Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I Am the Only Atheist in the Village!

Sometimes I feel self-indulgent for posting about religion -- though why not be self-indulgent, after all? -- but then I remember that a lot of what I criticize is not really religion itself but history and other fact-involved subjects.  For example:

This gem ornamented a thread devoted to mocking the Christian group that petitioned Netflix to cancel Good Omens, a miniseries based on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel, appearing exclusively on Amazon Prime.

In a way this tweet unknowingly honors Pratchett's own biblical illiteracy.  The Bible was not written by "white dudes."  The Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, was written by a bunch of "Orientals," as European Christian scholars used to call them.  The New Testament was written partly by "Orientals" and partly by members of the swarthy Mediterranean races.  Neither group was considered white by the nineteenth and twentieth century scientific racists who tried to bar them from immigrating to the United States.  It's doubly ironic given the indignation among liberals
over right-wing claims that Jesus was a white guy.

More seriously, rating a text by the author's skin color, whether positively or negatively, is a paradigm example of racism.  Can't really accuse the biblical writers of bigotry when you've got such a large beam in your own eye.  This is a matter of judgment, but the Bible is an anthology of writings composed over almost a thousand years, and while some of its content is bigoted by any reasonable criterion, some of it opposes bigotry.  As I have often had to lament, my fellow atheists are such a disappointment to me sometimes.

Recently there was a New York Times article on white racism directed at Somali immigrants in Minnesota, which I haven't read yet because I've used up my ration of free articles for this month.  The author tweeted an outtake (not included in the article itself because he didn't have the quotation on tape): "a woman touching me (a black person) and saying 'we didn't love it when black people came, but at least they were christian.'"  It's a weird remark, and not only because the Somali Muslims in question are black, but because Minnesota has a history of racism, including the 1920 lynching of three black men in Duluth.  I presume the woman was talking about African Americans migrating north in the twentieth century, which indeed white racists "didn't love," resisted and fought.  That they were Christian didn't do them any good at all.

Someone, self-described as "a U.S. historian, educator, progressive, biracial," immediately jumped on the quotation:
Unbelievable. And ignorant if she's referring to black people being brought to the United States. They didn't come as Christians--they became Christian by indoctrination and the need for acceptance/survival. Christianity is not a native African belief system.
That's true, though I don't think that the woman was talking about black people being brought to the United States.  It's true that African slaves brought to the Americas "didn't come as Christians": about 10 or 15 percent are estimated to have been Muslims, the rest presumably practitioners of traditional African religions.  It's also true on a narrow literal level that "Christianity is not a native African belief system," but then neither is Islam. Christianity is "native" only in Palestine, Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia.  Like other world religions with a missionary bent, Christianity and Islam spread by trade, migration, proselytization, and conquest. Christianity isn't "native" in Europe, either, though many people, such as Jen, forget that. But Christianity came to Africa in the first Christian century, and spread over much of the continent before the rise of Islam; it's arguably more "native" there, in some sense of the word, than Islam.  (I'm sure this writer has heard of Saint Augustine; quite a few other famous early Church fathers were African.)  Most people, including adherents of traditional polytheism, "become" whatever religion they hold "by indoctrination and the need for acceptance/survival."  That doesn't justify the forced "conversions" of African slaves, but the fact of slavery itself is the greater problem.

The historian Kevin Kruse has been generously correcting right-wing falsifications of history on Twitter lately, providing free entertainment and education to many.  Unfortunately, Dinesh D'Souza and his ilk are not alone in trying to make US history conform to their political fantasies; liberals and progressives, atheists and liberal Christians, aren't innocent either.  The word "native" usually sets off alarms for me when someone uses it carelessly, and this was one more time it did so.