Atheism in the Black Community

By | April 1, 2012

Courtney Bledsoe, Florida A&M University

– Atheism within the black community is on a steady rise. African Americans are now throwing aside their popular beliefs and choosing to follow their own path, according the 2010 Census Bureau.

“I used to go to church every Sunday; it was a requirement in my household,” says Amber Hendley a former Christian. “It’s hard because religion is something that is forced on you from birth and once you decide to adopt your own beliefs, it’s hard to rid yourself of everything that has been ingrained into your mind for so long.”

According to the Pew Research Centers Forum on Religion and Public Life, African Americans are considerably more religious than the U.S. population as a whole. Statistics show that nearly 87 percent of African Americans are affiliated with a religion versus 83 percent of all Americans.

African American participation in mainline religions such as Baptist, Methodist and Church of God in Christ has decreased, with an increase in agnostic and atheist practices.

YouTube has numerous confessionals of people discussing the plight of being atheist in the black community. The Black Atheists of America, a group dedicated to bridging the gap between atheism and the black community, has gained over 3,000 likes with the Black Atheist Alliance gaining more than 600 members, all dedicated to sharing their stories concerning being an active atheist in the African American community.

African American atheists turn to these groups and confessionals to interact with people that have had similar experiences and vent about the confinements of religion in the African American community.

“The look I get from someone from my African American peers when I tell them that I am an atheist is priceless; I just became comfortable admitting it,” says Dillion Thorton, a nurse and mother who was raised in a devout Baptist household.

“Not attending church wasn’t an option,” she says. “I could be sick but I was going to church to get a healing.”

Over 50 percent of African Americans attend a weekly worship service compared to 39 percent of the total population.

Religion plays an important role in the black community. Many scholars believe that Islam was the original religion of African people and that it wasn’t until blacks were enslaved and brought to

America that Christianity began to play a role in the shaping of our religious beliefs. And although there is a substantial amount of African Americans represented in Islamic practices and other religions, there is often times an expectancy that attaches African Americans to Christianity.

A 2009 analysis conducted by the Pew Research Centers Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 88 percent of African Americans are absolutely certain in their belief in God, compared to 70 percent of the total U.S. population.

“People always assume I’m a Christian,” said Breanna Harvey, a fourth-year public relations student at Florida A&M University. “But when I tell them that I’m agnostic, they are instantly intrigued. This is who I am. I will not and can not change for anyone.” (BPRW)