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Journey Of A Black Gay Atheist


kclark
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I've been lurking around the site and forums for a few years now, reading articles and testimonies, and I feel like I'm finally ready to tell my story. So here it goes.

 

I grew up, and currently still live, in a small town in central Louisiana. Like many black kids in the South, church was a non-negotiable weekly ritual. For a while my older brother and I went to services at different places--the church my mother grew up in, a small, old-fashioned place in the country with no air conditioning where we kneeled on wooden floors for devotion and ate communion that consisted of Welch's grape juice and saltine crackers, the church my father joined when he was 19, located just down the street from her church (but about 40 minutes from our house) and a third church located in the city. Out of the three I hated the third the most, since they always crammed all of the kids, from 5 to 18, into one room for "children's church," which really meant babysitting so the grown-ups could listen to the sermon in peace. The silver lining was that we always went to Burger King afterwards.

 

By the time we began attending my Dad's church full-time when I was around six, I was already having some conflict with Christianity. I couldn't understand why the dinosaurs I learned about in school weren't mentioned in the Bible, why miracles like parting the Red Sea or Jesus and Peter walking on water never happened to me or anyone I knew, or why people lived for 800 and 900 years but rarely make it to 100 years old now. For these and other questions--like if the Devil was a fallen angel, could other angels sin and fall from grace, or if we could sin even after we went to heaven--my parents, more often than not my mother, would reassure me by saying "We don't understand everything," "We'll know when we'll get to heaven" and other classic lines that left me increasingly frustrated and unsatisfied the older I got. The fact that I had to sit through testimonials that sometimes stretched for nearly an hour, that our church barely had any other kids and was generally boring as hell didn't help matters. But I've always been a people pleaser, a personality trait that coincidentally came from my mother, so not wanting to rock the boat, I went along with the program, singing in the choir, getting baptized and trying my best to believe. At 9 I started taking piano lessons, and began playing solos for church events, even playing for the adult choir on a few occasions when the musician was a no-show. Despite my attitude toward religion, I probably would never have gotten into music and been able to hone my skills if I hadn't been raised in church, so I'm grateful for that. And at the very least it made things more tolerable.

 

Fortunately for me, my parents and extended family were getting increasingly fed up with church politics and the pastor, who divided his time between us and three other churches. Simply put, they did everything at that church short of actually building it: my mother and two of my aunts taught Sunday School youth classes and sung in the choir, my uncle was a minister, my Dad was a deacon and taught the adult classes etc. Pretty much every part of the church had a member of my family involved in it. This wasn't because they were power-hungry or manipulative; it's just that the other church members were lazy (at least to my knowledge; I was kid at the time). I even remember my Dad asking two of the other deacons during a heated exchange about church business "What would ya'll do if I died?". They had no response. After shopping around a few months, they decided on a medium-sized but fast growing church in a city located across the river and joined there when I was 12. I was happy because driving there didn't feel like a journey to the center of the Earth, there were a lot of other kids, including friends I went to school with, and there were more activities, like a youth basketball team and choir field trips. Going there felt great and fun.

 

But just as I placed my doubts sat on the backburner, a secret I'd been trying to repress for years reignited as I entered junior high and adolesence. I knew I was gay from time I was small, but the defining moment for me was when I was 8 and caught my next door neighbor, a muscluar police officer, mowing the yard in a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts. I was transfixed. Further confirmation came that same year when my brother and I were at a relative's house and stumbled upon an older cousin's Playboys. While he salivated on the pictures, I merely flipped through and looked for articles. Like my skepticism about religion, I simply pushed my feelings for other guys down so as not to make waves. Besides it was easy; at 9, 10, 11 and 12 all guys care about are video games and grossing each other out, and not being overtly feminine I was able to "pass" pretty well. As we all entered high school though, it became increasingly obvious I was the odd man out, with my all black wardrobe, musical tastes that veered toward dance and heavy metal and lack of interest in girls. Every other day it seemed like one of my straight friends would bring up something someone else said about my sexuality or that I was "gay together" another friend (he was gay in fact, but we were both closet cases at the time and never dated or anything). By the way what does "gay together" mean anyway? I can be pretty gay all by myself! I don't need any help! But I digress. Increasingly I felt alienated from everything and everyone around me, as I was now expected to fulfill some role for which I felt completely inadequate. Church, once a source of pre-teen fun, was now marked by "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" comments by ministers, and threats that people on the street "would beat it out of you" (a threat that unfortunately came true for me years later) from VBS instructors. By this point I was playing for local churches in the area, so sometimes I'd get a dose of homophobia from preachers at those churches as well. My relationship with my parents, particularly my Dad, began to deteriorate as well. After he commented that people might "think I was one of them gay boys" after catching a glimpse of my long fingernails and made other remarks that insinuated I needed to butch up, I began to withdraw from him. Throughout my teen years we had a cordial but cold relationship. I believe my mother probably knew all along, but didn't want to believe it, instead giving me advice on how to attract girls and even collaborating with my music teacher (also a co-worker of hers) to set me up on dates.

