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. chris

    Like others have posted, I have lived in the South my whole life and it is absolutely ridiculous to say that there is nothing but religious programming on TV on Sunday nights in the South. I promise if you live in the South that you can turn on your TV on a Sunday night and watch 60 Minutes, Desperate Housewives, NFL Sunday Night Football and hundreds of other secular programs. This article is lame.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Finch

      Right, because the theme of the article was really about TV choices on a Sunday night. It was an anecdote. It may have been exaggerated.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  2. Nick

    I believe in god, but I do have a problem with churches. I think one can believe in god without church. I dont need the book to tell me right from wrong, your gut tells you that. The universe is a spectacular thing, its scope mostly behonx human comprehension. The unanswerable question is, and may always be. Who or what turned on the light, maybe we cant know.

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

      So why do you believe there is a God that did it. And if there was, who turned on His light?

      December 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Clovis

      streetsrt –

      because we know from science, logic, and human experience that no thing can come from nothing. There has to be some thing that started it all

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

      I dont have those answers, I just believe. I simply hope for a greater understanding in the afterlife, hope.

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

      Fair enough.
      Can you tell me why you believe in an afterlife, even if we agree to believe that God exists?

      December 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Michaeltanino

      Clovis, you aren't up to date on your science. First off, there is no evidence that such a thing as "nothing" exists. Nothing, as in absolutely nothing, may have never existed. Even when we consider it in our minds it is still "something". "Nothing" itself may need to be redefined.

      Secondly, something from "nothing" happens all the time. If you were to take empty space there are still particles there. If you remove all of the particles, there are still high energy virtual particles popping in and out of existence all the time from "nothing". So "nothing" isn't really nothing after all.
      The higher energy the virtual particle the shorter it's lifespan when it pops in and out of existence. Our Universe itself has a NET ENERGY of ZERO. For ALL the positive energy in the universe gravity acts as negative energy equally, cancelling it out making the NET energy of the Universe zero or so close to zero as not to matter. Our Universe itself may be a form of "nothing".

      Lastly, you call upon this "something can't come from nothing" argument but you do not apply this argument to God. It's hypocritical and self serving to your argument.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Madtown

      If you were to take empty space there are still particles there
      Michael, I appreciate your scientific approach, and it does sound simplistic to cling to "something can't come from nothing" reasoning, but it's a valid point. You mention particles in empty space. Where'd the particles come from? Where'd empty space come from? Who/what created the volume/box/area that is "empty space", and is this empty space in turn encased in a larger volume? I don't expect you to answer this, because I don't believe there currently is an answer. Seems to me it's a question worth pondering, though. Cheers...

      December 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Michaeltanino

      Madtown, it is important to ask questions, it is not important to make up answers to avoid the questions. If you can't explain something and you throw in "Goddunnit" as your answer, then that's intellectually lazy and serves no useful purpose.

      There are ideas out there trying to make sense of it, and M-Theory is one of them. I am not saying I buy M-Theory, because it is not something we can falsify currently, but it is a mathmatical answer to the Grand Unified Theory we are looking for.

      As for where those virtual particles come from, it is a good question worth exploring. It's not worth ignoring by claiming "Goddunnit", but it does show there is more natural events in the Universe (or outside of it) to explore.

      December 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  3. Tr1Xen

    I feel for ya... I'm a White atheist living in the Bible Belt and I feel like an anomaly. It's got to be even harder for Black atheists, especially in the South, where many of the biggest megachurches are predominantly Black, and it's almost assumed that if you're Black, you must be Baptist. As an atheist, many religious people tend to look down their noses at you... They figure that because you don't believe in God, you are somehow an indecent or immoral person, which is ignorant and often untrue. Some of the nicest people I've met are atheists. Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I base my behavior on my own personal code of ethics rather than a belief that if I don't behave a certain way, I'll face the wrath of some supreme being. I believe in treating others with dignity and respect and doing what is right just because it is right. I have integrity and take offense to claims that those without religion are without morals. I don't talk much about my religious views (or rather LACK of religious views...lol) to people who know me just because I'm always afraid their opinion of me might change if they knew I consider God to be a clever figment of man's imagination. I even put up Christmas lights and tell people, "Merry Christmas" just so the neighbors won't think I'm an old Scrooge. Not all of us are cold and mean-spirited the way Madalyn O'Hair was... I think she gave other atheists a bad name. I don't have to believe in God to believe in decency.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Deany Jim

      That makes you a hypocrite.

