From Mythology to Reality: Moving Beyond Rastafari - on Face Book

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nothing Atheist About “Real” Black Atheists

Nothing is wrong with the need to understand about one’s distance past; one’s history. The eagerness to learn about our African past is real and alive in Grenada. Africa’s great past and contributions to civilization are discussed among many young people looking for a new narrative that speaks to their nature. Their Africanness! No educational institution, I know of, on the island, imparts such education. Thus, organizations like Rastafari become an appetizing resource.  Not only that, many of these young people seek to sever themselves from the Euro-centric religions that continue to define their cultural and religious experiences. Consequently, many of these young Grenadians often find themselves part of black organizations framed within an Afro-centered cultural and theistic worldviews, but are organizations as divisive and as irrational as the ones they seek to leave. Take this black organization that caught the attention of a Grenadian friend of mine.

Amazing indeed! There is now a little known “Atheist” organization (group), located in the US state of Atlanta, Georgia, calling themselves the “Real” Black Atheists. I learned of this when speaking to a friend of mine a couple of days ago. My friend was interesting in my atheism. He also described himself as being an Atheist. However, he explained, there are differences between us. You are a Black Atheist, but, I am a “Real” Black Atheist. I was at a loss for words! Black Atheists I get, but what is a “Real” Black Atheist?

My friend went on to enlighten my ignorance. According to him, he would break down the “science” behind the name. The origin of atheism is from the Greeks/Romans, he explained. His contention was the early Greeks philosophers had gone into Africa (Egypt – Khemit) to study, and upon their return to Greece, set up schools where they taught the African Knowledge they had acquired. These African teachings, he explained, did not recognize the Greek gods. He identified Greek philosopher Thales as one such person who journeyed into Egypt and upon his return to Greece refused to reorganize the Greek gods as the center of his knowledge.  Thus, he concluded, Thales went “against the god(s).” Who’s God(s)?  The Greek God(s); thus, he became an “A” (without/not) theos (God). One who rejects the Greek/Roman’s God(s)?

I had to acknowledge my friend was right to some extent. The issue here, of course, is not whether some Greeks or Romans philosophers went into Africa (Egypt) to be educated. The issue is Atheism. And, viewing Atheism through its narrow historical context means it does originate from the Greeks/Romans cultural experience. I doubt, however, being skeptical about the existence of a God was purely a Greek/Roman phenomenon.

Theism was a fundamental aspect that supported the Greek and Roman state. They believe the gods gave the state its divine right. Thus, its citizen was obligated to believe in these gods, and anyone who did not, was designated an “Atheist,” and an enemy of the state.  In fact, the Christians, prior to being designated the state religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine, were named an atheist group because they too did not accept the pagan gods the Roman State reorganized. (Murdock, 2009)

This is the framework that informs my friend’s (and other “Real” Black Atheists) understanding of Atheism. Thus, Atheism to them is limited only to the rejection of the Greek /Roman God(s). Indeed, a faulty and parochial view of Atheism. My friend is not only looking at the word atheist through a narrow historical context, he is also applying atheism within a much closed historical framework. No doubt a willfully chosen position; done for a purpose, and an irrational one at that. Limiting Atheism to such a narrowed historical context is an attempt to exempt the African gods and religions. Black people should certainly reject the white man’s God(s) and religions, but, must accept the African religions and gods as objective truth. This, my friend maintained, underlines the difference between a Black Atheist and a “Real” Black Atheist.

Atheism, however, is more far-reaching than the “Real” Black Atheists’ supposed understanding. In effect, their unique understanding of Atheism means they have missed the real issue. Atheism, as employed, covers all religions and all God(s). Atheism is not simply rejecting a particular God concept, from a particular race or culture, but all concepts. All deities!

Indeed, what I have outlined thus far points to one conclusion, “Real” Black Atheists are not Atheists. In that they do not have, as the word Atheism outline, a “disbelief in the existence of God or any other deities.” They are instead, “Atheists” in the same context Christians are “Atheists” to the Hindu gods, or African God(s). Muslims are “Atheists” to the Christian God or African gods, etc. “Real” Black Atheists are against (or without a belief in) all God(s) except the African Gods.

Not Like the Greek/Roman God(s)
According to my friend, understanding that the African’s God concept(s) is different than the Greek/Roman concept is important to understanding oneself as a “Real” Black Atheist. African gods, he explained, were human beings who ruled as kings and elders. In other words, what he is saying is these "divine" rulers are religio-political leaders who were seen and accepted by their subjects as incarnated gods. To the lay Africans man, women and children these god rulers were mediators and agents to the inaccessible sacred, and after they expired, elevated from human gods to ancestor gods. Incredible!

