Noting that “an astounding 85 per cent of non-Hispanic blacks [identify] as Christian (Pew Report, 2007),” Dale DeBakcsy talks to Mandisa Lateefah Thomas, who founded Black Nonbelievers, Inc. in Atlanta in 2011:
As Thomas explains it, “Because of the historical role that religion and the church played in the black community, many tie in belief as being inherently part of black identity. Therefore, to be someone that doesn’t believe in God is to be considered a traitor. Most of our community – from the people to the leaders – incorporates belief in almost every aspect of their lives, and it is assumed (and sometimes expected) that we all do. So it can be extremely intimidating and stigmatising to openly admit to being a nonbeliever.”
But why does Christianity still have this allure after having been forcefully foisted so many centuries ago? “The historical aspect of Christianity’s influence in the community plays a huge role in why many blacks still believe. While it was used to justify slavery and was imposed on people of color, the church also served as a system for support at a time when legislation discriminated against blacks. So there is a strong loyalty, although the doctrine is very detrimental to growth and development.”
DeBakcsy, a humanist, believes programs like Black Nonbelievers, Inc. will help spread a secular message:
“We are in the process,” Thomas reveals, “of creating a program that will assist ex-convicts and at-risk youth develop professional skills which will help them find jobs and start their own businesses. We also want to intermittently help nonbelievers who need assistance if they lose jobs, or face financial challenges as a result of losing business or a loved one due to being a nonbeliever.” This is critically important work, not only for the cause of humanism, but for that of humanity. If they are successful in creating their support group for ex-cons and youths, it could go far to rewriting how the South interprets its sense of self. This is new ground for a secular group to tread there, and few areas of the nation need it more.