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Black, atheist and living in the South
A group of black atheists meets in Atlanta.
December 8th, 2011
01:56 PM ET

Black, atheist and living in the South

By Kim Chakanetsa, CNN

Editor's note: Listen to the CNN Radio broadcast about black atheists in the South:

 (CNN) - Benjamin Burchall first realized how different his experience in the South was going to be while looking for something to watch on television on a Sunday night.

"I couldn't find anything on television but religious programming,” says Burchall, 38, a former Christian minister and agricultural consultant who moved from Long Beach, California, to Atlanta for work in 2010, “And I thought, 'Oh my God, where am I? Is this all that is on television here?'"

And he quickly found other differences from West Coast living.

"I was not used to meeting someone for the first time and having their first question be ‘what church do you go to?’"

Burchall’s proud response to such queries was, “None.” He is part of an increasingly visible minority – black atheists living in the Bible Belt.

Mandisa Thomas, a mother of three, has lived in Atlanta for more than 13 years. An atheist since her early 20s, Thomas has a two-pronged strategy when it comes to dealing with the religion question. The first is simply not talking about it unless someone else brings it up.

The second is a kind of warning: “I will ask, ‘Are you sure you want to hear this?’” she says. The goal, Thomas says, is to avoid unnecessary confrontations.

But there are other situations that are simply a part of living down South.

Take the Walmart employee who suggested Thomas come back for gospel singer Yolanda Adams’ book signing, or the stranger who approached her and asked if she was born again and implored her to turn her life to Jesus when she said she wasn’t.

“There is an assumption that black woman in particular are religious,” says Thomas.

Statistics suggest that is a fair assumption to make. A much-cited study published in 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that of all the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, black Americans are most likely to report a formal religious affiliation. Less than 1.5% of blacks identify themselves as atheist or agnostic, compared with 5% of whites and 7% of Asians.

The same study notes that nearly four of five African-Americans (79%) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% among all U.S.adults.

However, the trend among black Americans is toward greater levels of nonbelief. The number of blacks reporting no religion in American Religious Identification Survey almost doubled between 1990 and 2008.

In the South, this trend is witnessed by the emergence of groups such as the Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta (BNOA), and the Humanist Congregation of Greater Atlanta. The proliferation of YouTube videos and forum postings by Southern atheists also suggest a growing desire to build a community for the religiously unaffiliated.

Burchall says it’s not necessarily the case that there are more black atheists these days, “but there is an increase in the number of people coming out and saying they are black atheists.”

And there are more organizations looking to decouple black culture from religion. In January, Burchall and Thomas co-founded BNOA with the aim of bringing together black atheists who might otherwise be shunned by family and friends. Burchall and Thomas had initially joined an atheist group in Atlanta, but they wanted an organization that spoke directly to their experiences as African-Americans.

For most of American history, meaning in the African-American community has been tied to religion.

“The church has always been at the forefront of providing meaning, identity, mission and purpose for the lives of African-American people,” says Gregory Eason, the senior pastor at the historic Big Bethel AME Church in downtown Atlanta.

Many black atheists argue that Christianity was imposed on African slaves in the United States and are uneasy with how fully African-Americans have embraced it.

“It was forced on our ancestors; now their descendants have fallen for it hook, line and sinker and it has been such a part of our culture,” says Burchall.

“Oftentimes blacks believe that Christianity is black culture, and if you are not Christian you are not part of the community,” he says. “After all, it was Christianity that helped us through slavery times and the civil rights movement.”

For Mario Dorsey, an Atlanta native, Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta helped him feel comfortable with moving away from that tradition.

“I joined because I felt that in the black community religion was much more of a social movement, almost like a mass hypnotism,” Dorsey says. “It felt pretty cool to be part of a group that actually thought like I do.”

Like many black atheists, Dorsey does not announce his atheism loudly.

“For the most part I don’t walk around with atheist on my shoulder," he says. "Most people won’t know unless they ask me, but when I am asked I get this really weird reaction as if I’d said I torture monkeys for a living or something. It’s really weird.”

Dorsey acts as the organization’s lead online administrator. The role is particularly important as the Internet has played a significant role in recruiting members. Thomas, the current president, estimates they have about 30 people who regularly attend meetings. The community online is even larger, with up to 150 members.

