“We have had some success, although we sure as hell need more”: Greta’s Interview with Black Skeptics

Black Skeptics: In the book you stress the value of engaging in debates about religion with believers to encourage questioning and coming out. However, as you acknowledge, debating the validity of religious belief is only one part of the equation. For example, the vast majority of LGBTQ people of color and straight people of color are faith-aligned/identified precisely because mainstream America is racially segregated, faith (for many) is a form of cultural “home space” and social welfare resources in communities of color are extremely impacted. What further “intersectional” steps need to be taken to promote humanistic communities beyond just “coming out”?

Greta Christina: I’m surprised to hear you say that — I don’t think I did stress the value of debating with believers all that much. I mention in the book, but I don’t give it much space, and I mostly mention it because I actually advise against having those debates while you’re in process of coming out to people. I think that’s the wrong time for those debates. It is true that I think debating believers can be useful and valuable: a lot of atheists rag on other atheists for getting into those debates, insisting that they never work and are always a waste of time, so I think they deserve defending. And it can be difficult to draw a clear line between simply explaining your atheism, and explaining why you think religion is bunk. That’s one of the main reasons I talk about the topic at all. But it’s certainly not something I think everyone should do, I don’t think it’s a moral imperative or anything, and I think lots of other forms of activism are valuable.

So, with that being cleared up. The answer to your main question: Yes, for lots of people of color, faith is a home: it’s where people get social services, social support, a sense of identity and continuity and stability and history, and more. (It does seem that it can be a toxic home — that’s one of the takeaways I got from Candace Gorham’s book, “The Ebony Exodus Project,” I kept being struck throughout the book by how so many black women found their churches unsupportive and actually undermining. But it’s still a home.) So one of the biggest intersectional steps that godless communities can take is to make atheism a safer place to land for these folks. We need to look at what people of color are getting from their faith communities, and do more in our own communities to provide it. It wouldn’t suck if we did more to make some of these needs less necessary while we’re at it: to do political work on poverty and safety nets and institutional racism and so on. And no, that’s not “mission drift”: if local atheist communities can do blood drives and roadside cleanups and so on, there’s no reason they can’t do this sort of political work, too. And we need to be willing to take a hard look at the ways that we actually make our spaces unwelcoming: not just with racism of omission (e.g., failing to recognize what these folks need and provide it), but with more overt racism of commission. And all this actually does go back to the question of debates about religion: there’s not much point — strategically, poltically, or indeed morally — in arguing people out of religion if we don’t provide them a safe place to land if we succeed.


Coming Out Atheist cover 150
Thus begins my interview with Black Skeptics. We talk about assorted issues with intersectionality: what intersectional steps humanist communities need to take, how we can shift the leadership of our organizations, whether atheist feminists need to focus more on ways that women of color are marginalized (hint — yes), how to prioritize our issues and get others interested in our priorities, and more. And, of course, we talk about my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why — and how coming out fits into these intersectional interviews. Smart, thoughtful questions that really made me think carefully. (And they call the book “timely and insightful,” which makes me happy.) Enjoy!

“We have had some success, although we sure as hell need more”: Greta’s Interview with Black Skeptics
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3 thoughts on ““We have had some success, although we sure as hell need more”: Greta’s Interview with Black Skeptics

  1. 1

    Being a white male skeptic coming from a Catholic family (though admittedly lax, I will say) I absolutely JUMP at the opportunity to chat with a non-white skeptic. I will admit that I feel my Catholic background is inherently intertwined with my Polish and Irish heritage on both sides of my family… but this is not analogous to the role, say, black churches play in the everyday lives of black Americans.

    I learned a lot from the writings and speeches of Melissa Harris-Perry (formerly Harris-Lacewell). Namely, her books Barbershops, Bibles and BET and Sister Citizen, despite her coming from an essentially religious apologetic perspective. I remember watching Democracy Now! when Melissa basically took down Gloria Steinem for failing to acknowledge intersectionality in an article Gloria wrote about the 2008 Democratic primary.

    White skeptics absolutely must educate themselves on the history of religion in African American culture, even if just to give themselves a cursory understanding. Otherwise, I fear white skeptics risk being insensitive and pontificatory when engaging with those whose experience in life is beyond their comprehension.

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