      I don't allow others to determine how I live my life; the best friends are those who stand by you regardless of any character trait. If your friends diss you for being an atheist, that just makes them bad friends.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  4. Jenn

    I thought the south was supposed to be known for it's hospitality. If you're not a "believer", hospitality goes right out the window.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Clovis

      There's no athiest like a southern athiest! Nasty, smug, hateful people

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

      Not surprised, that holds true almost anywhere. Most religious people adopt an "us vs them" mentality. It's ingrained in the very nature of some religions-even those like Christianity which allegedly is supposed to be the opposite. When a religion establishes a reward/punishment system for those who join them and don't join them, by it's very nature you set up "us vs them".

      December 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Michaeltanino


      Define "hateful". Does not being like you mean "hateful"? Does not adhering to your personal Biblical interpretation of rules make "them" hateful? I am really curious.

      BTW, atheists are really only united by their lack of a belief in a God. Someone being an atheist doesn't really tell you anything about that persons character, just like not being white doesn't really tell you anything about a persons character.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Clovis

      No – by hateful, I mean intolerant, rude, prejudicial, etc. It's like southern athiests feel they have more to prove, coming out of such an ostensibly religious culture

      December 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Michaeltanino

      You still haven't described what it is these "southern atheists" are doing that qualifies them or "all southern atheists" to your label. It seems to me the only hate I am witnessing is your own.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • What IF

      "There's no athiest like a southern athiest! Nasty, smug, hateful people"

      How many atheists do you actually know, Clovis?...4?

      Perhaps the self-confident ones who come out are more vocal ... even brash and ballsy. How about the many, many thousands who just keep it to themselves and are totally non-confrontational? You don't even know about them, do you?

      The number of smug, nasty Christians far, far, far outnumbers that of atheists, but I would never generalize to say *all* Christians are that way.

      December 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  5. KM

    The topic is a great one but it's an issue that won't be resolved for hundreds of years. Just as "we" ridicule the aztecs, Romans and Greeks for their numerous gods today it will take quite a while before future generations have the same view of "us" for believing in A god at all. Listen – if you need a god or religion to be a better person and it works for you, have at it. Just let those that gave up needing a deity about the same time we stopped believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy alone. The pursuit of religious freedom is a joke. All the religious do is critiqe those that don't believe in the same, or any god. And to me, well... that's just not christian 🙂

    December 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • lolwut

      today's religions are tomorrow's mythologies.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • FN

      I am a believer in Christ. I think it is unfortunate that alot of people twist what they think is in the bible for their own agenda. That turns people away from Christ which is exactly what he does not want. Who are we to judge, GOD loves EVERYONE and we are ALL sinners!

      December 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Mike

      Couldn't have said it better myself. Hat-tip to you.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • KM

      FN- one of the many problems is that "Christ" wouldn't want any of this. He wouldn't support the church or it's archiac restrictions. And he certaintly would not accept the bible as the basis for his religion. First, he was jewish so that ends the rest of the debate. But if you do want to continue I doubt he'd be thrilled with using Dec 25th as a celebration for his birth since he was born in the spring AND the fact that the origin for the holiday was a pagan celebration that the church incorporated to help acclimatize newly "enlightened" cultures. The bible is a collection of stories that should be used as parables... not a guide book. You are correct in that people use it as the basis for their own agenda. And, they also choose which aspects to believe and which to ignore (I'm still waiting for someone to cast out their own eye for looking at a MILF). The point is that I'm thrilled that you have found something to believe in... I happen to worhsip reality and that doesn't make me less worthy of respect. It just stricks me odd that those who claim to be so religious are the ones that are the most intolerant of allowing others not to be.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  6. brian

    I love how Burchall response to programming was "Oh my God"
    He claims to be an atheist.What God is he referring to?

    December 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • lolwut

      idiomatic expression. idiot poster^

      December 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • comacrawl

      New concept for you... "Figure of speech"

      December 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Michaeltanino



      December 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  7. keep it real

    Gwyneth Paltrows Doggy Style Nippers & Gwyneth Paltrows Doggy Style Nippers - you two dudes need to get a brain. You are an embarrassment to white folks everywhere.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  8. Jamie

    To me atheism is as much a religion as any other. They still say, "I believe their is no God/Allah/Higher Power/etc." For me I can identify more with Agnostics who say "I just don't know, if there is/if it is exactly as it says in the Torah/Bible/Koran..." It's hard to not see the arrogance in both, in absolutely knowing one or the other, although I can't say I begrudge atheists their disbelief. Especially considering most religions' bloody histories and the often vile behavior displayed by so called followers.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Deany Jim

      And what of the massive persecution of religious people in general following Stalin's takeover of the Soviet Union, all of which was committed in the name of atheism/secularism? I'd say that's pretty damn bloody.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • lolwut

      @DeanyJim Stalin's political ideologies were roughly equivalent to that of organized religion, he didn't do anything based on his lack of belief in a deity. He was insane and looked at himself as a god.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Deany Jim

      Yet the Soviets who lived under his yoke willingly committed acts of what are seen as desecration. Their children were indoctrinated as atheists.

