever questioning what they are being told to believe. A friend of mine who is a believer told me that at her church one of the first things they tell children when they ask a question that might show the flaws in the Biblical doctrine is ”Never question God or his plan” or “God works in mysterious ways so it is not for us to know why.” Grown people who are in charge of giving young minds information who would tell kids this is troubling to me.

Because of this and other reasons, he believes that the atheist community benefits from diversity focused secular, humanist, and atheist groups. Yes, blacks, women, and others fit inside the large well-established groups as well, but from time to time it’s okay to meet with people that you “connect with on the same level.”

Previous entries in this series include:


About Bridget R. Gaudette

Bridget R. Gaudette is the Executive Director of the Humanists of Florida Association and the Marketing & Grants Manager for Foundation Beyond Belief. Bridget was a contributor to the book, BlackNones, a book highlighting black atheist conversion stories and is currently writing a book, Grieving for the Living: Effects of Disownment in Adulthood.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I haven’t seen actual research on this, but my guess is that one of the best ways to ‘vaccinate’ children against believing in fairy tales (religions) is to expose them to lots of mythology in a way that does not endorse it (i.e., showing how interesting it is that people have believed in such illogical and contradictory things).

    My suggestion would be to have them learn about christianity in the same context as Zeus, Thor, Ra, Vishnu, the Tooth Fairy, etc., and ask the children to think for themselves as to whether any of those actually achieve any level of certainty.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      I agree to an extent. I was obsessed with all things Egypt growing up and for some reason I didn’t make the connection. I even visited Egypt when I was 22 and still it didn’t knock any sense into me. The fact that it did cause Vance to question things is why I wanted to highlight that aspect of his story. What eventually sealed the deal for me was actually reading the bible from cover to cover.. that’s also a good way to “create” an atheist.

    • Sven2547

      Agreed. That would be my approach.
      I have no fear of teaching my hypothetical future children Biblical stories, but they would be in the same context as the stories of other mythologies. I’m a fan of Greek mythology, myself.

    • gg

      That’s exactly how I became an atheist at 11. My parents encouraged reading ‘classical’ literature which included mythologies from all over the world. To that end, we had a library including them along with Dickens and Shakespeare. I read all of the mythologies we had at home, and ran to the library to read the mythologies of other parts of the world….then I read the bible….and put 2 and 2 together. I didn’t know at the time that my mom was also an atheist until I was much older.

  • Aguz

    I found this very interesting since I also started to question the concept of a higher power studying mythology.
    Nice article!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      I’m glad you could relate. It makes SO much sense!

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Yup, my kids get a heavy dose of Greek, Norse, Hindu, etc., mythology. The bible falls into the same category for them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      Yep.

      • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

        And thank you for this series.

  • LyraB

    I participated in Lutheran youth group throughout my childhood, and I distinctly remember a book that we all read together that presented the histories and mythologies of the most prevalent religions today. Reading that book caused me to start questioning the existence of God, but the thing that sealed the deal for me was my youth minister’s response to a nagging question I had. I asked her how we knew that we had picked the right religion out of all the different options, and her answer was simply that we had to have faith. That wasn’t good enough for me, and I became an atheist shortly thereafter.

  • Pluto Animus

    Not to mention the contempt for one’s African ancestors that a black American must have to worship the white slave-master’s god….

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i am so loving this series! thank you B!

    mythology played a big role for me too. my parents gave me greek and latin mythology books as a child, i ate them up. i have always believed that if you give children lots of books about lots of different religions, skepticism will come naturally.

    mythology is wonderful. it’s fun and scary and fascinating. read the Bible, too! i totally agree with this gentleman’s assessment of “god.” what a total jerk, why would anyone want to worship a lame, unhappy, racist, sexist with a chip on his shoulder god? Zeus is so much more awesome. Inanna, too.

    • http://twitter.com/BridgetGaudette Bridget Gaudette

      I was fascinated with other mythologies, but NEVER made the connection with the one *I* was raised in.

  • Miss_Beara

    The Human Arrogance portion is right on, but he forgot one thing, unless it wasn’t posted here. Not only are people supposedly made in his image, he also has a plan for your life! The almighty has a plan for you, mere mortal, so don’t go on questioning things because he is in the driver seat.

    This series is really great. :)

    • http://twitter.com/BridgetGaudette Bridget Gaudette

      You’re spot on!

  • onamission5

    I read some bits of non-christian mythology while in high school. Scaled down my thrice a week church attendance to once a week, made up my own deity and prayed to that for a while to see if there was any difference between praying to the christian god and praying to one I knew for sure was imaginary, and there was no difference at all. That was the beginning of the end when it came to being afraid of heavenly lightning bolts, and was one of the first steps I took in reaffirming my atheism.
    I find it fascinating how many people have followed similar processes.


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