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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > AFRICA: DATING AS AN ATHEIST IN CHRISTIAN COUNTRY


Friday 8 November 2013, by siawi3


The relevant scene begins at the 10:23 mark

In my experience, nothing meets with more negativity than telling a black woman you’re an atheist. I was once on a date that was going quite well until my date mentioned that she wanted to switch churches and asked which one I attended (note her assumption that I was a Christian). I told her I didn’t attend church. She paused, recovered, then said she knows some people who just privately read the bible and are non-denominational Christians. I told her I didn’t read the bible and that I was an atheist. From the look of sheer horror that spread across her face it was as if I’d just told her I was a pedophile. Her next words were that she could not be in the company of a man who was not “God-fearing” and that she had to leave. It’s something I can laugh about now, but it certainly wasn’t funny back then. For a few years, that single experience made me traverse carefully the subject of religion with black women, because, I discovered, if there is one thing many black women love, it’s Jesus. Go to any predominantly black church, and I guarantee you that the female congregants will be the majority.

After a few more negative experiences with black women as a result of being open about my atheism, I softened my approach. I wasn’t an atheist anymore; I became “spiritual”, which, in hindsight, was more or less meaningless. Nothing about my lack of belief in a God changed. I was still in fact an atheist, but identifying as spiritual proved to be more acceptable to black women. Even black women who weren’t devout were turned off at the mere idea of atheism. You had to have faith, even if you didn’t lead a life according to the tenets of Christianity. You simply weren’t going to get far denouncing God. I’ll never forget one individual who felt it was her duty to chastise me because of my atheism, and asked if I was a Satanist. I had to remind her that the only people who believe Satan exists are the religious. In fact, the basis of Christianity is doing everything you can to avoid spending an eternity with him in the afterlife. Despite this, many devout people still equate atheism with the devil.

Thus black atheists are in the closet, and remain so in their family life, their friendships, and in their romantic life. Whether you’re in Africa or in the African diaspora, you simply cannot denounce God in black communities without raising suspicion. The consequences are too heavy. So we remain in the closet while we attend religious services.

James Baldwin once said “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticise her perpetually.” Likewise, my criticism is born out of love. Fortunately, the internet has given rise to more outspoken people, who in turn are letting others know that they aren’t alone (see AtheismAfrica: Secular values from an African perspective and FreeThoughtify. I am glad to see some push-back from black atheists; it’s long overdue. Maybe Africans and the African diaspora (and everyone else in the world) will one day cease ostracising people who don’t believe in sky gods. I certainly hope so. Everyone now loves Fela Kuti, especially Africans. If that is true, then we all need to listen to the lyrics of Shuffering and Shmiling and take what Fela said to heart