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 December, 2019 and some lighter activities.
*Interview conducted in early December, 2019.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In December, with the Sunday Assembly, to wind down post-yachting was a community, what will be done?
Mandisa Thomas: [Laughing] yes, the month of December will be lighter for me after my trip to Phoenix to speak with Secular Coalition for Arizona and the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix.
Black Nonbelievers will host a special guest, Chris Cameron, who will be discussion his new book Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism. And on the day recognized as Christmas, we will be hosting a secular celebration/potluck along with the Sunday Assembly Atlanta.
This will be our third year hosting this event. The holidays tend to be quite challenging, especially for nonbelievers.
Oftentimes, many of us are dealing with religious family members, which can be very stressful and isolating. It is a nice way to engage those who need a break from their religious counterparts and are looking for a place – even if for a little while – to kick back, have a good time, get to know new people, and see some folks they may not have seen all year.
It is a good way to continue to build that community for those who need and want it.
Jacobsen: Why is Christmas not an issue for this community effort in December? Where for others, it can be an issue. What is the dividing line there for you?
Thomas: Many humanists, atheists, and freethinkers recognize Christmas as, ultimately, a secular holiday. It has pagan roots; nothing about Christ included. However, it has become being very commercial, and the images of Santa are Eurocentric in nature.
A lot of people will go into debt buying Christmas gifts for loved ones. I know there are some secularists who have an issue with that from a societal perspective. I think one of the reasons why the holiday season isn’t much of an issue for us in Atlanta is because many of us enjoy it.
Personally speaking, it is still a great way to be with family. Also, there are other holidays that people can celebrate. There is Human Light, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah (for the culturally Jewish) and Kwanzaa (primarily African American). We like being festive. We want to continue in that community celebration to, at least, bring people together in a positive manner.
It doesn’t always have to be downtrodden for us. We can turn that around and create new traditions. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and the communities we have established have been really helpful for us.
Jacobsen: Also, for some, hearing that, the idea Christian rooted in a pagan holiday, “What do you mean? This is not a pagan holiday. It is meant to celebrate our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Things of this sort. It can be jarring. What would be a response to many Americans who see Christmas as a purely religious and, therefore, non-secular celebration?
Thomas: Well, I always recommend that people do their research [Laughing]. It is important to understand the Christmas being rooted in the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th is, in fact, borrowed from older religions whose gods were born on that particular day. All of them are fictional anyway.
I try to refer people to sources where they can read more on it themselves. Of course, people may choose to do what they want with that information, which is either continuing the celebration as they’ve been indoctrinated, or they can take it all into consideration and make revisions. Some do both. They do both Santa and Jesus, which I find odd. The history of the holiday is more rooted around gift-giving, food, and having a really good time.
It is always good to incorporate education and information with celebration. Edutainment, the term that the great rapper KRS One coined, (also was the name of one of his albums) [Laughing]. I would recommend this for someone who is so hardcore in wanting to emphasize Jesus Christ and God during this holiday.
Jacobsen: What are your opinions on the popularization of this holiday as marketing and salesmanship or salespersonship ploy in the United States, where it becomes about applying the biggest, newest, baddest toy someone can find
Thomas: Unlike what some people have said, particularly in the Black community – Black Friday, is NOT about enslaved being sold. It is the time of the year where companies’ project their profits to go “in the black”.
It is actually a boost to the economy. But again, it can have a down side, and I do think that Christmas has indeed become over-commercialized.
While growing up, I recall that my mother stopped celebrating Christmas. Our household started celebrating Kwanzaa, which does incorporate gift giving, but not to the excessive point of Christmas.
It can be overwhelming pressure for people to buy gifts that they cannot afford. There is also the reinforcement of guilt if you do not buy presents. Or if someone (mainly children) does not have a gift during the holidays, there is potential pressure and ridicule.
I think that’s another reason why the holidays can be depressing for many folks. And it takes a strong will to resist that.
Recognizing that part of the holiday while enjoying the Christmas lights, the celebrations, the gingerbread houses, food, etc. is very beautiful to me. I enjoy that very much.
Most people’s “spirits” tend to be joyous during this time of year. And I enjoy seeing people have a good time. While it is good to acknowledge the history and how polarizing it can be for some, it’s also good to partake in the festivities, and make the most of the season.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
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.