Burchall, who left Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta in June this year to pursue other opportunities, has since founded another organization, the Humanist Congregation of Greater Atlanta.

Dominique Huff, another lifelong Atlantan, the son of a preacher, first heard about Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta on Facebook. He says he became a nonbeliever in high school.

It hasn't been particularly easy living in a city where “it’s always, ‘Have a blessed day,’ and you see churches on every street corner,” he says. But since 2000, Huff has slowly chosen to embrace his nonbelief, a decision that has not been easy for his minister mother.

“She is kind of in denial about it,” Huff says. “It is not a conversation we have. She still tries to pray with me. I pray along with her. I am like, ‘That’s where you at; that’s not for me.' There is like an invisible line we just never talk about.”

The online conversation is particularly vibrant, with numerous YouTube postings and blogs addressing the cultural taboo. A posting dated February 24, 2011, found on the Atheist Nexus, an umbrella networking organization, spoke of the difficulty of being black, atheist and homosexual in Mississippi. The member has since started a ‘secret’ Facebook group targeting other atheists and in April 2011 noted that of the 85 atheists who had joined, 10 were black.

The impetus for starting the group was made clear in a posting that read: “given how obsessed people in Mississippi are with Christianity, being an atheist here is very isolating and difficult. Add to that the fact that I'm Black and non-heterosexual, and we're talking social suicide.”

On ExChristian.net, a posting by a member identified as ‘kclark’ details the struggles of growing up in a religious household as a gay atheist in a small town in central Louisiana.

YouTube has become an especially popular outlet for African-Americans to declare their atheism. Jeremiah, a 20-year-old ‘living somewhere in the heart of the bible belt’ in April last year uploaded a video arguing that faith and the Bible are not evidence that God exists and affirming that he is proud to be an atheist. In a video uploaded in September 2009, Marquell Garrett, who is based in North Augusta, South Carolina, addresses the oft-asked question: where are the black atheists?

Garrett concludes that the consequences of declaring oneself an atheist in the black community have resulted in many nonbelievers remaining closeted.

Garrett also runs a blog titled Atheist Fighting Back Keeping Strong and Speaking Out‘ where he writes of his experiences of coming out as an atheist at age 14 in South Carolina.

Not all postings are related to a rejection of Christianity, however. A YouTube video by a member based in Birmingham, Alabama, who identifies himself as Bilal3700 details why he left Islam to become an atheist.

Unlike other parts of the South where activities by black atheists remain online, Atlanta appears to be spearheading the momentum with the creation of nonbeliever organizations such as the Humanist Congregation of Greater Atlanta, which allow a previously marginalized minority a voice and a community that goes beyond anonymous avatars.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Georgia • United States

soundoff (1,233 Responses)
  1. mike

    i gotta ask, is it priority one for CNN to find the super minority before they do a human interest story on a topic? i haven't seen an atheist story on here for years, and when i finally do, its about black female atheists in the south....i will give anything to see the editors checklist on story's that get approved

    December 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Travis

      Hit the nail on the head Mike.... Tune in next week to hear about the "trans-gendered hispanic muslim hedge-fund manager" support group and their courageous struggle for acceptance.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Your son is playing my meat flute

      If its Anti-white, anti-rich, anti-intelligent, pro-monkey, pro-lazy, pro-jib a boo then CNN is all about it.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  2. Skegeeace

    I'm sorry, but I don't see telling someone, "Have a blessed day!" as a means of oppression. It's just like saying, "Bless you!" when someone sneezes. Are you going to picket me if I say that, too? :: Eyerolll ::

    I also don't agree with the idea that Christianity was "imposed" on slaves. That's like saying "capitalism" was imposed on slaves. It turned out to be a good thing, no? Also, a lot of them embraced it freely (unlike the majority Native Americans who were threatened at gunpoint.)

    If you want to be an atheist, fine! Who's stopping you?

    December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • No one knows the truth

      The world would be a MUCH better place if we were all athsiests.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • lolwut

      Christianity is what rationalized bringing slaves to America, the bible is riddled with all sorts of information on how to be a good slave master.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • GB

      I roll my eyes every time someone says "Bless you" when I sneeze. But, I still say "Thank you" to be polite.

      When I hear a sneeze, I say "Gesundheit".

