More African-Americans leaving religious faiths
African-Americans are significantly more religious compared to the rest of the U.S. population, but a growing community of black atheists, like the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, are steadily increasing each year. The American Religious Identification Survey of 2008 found that from 1990 to 2008 the number of blacks without any religious affiliation nearly doubled from 6 to 11 percent. Among Americans, that number also jumped to 15 percent from 8 percent in 1990. “There have always been African-American free thinkers, humanists, agnostics and atheists who have really foregrounded the connection between eschewing religion and the liberation struggle, particularly as it pertains to women and the LGBT community,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, founder of Black Skeptics of Los Angeles.
Hutchinson is part of a national advertising campaign that was launched this year by the African-Americans for Humanism. Her photo was featured next to writer Zora Neale Hurston on a roadside billboard in Los Angeles with the phrase, “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many.” “If you have an ethos that says black women should be self-sacrificing, should not question male authority and patriarchy…those kinds of things need to be questioned. In my mind, it does emanate from this biblical context,” said Hutchinson. Nicome Taylor, member of Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, joined the group in September and has seen its membership grow. Taylor said she recently started a Meet Up group in January from the website meetup.com, and it has now blossomed into 30 members. “I just feel good about meeting other people that thought like me. I mean kind of going through the whole process makes you feel a little crazy, a little bad after being indoctrinated with [religion] for a while,” said Taylor, who was raised in the church and believed God. The Inglewood native said she always questioned her faith. It was after she came into contact with people who challenged her beliefs that she started on a quest for more knowledge. “I had no idea, previously, who wrote the Bible. Even attending bible studies in church, they don’t teach you from a very objective standpoint,” said Taylor.
Through her research, she began to see falsities in the Bible and disagreed with passages on slavery and genocide. “Without pointing the finger, [the church] is doing it indirectly by saying everyone else is wrong, and Jesus is the only way. There’s other people in the world that are brought up with their belief system as well so what makes us more right than them,” said Taylor.
Before coming out openly about her disbelief, Taylor discussed it with her family and friends. Growing up in a religious family, she said it was difficult for her family to accept the news. Some relatives even stopped talking to her. “Leaving the faith can be difficult for anybody,” said Taylor. “In the black community, a lot of them don’t want to do that…it’s devastating for some people because it’s all they know,” said Taylor. Life is a little bit easier for her now because she said her way of thinking has been freed. Yet, Taylor said she still faces challenges because atheists tend to be demonized within the church and among religious groups.
This can be attributed to the overwhelming number of blacks who claim to be religious. According to figures from the Pew Research Center’s Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of African-Americans belong to a religious group, and nearly eight in ten or 79 percent of African-Americans say religion is very important to them compared with 56 percent of adults in the United States. Out of those figures, 59 percent of African-Americans attend historically black churches like the National Baptist Convention and the American Methodist Episcopal Church. Pew’s research also found that historically black Protestant groups were among the most religiously observant based on several factors such as frequency of prayers and church attendance. Jimmy Thompson said his first experience at church was as a child on Easter Sunday. He said he was in church for seven hours and after that day he never went back to church. “I don’t talk about [religion] with people because I know people hold their beliefs very true to their heart, and it could turn into a vicious conversation because you challenge their belief,” said Thompson.