      And Stalin, yes, it a hypocrite. He used religion when it was useful to him to draw up support during World War II.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • lolwut

      Indoctrinated as atheists, lol that's a new one. Disregarding the fact that we're all atheists when we're born, atheism isn't even a religion (for the hundredth time). It's one stance on one topic: the existence of a deity. There are no holy books, no prophets, no dogma, only people who just don't believe in god/s.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Michaeltanino


      Atheist means you do not hold a belief in a God. That's it. No religion. It's no more a religion than NOT smoking is a habit or NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

      Atheists, due to not believing in a God, often adopt SECULARISM because they don't believe in being ruled or governed by a theocracy. Secularism is not atheism and in fact many religious people support Secularism. Learn your terms please.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Deany Jim

      You didn't quite get it, did ya? The children of the Soviet Union were repressed, not allowed to make their own decision regarding faith - if you were an Orthodox Christian, Jew, Muslim, it didn't matter. They were ridiculed and ostracized. I can't explain it in any other way besides the word "indoctrination".

      December 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Michaeltanino

      Deany Jim, "atheism" which is a lack of belief in a God, is not responsible for Stalin's political ideologies. The man had policies that correllated his thirst for control and power, this has to do with himself, not a lack of belief in a God. You start saying atheism or secularism is the cause of Stalin's crimes then you might as well start blaming Hitler on Christianity.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Michaeltanino

      You can argue that Stalin used those ideas for his own benefit, but they were not the cause nor responsible for his crimes.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mark

      Jamie, Many Atheists are not arrogant at all. There is a difference between saying "I believe just because" and saying "I have considered all possible evidence and come to the conclusion". By your argument it would be equally arrogant to say "we CANT know".
      It doesn't take much to convince most people beyond the shadow of a doubt that the "Flying spaghetti monster" doesn't exist, but you can't really say it doesn't. You can't PROVE it doesn't. God is just a less obvious FSM. I can't PROVE it/he doesn't exist, but a reasonable, and through look at the evidence has led me to that conclusion.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Rootypootz

    Bias? They have a WHOLE SECTION on matters of "Faith", I don't see a section on atheism. Typical Christian BS, everyone is biased against you, even though half the )(*&ing country believes in angels and the second coming. This country and the media are more tolerant and supportive of your lunacy than any other modern country in the world, and you're here complaining about "Bias"...what a joke.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  10. chip

    Ah, CNN doing all it can to promote atheism and make Christians look like a bunch of nut jobs. No spin here, none at all.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • sane

      CNN doesn't have to do anything. Christians (and other religions) do a good job themselves.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • jo

      oh come now, can you blame them?

      December 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  11. vel

    brave people. My kudos on existing in the US "south". I'm assuming they have no choice due to jobs, etc. Becaue I would never live there. No reason to put my health and freedom at risk, especially in the more rural areas.

    as for the religous channels, this is one of the reason I just laugh loudly at the false claims of persecution of Christians in the US. What utter nonsense. Of course, I'm sure each sect is sure that they are perscuted when they don't get their way.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Wow, another CNN piece on atheism and things secular in general. Bias anyone?

    December 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • vel

      hilarious. Look at all of the articles about religion on this website. Nice to see a Christian telling lies, Andrew. You do remember reading that your god hates lies and liars. POor thing, it's persecution if it's not all Christian (of course only your sect), all of the time.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Smukers

      Bias, I think not. A growing trend, I think.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  13. infonomics

    Now that atheism seems to be gaining momentum, I think a new exclamation expression is needed. So, instead of oh my god (OMG), how about "oh my nature" or, better still, in French "oh ma nature" (OMN, for pronunciation go to Google translate, see speaker icon on bottom). So it is written, so it shall be.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  14. Rootypootz

    "Racist"? Man you people are dense. Black salves DID become Christian because it was forced on them, that's not someone's opinion, it's historical fact. INc ase you were unaware a HUGE number of people in the world who are Christian today are that way because at some point their ancestors were basically made to convert or die. Is Christianity the only religion that's done this, no not at all. Did it happen though, yes, again..historical fact, not racism.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Deany Jim

      Emmmmm, I'm pretty sure that prior to the formation of the Islamic caliphates, the vast majority of North Africans were Christian.

