The Black Agnostic
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About The Black Agnostic
Waleed Shareef
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When I was young our Sunday routine was a very well practiced ritual. My father was the choir director after all, so therefore it was accepted that we were not going to miss one Sunday service. I can’t say that my parents were the most rabidly religious people I’ve ever known, in fact they often encouraged us to think outside of the box when it came to many of the traditions within the black church. One of those traditions that comes to mind is what is often called shout music; this is the drumbeat heavy music that sends church members into a frenzy of gyrating and dancing, because as they believe they are “caught up in the spirit”. My parents would often stand still and watch as people conducted church approved dance moves as shout music was playing. I felt that my parents were not particularly fond of the shout music and viewed it as undignified and unnecessary. Despite this, we were often at the church at least twice a week. We were there during the Sunday service of course as I mentioned earlier, and we also were there on Thursday for choir practice. Where my parents' devotion to being constantly in the church ended was on Wednesday, because we often missed the Wednesday service.

I believe that in order to be a good believer in any religious principle you should be able to turn off that little nagging part of your brain that harbors the spirit of disbelief. Even at a young age I remember that I could not do that. One example that comes to mind is when I would hear people stand up in church to give testimony and speak about how God talked to them and told them to do certain things. It was later in one of my Sunday school classes that I raised my hand to speak to the teacher that day and ask her a question. The question that I asked was, what does God sound like when he speaks to these people and why I have not heard him yet. I remember my Sunday school teacher looked somewhat flummoxed at the fact that this young child would ask such a question. She explained to me that all it really was is that feeling you get that there is something you’re supposed to do. Even at that age I was wondering then how they knew it was God talking to them and not simply all in their head. These types of questions grew more in my mind and sooner or later inherited brothers and sisters of those questions.

Finally the catalyst that really began to push me over that line of doubt started with my love of The History Channel and other similar educational channels. I would often watch programs about how the Bible was constructed, or about the origins of Jesus. I was stunned to find out that it was actually debated about what Scriptures should go into the Bible and which should be left out. I was also starting to understand that as man constructed the Bible, it was somewhat a popularity contest at times that determined its construction. Powerful churches with their own books that eventually made it into the Bible helped to promote their inclusion. Other books that were less popular were left out of the Bible. I also began to read online about the many contradictions that exists within the Bible and are acknowledged by many scholars. Even the stories like Jesus’s birth that we often hear at Christmas time, with many hymns sung and presents given, is not even a true story. Historians believe that Jesus might have been born in the summer time if at all, and Christmas itself takes place in December only because of the winter solstice. It was pagans that were celebrating the winter solstice that created what we know now as Christmas. This was later commandeered by church leaders who wanted to eliminate the pagan side of the holiday without disrupting the people’s need to celebrate the winter solstice altogether. It is with this knowledge that I fully understood that most of what we do as Christians is based on tradition and the inability to question that which we were taught. We walk around at Christmas time for instance and say Jesus is the reason for the season, when every historian out there would say that he really is not the reason for the season.

It is with these and other questions that I’ve often had on my mind that I will detail later in other articles, that brought me to the precipice of being an agnostic. In all honesty though, I did not know what an agnostic was until while surfing the Internet for some other purpose I stumbled upon this term. The word Epiphany is often overused, but in this case it’s very fitting. As I read through the descriptions and explanations of what an agnostic is, I almost leapt out of my seat because this was a term that described my way of thinking perfectly. Admittedly this is a very difficult thing to embrace for someone who was raised deep within the American black church experience with a father who was once the choir director. With parents who often ask “when was the last time you went to church”, as if it was a given that you were going to go at some point; to say that you are never going back is a very stunning revelation. Therefore, this website is as much to help me to cope with the feelings of isolation that can occur within the black community when you declare yourself agnostic, as it is for others who find themselves in a similar situation as myself.

Hello, I’m A. Solveris. I grew up in the Bible Belt and had a childhood that was unique to say the least. My father and mother were and still are clergy in one of the largest African-American Pentecostal Holiness denominations in the United States. My strict upbringing had its advantages. It definitely had its disadvantages as well. Despite the rollercoaster of my childhood it has lead me to become the individual I am today: a woman who is happy, healthy, vegetarian, and agnostic. I have earned a couple degrees in the social sciences. I try to educate myself on the subject of world religions and read as much as I can. As a fitness enthusiast I love group fitness classes, testing my limits at rock climbing gyms, and practicing yoga! 

I realized I was an agnostic in college; however, I believe my journey to finding myself began way before then. I’m not sure, it could have started when I was prepped and polished to be entered into church pageants at the age of 10 years old. Yes, they exist. Church pageants exist. Maybe it was when a preacher prayed for me and told me I had spirit of suicide over me when I was 12. The journey could have begun when I was 15 at a church seminar on purity. The instructor ensured all of us ladies God’s greatest gift to us was in between our legs and it was the most important gift we could offer our future husbands. Apparently, my intellect, vivacious personality, creativity, or my love of tacos was not important. 

My life growing up in a church environment allowed me to see firsthand that people are just people, nothing more, nothing less. They make mistakes, make you laugh and they can sure make you cry. They prefer different types of food, have different shoe sizes, and some prefer comedies over dramas and some like a mixture of both. Life is hard though, and sometimes watching a comedy isn’t enough. Sometimes eating a whole row of Oreos is not enough. So in their vulnerability, with tears running down their eyes watching their child struggle in school, or watching their partner walk out on them, or looking at the bills pile up, they turn to something they believe is greater than themselves. They need a spirit to guide and relieve them of life’s harsh realities. Then it gets to a point where they can’t imagine life without God. Then they look at other people and wonder how they live life without God. 

We are no different from our ancestors. People have been trying to explain the mysteries of life for centuries. We all need meaning and hope. I think my agnosticism has allowed me to not tolerate but accept that we all have different paths and that is quite alright. Can one really say that one path is more superior to another? I know many people who are brave enough to do just that. The root of arrogance lies in one’s inability to simply acknowledge that there is a possibility they are wrong. I can say there is one principle I stand firmly on: I’m not sure if anyone’s path is inherently truer than another one. 

A. Solveris