Thursday, January 05, 2012


Donald R. Wright and the Call to Black Non-theists


By Norm R. Allen Jr.


Donald R. Wright is the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go. It is his call to African Americans to let go of theism and embrace a secular humanist life stance.


Last year, Wright called for African American non-theists to participate in a Day of Solidarity on the last Sunday of February, Black History Month. He urged Black non-theists to gather in their respective cities to eliminate the need for expensive travel. The gatherings were to give Black non-theists an opportunity to network and establish a sense of community.


Wright is issuing the call again this year. After all, this has been a unique year for media coverage of African American non-theists. Articles have been featured in The New York Times, Ebony, on CNN, and in other media. Moreover, with the widely increased presence of African American non-theists online, now might be a great opportunity to see if more are willing to come out in real time.


Due to interest in his book, Wright has been interviewed on several freethought podcasts and for several blogs. On Sunday, July 31, 2011, Wright was interviewed on the Black Free Thinkers podcast


During the lengthy interview, Wright discussed the theological grip that theism has on many African Americans’ minds. He noted that “hell is more vivid than heaven for believers.” That is to say, while the concept of heaven is vague and incomplete in the minds of most believers, hell is vivid and completely frightening. Thus, Christians are more likely to be scared into embracing the faith than motivated by the expectation of heavenly rewards.


Wright protested against The Response: a Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, led by Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry on August 6, 2011. Perry spent 13 minutes reading from the Bible and calling upon Jesus to bless the nation. He said, “God is our only hope.”


There were an estimated 30,000 gathered at Reliant Stadium in Houston (Wright’s home), where this event was held. Choirs sang, bands played, and the prayers were immediately translated into Spanish. (There were many Latinos and African Americans in attendance.)


The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) launched an unsuccessful lawsuit in an attempt to abort the rally. FFRF charged that Perry, who used his office’s stationery and Website to promote the Christian event, was in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause. However, a judge dismissed the lawsuit nine days before the event was held.


The event featured reactionary preachers such as John Hagee of the Cornerstone Church, which sent 700 members to the rally. Hagee famously claimed that Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves, and blamed Hurricane Katrina on sinners in New Orleans.


There were about 150 protesters in all that came out in opposition to the rally. They included progressive religionists, secularists, and LGBTQI activists. Many of them believed that Perry was aligning himself with religious bigots.


Wright believes that the churches have failed to solve social problems, and that they are unable to do so. However, he notes that Norway, Denmark and other European nations where religion is dying are doing better than the U.S. in many areas.


Wright maintains that the educational institutions and the churches fail to teach critical thinking skills. He sees the congregants as victims and the pastors as victimizers, and insists that human beings can solve their own problems via secular humanism.


The author is critical of faith-based initiatives, maintaining that they are a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Black churches are recipients of such aid. Yet, Wright asserts that Black churches have been silent on the important social issues. Meanwhile, they obsess over divorce, which Wright compares to a failed business partnership. He sees neither as a major social issue. He maintains that the issue of divorce should be primarily about who should care for any children from a marriage, and how they should be raised. Similarly, he sees same-sex marriage as an issue to be determined by the individuals involved.


An interviewer once seemed to suggest to Wright that the universe is so finely tuned that it must be the product of a Creator. However, the fine tuning argument is just that—an argument. That is to say, it is a case to be argued and not assumed. Moreover, many non-theistic scientists believe that the supposed fine tuning can be accounted for naturalistically. Others, such as Victor Stenger, do not believe the fine tuning argument stands up to critical examination. As Lawrence M. Krauss, scientist and author of A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, explains:


…the discoveries of modern particle physics and cosmology over the past half century allow not only a possibility that the universe arose from nothing, but in fact makes this possibility increasingly plausible. Everything we have measured about the universe is not only consistent with a universe that came from nothing (and didn’t have to turn out this way!), but, in fact, all the new evidence makes this possibility ever more likely.


Wright, Vice President of the Humanists of Houston and a leader of the Radical Forum-Houston discussion groups, is a welcome voice of reason on the Humanist scene. It would be great if Black non-theists heed his call to come out, stand up and be counted.


© Institute for Science and Human Values