Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the largest, if the not the largest, organization for African-American or black nonbelievers & atheists in the United States.
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 community and perception of individuals deviating from community.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You sent me a Twitter thread of a – I’m not sure if it’s a Mrs. or a Miss – Lisa Sharon Harper, who is the founder and president of freedomroad.us.
She made some comments about colonizing nations, about the Christian faith, about leaving the Christian faith, and white supremacy. Can you provide your perspective on that particular commentary, as well as some of your agreements and disagreements with it?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes. Miss Harper, I learned of her from a Tweet thread that was sent to me. She seems to be not only a strong Christian, but a very pro-black Christian.
The premise of the Tweet was to address white people who leave religion, or who are challenging religion. She’s saying that for those walk away from Jesus, that they are still are operating under white supremacy. .
I do agree that Christianity IS white supremacy. It has been for centuries. However, she goes on to say that the origins of Christianity are from the continent of Africa. So therefore people who walk away from that faith or religion, including black folks, are basically down-playing the legacy of so many icons from our community.It is true that there are many historic black figures who were religious. That is certainly quantified by the fact that the black community is still very highly religious. However, according to Ms. Harper’s stance, it is ironic that when blacks walk away from religion, we are accused of being like “those white people”.
All Christianity, especially as blacks adhere to it, is still operating under white supremacy. That’s the point that she misses. I think putting a black image on Christianity and trying to invoke the “first rights” is really, really is missing the point of the subjugation that we still face as a community.
Jacobsen: Within the commentary, what do you see as a service to moving the conversation forward? What do you see as a disservice to moving that conversation forward?
Thomas: I think the service comes when challenging the image and the perception that this religion was started specifically by white people and that the white collective has the monopoly on building the world and building up civilizations.
As the saying goes, history is written by those who won. Certainly, many European nations have conquered other countries. They have been able to put their spin on how things are viewed.
I think it is important for us to re-examine all of it. Especially Christianity, to see how it is a combination of older, ancient religions.
Some that comes from Africa, but also from Greece, and also other land and cultures. This may have been unintended by Miss Harper.
The disservice comes where somehow you’re trying to bring Christianity back to it being this idea that it has black roots and that somehow white people who disregard it are turning their backs on black folks.
That’s what I’m reading in her correspondence. That when white folks step up and they reject Christianity, that they’re dogging out the black legacy, and the black origins, and the black culture. But Christianity itself has done that on its own.
Ultimately, what Ms. Harper is saying is inaccurate, and in trying to reaffirm her faith by trying to go back to the “origins”, she has overlooked the brutality that the black community has faced as a result of having to accept this religion.