      Ethiopia still is.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Clovis

      you racist M F'er

      December 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  15. jdurand

    "I couldn't find anything on television but religious programming,”

    Upon reading this I thought, surely, this must have been an experience from 1950. Then I saw 2010.

    What the hell kind of television access did this guy have? There are literally 100's of stations these days. I'll grant that there is usually nothing on them of value, but 99% of it is not religious programming. That includes in the South.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Truth

      Exactly!!! It's not like cable changes in the "bible belt"! I live in rural South Carolina and I can find plenty of non-religious affiliated programming (including non-football programs).

      December 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Tinkey

      Although I live in the midwest , we spend weekends in mid-Kentucky and the guy is right. Despite having cable where we stay, every other channel (cable) is some religious program. When I first experienced it I was kind of stunned and this is today I'm talking about. I have to assume that whoever chooses the local cable programing leans heavily toward religious programs due to the proximity of the Bible Belt. There is still plenty on to watch (HGTV, CNN, Weather Channel) but there are SIGNIFICANTLY more religious programing channels the further south you go.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  16. David

    “And I thought, 'Oh my God, where am I? Is this all that is on television here?'" Not a quote one would expect from an atheist. Is this a joke?

    December 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Finch

      "Oh my God" is much more of a cultural idiom than a deep expression of faith. I'm an atheist and use it all the time.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • nwatcher

      My thoughts exactly – right after the thought of -"this is just another article designed to generate a lot of posts to anger both sides of opposite belief spectrums..."

      December 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • nwatcher

      @Finch – stop using it – that is offensive (and violates the commandment to not use God's name in vain...!" Ok, now I am officially one of those I previously mentioned. I'll stop now!

      December 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Finch

      @nwatcher, it is not offensive to me. If you find it offensive I'd recommend not spending any time with me. You are certainly free to do that.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • TimTheus

      David, it's just a figure of speech that comes from the environment we grow up in.
      If I say "go to he.LL" to someone , I surely don't mean it literally (hel.l is a human made concept), but I am sure the addressee gets the message. Same with other expressions that are used in anger or amazement. "goodness gracious"? What does that mean anyway? "Son of a bit h", you are not insisting that there is canine DNA in that guy, right?

      "holy sh..t", honestly, there is only manure, it's a byproduct , a waste product, get it? It's not holy or blessed or anything.
      Non believers are not as tight minded or literal as some bible waving fundamentalists who claim that each word in the bible is true and real. You know, Leviticus, stoning your daughter to death because she's wearing pants. I think we are all past that kind of interpretation, believer or not.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • TimTheus

      @nwatcher. it might be a sacred concept for you, but I am not required to respect your personal beliefs. They are personal, they are yours, not mine. In reverse, if you ask for respect for your beliefs, shouldn't you respect what non believers believe in?

      December 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Completely a quote someone would expect from an atheist. It's more reflex than anything, not an actual appeal to a magic sky fairy.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  17. ken


    December 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  18. eric

    If asked a question you do not wish to answer right then and there, respond with a question of your own... "Why do you ask?"

    December 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • TimTheus

      Eric, yes, a good peaceful gesture. The questioner can then realize that he / she asked for personal reasons or just out of politeness, small talk. If he insists, well, then he/she has to live with the consequence of an inconvenient answer.
      My answer often has been (here in Oklahoma), "well, we are not going to a particular church" (because I love liturgical music and go to funerals and concerts to churches) or i simply say "we are not religious". A polite listener will take the hint and judge us for who we are not by which church we go to.

      The unfortunate truth is that even IF you go to a church, you might be going to the wrong kind of church. Just try "I grew up catholic" (notice, not even a statement of current church habits) in the bible belt. It's often a sure conversation stopper.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  19. Chris

    Stop bringing up race...As a white atheist living in the south I know the feeling, but of course black has nothing to do with it.

    December 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  20. candyman

    I live in Atlanta and I do not know what stations he is watching but, there is plenty on television beside religious programming. There are 5+ million people in the Atlanta area and hardly anyone here is even from the South. Being black and atheist in the Bible Belt... cry me a Fing river!

    December 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Chris

      I live in Houston and there are a TON of religious channels on regular tv.

      December 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Alex

      lol, you're implying Atlanta is representative of the Bible Belt, that's funny. I live in Raleigh and it's the same here as in Atlanta, lot's of people from elsewhere which makes the place much more liberal than if you drive 30 miles out of town in any direction and you're in Hillbilly USA.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • candyman

      No Alex... that is not what I am implying... And Raleigh and Atlanta are not even close to the same.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
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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.