Every religion makes different truth claims. However, to say this means the African god concepts and religions are not constructed upon unreasonable claims is a deliberate negation of objective facts. As the Greeks and Romans, the African religions have a high God concept, for instance; a being, who sits on high, responsible for the creation of the universe and all within it. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, however, this high God, to the Africans, is normally seen as removed from the regular life of the people. Thus, in the Yoruba religious myth, for example, the pantheon of Orishas is the ones assigned to carry out the work for the high God, Olodumare. Here, the pantheon of Orishas are not unlike the Judaic pantheon of Mal’ak (messengers of Yahweh), the Muslim pantheon of mala’ikak (messengers of Allah), nor the Christian Angels (messengers of God), etc. Another common aspect to these religions are the adherents appealing to these gods or dead relatives to literally affect the condition of the living. The point then becomes not if the African God(s) concepts are different from that of the Greek/Romans God(s) concepts, but whether these concepts are actually objectively true.They are not.

Even if these God(s), in the African concept, were first humans, and were later elevated to ancestors, does not mean we have to accept them in a dogmatic religious sense. Certainly, being a Black Atheist does not mean that one does not appreciate his or her culture and ancestors.  I just don’t accept them as gods. Praying or presenting offerings to these dead relatives in an effort to affect our lives, in a positive way or otherwise, in the real word is as absurd as pleading to Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, and Zeus to the same ends. The Nigerian philosopher Adebowale Ojowuro writes he “used the Christian religion as a pilot to indicate the numerous absurdities that altogether consist in the entire religions of the world. The stacks of these outrageous absurdities are similarly of equal magnitude in every religion, without any exception,” (Ojowuro, 2010). To this truth, however, my friend, and the rest of the “Real” Black Atheists crew, made themselves deliberately blind and deaf.

I agree, we (black people) must “reclaim our history and our identity…,” (Ture & Hamilton, 1992). However, pseudo-science, pseudo-history and superstitions should not be the culture and identity we reclaim. Contrary to what some Afro-centric writers believe, rationality, objectivity and critical thinking should be the cognitive pillars defining us and our culture, and rejecting not only the Greek and Roman God(s) and dogmatic theology, but also the Africans’ God(s) and dogmatic theology are important in eradicating the pseudo-science, superstitions and the many irrational beliefs that for far too long define us.

My friend went on to define the word God, in the African context, as meaning “ownership.” But who are the African gods/ancestors in ownership of? It is the African people. In the words of Afro-centrism, African culture is collective. In other words, one cannot maintain his or her individuality while being a member of her group; her identity must be wrapped up in group identity. Yet my friend went on to explain he is against all non-African god concepts because they are a political concepts designed to keep black people under control. Really! Didn't you just describe the African gods/ancestors once human political leaders, who, as he defined the word God, in ‘ownership’ of the citizen? Cognitive dissidence, indeed!

Everyone being forced or willingly relinquishing his or her body and mind to be molded by those in power. I am not saying community is a bad thing. Humans are social beings and need community, but a community that requires, or expects and/or indoctrinates (educates) its citizens to be conformists to group identity dangerously borders on authoritarianism – thinking of North Korea here (Religious descriptions paint Heaven in similar manner). In fact, in the African context, these authoritarians are placed as the intermediary between the community and the gods/ancestors, who one must go through to be considered.  Sounds like Catholicism to me! Saying no to accepting these authoritarian human beings as gods and negotiator on your behalf to the sacred is not rejecting your ancestors or your culture. It is a rejection of irrationality.
Stuck in the Past
“Real” Black Atheists seems to be frozen in time; bound to ideas which haven’t evolved to deal with the new problems facing the black population today. My friend described “Real” Black Atheism as analogous to Black Power. Indeed, my friend’s belief seems to be grounded in the Black Power, Black Nationalist movement worldview. Despite it might seem quaint to ask what is Black Power, many today who chant the slogan has very little understanding of the ideology and of its historical context. No doubt, Black Power is not unknown to Grenada and Grenadians, for the revolutionary leaders (1979 – 1983) were informed by such ideology.