      December 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  3. stickyd

    And we wonder why society's morals and ethics have deteriorated? I'm not a bible beater, but how can one even be familiar with the written scripture and the many things it's proven, and not realize there is some greater power out there? If people want to be Atheist, then that's their right. However, don't make fun or condemn Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc....for having faith and believing in a God. I'd rather be wrong about a God existing than be wrong about one not existing!

    December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • YeahRight

      "I'm not a bible beater, but how can one even be familiar with the written scripture and the many things it's proven,"

      It's proven nothing that's the point, it's a bunch of nonsense taken from other religion and pagan rituals.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      you dont need religion to have morals or ethics.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      It has never proven anything, and many things in it have been proven false, so you are seriously delusional. Where is all that evidence for a world-wide flood? It's not there, that's what I thought.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • stickyd

      spoken clearly like a person that has never even read the bible through and through. Look pal, I don't expect you to believe, nor do I, everything in the bible. However, there are many interesting and historical lessons and facts in it. Just b/c you don't believe or have faith in something doesn't mean you have to condemn someone else that does. That's the problem here. Atheists want to be respected and not talked down to, yet they are the first to make fun of or ridicule believers. It's your right not to believe just like it's a person's right to believe. Deal with it.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Duh

      "Look pal, I don't expect you to believe, nor do I, everything in the bible. However, there are many interesting and historical lessons and facts in it.'

      Just because a book might reference a few historical facts doesn't mean it's REAL. There are many fictional books that reference historical facts to make the story.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • blaqb0x

      Yes, the bible is proof that donkeys can talk like on Shrek, Numbers chapter 22.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • stickyd

      @Duh, why does it bother you that me or anyone else wants to believe or have faith? It's not my end-goal to convert you to be a Christian, so why is it your goal to convince me to be an Atheists. Just move on and live your life the way you choose..........just don't look down or make fun of others for choosing to believe.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      It's because religion is a delusion, don't you get it? It's brain damage, and you're sick and you need medical attention. That's what makes it laughable; religion was invented by an atheist, and you just went along with it because someone told you to.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Bob

      Oh, that old line. Stickyd, virtually everyone in America has read the bible and knows its disgusting contents pretty well. That horrid book is unavoidable; we have it pushed at us all the time from an early age. Are you ready to stand by your claim that we don't understand it, because if you are, I'll take you on, on bible knowledge, any day.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • lolwut

      If we took our morals from your holy book we would resemble a Dark Age society. Secular humanism has been the greatest contributor to our modern sense of morality. "Man, it sure must be hard to inject reason into my morals, better do what this book tells me unquestionably!"

      December 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Justin

      It's exactly the sentiment of your last line which shows how our made up religion operates and maintains its hold on people. Who says not believing in a God, and then finding out there is one, is such a bad thing? Only because our stories include a punishment for such a thing do people like you say things like that. I'm sure if there is a God he would understand why we would not believe in him blindly, citing only old stories that are comparable to the mythology we laugh at today as 'proof'.

      Our religions, all of them, are a crock. Doesn't mean there isn't a God – just means our organizations that spread hate and plunder money in the name of God and scare folks into 'believing' are extremely wrong. One day humans will look back at the religious stories of this day and chuckle, too.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Not only that, christians and muslims believe in the "end times" where all non-believers will be persecuted and killed. That means all Hindus and Buddhists and scientologists and atheists will be systematically tortured and murdered because they will refuse to believe in jebus and mohomet. What kind of insane nonsense is that? It's time for the insane asylum for people who believe that BS.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • stickyd

      just look at all of the response to me. Name-calling, mean-spirited, evil. Yep, that's an Atheists for you. You fools act as if someone who is a Christian is a bad person who commits crimes and ruins society, which isn't the case. I wonder why you folks don't have the same mean comments and rude things to say about Muslims and the Koran? Nope b/c you're scared of them. You're beef is with Christianity, when Islam is the one you should be focused on. At least Christians have evolved. None of your insults, rude comments, or name calling is going to stop me from believing in God, so you can move on.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Duh

      "@Duh, why does it bother you that me or anyone else wants to believe or have faith? It's not my end-goal to convert you to be a Christian, so why is it your goal to convince me to be an Atheists. Just move on and live your life the way you choose..........just don't look down or make fun of others for choosing to believe.'