 

I dealt with the inner turmoil by doing what I was taught, praying that God would take the feelings for other guys away constantly, reading the passages that condemned homosexuality in the Bible, avoiding contact with any openly gay people, not watching gay porn and generally steering clear of anything that would make me stumble. I threw myself into music and the church, becoming obsessed with "fixing" my gayness. I constructed a perfect, almost asexual facade for the world, a quiet, kind kid that got straight A's and never got in trouble. But of course the feelings never went away, and all the self-loathing, anger and confusion about God, religion and whether his very existence were all a sham spilled over into journal entries that provided a temporary catharsis. Soon weed became a much more effective way of shutting off my feelings. Most of my friends were already regular smokers, so I jumped in feet first, getting high almost everyday after school and going through bags of it on weekends. To this day the majority of my senior year and the summer that followed are a blur. All I can remember definitely is prom and graduation. Of course, staying out all night(we even got caught up in a police raid once) and doing drugs further strained things between me and my parents as well as my brother, who I was always tight with. More than one midnight conversation with them took place while I was still coming down, lying the whole time that everything was alright. And on the surface it was: I was still making the honor roll, had college scholarships galore, was still involved in the church. But inside I was a mess. All I cared about at that point was feeling numb and not getting caught. It was a vicious cycle: I'd feel like a failure because my sexuality wasn't "cured" yet, so I'd smoke to cope, then feel like shit for smoking and hiding it from my family. I tried in vain to quit at least 9 or 10 times, but the first smell of a sparked blunt and I was back at it. All of this is not to say I look down on weed smokers (I think it should be legal), just that at the time I was abusing it because I was clearly in pain.

 

Ironically things started to take a positive turn when I heard a pastor say "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results" during a sermon. It was then I realized that my life had become an insane circus, and slowly began to try to tame it. I finally said the words "I'm gay" to myself the summer after I graduated, and by that fall I met and fell in love with my first boyfriend. Although it would be another year before I quit smoking weed for good, being around him and other gay people helped my self-esteem immeasurebly, as well as the discovery of black gay blogs (I eventually started my own) which introduced me to another world of black gay authors, activists and artists. By the following summer I'd come out to my brother and all of my close straight friends, the former simply shrugging and saying "Okay," the latter taking a little more convincing (i.e. calling them out on their BS) before eventually learning to accept me. At the time I still identified as a liberal gay Christian, but with my sexuality no longer on my mind 24/7, I was able to finally start entertaining all of the questions I had, like why god allowed such evil in the world, how can we have free will if God is all-knowing, or why faith is considered such a virtue. Examining the Bible (I'm currently reading it from cover to cover--an eye opening experience to say the least:), watching YouTube videos like "The Atheist Experience," visiting skeptic websites and reading books like Sam Harris's Letter To A Christian Nation made me feel like all my earlier reservations about God and the Bible had finally been confirmed and validated.

