The Sunday ritual in the black community for years has been something that throughout America fit into certain unchangeable patterns. This was a day for church, family and spirituality. Ever since Sunday morning greeted the slaves with a day that could potentially mean a respite from work and a chance to tune into God, the importance of the “Christian walk” within the black community has remained solid for years. If you ever wanted to lose a date, or be condemned as a sinner, you would not have an answer when you were asked “what church do you go to?”
From the Sunday observances of God, flows a Christian following within the black community that spans throughout the week. Of course you are a Christian, most people within the black community would assume when they met you, another fellow black person. The only other, and somewhat tolerable alternative, was a Muslim.
How would a black person who straddles the middle and is not totally convinced of everything they read in the Christian bible, or Muslim Quran, going to share with their friends and family that they are not persuaded that the most cherished beliefs within our community are all factual? As difficult as it may be for a homosexual to step out of “the closet,” telling your black family that you are an atheist, or in my case, an agnostic could be a confounding and shocking revelation. Therefore, often people in my situation normally play the imaginary Christian.
What is an imaginary Christian? It is someone who goes to church when invited by parents and friends. I know all of the songs and how to look churchy. I have my “amen sista” and “Praise God brotha” down perfect and can spit it out without the slightest hint of irony. When I go to a family dinner or any black gathering that requires prayer – which can happen often, I bow my head respectfully and blend in with the rest of the believers.
The troubling thing that I struggle with is, “how are all of these folks so sure?” At some point in history, African slaves with varying beliefs and customs were herded in front of their new master and introduced to a new religion. These slaves were taught about the goodness of God via a slave holding master while reading a 300+ year old book that was written by man. The reality is that all of the faith that exists with the faithful is a product of belief derived by one source, the Bible. So where does the certainty come from? It comes from the fear to imagine any other scenario where what was taught to them since birth, was not in reality the truth. What once gave comfort to slaves during the toughest moments in our history, the thought that after death there would be a beautiful reward in heaven, if false would leave the slaves decedents with the unhappy understanding that an untold millions of people died after living an unfulfilled life. Furthermore, many blacks today may sooth their spirits with the thought that although our culture is still struggling with the aftershocks created after the end of slavery, there does exist a just reward for those who have suffered so much due to economic and social hardships.
I understand why alternative belief systems are so difficult within the black community to imagine. I only changed when I encountered the realization that I could not prove the nonexistence of God any more than I could prove his existence. I could not prove that the gyrations I would see on Sunday as someone claimed to be caught by “the holy spirit”, was not in reality created by the drumbeat heavy music that would encourage those gyrations at church as the “holy spirit” supposedly took control of their body. As people broke bread in church during communion and drank wine or grape juice while calling it Jesus’s body, I often found myself asking, is this simply tradition? In other words, do we continue to make dissenting opinions an unlikely proposition because we have mythologized simple concepts like the last supper into an often reenacted ceremony that has little to do with what God would really want, and more to do with expected traditions?
How does a black person “come out” as an atheist or agnostic? It is not a simple proposition, because as my belief became apparent to family and friends, I was often told about my future in hell, or had someone needing to give me instant prayer. Will I not get invites to some family functions because they may fear that I will bring the devil in the door with me if I come over? Perhaps that may happen. Should I point out the fact that my criminal cousin is embraced by the family – albeit he is a fervent church attender? Or maybe doing crime is still viewed more favorably than losing your faith.
My best advice is for the believers; always remember that your greatest advertisement for the goodness of Jesus or Buddha, or Muhammad, or whatever deity you believe in is how you conduct yourself. If you greet disbelief with hate, or skepticism with abandonment, then you sprinkle water on the seed of thought that maybe your religion is less a testament to your desires to gain souls for your God, but more as an insurance policy against going to hell. It is my opinion that how you react to others disbelief tells the biggest story about the virtues of your belief.