      Because you do try to force your religion on others. For example, Christians that are blocking gays their civil rights even though most of the experts in the world have said they are normal people. Another great example look at the rantings of Geroge on this blog.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Justin

      @sticky
      I don't see anything evil with what's been said, and you just called us 'fools' so I guess you use name calling as well. Also, the fact that you turn this into us 'siding' with Muslims just shows the nonsensical Christian babble has clouded your brain. No one here was supporting Muslim religion, I think the sentiment is aimed at all religions. Ironically, you Christians have much more in common with Muslims than atheists do. You all believe in human created stories and spread hate and go to war in the name of them.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • V

      So you believe in your faith just because you you feel safer that way JUST IN CASE there is a god? Quality christian right here

      December 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • agnosticwinner

      give one example of what the bible has "proven" beyond a shadow of a doubt.
      anything. anything at all.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  4. WhatWhatWhat?

    The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of your surroundings, and whether they complement or contradict your lifestyle. I grew up in Detroit, and left there because it was insane. If I was black and/or atheist, I would leave the southeast and go ANYWHERE else, except Texas.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  5. Really

    Isn't it odd that the words that came out of the "Atheist's" mouth was...O, God??? How ironic? Atheist don't believe in God...And. God doesn't believe in atheists...Belive that!

    December 9, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Its an expression.
      If i am surprised I exclaim 'b u g g e r me' but it doesnt mean I actually want to be b u g g e r e d

      December 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • lolwut

      it's more of an idiomatic expression that's been hardwired in to someone's general vocab. pointless post.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • No, really

      Your attempts to sound intelligent have fallen far short, I'm afraid.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • No one knows the truth

      I say "oh god" all the time. I also say "i hope Santa Claus is good to me this Christmas"...doesn't mean much. Its part of the society we live in. in Spanish many still say Ojala (oh allah) its left over frum when the muslims occupied Spain, but these are rabid catholics using this expression. Doesn't mean much.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Skegeeace

      And here comes the condescending, insulting atheist. If you're so "moral" without faith/religion, why is it you just can't help insulting someone who's done nothing to you but express a neutral opinion? That's what gets me about atheists- not that they don't believe as I do, but that the majority of them are such jerks and hypocrites!

      December 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • HellBent

      "the majority of them are such jerks and hypocrites!"

      Yet you just complain that atheist have no morals because they insult people. Pot, meet kettle.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Rick

      we know that atheists exist. if god doesn't, it is not omniscient

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • .....

      "but that the majority of them are such jerks and hypocrites!"

      pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.

      The log in your eye is making you blind.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • No one knows the truth

      @ Skegeeace
      Its not my fault you are simple minded.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  6. Masharc

    This is strange. Shouldn't blacks be more comfortable being Atheist? I've heard they don't go heaven, so being not-Christian would be appropriate for them, wouldn't it?

    December 9, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • db

      What! That's just a stupid remark.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • No one knows the truth

      If their is a heaven, bigots like you will not be entering.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      That sounds like a remark a mor(m)on would say, like Mitt Romney.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  7. DefyTheGods

    Wow! Black AND athiest? Now, that's progress! We are the monority within the minority. LOL

    December 9, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  8. John316

    Yes, CNN, we get it. Atheists "abound" and they must be recognized.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  9. Josh

    Religious Skeptic Thought of the Day: I've had many a "believer" ask me.. "Where did everything come from, if not from intelligent design, if not from a God?" - I reply, " Where did this supposed God come from?" - At this point neither of us can answer definitely, but.. and this is a monumental "but", only one of us believes in an invisible man. I take comfort in this.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Really

      It's called Faith...

      December 9, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • bigDizzle

      My reply is that it doesn't matter. Some people have hard lives and some don't; but even in the hardest situations you can find joy in life from friends and family. It feels good to be alive; it doesn't matter "why" you're alive.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • o.k.

      "At this point neither of us can answer definitely, but.. and this is a monumental "but", only one of us believes in an invisible man. I take comfort in this."