 

I soon stopped praying, an act that would put my burgeoning lack of faith to the test, as the months after college graduation were some of the toughest I ever faced, looking a for a job in my degree field while working for scraps at a part-time job, a situation made even more strenuous due to the stress it brought on my relationship with my new boyfriend, who was living back home and going to school. At certain points I was on food stamps, struggled to pay bills, had to hitch rides and even had to ride a bike to work when my car broke down. In the midst of all not once did I find myself on my knees, asking for divine assistance. Instead I relied on myself, my boyfriend and friends for help, until I finally found a full-time gig back home.

 

But the final blow to my faith came in the form of two funerals over the past year. A great aunt on my mother's side died last winter. As the preacher gave a eulogy about heaven and prodded everyone in the audience to "get right with God" a thought came to my mind. "This is bullshit." And not in an angry, this a-hole just cut me off at the stop light way. But in a calm, quiet way. In a moment of clarity I realized that no one in that church--not the minister, my parents, my brother, other relatives, any of the other guests--knew any more than I did if there was a God, a heaven or a hell. We were are simply repeating what we'd been taught all our lives. But too afraid to think I might be an atheist, let alone say it, I kept my thoughts to myself. However, another relative's death this past April brought the feelings back to the surface. While the service was beautiful, with touching speeches given by my mother, cousins and a few of her friends, I knew when I viewed her body that she was gone. Not burning in hell with Satan. Not balling out of control with Jesus in heaven. Just gone. She'd lived 84 years on Earth, some of it good, some of it bad, and now it was over. And I was okay with that.

 

This past July, after dealing with months of moodiness and anxiety, I wrote down all the reasons why I didn't believe. After I finished, I said "I'm an atheist" out loud. I repeated again, slightly stunned and just to make sure I heard myself correctly. A rush of excitement and peace fell over me, but after a few minutes, all I could think was "I don't want to do this again." Although coming out was one of the best decisions I ever made, dealing with everyone's reactions and getting this point was not easy. My Dad in particular took it extremely hard. I won't go into detail, but there were a lot of hurful things said. At this point our relationship is the best it's been in years, and I don't want to screw it up. On top of that, I still play for one church's youth choir and for a local community choir. Although I want to leave, I feel guilty, like I would be letting everyone down or leaving them high and dry (musicians are hard to come by in our city). As much as it disturbs me now to hear young children sing songs about surrendering their lives and hearts to a fictional god, I feel some sort of obligation to stay, a feeling made even stronger since I've been there since high school. Plus the money, although small, is needed in this economy. So far the only person I've told is my boyfriend, who has been okay with it for the most part. Unfortunately, he is also a member of the community choir, and I'm afraid things would change if I did leave the group. Not to mention my extended family, some of whom are ministers. Last week I let a little bit of my beliefs slip to my mother. She asked me out right if I still believed, but I chickened out and gave a vague answer, saying I was "searching and evaluating." But I know that won't be our last conversation on the subject.

 

Another thing that keeps me from being more open is that you rarely see black atheists, since black culture is so entrenched in Christianity, from movies to music to black leadership. In my 24 years, the only time I've seen another black non-believer face-to-face is when I look in the mirror. Finding a few sites, like "Godless and Black," "Black Skeptics" and discovering atheists/humanists like Norm Allen Jr., The Infidel Guy Ayanna Watson and Sikivu Hutchinson has been encouraging though. But I wish I could find someone who lives in town to talk about things with.

 

Anyway, that's my (long) story. Thanks for reading.

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Guest ThereIsNoGod

Your comment about not knowing any other black atheists.....I know I've read of a famous rap singer who is a black atheist.....I remember his name coming up on Wikipedia's "List of Atheists".

 

Greydon Square, that was him. The list also mentions Tyler Okonma....I've never heard the music of either, but I guess you're right about a lot of black people just sort of taking the christian teachings at face value. Actually, if we're talking music, I think a lot of the black blues music or gospel has some of the better application of christian teachings. Y'know like "Oh Lordy, gonna see heaven one of these days" or something similar. I'm sure Gospel songs have generally had the most mainstream success amongst all the other christian music. You know the Doobie Brothers hit "Jesus is Just Alright with Me"? That was a done by a black gospel group to start with. Theres also that other song "Going On Up to the Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum who wasn't actually a christian......gospel songs in general are more about just taking a piece of legend and making a good rocking, optimistic song out of it. You spoke of heavy metal too and I like how a lot of heavy metal or progressive rock bands take christian legends and folklore and make an exciting drama out of it. Y'know like Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" or Judas Priest's "Saints in Hell" or any number of other songs.

