Celebrating Nonbelievers in Interfaith America

Never in my lifetime would I have ever thought to see the day where in the United States, the first Black President. And now, the first Black Vice President – a very qualified woman. 

When the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Unites States Constitution wrote these documents, I think we can conclude with certainty that the enslaved Africans, their descendants, and women were not who they had in mind. And though religious freedom was spelled out, justifying human subjugation through Christianity has fostered centuries of paradox and privilege (to say the least) for certain demographics in this country. 

There has been a long struggle to overturn these institutional practices and for the voices of the oppressed to be heard. But as history often shows, change is inevitable with awareness, education, compassion, and resistance to tyranny.  

After experiencing a grueling Presidential administration for the last four years, which was riddled with religious privilege and the infringement on the rights of many American citizens, it is refreshing to see a progressive horizon, with an emphasis on science, evidence-based information, and respect for human rights and liberties. 

If the 2020 election cycle has shown us nothing else, it is that while we are making great strides and that we, the American people, can pull together to make the changes we want to see – there is still much work ahead in working towards equality and overturning those institutions that have affected the marginalized in this country. And as a Black woman who is an atheist, openly and unapologetically, this seems slow at times, but it is steadily coming. 

My work with Black Nonbelievers has centered around increasing the presence of atheists and religion doubters in our communities. Although historically we have been overshadowed due to the negative stigma, we have always been here. And there are many generations who also share this perspective. We can acknowledge the role that the church and religion play, especially during extremely tumultuous times, while also offering critiques of these institutions.  We can also prominently displaying those of us who outright have either never believed or have shed our religious identities over time. It is also important to acknowledge and educate others about some iconic figures who have contributed much to our country’s framework yet had little to no religious belief whatsoever. These are not dirty secrets, but rather hidden gems, and should be uncovered and shared as much as possible.  

While it has indeed been challenging, I have had wonderful opportunities to help others understand atheism better. It has been great to work with organizations like the National Museum for African American Culture and the Religious Freedom Center to represent the non-religious perspectiveespecially from within the Black community, where there is still such an overwhelming religious influence. It is great to see genuine interest in the changing trends in religious belief, especially in young people and other communities that are arising outside of traditional norms.   

To achieve full religious diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is important for the new Presidential administration to establish more interfaith dialogue and opportunities to work together. The growth of our communities will depend on our ability to talk to and help each other – and understand that we do not need to share the same faith perspectives to be successful. In fact, dissecting these traditions can help us better understand our communities’ problems, and resolve them. 

As the number of atheists and nonreligious continues to grow, I am confident that others will begin to see us for who we are hardworking, passionate human beings who care about issues that affect humanity.  We care very much about the state of our communities. We are not telling people what to think and do, but that they SHOULD think for themselves. Atheists, humanists, agnostics, and freethinkers are nothing to fear And we are a reminder that this country has always been diverse in religious perspectivesAnd it is time that the political landscape reflects this, just as the founding of this country intendedThis can be done by reaching out to, and efficiently working with organizations like Black Nonbelievers and others who represent us, the American people.   

Mandisa Thomas is the founder and president of Black Nonbelievers. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.