Race & Religion, a Rock & a Hard Place
Hello brothers and sisters. I would like to thank you for your readership, support and interest in my posts. I greatly appreciate your perspectives, beliefs and opinions. I love my people. They are what motivate me to research, write and share. I’ll gladly and respectfully debate any individual who contests statements that I make on this site, on any other site or in person. Just remember that I will do so with great respect for diversity.
I’m an atheist.
Okay, I’m glad I got that out of the way. Maybe I was overdoing it with the candy-coated prologue, but being a Black atheist is scary.
There are two other authors on this site by the way. Some of you are under the impression that all the posts are written by the same guy. Just thought I’d let you know before Fivefives and D. Jones have to do some unnecessary explaining.
Last week, the American Atheists erected a billboard in Harrisburg, PA with a quote from the Bible that said, “Slaves, obey your masters” (Colissians, 3:22). Below the quote was an image of an American slave with an iron crook and chains around his neck. The American Atheists posted the billboard in response to a designation passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives declaring 2012 as “The Year of the Bible“. The Pennsylvania state director for American Atheists, Ernest Perce, said, “We hope people can see just a bit of the discrimination we get”.
Needless to say, I’m torn on this topic.
On one hand…
I feel like The United States is kind of like a Tyler Perry film. Even though it might seem secular in the beginning, you’ll end up with a hefty helping of scripture once you’ve paid any amount of attention. Nevertheless, there’s a clear and definitive separation between religion and function of government in the United States Constitution. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. In 1802, members of the Danbury Baptist Association were worried that this amendment might hinder their religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson, who happened to be an atheist, sent them a letter stating that the clauses of the First Amendment concerning religion were meant to create a “wall of separation between church and state”. Jefferson basically said, “You do you. I’mma do me… except for Black people”.
So when the Pennsylvania House of representatives decided to slap the founding fathers in the face by dedicating an entire year to a single religious sect, the atheist citizens of Pennsylvania got a tad bit irritated. There are people who are literally offended by the Bible. Similar to how some people are offended by or disapprove of other religious texts. Most people decide to not believe in certain gods. Atheists just decided not to believe in any of them.
If they had made “The Year of The Book of Mormon”, how long do you think that would last? How about “The Year of The Quran”?
I understand why the American Atheists decided to respond. My beliefs are as personal and dear to me as yours probably are to you. They are the byproduct of life, love and the experiences shared with those here and those I have lost. Our differences in beliefs should be shared (and proselytize if you are called to it), but not forced upon people by their government. The full quote that the American Atheists sampled was,
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord”
Which isn’t even half as shocking to a Black person who doesn’t read the Bible as, “slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel” (Peter, 2:18).
If you comb through most religious texts, you can find brutality and carnality beyond the imaginations of HBO scriptwriters. But only if you’re looking for that kind of thing (I have other points, so don’t leave yet). Most Christians, and religious people in general, are looking for a place of emotional and spiritual strength when they read their religious text. That makes the billboard a misrepresentation of what most Christians believe (I hope). The atheists just decided to make their perspectives and beliefs known to the public. One of the many reasons I’m an atheist is because I could never get a straight answer about what happened to my Ghanaian ancestors who denounced Christianity. Like, when they died, which way did they go.
So I was cool with the billboard, until I watched a news clip about it. The camera zoomed out I suddenly realized that…
On the other hand, I’m not down with this.
The message simply states that it’s quoted from Colossians and that the “lesson is brought to you by ‘The Year of the Bible’ and the House of Representatives”. It’s sarcastic because American Atheists wanted to make a statement about how they feel when the Bible is forced upon them. But the billboard still says “Slaves, obey your masters” with a picture a Black person in chains. I realized that people had to drive by this billboard every day. They had to drop off their kids, go to work, and go to school every day while driving by that billboard. No minority should have to read messages like that, especially while stuck in traffic. Also, a racist Christian could drive by the billboard and actually support the “lesson” displayed. They’d probably think it was part of campaign to “take America back”. This wasn’t some jpg that popped up on my Tumblr feed. This was public and offensive.
This isn’t the first time American Atheists crossed the line. They’ve made it their business to agitate. The director for the Pennsylvania American Atheists, Ernest Perce, is the same guy who dressed up as “Zombie Muhammad” during a Halloween parade (he got a lot of death threats). I’m all for being public about your non-belief, but being a dick about it won’t help anybody. I’ve watched many atheist public figures get cut off during interviews because they just talk shit the moment they hit the air. Some of these guys really give the non-believers a bad name.
Most people who read the Bible use it as a source of support and inspiration. They may even use it to get through some tough and racist times. The imagery and the quoted text on the billboard obliterate the intended message. It was either the result of giving zero fucks or the result of a complete lack of reason (which would be ironic). Either way, the billboard got torn down by an unknown individual one day after it was posted. Props to that guy.
Images of an enslaved Black man in chains is not an image that will be taken lightly. Unless those chains are platinum. I’m Black and I’m an atheist. I get discriminated against for being both, so I can’t have them discriminating against each other. The billboard is disrespectful to every Black person who has been impacted by racism, which is every Black person. If the goal of American Atheists was to make people pay attention to them and actually listen to what they had to say, then treating painful history as a prop was the worst way to do it. Using Black people as a prop is always the worst way to convey a message. Just like when that pro-life group decided to create a billboard stating that the most dangerous place for an African American is the womb.
Black people are not meant to be used as marketing devices that special interest groups sprinkle on their campaigns. We’re people, not Old Bay. We’re doing a good job of nipping crazy shit like this in the bud quickly, even if it means a faceless vigilante has to tear billboards down by hand. Hopefully people will start getting the message. We all have differing opinions and beliefs, including Black people. Exploiting us to support a belief is disrespectful, in part, because it suggests that we all have the same opinions. Mutual respect and consideration is the only option in a place that claims to be post-racial.
Peace Be With You.