      I take comfort that my faith, at the very least, affords me hope. You have none–your comfort is temporary.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Reply

      God did not come from anyone/anything. He has always existed and will always exist. It's human nature to question things like this and it is perfectly fine. We just aren't satisfied with the answer. We cannot wrap our minds around "eternity". God is not "invisible" either as you suppose. He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve, and in the new heaven and earth, His glory will be our light. He has plenty of physical characteristics.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "It's called Faith.."
      Its called other things as well, most of them can be found in psychiatry books.
      "I take comfort that my faith, at the very least, affords me hope"
      and that they call denial.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • catholic engineer

      There's a more basic problem than whether things were intelligently designed. How did intelligence come to exist at all? When we wonder at the universe, is this intelligence, or just a reflex put there by evolution.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • lolwut

      my imaginary friend makes me feel all fuzzy inside! guess what? that doesn't make him anymore real than a flying unicorn or Santa Claus.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • YeahRight

      "I take comfort that my faith, at the very least, affords me hope. You have none–your comfort is temporary."

      The lies Christians have to tell themselves is amazing so but you"re full of shit, our joy is deep and long lasting because we understand the true meaning of love. You have to believe in an imaginary deity because you don't know how.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • DMAN

      Actually, anybody who believes that a Supreme Being created the world is much more equipped to answer this question than an atheist. The "believer" would say that God created the universe and the laws that govern it. He is above these laws and is not bound by them. the atheist cannot explain how something comes from absolute nothing, or at least they can't at this point in time. Let me know when they come up with something.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • lolwut

      @Reply Are you tripping? Cling to your fairytales as much as you like, but do not act as if you are correct.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • HellBent

      @DMAN – our ancestors couldn't explain why the sun rose. So god did. You're being as ignorant and short-sighted as they were.

      And science does show us that something comes from nothing – just google virtual particles.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • lolwut

      @DMAN yo I've come up with something, our universe was actually created by an alien named Jeff who really likes biscuits. There is just as much evidence for my theory as there is for yours. Slapping a supernatural bandage on the question tells us NOTHING. God used to be everywhere, now he's the topic on the origins of the universe which will probably, in time, be explained by natural law.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Duh

      "The "believer" would say that God created the universe and the laws that govern it. He is above these laws and is not bound by them. the atheist cannot explain how something comes from absolute nothing, or at least they can't at this point in time. Let me know when they come up with something."

      LMAO Yo moron so you are trying to tell us you God was created from absolutely nothing too. DUH! What a hypocrite. LOL!

      December 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Rick

      i find it odd that people use the possibility of an intelligent designer to make the leap to it being a being that judges the thoughts and actions of humans.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Jay

      Good one Josh! Who made God? The Big Bang theory is rubbish because we can't come from nothing, but God came from no where, and has always been there?? The article is brilliant in that in really does point out that religion was forced on slaves, and that all it takes is some research to show where we all come from, and what our cultures believed before western/european beliefs took over. I hope more people leave these silly religions behind, and we start working on logical ways of helping human beings evolve into better people.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  10. HotAirAce

    I want to give all the atheist blacky men a free hand shandy on their tallywacker.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  11. Lisa

    You gonna go right to hell with them white folk...

    December 9, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • No one knows the truth

      @ Lisa......But there is no hell, silly. That is just mythological scare tactics to subdue the masses. try thinking for yourself instead of believing this ancient garbage.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • AmeriKa

      And you to racist hell!!!! Always got be one in the crowd.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  12. zoundsman

    I have the best of friends who are Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, etc. Whatever calms them to function in an increasingly
    anxiety ridden world is fine with me. They're all "systems" like differing governments which can occasionally clash in ugly
    ways. All these friends never impose on me, which is why they're friends. Early man had no control over natural phenomenon, i.e., lightning, thunder, etc. He erected idols, believed in gods to relieve primitive anxiety. This belief he had some measure of control by sacrifice, worship, magic incantation, assuaged his fears.

    To cut to the chase: thanks for not appearing at my door with the Watchtower rag anymore ...I love you ,man!

    December 9, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Fred

      Well said!

      December 9, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  13. Colin

    Ten Ways You Know you are an Atheist.

    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.

    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.

    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.

    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.

    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.

    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump off a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.

    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar, Darwin-u akbar”.

    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.

    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.

    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    December 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Curious

      Is it really so hard to tell that you are an atheist? Not enough to just say there are no gods and move on?

