Breaking the Taboo of Atheism in Black Communities
The black discourse is characteristically presented in polarized – black versus white or in a binary – black and white manner. The white factor is often construed to be the only frame – or better the principal dynamic – that defines, drives or makes the black text or the black talk meaningful. Personally I find this approach to be narrow, unimaginative and unscientific. It leaves so much unexplained about the black world and experience. This approach conflates so many issues including the diversity, dialectics and dynamism, the contrasts and contradictions, peculiarities, particularities and commonalities in black life, history and experience. Hence I find fascinating the possibilities of the emerging dynamic of atheism or the black versus god debate. But these possibilities cannot be adequately expressed and harnessed till the taboo of atheism in black communities is broken.
Let’s face it: if there are people who should be religious and theistic today, it is not black people; if there are people who should flaunting their christian or islamic religiousity, piety and godliness, it is not people in black communities. But the irony is that black people are reputed to be the most religious people on earth, and Africa has severally been polled to be the most theistic region in the world. The experience of black people in history – even today – makes the existence of a loving and caring god of the religions untenable. Many people still maintain that religion and god were responsible for the abolition of slavery, and for ensuring the success of the civil rights movement in the US. They often use this claim to support during public debates the fledging notions of theism or religion. But my question is this where was the christian god during the transatlantic slave trade, where is the christian god now? Where was the muslim god during the trans-saharan slave trade? Where is the muslim god today?
Does it mean that a benevolent and merciful god looks away or goes to sleep and allows evil and terrible crimes to be committed and at a point – after some years, decades or centuries – he wakes up, comes to his senses and decides to stop them? What kind of god is that? I mean how does one reconcile the idea of a personal god who hears prayers or the idea that religion provides people in black communities with a sense of meaning, and the existing and persisting state of poverty, misery, hunger, despair, crimes, conflicts in black countries and communities? What kind of meaning or hope does religion provide black people? What kind of god do black people worship? What kind of Allah do black muslims revere? What kind of Jesus do black christians pray to?
Is Jesus on the side of christians in Northern Nigeria? Is Allah on the side of Boko Haram, al Shabab and their jihadist campaigns? If not, why not? We need to ask these questions to gain insights into many problems that plague the world.
Even from the history and experience of people in the Middle East, the god idea makes little or no sense. Many Palestinians and Isrealis are god-yahweh-christiangod-allah believers. And they have been fighting for decades in a particular small portion of the world chosen by god to produce the greatest prophets of the world religions, and none of the prophets has shown up and tried coming down to resolve the conflict. God itself has not shown up. The same thing is applicable to the conflict in Northern Ireland. In which side was Jesus in that conflict?
If today many people across the world are reluctant and fearful of speaking out against the excesses of christian churches and islamic groups, against the abuses going on in the name of religion, black people should not be, because it is people from black communities who are suffering most from these excesses.
If we observe carefully, the global war against terrorism has been misconstrued to be a battle between islam and the west. It is not. This is a clear case of miscategorization that is being used to polarize the world and garner support and mobilize resources on both sides. The jihadist movement is global, and is wreaking havoc – and has been wreaking havoc – in many countries outside the ‘West’ including islamic countries, since the time of prophet Muhammad.
If anyone says that the fight against terrorism is a case of islam versus the west, then where does Africa come in? What about the violent islamist campaign in non-western black communities or in non-western parts of the world? How does one explain the violent campaign of jihadists in Somalia, Sudan, Mali, Nigeria etc? Is that also a case of Islam versus the west? So when global discourses are misarticulated in ways that imply that people in Africa or in the black communities do not matter, we should tell them that we do. That is why we need this freethinking space to bring missing perspectives to issues.
Breaking the taboo of atheism in black communities has become necessary because the evidence for god’s existence is simply not there. Many Jews are still expecting the messiah, and the guy has not showed up yet. And Jesus, whom christians believe to be or to have been the messiah, apparently disappeared into the clouds, and his actual fate remains unknown. Even though many christian believers are expecting him to come back soon, nobody is sure that he got to his destination. And the messenger prophet Muhammad, who (we are told) suddenly rocketed into the sky, in the same part of the world where Jesus thrusted and disappeared into the clouds. And there is no confirmation yet that he got to his destination, since he left on a flaming horse riding against the current of gravity. (No one knows if he actually arrived safely or whether when he eventually got there he decided to assume the position of prophet emeritus).
So at a time when abuses related to witchcraft, religion and other paranormal beliefs are ravaging the black communities, and people are so terrified speaking out against these atrocious acts because of fear of being attacked, or of being killed or called an atheist, an infidel or a blasphemer, or being accused of racism or islamophobia; at a time many young people in black communities are embracing extremist suicidal religious ideologies and religious charlatans, faith healers, witchdoctors, marabus, sangomas, and other purveyors of theistic and paranormal claims are having a field day exploiting poor ignorant folks, spreading fear and resignation, inciting violence and hatred of any thing and anybody western – at this time breaking the taboo of atheism has become a social imperative, a moral and intellectual duty with promises of peace in our troubled world, and of liberation and emancipation of people in black communities from the shackles of ignorance, dogmas, superstitions, intellectual hostage, mental slavery, irrational fears and blind faith.