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Personal Paths To Humanism

by Norm R. Allen, Jr.

Following is the seventh essay of a series on how various persons have grown toward unbelief. Submissions are welcome. The preferred length is 750-1200 words. Essays may be sent to: Editor, AAH EXAMINER, P.O. Box 664, Buffalo, New York, 14226-0664.

When I was a young child, my parents and grandparents sent me to church on Sundays. And like any other sensible, red-blooded American boy, I hated it. But what could I do? Freedom of religion and freedom from religion are not guaranteed to children.

The insufferable drivel of the preaching parasites in their pulpits bored me almost to tears. I would pray that God would shut them the hell up. But, alas, these prayers were never answered, and I simply had to grit my teeth and bear my unjust punishment (talk about child abuse)!

The worst thing that ever happened to me as a Baptist was the psychological torment I experienced as a result of embracing the belief in hell. I worried constantly about being consumed by flames because I had sinned and pissed off the perfectly loving God. To compound this utterly groundless and irrational fear, I was learning about competing religions which also proclaimed that those who did not accept their one true God would fall victim to eternal torment. For a young child, this kind of intellectual terror is no picnic. (Today I can appreciate Robert Green Ingersoll's contention that "All the meanness of which the human heart is capable is summed up in that one word - Hell.") I did what I would always do whenever I was scared and confused. I talked to my mother.

My parents had been consistently dedicated to open-mindedness and free inquiry. Though they sent me to church, they never forced their beliefs on me, and they never insisted that I believe in God. If I would ask my mother a question or the meaning of a word, rather than provide the answer (which she usually knew), she would instruct me to go to the encyclopedia or to the dictionary for the answer. I was always taught to think for myself and to always ask questions - and most importantly, to demand logical answers to those questions.

My parents never chose my heroes for me. When my father would ask me who my heroes were, I would tell him, and he would bring me literature so that I could learn more about them - whether he approved of them or not. Of course, this kind of parenting does not necessarily make for a good religionist.

I asked my mother how I could be sure which religion - if any - was true. She said that I could never be sure, but that I should examine them all and decide for myself. I then asked her what would happen if I decided not to believe in God at all, and she said she would love me still. From that day forward I never ceased to ask questions and to demand that they be answered logically.

As a young inner-city Black boy of 10 years, I was fascinated by the Black Power movement that swept through my Pittsburgh neighborhood in the 60s. I became increasingly militant and wore the tikis, dashikis, Black power necklaces, red, black, and green buttons, and similar symbols of Black pride. I had also heard the name Malcolm X (who had been assassinated a few years earlier) mentioned a great deal.

The following year I developed a voracious appetite for reading, and I wanted to read my first book - any book. I asked my mother which book I should read, and she gave me her copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I also started reading the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, which was then the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam; The Black Panther newspaper; and other militant literature. I learned that Christianity was used as a weapon against Blacks by White supremacists. I learned that the conquest and enslavement of Africans and their consequent oppression was encouraged - or at least had not been opposed - by most White Western Christians. I learned of the role of religionists in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, and other racist organizations. I learned that, as Martin Luther King, Jr., profoundly observed, the most segregated hour in America was on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.. And I learned that Christianity made many Blacks "peaceful, passive and nonviolent," as Malcolm X pointed out in his famous speech "Message to the Grass Roots." In the same recorded speech I heard Malcolm accuse King and the other civil rights leaders of being "religious Uncle Toms," who were leading (or misleading) Blacks into the hands of White supremacists like sheep to a slaughterhouse. I came across numerous passages in Black literature like the following from C. Eric Lincoln's The Black Muslims in America (1961, p. 78):

The Bible is the graveyard of my poor people ... and here I quote another poison addiction of the slavery teaching of the Bible: "Love your enemies, bless them who curse you; pray for those who spitefully use you; him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer the other cheek; him that (robs) taketh away the cloak, forbid not to take (away) thy coat also." ... The Slavemasters couldn't have found a better teaching for their protection ... (quoted from Elijah Muhammad's booklet "The Supreme Wisdom")

I found these criticisms to be very accurate, and my greatest heroes and heroines were Black militants, most of whom seemed hostile to Christianity. But I did not reject the Christian faith. After all, the church had been filling my head with nonsense long before I had reached the age of reason, and I was still young. Besides, much of the theology of the Nation of Islam was so ridiculous that even a child had to laugh it. (But of course, had the Nation been fortunate enough to get to me while I was still very young, I undoubtedly would have believed that crap, too.)

Because I was still a Christian, I occasionally went to church. But there was a time when I missed a Sunday. That week, there was quite a commotion in the church. Many people had claimed that they had seen a church member mysteriously levitate as she became "full of the Holy Ghost." People were supposedly frightened and ran out of the church. Like a typical religious knucklehead, I demanded no evidence and blindly believed their story. I felt cheated. I had missed a genuine miracle! I could not allow that to happen, so like millions of gullible believers all over the world, I lied and said that I, too, had witnessed the great miracle (which is probably what the other church members had done, anyway.)

I never found out exactly what happened that day - or if anything happened at all. But one thing is certain. None of us ever provided one shred of evidence to support our outrageous claim, which, oddly, made it all the more believable to the other unreasoning Christians.

It was not until I entered college that I began to see that the Bible is clearly the product of deranged, immoral human beings. In a philosophy class titled "Philosophy of Religion," the instructor called attention to the blatant atrocities, absurdities, inconsistencies, and contradictions of Christianity. I had also become a very serious student of Black history, and learned about the "pagan" origins of Christianity. For example, I learned about the Egyptian trinity of Isis, Horus and Osiris, which preceded the Christian trinity by thousands of years. And I learned that the Ten Commandments were preceded by the "Declarations of Innocence" of the Ancient Egyptians. In short, I learned that Christianity has about as much originality as a mimeograph machine.

I eventually broke free of religion, and I have been much happier and more confident as a result. And today, I use my "God-given" talent to bash the supposed God every chance I get.

Norm R. Allen, Jr. is the Executive Director of African Americans for Humanism.

[*] AAH Examiner Selected Articles


This page was last updated 02/13/2004

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