      December 9, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      It's a public message board. Anyone can say what they want. Even you.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Curious

      Seriously, you are simply attempting to re-brand metaphysical naturalism and moralism. Atheism does not, by itself, inspire any "genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe". Nor does it influence anyone to "retain a large amount of the morality taught today" (by anyone). Egoism is as acceptable to an atheist as moralism is. It is simply a matter of personal choice.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • fred

      "7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude"
      -Theodore Richard Kaczynski aka unabomber, Atheist, Sierra Club,

      December 9, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • catholic engineer

      A well thought out statement, Colin. But I think you have described extremely immature religious believers. I would point out that the author(s) of Genesis gloried at the wonders of the universe longer ago than you or I. But the author was less interested in the "what" than in the "why". You addressed death as a complete end. In doing good, religious people often remember that the recipients of goodness are children of God. Contrary to this, the atheist believes than we are infinitely small in the universe, and ultimately meaningless. Per the atheist, every person lives a life that has no absolute meaning.His life and death mean nothing. Doesn't it fullow that any good done by the atheist is ultimately irrelevant since it is done for irrelevant beings. If I feed a million starving people, it means nothing since they are going into the same hole as I. Since this is true, there is no need for a unique set of moral principles. It's okay to borrow some until we get around to dying. So, for the atheist, religion is useful.

      Most atheists take a long view of the outermost layer of religion and reject what they see. They are not aware that religion possesses depths upon depths. The mystic Evelyn Underhill stated " Absolutes are known only to absolute mind; our measurements, however careful and intricate, can never tally with the measurements of God." Absolutes are known only to absolute mind; our measurements, however careful and intricate, can never tally with the measurements of God." – Evelyn Underhill

      December 9, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • HellBent

      @fred, glad to see you missed the 'generally' part.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • HellBent

      "Per the atheist, every person lives a life that has no absolute meaning.His life and death mean nothing. Doesn't it fullow that any good done by the atheist is ultimately irrelevant since it is done for irrelevant beings. If I feed a million starving people, it means nothing since they are going into the same hole as I. Since this is true, there is no need for a unique set of moral principles. It's okay to borrow some until we get around to dying."

      While the atheist sees no grand, absolute meaning, that doesn't mean that there isn't relative meaning in our species. No god is required for that. Evolution easily explains the desire to benefit one's species beyond one's death.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Tom

      Great sum up. Fits me to a T. Even a degree in Biotechnology certainly helped to push ancient myths to one side.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Jay

      It is funny how many atheists think they are so smart. I am a Christian and have an engineering degree and a masters degree in engineering. I have had plenty of science educational background, but I believe science actually proves the existence of God. It is just too hard to believe the chances of everything happening so perfectly for life on earth to have just happened by chance. I heard an example one time it is like having a box full of parts to a watch and shaking it up and the watch putting itself together. Hard to believe. I think there is evolution, but I think it was designed and started by God.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Re: "Per the atheist..." what a load of believer drivel! This is nothing but a straw man argument to prop up a believer's need for a sense of purpose. If you need an imaginary friend to help you see the inherent value of treating everyone well, and helping others, then you are are sicker (more mentally ill) than I would have otherwise believed.

      Why can't believers grasp the simple fact that atheism is nothing more than a disbelief that gods exist! Why do believers continue to project their weaknesses and needs onto atheists?

      December 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Chuckles

      @CE

      Get in line behind all the other apparent nihlist christians that frequent this board. For some reason you decide that since god is the only one allowed to bestow meaning on something, that a life without god is meaningless. I can as.sure you it is not and just because I recognize that we are incredibly small compared to the rest of the universe, that our lives, the entire collective life of the human race for that matter doesn't even register as a blip on the universe, by why must that immediatly render everything irrelevant? We give our own meaning and feeding 1 million people is as important and meaningful to an atheist as it is a christian, jew, muslim, etc..., You don't have to give up on life entirely and deem everything meaningless just because there is no god.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @HellBent
      "Evolution easily explains the desire to benefit one's species beyond one's death." Isn't that as nebulous as the idea of heaven, appealing to some far off good?

      December 9, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Yeahright

      "Egoism is as acceptable to an atheist as moralism is"

      Actually based on many posts by Christians it really apparent their egos take the cake in that category.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Jay

      You might want your money back. If you actually do have the education you claim to believe (and hey, this is an anonymous message board, you can claim whatever you want) then you would know that life on earth is neither perfectly made nor did it come about by being "shaken up and put itself together". I'm not claiming to be the smartest person ever, but I mean come on! A person with an educational background like yours should know that the line you just tried to feed us is christian apologist drivel.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • fred

      "10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does."

