Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.
Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Board for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, the 2016 Reason Rally Coalition, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.
In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s Person of the Year 2018.
As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.
“The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”
Here, we talk about September 11th, 2001 for the United States.
*Interview conducted on September 11, 2001.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Today is a particularly traumatic day, nationally, for the consciousness of America. For one, it broke the image of invulnerability. In another way, it marks a real tragedy for the number of dead and for the size of the attack. What does this day represent to most Americans and what are some reflections on religion in that context?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, today is September 11th, and it is the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in which some Islamic extremists hijacked a total of 4 planes. 2 that were crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, 1 that was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another one that went down in Pennsylvania.
What this represents, it was a tragic attack on America. So, what this means for us, it showed this country’s vulnerability. People did not think that there was any way that there could be this sort of attack on American soil. You only saw that stuff in movies. To see this sort of thing take place in cities that are near and dear to us was very frightening. There were a lot of people who lost their lives. The World Trade Center is a financial center of the world and to see the towers go down like that was heartbreaking. My husband and I are from New York City. We grew up with the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, so it was very monumental to us. Also, my mother-in-law worked near the World Trade Center, so she was near ground zero, and had to evacuate from her workplace along with many others. She saw the Twin Towers go down. It was a very, horrific day for a number of people. Granted, there are horrific events that take place almost every day, but it is always special to the minds of Americans because of the way these attacks were orchestrated and on the day that it happened, September 11th, 9/11. So 9-1-1 is forever memorialized in people’s hearts and minds.
Jacobsen: What are some larger contexts here with regards to the style of religious belief and the fervour and zeal behind it?
Thomas: We know that there are people who are extremists about their positions. We see this with Evangelical Christians. Also, we see extremists in Islam, but, of course, they do not represent everyone in that community.
However, this goes to show how seriously people take their beliefs to their point where they will infringe on the human rights, including physical harm. This has been a key issue when it comes to women’s rights in Islamic countries and communities. Again, this isn’t relegated to this particular religion. But this was a very harsh reality, that some countries that are populated by Muslims really condemn the United States for what it stands for. And unfortunately, the 9/11 attacks did validate some ignorant propaganda of people who come from that area of the world. But it also put a face on people who were willing to not only die for what they believe in but also to kill for it. And they came from that part of the world.
Jacobsen: Is there any sex and gender aspect to this? For instance, some of the more extreme and horrific attacks or aggressions tend to come from men.
Thomas: Yes, [Laughing], that is interesting considering that Islam tends to favor men. Christianity does as well, like most religions do, but Islam in particular favors men, and the male ego. There are so many conspiracies surrounding the 9/11 attacks, and who was behind it. Supposedly, the most credible theories are that Osama Bin Laden orchestrated them. Yet, it does show the number of men who were willing to carry out these attacks. Again, it is a tragedy. However, it is hypocritical for Americans to act as if they are much different, even if they would not go to the extent of killing people for what they believe in. This country’s history proves that it is not above subjugating and oppressing women, children, and others who are marginalized.
Jacobsen: Why mostly men? [Laughing]
Thomas: Your guess is as good as mine.
Thomas: This goes back to the conversation we had about toxic masculinity, about what it means to be a man, and what it means to have power. Time and history has shown that men in particular, are so obsessed with power to the point where they will cause destruction. That they will cause, unfortunately, the deaths of innocent people. And this has a lot to do with the concept of God being in male form and having the ability to destroy and create at will. Because over centuries this notion has been able to thrive, then you have other men who will emulate it. Unfortunately, this has become institutional over the course of centuries and there is no telling how long it may take to undo it.
Jacobsen: Could this also, in turn, related to higher levels of aggression not healthily channelled in terms of some of the forms of masculinity we have been talking about before?
Thomas: Absolutely, it does. It seems like as much as people say they want peace; it’s lip service. Unfortunately, the human race has collectively thrived on aggression, violence and war. Definitely a “survival of the fittest” way of being. And because they have been able to getting away with it for so long, there is no telling if people will admit that there is an ongoing problem here, and if mental help – whether on an individual or collective level, will be effective. Again, there is no telling how long it will take for this to turn around. Hopefully, sooner than later.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Thomas: Thank you.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.