Theodore G. Vincent writes “there are many shades of black power.” He, however, listed these three.
  • In the middle of the black power continuum are those who believe that the injustices of discrimination and forced segregation can be successfully challenged if blacks join with disadvantaged whites and reform the system through interracial cooperation.
  • At one extreme are those who believe that since racism is endemic to America the black must accommodate himself to the segregated world that has been forced upon him, avoid any challenge to white authority, and build power within the segregated world through a combination of capitalist economics and white philanthropy. 
  • At the other extreme are those who believe the system is simple unworkable, so far as the rights of black people are concerned. People who hold this latter view refuse to accept force segregation, but they do seek the right to build a society of their own. Independent black power, on a par with white power, is their goal.  (Vincent, 1970)
Listening to my friend and watching YouTube videos (Real Black Atheists vs. Black Atheist) posted by the “Real” Black Atheists adherents, they, I believe, fall within the context of the third extreme. They appear not to be the Kwame Ture type Black Power movement, where black people are called to work with other marginalized groups and people to achieve social, economic and political justice. They appear to be an organization promoting separation. In fact, they separate themselves from Black Atheists and brand Black Atheists race traitors. “Real” Black Atheists endorse a philosophy of race superiority, and as such, they are akin to Afro-centrism, although they seem to have a problem with the word “Afro” in Afro-centrism.

Of course there is no such thing as ‘Black Atheism’ or ‘White Atheism.’  Simple Atheism! And one can choose to be without all God(s) regardless of the culture, or choose to be without/against only the God(s) outside one’s culture. The differences that can be found between Black Atheists and White Atheists more or less lies in the type of social justice struggles. Each ethnic group has problems that are unique to its people. Black people are still fighting racial discrimination; institutionalized racism, which shows up as socio-economic disparities, educational disparities, police brutality, stop and frisk and the many other faces in which white racism manifests, and these societal ills we must fight.

As I end this polemic, I must agree, my friend is correct. In that, “Real” Black Atheists is different from Black Atheists. They are certainly unalike. Black Atheists promotes and supports moral justice for all of humanity, within a secular humanist framework. Black Atheists are concerned with building a better society for all of humanity. In fact, as a Black Atheist, my world view is informed by this fact, “humanity is one,” (The Human Prospect – V2; p.5).

“Real” Black Atheists, on the other hand, have a theistic philosophy which seeks to separate the world into US vs. Them, just like many religions. Moreover, after listening to my friend and the many “Real” Black Atheists on those YouTube videos, it seemed clear that “Real” Black Atheists are not only stuck in the past, they support bigotry, intolerance, hatred, sexism, homophobia, pseudo-science, irrationality, xenophobia, etc. Interestingly, “Real” Black Atheism is not unlike the very Euro-centric (European) theistic philosophy it claims to eschew.

Note: In the words of the great ancestor Frederick Douglass “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”


  1. Really good read. Thank you.

  2. You are welcome, and thanks for supporting. I am happy that I can contribute something that can provoke us to think rationally and can move us to better serve ourselves, our family, our community and the world.

    1. Damn you spit fire on us ,i might have to make you famous.first of all ,all of humanity is not interested in helping you or your people. You must help yourself as well as your family . first point, no such thing as stuck in the past because all history is still happening .He who controls the past control the present,he who control the present ,controls the future .the past is the only place one can learn can't learn from the present because it is still happening and one can't learn from future because its not here yet. There's only one place to learn from and that`s the PAST. So who really stuck.RealblackAtheist.

  3. Wow, for such a lengthy article it would have carried more weight if you really watched the video's. As the producer all it seemed that you accomplished was to side with the typical arguments of the past. The host Ankhkakek never said the things you knock The Real Black Atheist for. I challenge you to put forth a real argument and I will have him respond to your obvious confusion.

  4. interesting ,read .lets get to the real point if one does not understand why the african calls someone or something god one will never understand why they made god up in the first place .Man predates god .Co. Founder of the RealblackAtheist.

  5. I am not interested in what you think all of humanity wants. As part of the human family, I am interested in human rights, and doing my part to ensure that all humans, not just me and my kind, enjoy the rights to happiness. Just because there are prejudice out there means that I should be likewise. I am only in control of my own action. And being a humanitarian (Humanist) does not make me less concern about black concerns than you. Moreover, I think you miss the point of my piece. History is certainly happening, but the evils of society and the problems black people faces have change, thus, the response has to change and develop to be effective. You are right, we have to learn from the past, but not hold on to it, but use it as a guide to inform our future. Walling out ourselves in enclaves that feed on xenophobic behavior is not a solution. Also, I would like you to enlighten me on the reason Africans called someone or something god. Man indeed predates god. I agree. Thus, however, does not mean that I have to accept any human being - African or otherwise - as a god. Allow me to ask this questions.. Is the African word god carries with it divinity? Are every Africans gods or is it an identification just for the political elites?

    1. "I am not interested in what you think all of humanity wants". [End Quote]

      Really? Wow! I want everyone to read this biased article from this self righteous Pluralist; but, when it comes to Real Black Atheism he gets uppity and/or bent out of shape. If you're not interested in what Brother Ankh has to say; then, no you certainly aren't interested in what ALL of humanity has to say when you make it your duty to ignore what one human says.

