Personal Paths to Humanism
A compendium of personal stories relating how the authors became Humanists
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.
Gladman C. Humbles
Following is the third 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.
I am a freethinker capable of capturing and controlling my own thoughts. My mind is open to change based on a theory that is logical, rational, reasonable or proven.
I am not a crusader, cause champion or crowd pleaser. While I have personally placed religion outside the realm of my life, I am not a Christian castigator. People should have the right to believe in whatever they choose, or to not believe at all. Why does one have to believe in a divine power rather than believe in the power of the person?
The decision to publish my experiences and thoughts was delayed out of fear - fear that the Christian community would ostracize, pressure or proselytize. A bible-believing Black Christian is the most acceptable and comforting Afro-American to the American majority.
Thinking it out for yourself makes you "different." My decision to be different is based on my strong personality. I am not unselfish, obedient, unworthy or meek, and I have one hell of an ego! I am compassionate and willing to extend my hand to help humanity within my capabilities.
I want to convince cliffhangers to capture the courage to come down to earth and live a full, productive life in harmony with this planet. My complete concern is the direction of life and the survival of humankind on this planet.
The paranormal has always prodded me to ponder and probe phenomena that seemed incomprehensible. Curiosity, inquisitiveness and rebelliousness have always been dominant in my personality. Santa's ability to traverse the universe and crawl through the chimneys of the world in one night was a bit much for my young mind to handle. My parents were probed and pressured into sacking Santa and satisfying me with sane, sensible answers.
My move from the religious realm was motivated by experiencing personal tragedy and thought-provoking mental battles within my mind. There were three major problems:
- Coerced church attendance as a child and young adult while living with a relative. There was no choice. Forcing me to conform always stirred my rebellious spirit.
- A mother who died at 44 who was hooked on prayer and "faith-healing" rather than proven medical methods.
- A son who fell under the spell of a charlatan charmer. The charmer lived a kingly earthly life while his flock floundered in poverty, awaiting their "kingdom" in heaven.
My mental battles were won after a study of history, personal experiences and observations. Following were some of my thoughts:
- Slavery was scripturally justified. Why slaves adopted the religion of savage slavemasters who treated animals better than their slaves is beyond comprehension.
- Caucasian Christians collectively have never accepted Afro-Americans as equals - and never will.
- How much wealth would Afro-Americans own if church contributions had been placed in General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler stock?
- A caring Christian father would never let one of his children go hungry at a table of plenty. Our all-good, all-caring and all-powerful heavenly father allows millions of the world's children to go hungry every night. Thousands of African children die daily after slow, steadfast, sorrowful suffering. Their only sin was being born. What is the rationale? Are poverty-stricken children his children, or did God go to sleep?
- Job suffered severely as a test of faith according to the bible. Job is often quoted as a measure of how strong and lasting one's faith is. An all-knowing God allows those he knows are going to be faithful and remain loyal to the end to suffer the same fate as agnostics and atheists. It would seem logical to take the faithful to heaven before the suffering starts. "God knows best" is the answer I have always been given when there is no logical explanation.
- Why would God entrust his message to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? These were obscure men who wrote the gospels of Jesus Christ many years after his death. They have no recorded history or biography. The people are asked to "take it on the trust" of four men who say they were divinely inspired. If you take my message meaningfully, you should demand proof of my statements of fact, question my convictions with logic and make up your own mind which direction you desire to travel.
- My mind belongs to me. Whatever decisions I make, good or bad, my decisions are my own. I am not about to give credit to some unseen spirit for motivating my mind. I will take credit for the good decisions and full responsibility for bad ones. Sooner or later, church-going Christians are going to leave their minds at home. If God told the preacher what to tell you, you must accept it completely, reject it, reject part of it and/or read your bible for yourself. If you comprehend differently, you must stay in your church in a frustrated state, find a new church or start one.
- The childlike mentality of being told when to sit, stand, sing and raise hands to answer simple questions is reminiscent of kindergarten. What logic is there in a ritual that reduces an adult's mentality to childlike thinking, except to limit and restrict one's ability to think for oneself and to make one obey without question?
- Why are Christians commanded to go out and compel people to come to Christ? After nearly 2000 years of mass indoctrination it seems rational that the people would be banging on doors of overcrowded churches asking God to let them in.
- The bible has been used by some to promote brotherhood and by others to promote bigotry. How can two such diametrically opposed ideas be interpreted to such extremes from a book that is supposed to tell us clearly how to live?
