Black Folks and Religion: Opiate of the masses redux

25 Jun

I would like to refer a lot of my black folks to the song by the artist Keb Mo, in which he extorts people to stand up and do something, one of the lyrics is ” don’t wait for Jesus, he ain’t coming round no more.” Religion has played a large part in the life of black people for centuries. In the antebellum South it was used by whites to justify slavery and by slaves to console themselves that this life was not important, that when they died they would go to heaven and be with God and all would be well. One of my favorite old spirituals is “Freedom over Me.” One of the lines goes “And before I’ll be a slave, I ‘ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

I have never understood how people living in misery can believe that it is not important how you live this life, that the next, presumably eternal life is the important one. More precisely I have never understood why they think it is an either or situation. Why shouldn’t you have a great life now and a great afterlife?

Faith is a good thing, but not when it is used as a replacement for action in the here and now. Trusting that God is going to feed you, clothe, you, get you a car, buy you a house, take care of your needs is facetious. There is an African proverb that says ” Even God cannot help the man with folded arms.” Western philosophy states ” God helps those who help themselves.” My personal belief is that God gave me a brain so that I could do what I need to do, not so I could deny responsibility to do anything by “trusting God to do it.”

Considering the disparities in wealth in the black community and the continuing deterioration of the black family, where 70% of black children are born to couples who are not married, I have to wonder if religion plays any role in the state of black progress or lack thereof.

If I am sure that God is taking care of me does it excuse me from taking care of myself? And if one is so religious isn’t there something in the Christian canon about not having sex with people you are not married to? How can we have a culture so steeped in religion that also seems so unfamiliar with what the rules of that religion require. I guess some people are Cafeteria Christians, picking the things they like to believe in and leaving the things they do not like on the steam table.

Religion as I know it requires following a moral code at least of some kind. That does not mean that I believe in strict adherence to religious teachings, far from it. My own personal beliefs are made up of elements of a lot of different religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism. But far too many people do not seem to have any constraints on their behavior. If they want to do it they do it and then I guess go to church and atone on Sunday and go back and start doing the same things on Monday.

Growing up in Xenia I attended Zion Baptist Church. I do not remember a lot of women having babies outside of marriage, but then that was a different time. What I do remember is being a guest at Middle Run Baptist Church when a young woman got up and begged the church’s forgiveness for “sinning.” This confession and request for forgiveness was precipitated by the fact she was obviously very pregnant and, as it turned out very single.

I was fascinated by the spectacle of public atonement, trying to imagine a member of Zion getting up and confessing to the congregation some sin. Before I could get too impressed, however, one of the older sisters of the church leaned over and whispered to me. “She should be sorry, this is her third baby in four years, and she ain’t never been married.”

Evidently in the minds of some folks you can do whatever you like as long as you repent and express sorrow later. This also is presumed to work even if you repeat the offense as long as you repeat the repentance.

There are lots of things that people believe about religion that puzzle me or disturb me. Of course, everyone has the right to believe whatever they like, and they may be right as rain, but these things are not congruent with my idea of God:

1) God does not enable people to win football games, basketball game,s horse races, track meets or any other athletic or sports competition.  Thanking Jesus for letting you win after a victory is diminishing and preposterous.  It smacks of voodoo-like superstition to thank God before answering the interviewers questions. ” I better say thanks or the next time he will favor my opponent who says thanks!”  My brain cannot conceive of a God who wants one team to beat another and intervenes to make it so. If his eye is on the sparrow he has no time to root for the Ravens.

2) God does not enable people to get better jobs, better cars, nicer houses. brighter teeth or longer hair. If that is true then God plays favorites—based on what? What kind of God would give to one and not the other? Some of the most devout people I know have miserable lives, read your Bible, particularly Job if you have doubts.The Puritans would explain this by suggesting the unfortunate are doing something to displease God that is not apparent to the rest of us, convenient, huh?

3) God does not expect you to do well and ignore those who are not doing well.  Even though blacks have “progressed” enough to have ministries that extol the virtues of capitalism ” God wants you to have that Mercedes!” the only things I can remember from the Bible about wealth is the warning that rich people getting in to heaven is like trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle, and the admonition to help the poor and unfortunate. I do not recall any verse that suggests God wants to help you beef up your 401K unless you interpret ” I shall not want” thusly.

The Bible, particularly the New Testament which CHRISTians are supposed to be quite fond of, is full of exhortations to take care of the poor, the sick, the orphans and widows. It does not endorse the ” I got mine because I am a good Christian and the rest of you just need to pray more” philosophy.

4) Declaring yourself  virtuous because you go to church and believe in God does not make you virtuous. Being in a church does not make you a virtuous Christian, anymore than being in a garage makes you a car.

My race does not need to abandon its faith. But it does need to quit substituting prayer for action and advocacy. Fight racism and intolerance and elitism and oppression against any human being. Then you can actually say “Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”

Bless you all!


2 responses to “Black Folks and Religion: Opiate of the masses redux

  1. Donna

    June 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    One of the reasons I love liberation theology — puts the Church on the side of the oppressed.


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