  6. @ Atheos, this is not the context of my comment. I was responding to the Realblackatheist comment that says "all of humanity is not interested in helping you or your people." Certainly, I am not naive, I agree with this comment. However, I was saying that I am not really concern about that. The point being, this truth will not lead me to hate humanity or a fraction of it, to the point of xenophobia, walling of myself in closed enclaves. Instead of running away from the issue, or returning hatred in kind, working to build a more humanist society is the goal to a better world. No, I am not talking about building a utopia, even thought this is desirable goal by many. I don't know if this is attainable. However, a more peaceful, humanist society where human rights are respected is indeed attainable. Despite what you think, I am interested in what brother Ankh and the Realblackatheist have to say. However, as the article points out, I disagree with some of his and the Realblackatheist understanding of Atheism. Those things certainly do not make me "self righteous." This charge I believe is misplace. It seems to be rooted in emotion. Also misplace is the charge of the article being bias. I doubt you read the article. There are many things I agreed on with the Realblackatheist has to say. And one more thing, if my position to see humanity as "one" and the promotion of the respect of human rights make me a "self righteous pluralist", then so be it. In fact, I stand even for Brother Ankh and the Realblackatheist to have the rights to their views once they are not encroaching on the my or the human rights of others.

    1. "I do not hate humanity or a fraction of it, to the point of xenophobia, walling of myself in closed enclaves". [End Quote]

      To begin with, it seems you're suggesting that Real Black Atheism is a tight knit inclusive group rather than exclusive like the other liberal free-for-all Black Atheist groups who are too open in my opionion...and willing to accept anybody and everyone without any discernment.

      Nevertheless, what you unwittingly refer to as Xenophobia is actually justifiable rational discrimination on the part of Real Black Atheist. To me, Mr. Sion Lewis, it's you who's being discriminatory toward Real Black Atheist because you promote and reinforce the false values of collectivism. You unwittingly believe or rather WISH that membership in a group is more important than individual characteristics, actions or those who hold in high regard the time honored; but, fail safe aspects of Singleculturalism.

      The problem with many modern day Atheist...especially pro abortionist, Hershey Highway riding, interracial mixing Black Atheist groups is that they fight for everything else on the clipboard instead of fighting for Real Black Atheism.

  7. Good argument gentleman, I have to say you both make good points. But, I have to agree with The Real Black Atheist on this one point. Time has proven that most of humanity does not want to see Africans come up so to speak, and it seems to be in our best interest as Africans to unite somehow, first, in order to be recognized as a people with substance if only in numbers by the eletist powers governing the globe now.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Here's my response:

  10. Either Atheism is defined by a historical point in history where one cultural group rejected another's superstitions or Atheism means rejection of superstitious authority. I think the former is limiting. I also think there is a romanticized notion of pre-colonial african culture and greco roman culture. However, greco-roman culture is revered because their decendents subjugated everyone else. That's how the world works. Accordingly, each culture has strengths and weaknesses. Whenever I hear an ancient culture lauded without critique (especially one that we only know of because of anthopology rather than generational experiential consistency), I realize I'm dealing with a "romanticist." In my view, this is why science, logic, reason and objectivity are more important than race. Race, as a social construct, is a limited way to find truth.

    That said, I agree that many Atheist groups are highly left leaning and almost equate the acceptance of homosexuality with being an atheist. The two issues should be mutually exclusive and the rejection of a sexual behavior should not automatically rule as a "phobia."

    The acceptance of the positive aspects of black history does not mean that history holds answers to modern day problems.

    I find that many people in the religious, social construct debates have too many egos and emotional biases that prevent real solutions forming and/or enlightenment.

  11. Awesome read! I found that when I finally accepted being an atheist, it was hard to find community. I sought it online and found myself surrounded by "Black Atheist" groups which seemed instead to be practitioners of traditional African religions and of course, not atheist at all. I understand the explanation handed forth by the The Real Black Atheist Group but I find it as problematic as the collective Black Christian Church in America. To me, it espouses a theology which allows no further expansion and adoption of worldviews and tends to be as sexist and homophobic as Western religions. Also, my rejection of Christianity did not stir a desire in me to co-opt a culture. I believe that we have to create one that is relevant. In short, I loved this piece. It was far more articulate than I am right now lol.

  12. It appears the bahamian brother hurdled one of the most.important aspect of ankh's premise...that being the reverence for nature as"god".How could he have missed that...or perhaps it was deliberate obfuscation ...if so then his entire premise is faulty and can easily be dismissed.