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I enjoyed your storg, thanks for sharing. What hit close to home was you questioning why faith is considered to be a virtue; I wondered this myself for most of my life.

 

Just to clarify, when you came out that was about your beliefs, right? Have you come out yet about being gay?

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I enjoyed your storg, thanks for sharing. What hit close to home was you questioning why faith is considered to be a virtue; I wondered this myself for most of my life.

 

Just to clarify, when you came out that was about your beliefs, right? Have you come out yet about being gay?

 

I've come out about being gay, but not about my beliefs yet. That's still a work in progress lol.

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Your comment about not knowing any other black atheists.....I know I've read of a famous rap singer who is a black atheist.....I remember his name coming up on Wikipedia's "List of Atheists".

 

Greydon Square, that was him. The list also mentions Tyler Okonma....I've never heard the music of either, but I guess you're right about a lot of black people just sort of taking the christian teachings at face value. Actually, if we're talking music, I think a lot of the black blues music or gospel has some of the better application of christian teachings. Y'know like "Oh Lordy, gonna see heaven one of these days" or something similar. I'm sure Gospel songs have generally had the most mainstream success amongst all the other christian music. You know the Doobie Brothers hit "Jesus is Just Alright with Me"? That was a done by a black gospel group to start with. Theres also that other song "Going On Up to the Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum who wasn't actually a christian......gospel songs in general are more about just taking a piece of legend and making a good rocking, optimistic song out of it. You spoke of heavy metal too and I like how a lot of heavy metal or progressive rock bands take christian legends and folklore and make an exciting drama out of it. Y'know like Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" or Judas Priest's "Saints in Hell" or any number of other songs.

 

I've heard of Greydon. I heard an interview he did with Black Atheists of America on Youtube a while back. His lyrics are great but his beats could use a little upgrade IMO. And I love "Number of The Beast." "Anti-Christ Superstar" is also one my favorite "religious drama" songs.

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kclark, you come across as amazingly sane considering the challenges that life has thrown at you. What a great story.

 

Thanks Trapped. I read your story too. It was great and well-written.

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I enjoyed your storg, thanks for sharing. What hit close to home was you questioning why faith is considered to be a virtue; I wondered this myself for most of my life.

 

Just to clarify, when you came out that was about your beliefs, right? Have you come out yet about being gay?

 

I've come out about being gay, but not about my beliefs yet. That's still a work in progress lol.

 

Why do I find it amusing that it's easier to come out as a gay black man in central Louisiana than to come out as an atheist?

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Kclark,

 

Welcome to EX-c! I loved reading your story. Now that you do not have to answer to an angry god about being born a homosexual - you will be able to live a beautiful, guiltless life with the lucky man who becomes your partner. I have taught my gay son the same thing! Wonderful for you! Best wishes for a serene life . I am looking forward to more of your stories! Sincerely, Margee

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My heart goes out to you. It is interesting about you being a black atheist. I honestly don't think I have ever known or heard of anyone who's black not being a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Not that there are not any, I've just never heard of it. But, then I live in the south, so anyone who is an atheist doesn't advertise it.

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My heart goes out to you. It is interesting about you being a black atheist. I honestly don't think I have ever known or heard of anyone who's black not being a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Not that there are not any, I've just never heard of it. But, then I live in the south, so anyone who is an atheist doesn't advertise it.

 

In college, I met a black atheist, who responded to a very religious black woman by telling her that he believed her life accomplishments were due to her, not to God. Of course, this was college, where you know there are a lot of atheists (and it was New Jersey).

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My heart goes out to you. It is interesting about you being a black atheist. I honestly don't think I have ever known or heard of anyone who's black not being a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Not that there are not any, I've just never heard of it. But, then I live in the south, so anyone who is an atheist doesn't advertise it.

