Ask Mandisa 6 – Atheist Experience, and Religion and Ethnicity

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America. The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community. I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about the Atheist Experience with Matt Dillahunty, religion, and ethnicity.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You were on the Atheist Experience with Matt Dillahunty. You mentioned some were contacting BN through its main contact, several times, and trying to offer a sale or solution to the problems of all African-Americans, all black folks in America.

How are these reflecting the sales pitches and bases of a lot of North American religion?

Mandisa Thomas: So, yes, I had the chance to be on the Atheist Experience with Matt Dillahunty. It was a great experience. We see lots of support. But we also received inquiries from people trying to sell us, if you will, a way for blacks to completely leave religion.

It really does parallel the idea of a saviour. The idea of being saved from religion and indoctrination is unrealistic. It is also in conflict to the core mission of BN. The focus of our organization is not specifically to stop people from believing in God.

Our focus has been more on reaching the folks who already don’t believe in God anymore, and who are questioning in favour of leaving because it will reach more folks out there and build the community for the people who are ready for it.

In terms of process, we engage believers. We engage in discourse and discussion. We do prepare each other for that. There are some people who are enlightened, if you will, or take the information given and then reflect on the information and then decide to let go of the beliefs.

There is that as well. But our overall focus is to focus on those who are already there, pretty much. For myself, specifically, I am under no illusion that all blacks will leave religion, not in my lifetime or 2 or 3 generations.

But there are always the people out there. It is almost an impossible task, to be a saviour to all black folks. That’s just impossible. Many blacks already believe in an imaginary or impossible saviour.

That mentality just feeds over into this idea of people being helpless in doing things on their own, where they are responsible for their own actions. It is hard to dismantle and to reach other people.

This is something that we simply can’t do alone. I am suspicious and wary of people who try to sell this idea of the liberation from all religion. Because, at this point, it is unrealistic.

Jacobsen: Does this, basically, blanket all black people as the same and all religious people as the same?

Thomas: Yes, it does. There is often a perception that all religious people are stupid. We try to discourage this. There are a lot of smart believers. We try not to paint a broad brush, especially for those who had religion and let go of the God concept.

Because there was something that compelled them to change their minds. We do not want to discourage those who are caught in the middle, if you will.

Those who are sincerely questioning their beliefs.  Yes, just because many of us may not see eye-to-eye on the religious point of view, there are, often, other things that we have in common. The diversity within the black community has always been present.

That is something that we aim to show. If we can build our own support system and find common ground with believers, and I know we have, then we can continue to do so and help people understand that there are ways for us to disagree and work together for the benefit of our community as a whole.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: Thank you.

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