"Black churches are not the book-burners"

Neil_tysonNova: Origins host Neil deGrasse Tyson is an agnostic and, according to People magazine in 2000, “the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive,” Ellen Gray reports in the Philadelphia Daily News.

“There aren’t that many astrophysicists, period,” Tyson told Gray. “It’s not even useful to measure the percent of the total who are black, because it’s well less than 1 percent.

How might this agnostic see the prevalence of faith among African Americans? In a welcoming manner, actually:

But when I asked if the strength of religion in much of the black community might work against the production of more African-American astrophysicists, Tyson grew thoughtful.

“I don’t know the answer [but] … I don’t think that’s the case,” he said, noting that “black churches are not the book-burners.”

“When I have presented the cosmos in the South, or to groups that have higher than average religious representation in the audience, if the group is black, there is unrestrained support and encouragement for who and what I am. It’s not, ‘Oh, he’s the Antichrist, coming here to destroy who and what we are.’ They recognize what I have overcome to be where I am today and value that fact more than anything.”

Novelist Philip Roth, in contrast, recently offered a less charitable assessment of public faith. “Roth remarked to me, apropos of President Bush, that born-again Christianity is the ignorant man’s version of the intellectual life,” wrote Al Alvarez of The Guardian.

As George Orwell once observed, there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.

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  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    “As George Orwell once observed, there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

    I prefer Jeremiah: “The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?”

  • brian

    It seems very odd to me that you compare or link in any way the comments of an astrophysicist about black religious faith with what a novelist has to say about white evangelical religious faith.

    You don’t tie these two men’s comments together at all.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    The common thread, from my perspective, concerns sweeping generalizations about believers. The astrophysicist declined to make such a generalization, even when invited to do so. Philip Roth, when commenting on his distaste for George W. Bush, expanded that distaste to a generalization about “born-again Christianity.” Neither Roth nor the journalist quoting him implied that only white evangelicals can describe themselves as born-again Christians.