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African American Atheists and Political Liberation

A Study of the Sociocultural Dynamics of Faith

Michael Lackey

Publication Year: 2007

This study of atheist African American writers poses a substantive challenge to those who see atheism in despairing and nihilistic terms. Lackey argues that while most white atheists mourn the loss of faith, many black atheists--believing the "God-concept" spawns racism and oppression--consider the death of God a cause for personal and political hope.

Focusing on a little-discussed aspect of African American literature, this full-length analysis of African American atheists' treatment of God fills a huge gap in studies that consistently ignore their contributions. Examining how a belief in God and His "chosen people" necessitates a politics of superiority and inferiority, Lackey implicitly considers the degree to which religious faith is responsible for justifying oppression, even acts of physical and psychological violence.

In their secular vision of social and political justice, black atheists argue that only when the culture adopts and internalizes a truly atheist politics--one based on pluralism, tolerance, and freedom--will radical democracy be achieved. Of primary interest to scholars of African American studies, this volume also will appeal to religious scholars, philosophers, anthropologists, freethinkers, and religious and secular humanists.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

Over the years, many have helped me formulate the ideas in this book, too many to name in this short acknowledgments page. But I would like to mention just a few of the major players in my life. I owe a great debt to John Wright for introducing me to the Harlem Renaissance. Over the years, Tony...

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Introduction. African American Atheism: A Cause for Hope

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pp. 1-16

This book contains uncharitable observations about belief in God and religious communities. The atheists in this study do not mourn the retreating sea of faith (Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach), nor do they consider a godless world just a heap of broken images (T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land). On the topics of...

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1. Frantz Fanon and J. Saunders Redding: The Psychological and Political Necessity of Atheism

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pp. 17-41

The title character of Jean Toomer’s experimental short story “Kabnis” makes a rather odd remark about the Creator: “God, he doesn’t exist, but nevertheless He is ugly. Hence, what comes from Him is ugly” (85). There are at least two things in this claim that should give an attentive reader pause. First, if...

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2. The Humanist/Atheist Controversy in Richard Wright’s The Outsider

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pp. 42-72

Redding’s and Fanon’s critiques of a theological approach to constructing and defining the human and nonhuman occurred at a time when the concept of the human and the philosophy of humanism were simultaneously undergoing radical developments and being totally undermined. From the...

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3. No Means Yes: The Conversion Narrative as Rape Scene in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

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pp. 73-95

In the 1928 novella Quicksand, Nella Larsen dramatizes the religious conversion as a gang rape. The blasphemy of this depiction would be gratuitous were the reader unaware of the indignities that African Americans have suffered because of belief in God. But keeping in mind Kabnis’s declaration that God...

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4. Langston Hughes: The Sociopolitical Structuring of God, Desire, and the Law

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pp. 96-116

Like Wright and Larsen, Langston Hughes is a severe critic of the God concept, but unlike Wright and Larsen, he focuses his attention almost exclusively on sociopolitical and sociocultural systems instead of tortured inner lives. Therefore, if we approach Hughes’s fiction with an eye for the psychological...

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5. Touchstone Narratives: Measuring the Political Value of the God Concept

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pp. 117-141

Let me briefly summarize what I have argued up to this point. In the first chapter, I examined the epistemological/ontological recursive loop of theology, which enables those who control the God concept to ontologize themselves as fully human. Through this unassailable system, the culture’s designated...

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Conclusion. Black Liberation Antitheology: An Atheist Manifesto

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pp. 142-150

In On Being Negro in America, Redding identifies the central problem with the God concept, according to African American atheists: “God is a complex composed of simple elements—mediator, father, judge, jury, executioner, and also love, virtue, charity—each of which generates a very motley collection...


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pp. 151-155

Works Cited

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pp. 157-163


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pp. 165-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780813040080
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033181
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033187

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2007