Black Atheists Search for Community in Orlando

The state of the black church is still strong, but a sizable percentage of African-Americans are losing their faith — the most recent count (PDF) by the Pew Research Center in 2012 put the number at 15% unaffiliated:

Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel spoke to members of a local black atheist group to find out what their experiences were like:

A meeting of the Black Nonbelievers of Metro Orlando (Orlando Sentinel)

“The black church is so much a part of black life, heritage and culture,” said Richard Peacock, who started the Black Nonbelievers of Metro Orlando in 2012. “It’s assumed that even if you aren’t going to church, it’s part of your DNA.”

The oldest institution in the black community, the church is the center of gravity for social, economic and political activities. Religion is discussed in the barbershops and beauty parlors, at the post office and City Hall. Churches sponsor youth groups, health fairs, voter registration and assistance to the poor and the elderly.

In the black community, those who deny the existence of God are viewed as devil-possessed or deranged.

“You are seen as basically alien,” said Bridget Gaudette, a 34-year-old atheist who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. “You are confused, you are mentally ill.”

But the way to break that stereotype is to come out and let people know how their views of atheists are misguided. The members of this group and many others like it are show incredible courage and bravery in going public with their atheism in the hopes that others will follow.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Kengi

    It’s great to see that the atheist movement has grown to the point where groups like these are becoming more common. Thirty years ago there was barely interest for atheist groups of any kind to form. Now there’s enough critical mass to support a variety of organizations in, at least, large cities.

    It will be wonderful to see what kind of synergy these groups can bring to the landscape along with the already existing atheist organizations in a city.

  • Randomfactor

    Interesting to see zero growth among hispanics, though. That’ll put the religious right in a real bind: growth in the numbers of believers dependent on a demographic they tend to demonize…

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

    i can’t understand why there’s been no change in married people.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Because that’s the one demographic out there that actually needs a belief in a higher power to survive. As a single person watching my married frriends(sometimes through closed drapes… wait, did I just say that out loud?), I can totally understand that.

  • Randay

    There are some odd things in the poll. Why are college grads more “unaffiliated” than post-grads and barely above “some college or less”? More post-grads suddenly find religion? Maybe it’s because a lot of them become lawyers.

    Then, why are different income levels all about same? I can kind of understand the poor being believers, but the rich?


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