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.
Here we talk about some posters in 2020.
*This was conducted August 10, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We’re going to be talking about posters. That’s going to tie into, I think, the “black family.” That is, technically, a broader term and more general than the term the African-American family, because, though, some could come could be recent immigrants to the United States of African heritage, but are not African-American in the sense of a long term, here’s the most people who would be understanding. So, what’s going on with the posters? What’s the larger context?
Mandisa Thomas: Following the Black Family Discussion, we decided to erect some billboard ads that encouraged people to consider their beliefs as being a factor in white supremacy and preventing people from having true liberation. As we are experiencing both the pandemic as well as a rise in actions against racial injustice, there has been a call for monuments that upholds these ideals and institutions to be removed. But the one institution that is overlooked is Christianity and its roots in particular, because it has been a huge culprit in the enforcement in racism – ideals and all.
So, the purpose is to get the black community to reassess their relationship with religion, especially Christianity. Because as we call for justice, they’re going to need to take a hard look to this belief system and how it hinders those efforts. As more people shed those beliefs, they start understanding how problematic they are. We want to let people know that it is okay for them to let it go, if justice is truly to be served.
Jacobsen: So, let’s say, I’m an individual believer. I’m a Christian. I label myself a religious person. I consider myself a moral person. I walk ‘bearing the Cross,’ to use the language, in my life. Then someone comes along and critiques it, in that language used by you, they might be thinking or asking, “What do you mean by Christianity in relation to black Americans? What do you mean by its role in oppression?”
Thomas: There is documentation proving Christianity to have been instrumental in establishing the laws that instituted systems of oppression of black people and other marginalized groups in the country. So, in talking to believers, when they ask the question, “What do you mean by that?”, we in turn ask them about their religion and its language of servitude, of subjugation, and ‘obey your masters,’ and how that was historically a catalyst for the enslavement of our ancestors. We’re asking them to reconsider that, especially given this history – all while not discounting the role of the church at that time. It has been thoroughly documented whether people have researched it or not.
We are challenging people to think beyond those beliefs, because they have hindered the state of our communities physically, economically, and psychologically. And some may have actually thought about it. They may have questioned those beliefs previously, but afraid to openly do so due to potential consequences. That is unfortunately, a byproduct of believing in a religion that “curses” you for having the courage to think for yourself. So, what we are encouraging people to do is confront those fears, and even let them go.
They may still choose to believe at the end of the day. And we’re not going to tell them that they should stop. But those who might be on their way out need to know that there are more out here. And there are going to be more in the future. Whether believers like it or not, at some point, they’re going to be confronted with more people who are challenging their beliefs – and either they need to be prepared to either properly defend them or fully assess, and/or let them go.
Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you, as always.
Thomas: Thank you.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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.
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Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.