 

In college, I met a black atheist, who responded to a very religious black woman by telling her that he believed her life accomplishments were due to her, not to God. Of course, this was college, where you know there are a lot of atheists (and it was New Jersey).

 

Like.

 

Once upon a time my wife donated blood for my then infant niece to receive a blood transfusion. Then 7 years later she also gave her the heimlich when she was choking on a piece of gum. Our niece said she thought my wife was her guardian angel. I privately told my wife that while cute, it was shame god always gets the credit for all the good but never the bad. Good people should be praised for doing good things, period.

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Hi, kclark!

 

Welcome to the site and thank you for posting your story.

 

The Christian church's beliefs about, and antagonism towards, homosexuality was another nail in my faith coffin. I am straight, but the more testimonies I hear from people who are gay, the more I find the church's views heartbreakingly incorrect and very damaging: that it is a chosen, sinful lifestyle. I used to be loosely involved with an Exodus type program. No matter how much people prayed and believed, there were very few 'success' stories. It now makes me very sad to know that many "graduates" of the Exodus program will go on to live self-loathing and lonely lives, throwing away the best years of their lives.

 

I hope you continue to grow, love, and enjoy peace! Thank you for your story!

 

Peace.

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Welcome to the site, kclark.

 

What an Odyssey! Your obvious unique experiences and gifts seem to me to mark you as one who will offer your own brand of greatness to the world... and after all, isn't that what "good Christians" would want? :P

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I enjoyed your storg, thanks for sharing. What hit close to home was you questioning why faith is considered to be a virtue; I wondered this myself for most of my life.

 

Just to clarify, when you came out that was about your beliefs, right? Have you come out yet about being gay?

 

I've come out about being gay, but not about my beliefs yet. That's still a work in progress lol.

 

Thanks for sharing. The rampant homophobia in the Bible was one of the many reasons I could not accept that it was written by a moral, loving God (along with other ass-hattery like pro-slavery, pro-genocide, sexist etc.).

 

The stock Xian answer about being gay was "It's ok being of a gay disposition it's just that practising it is a sin. Sexuality is a gift from God. What better gift to give back to God than abstinence?"

 

What a load of twisted, pompous old rollocks! Yeah thanks God for giving me a gift that I'm not allowed to use. Cheers. You'd make a great parent at Xmas time.

 

Even being a straight man, I could smell the BS a mile off.

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I honestly don't think I have ever known or heard of anyone who's black not being a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Not that there are not any, I've just never heard of it.

 

Here is one man who is in my mind, one of the greatest living men among men. He's a hero of atheists/agnostics everywhere:

 

245px-Neil_deGrasse_Tyson_-_NAC_Nov_2005.jpg

 

WIKIPEDIA: Neil deGrasse Tyson (born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, a science communicator, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Since 2006 he has hosted the educational science television show NOVA scienceNOW on PBS, and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jeopardy!. It was announced on 5 August 2011 that Tyson will be hosting a new sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage TV series.
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I enjoyed your storg, thanks for sharing. What hit close to home was you questioning why faith is considered to be a virtue; I wondered this myself for most of my life.

 

Just to clarify, when you came out that was about your beliefs, right? Have you come out yet about being gay?

 

I've come out about being gay, but not about my beliefs yet. That's still a work in progress lol.

 

Thanks for sharing. The rampant homophobia in the Bible was one of the many reasons I could not accept that it was written by a moral, loving God (along with other ass-hattery like pro-slavery, pro-genocide, sexist etc.).

 

The stock Xian answer about being gay was "It's ok being of a gay disposition it's just that practising it is a sin. Sexuality is a gift from God. What better gift to give back to God than abstinence?"

 

What a load of twisted, pompous old rollocks! Yeah thanks God for giving me a gift that I'm not allowed to use. Cheers. You'd make a great parent at Xmas time.

 

Even being a straight man, I could smell the BS a mile off.

 

Lol I know right! That no sense whatsoever to me as well. Why give me a gift and say I can't use it, and if I do I'll be tortured forever? Sometimes I can't even believe I used to believe that crap.

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Welcome to the site. We need more rainbow around here to add to the blasphemous collective. :D

 

Moving testimony kclark. You have come a long way. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. :)

 

Learning I was gay was the very thing that made me question my antigay Church of Christ upbringing. Deconverted during college and such. I'm only out to a few people in real life due to being in the South. Haven't come out to my parents yet.

 

Could we hear more about that muscluar police officer, mowing the yard in a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts??? :wicked:

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Guest ThereIsNoGod

 

"Sexuality is a gift from God. What better gift to give back to God than abstinence?"

 

 

A christian said that? At first glance it looked like a sarcastic comment. What better way to thank God for his gift than to not use it? Ha!

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Guest ThereIsNoGod

"Sexuality is a gift from God. What better gift to give back to God than abstinence?"

 

And hang about.....what about Jesus' parable about the rich man who gave sums of money to 3 men, expecting them to use it to make more gain?

 

Allow me to paraphrase....

 

"Master I was so afraid of misusing the sexual lusts you gave me that I withheld them at every opportunity. Here I am, abstainent and innocent"

 

"What!? Cowardly servant! You might have at least learned the art of self-pleasure, if you were so concerned about keeping out of trouble. This fool doesn't know how to use his gift. Take it away from him!"

 

huh?

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Welcome to the site. We need more rainbow around here to add to the blasphemous collective. :D

 

Moving testimony kclark. You have come a long way. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. :)

 

Learning I was gay was the very thing that made me question my antigay Church of Christ upbringing. Deconverted during college and such. I'm only out to a few people in real life due to being in the South. Haven't come out to my parents yet.

 

Could we hear more about that muscluar police officer, mowing the yard in a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts??? :wicked:

 

His sons mostly mow the grass now *tear*, but I still see him every once and while when I visit my parents. He's still sexy (and muscular) in that older man sort of way( I even saw him jogging outside once in a tight white tee and shorts. A good visual lol:).

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  • 3 weeks later...

Greetings, kclark! Thanks for sharing your story; I enjoyed reading it.

 

Another thing that keeps me from being more open is that you rarely see black atheists, since black culture is so entrenched in Christianity, from movies to music to black leadership. In my 24 years, the only time I've seen another black non-believer face-to-face is when I look in the mirror.

 

This is even more baffling when considering that most blacks in America are descendants of slaves who were forced into Christianity by their owners. After blacks were freed and over time gained more (long overdue and well deserved) freedom, one would have expected them to throw off the religion of their oppressors, but that surprisingly didn't happen.

 

Anyway, it's great that you've broken free, and I wish you well.

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Your comment about not knowing any other black atheists.....I know I've read of a famous rap singer who is a black atheist.....I remember his name coming up on Wikipedia's "List of Atheists".

 

Greydon Square, that was him. The list also mentions Tyler Okonma....I've never heard the music of either, but I guess you're right about a lot of black people just sort of taking the christian teachings at face value. Actually, if we're talking music, I think a lot of the black blues music or gospel has some of the better application of christian teachings. Y'know like "Oh Lordy, gonna see heaven one of these days" or something similar. I'm sure Gospel songs have generally had the most mainstream success amongst all the other christian music. You know the Doobie Brothers hit "Jesus is Just Alright with Me"? That was a done by a black gospel group to start with. Theres also that other song "Going On Up to the Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum who wasn't actually a christian......gospel songs in general are more about just taking a piece of legend and making a good rocking, optimistic song out of it. You spoke of heavy metal too and I like how a lot of heavy metal or progressive rock bands take christian legends and folklore and make an exciting drama out of it. Y'know like Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" or Judas Priest's "Saints in Hell" or any number of other songs.

 

I've heard of Greydon. I heard an interview he did with Black Atheists of America on Youtube a while back. His lyrics are great but his beats could use a little upgrade IMO. And I love "Number of The Beast." "Anti-Christ Superstar" is also one my favorite "religious drama" songs.

Greydon Square used to post on ex-christian.net a few years back. He's very talented and quite an inspiration.

 

Welcome, kclark!

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