In conclusion, challenging changes and conditions on earth are at times frustrating, exciting, painful, pleasurable, ravaging, rapturous. I would not have it any other way. I do not want to be happy all of the time, nor do I desire to be loved by everyone. For me, living as some blissful spirit for eternity would be a duller existence than being in the other place.
And why should one be concerned with how it all began? I do not know how it all began and I don't care. I am here, you are here. Why can't we learn to think differently, look differently, live differently and live in harmony with humankind and nature, making the best of it on this planet?
Gladman Humbles was the first Black firefighter in Paducah, Kentucky, and the first Black president of the international firefighter's union. He has received two awards for outstanding leadership as the president of the Paducah NAACP. He has performed as a magician and has written several newspaper articles.
Following is the second 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.
The question that I am constantly asked is how a born-again Christian could ever turn out to be a full-fledged humanist. The answer is simple. Too many letdowns, too many lies, too many contradictions and too many hypocrites. Additionally, I learned to depend on myself to fulfill my needs and desires.
My faith in Christianity started to decline while I was still in middle school. I prayed for new clothes; I prayed for girlfriends; I prayed for money; I prayed for a bike. I prayed for many things. And though my prayers were never answered, I continued to have a strong belief in God. I was told - and believed - that God did not answer my prayers because I did not have enough faith.
Oddly enough, this belief was my first step toward humanism. I eventually received all of the material things for which I prayed. I obtained these things, however, through my own labor and abilities. I worked to earn money to buy a used bike from a friend. I found a job which paid me money with which to buy clothes. My belief in God was still strong, but I felt guilty because I was always asking him/her for ungodly things.
During my senior year in high school I was dealt a fatal blow to my faith. I was at football practice when I sustained a back injury. It was minor, but I was unable to go to practice. I could not go to summer football camp and was cut from the team. For years I had demonstrated a firm belief in God; and I figured he would come through for me in my time of need. I was watching Pat Robertson on the 700 Club (as I did frequently), and he told the viewers who were ailing to pray with him and put their hands on their television sets. I did so. When the prayer was finished, my back felt better. I began to rejoice. I thanked the Lord. I danced and sang. I then collapsed with a more serious back injury. I asked myself, "Is there any truth to what I believe?"
Not even God could act without time. Time, in my opinion, was God. This was a step toward humanism.
The team I would have played for went undefeated that year. They were ranked number one in the metropolitan area. I wished that I could have shared the glory. Why would God not intervene for me? I no longer believed that I did not display enough faith. I was faithful, and no one could tell me differently. How much faith does it take? And how is faith being measured?
I began to think that God was not as powerful as I had assumed. I read the book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken. I began to think that God was nothing more than an extraterrestrial being who had just happened to come to earth.
I also began formulating my own theories. I equated God with time. Those things that I believed God could deliver could also be delivered given enough time. Not even God could act without time. Time, in my opinion, was God. Once again, this was a big step toward humanism. By equating God with time I assumed that, in order to reach my goals, I would need time and effort. The money that I always prayed for was available when I invested in the stock market and gave my investment time to grow. The car that I prayed for was available when I took time to save the money to purchase it. The girlfriend I prayed for was with me when I took the time to find her. I had found the answer!
Though I had drifted far to the left of Christianity, I still maintained some devotion to it. I felt that the Bible was still legitimate, but it just took time for things to occur. It took time for Moses to free the Jews. It took time for Jesus to prove his point. Therefore, I figured, Christianity should not be abandoned.
I maintained this philosophy until my brother, Norm Allen, Jr., sent me a book titled Atheism: The Case Against God, by George H. Smith. I then realized that the Bible was filled with contradictions, absurdities and blatant lies. I asked myself, "Why would Christians continue to tell these lies?" It then dawned on me that Christianity was a multi-trillion dollar, international tax-free business. I realized that ministers were driving new Cadillacs and Mercedes Benzes while their benefactors could not even afford a one-bedroom efficiency.
Greed is what perpetuates Christianity. Christian leaders are the biggest "sinners" of all! They are liars, cheats, extortionists and sexual deviants. Their selling of religion to those who need a reprieve from the woes of daily living makes them no better than the cocaine dealer who is offering the same temporary relief. The only difference is that the Christian salesperson makes more money, sells it legally, and owes no taxes.
Today I am a firm believer in Darwin's theory of evolution. I am constantly being asked how I manage to live without believing in anything. I respond, "I believe in something. I believe in myself and humanity."
It has worked for me so far. But what if I am wrong? What if there is a God? What if there is a hell? And what if I go to hell? Well, because I will have an eternity, I will figure out a way to get myself into heaven.
David Allen is a writer from the Washington, D.C. area.