      -Sorry, but I witnessed one atheist conversion and another that was very angry with God at last breath (not sure if that counts). There are lists of deathbed conversions on the internet but, I have no idea if they are true or false.

      As to fear of death if you are a firm believer in Christ I have only witnessed a joyful desire to be with Jesus.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @Chuckles "You don't have to give up on life entirely and deem everything meaningless just because there is no god." And we shouldn't give up on life. But the atheist philisophy of extremely stark and bleak. There is a difference between "knowing" something and "realizing" it. The atheist "knows" that there is only meaninglessness . If he were to "realize" this, and look it in the face, I believe he might go insane. The atheist believes that we are a light in the midst of great darkness. The devout person believes we are a darkness in the midst of great light.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • HellBent

      @catholic engineer: ""Evolution easily explains the desire to benefit one's species beyond one's death." Isn't that as nebulous as the idea of heaven, appealing to some far off good?"

      Nope – because one can devise and test falsifiable hypotheses regarding the relation between evolution and morality (and the evolution of morality). There's actually been quite a lot of research and studies in this area lately. That a lot different than saying 'I dunno – god did it'.

      @Curious: 'Egoism is as acceptable to an atheist as moralism is.'
      -Christianity would seem to require egoism. How else to you describe the theory that the entire universe was created just for us, and that we can have daily, personal conversation with an omnipotent being who loves us?

      December 9, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • YeahRight

      "You don't have to give up on life entirely and deem everything meaningless just because there is no god."

      That is the issue with Christianity, they need life to have a greater meaning. They don't want to believe their small amount of time alive is all there is, it scares the hell out of them. LMAO! The sad part is they don’t realize there is greater joy in living everyday to it’s fullest, loving those in your life deeply everyday because that is all there is. No, they think they’ll get to see their loved ones in heaven so it makes them not appreciate and care as deeply as they should. Believing in a God makes you lethargic to the real beauty of life.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • HellBent

      "The atheist "knows" that there is only meaninglessness . If he were to "realize" this, and look it in the face, I believe he might go insane."

      You're still failing to see the distinction between some grand universal Meaning, and relative meaning that we can create for ourselves. All of Life doesn't need to have meaning for one to find meaning in one's life.

      I find your an.alogy of light and dark interesting since Sagan had the exact opposite view – that science is the light in a demon-haunted world. A view that I think many atheists, including myself, share.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • YeahRight

      "The atheist believes that we are a light in the midst of great darkness. The devout person believes we are a darkness in the midst of great light."

      What total B S, but I will give you that most Christians are the darkness in this world, you all run around screaming the sky is falling, the sky is falling but it never does because you are all full of shit.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • RFBJR

      @Jay

      I hear you Jay. The typical answer from an atheist for not being one is "You're stupid." Many atheists mock God in their response to Christians. There is also this idea that in order to believe in God, you must "prove" He exists. And of course, the idea that the universe is complex and works together in somewhat perfection is not proof enough. As if the Big Bang or all species coming from one is provable or even plausible. Of course, I'm too stupid to understand. I need to get an education in astrophysics or something. I often ask atheists if they believe that thought exists. Of course, they must say yes, because we all have thoughts and know they exist. However, can you prove their existence through the scientific method? I've heard yes, but once the discussion starts, once again, I am too stupid to understand. Not that what they are saying makes any sense, but that is beside the point. Here is the deal, atheists don't believe in God because they don't know Him. We believe in God because we do know Him. The believers are actually the ones with the knowledge. Ironic, isn't it? The devil is the Father of the Lie and we know that. He makes right look wrong and wrong look right. And once again, he is doing a bang up job.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • catholic engineer

      I attempt to state my views as blandly as possible. But I've noticed how quickly the atheists lapse into emotionalism. You folks might want to control that if you're going to tell us how rational you are.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • KudzuKannibal

      Do you really think that someone has the time to read your philosophical BS. The article was long enough, go write a book that no one will buy!

      December 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • .....

      "I attempt to state my views as blandly as possible. But I've noticed how quickly the atheists lapse into emotionalism. You folks might want to control that if you're going to tell us how rational you are."

