GC: On that topic: When people criticize atheism and the newly vocal, "openly critical of religion" atheist movement, one of the tropes that I see a lot is that this openly critical atheism is disrespectful to marginalized communities like the black community. The argument goes that because religion is so deeply interwoven into black history and black culture, and because the comfort of religion is so important to a community that's had such a hard time of it, criticizing religion is disrespectful and racist. As a black atheist, what are your thoughts on that?
SH: Clearly criticizing religion is not racist. One of the charges of atheistic discourse is foregrounding how there is nothing intrinsically superior about religious observance -- its value for African Americans as a people derives from a specific cultural and historical context of institutional racism and oppression. The supposed basic moral precepts of Judeo- Christian theology -- love for one’s neighbor, tolerance, doing unto others, non-judgment, etc. -- are certainly not exclusive to religious doctrine, while the hierarchies, persecution and intolerance based on race, gender, sexuality and ideology that religious doctrine breeds effectively negate the moral preeminence that organized religion presumes. These contradictions open up a path for critical engagement by atheists of color with why organized religion has been so toxic vis-a-vis validating the rich diversity of communities of color. African American intellectuals and thinkers (see for example Frederick Douglass' critique of "slaveholding" Christianity) have always challenged the role religious orthodoxy plays in African American communities. This historical complexity has just never been "officially" recognized by white scholars.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Writer Sikivu Hutchinson (check out her articles here) was recently interviewed by Greta Christina (full interview here) about atheism, racism, sexism and the preponderance of white, male thinkers as the go-to spokespeople for the so-called New Atheist movement. I found the following excerpt from the interview particularly interesting: