Why a new campaign for black atheists does not offend me

The above title may seem odd, but it is a reference to a post I wrote back in October. In that post I wrote about a short piece by a black atheist explaining why she is an atheist. Her basic point was that she didn’t see a distinction between modern day religion and older religions we now accept as fictional, so she concluded that all religion is false. It was faulty reasoning, but that isn’t what got me. What drew my ire was that she then randomly mentioned the color of her skin. I considered that bad writing because it was a non-sequitur which she didn’t even bother to explain. I’m sure being black has contributed greatly to her perspective in life, but failing to draw a distinction between religious premises is not race-dependent. And if it is, she didn’t bother to tell anyone why.

One result of my response post was some misunderstanding by FTSOS readers. Occasional commenter Paul Kussmann, for instance, claimed I was making racial assumptions. Neil Rickert thought I was offended by the specific content rather than the writing itself. Both were wrong, Paul less understandably so than Neil. The fact is, I cringe at bad writing. In that fact is not a claim on my part to be a great writer (though I think of my skills in the area as quite strong). I simply have a considerable concern for language.

This all brings me to African Americans for Humanism. The group is currently running an ad campaign to bring atheism to the black community and/or encourage black atheists to be more vocal. It’s a good campaign because of the high degree of religiosity amongst blacks. We need to discourage religious belief everywhere, but especially where it holds strong. I support the goals of the AAH and I hope it succeeds.

All that said, could it be rightly claimed that any of this offends me? Of course not. I’ve never denied that being a black atheist is often very different from being a white atheist. It’s important to acknowledge, discuss, and understand these distinctions in order to better advance the cause of humanists and Gnu atheists. I’m confident I have never once expressed a problem with any of this. The only way I would have a qualm with the AAH or its goals is if they were ever expressed in a poorly organized, haphazardly composed, or badly written fashion.

Language matters.

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One Response

  1. Just commenting to say that I appreciate this. I just spent about 20 minutes going through comments on a recent related r/atheism post:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/p4kon/harlem_is_crowded_with_churches_this_on_the_other/

    …and was therefore feeling a little frustrated. This post’s title confused me for a moment, but I agree with the point in your first paragraph.

    Later, you say: “The only way I would have a qualm with the AAH or its goals is if they were ever expressed in a poorly organized, haphazardly composed, or badly written fashion.” We’ll try not to disappoint!

    Debbie Goddard
    Director, African Americans for Humanism.

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