      The log in your eye is getting bigger.....and bigger...that you are now blind.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Montello

      Bully for you. I wrote down something similar about myself some years ago, but not so eloquently. I am a geologist/physicist and have spent my life in science. However, while I began questioning religion back in Sunday school, I needed to know more about what I couldn't believe in. Currently my library on world religions numbers in excess of 4000 volumes, all of them read, many more than once. As my scientific AND religious knowledge has grown, it has only reinforced my atheist beliefs. Thanks.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Chuckles

      @CE

      I don't understand why you keep telling me what my philosophy is. Stark and bleak? Hardly. With the realization that this life is the only one you get, you make the most of it. My life's philosophy has been to live this life to the fullest. Travel plaecs, try good food, make sure my loved ones are safe and happy. These are things I think are admirable in any world view, but I don't need a god to tell me that I'm special.

      Let me state again, for the record, that life is in no way meaningless. If anything, knowing that so far we are the only sentient beings in the known universe, our size in the universe and the ease in which we could be wiped out at a moments notice lets me know how truely special it is to live, but I don't need to thank a god or something when it's clear this was all shaped without a god, nor would there be anything to blame when an asteroid comes out of the Kuiper belt and bowls into us, or when the sun grows and engulfs us, or if the moon smashes into the earth and wipes us out.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • fred

      Chuckles
      “Travel plaecs, try good food, make sure my loved ones are safe and happy. These are things I think are admirable in any world view, but I don't need a god to tell me that I'm special.”
      => Solomon did these things to a greater extent than you ever could imagine. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher” His conclusion “fear God and keep his commandments”. Is it possible your life experience exceeds the wealthiest and most intelligent King?
      “realization that this life is the only one you get, you make the most of it”
      => I must be dense because when the affect of your life on your loved ones is extinguished in the passing of time you will in essence never have existed. How can you claim any meaning from that?
      Let me assume that you are correct and I am wrong. You speak of the present as if you are certain it exists yet everything you know is in the past and the future has not materialized. You cannot even jump ahead one second into the future because it does not yet exist. The moment there is no future the past no longer exists for you. Claiming that someone else could somehow benefit in the future from your non existence is nonsense.
      You cannot choose both a meaningful existence and a one dimensional limited time line. Even your own rational process tells you that without “God” or “alternate time line” Chuckles existence is meaningless. Why the need to assign fulfilling meaningful stuff to your time line? Why the constant justification of your existence. I notice other atheists are also obsessed with claiming a meaningful existence, after death as if it matters. It is almost as if we are dealing with a mental problem; the future has not happened and upon death there exists no possibility of a future therefore I am meaningful. Please help me understand how you can claim meaning after death when you say there is no life after death.

      December 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  14. Andrew

    To be a black atheist in the South is a very impressive accomplishment. The black community in the South exerts considerable influence on its members to conform and believe, or at least feign belief. To be able to rise above the nonsense of religious beliefs in the face of such pressures requires intelligence, courage and forti.tude.

    To any black atheist out there – congratulations, you are an impressive person.

    December 9, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Daniel

      Yes it is impressive. I live in the South and have no problem with any religion. Me, myself, I learned a long time ago, prolly when i was old enough to reason, that Christianity and any Judaic religion is a sales technique used to reign in mentally inept people. It truly is. I became a realist and buddhist in my 20's and have seen life in a true direction. Most black people i know have their own doubts about the "truth" of Jesus and the whole fairy tale bible thing. Most intelligent people in the South have no affiliation with these misleading stories drowned in supposed facts.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  15. MarcTTF

    @Misoral
    Isn't the state abbreviation for Nebraska NB?

    @CA
    Take off eh, you hoser!

    December 9, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Eaton Manasses

      Nebraska = NE.

      Canucks will never share. They eat all the doo doo.

      December 9, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  16. MarcTTF

    @Mirosal
    Isn't the state abbreviation for Nebraska NB?

    CA
    Take off eh! You stupid hoser!

    December 9, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • justme

      Nebraska's abbreviation is NE.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  17. Darth Tater

    Canucks are a bunch of doo dee eaters.

    December 9, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  18. Barry "Nose full of nickels" Manilow

    I bet they take turns wiping one anothers rear-ends.

    December 9, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  19. What's wrong with this picture

    Hmm. Someone who speaks only in mathematical terms. "There is certainty only in mathematics". Fundie = "certainty".
    Diagnosis: Anal Retentive Personality Disorder.

    December 9, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  20. Georgey

    putting fingers into ears....
    lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala

    December 9, 2011 at 5:46 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.