The belief in God is one of the greatest mysteries to mankind. And it is that belief that has shaped and transformed our very existence. There are 21 major religions in the world with a multitude of subsects. There is also an additional 1 billion people, who believe in a higher power, but do not associate with a specific religion at all. With those statistics one would say that most of the us believe in some form of higher power. However, 2.3% of the world’s population identify with no religion or higher power. These individuals identify with Atheism and Mandisa Thomas falls into that category. When her story was introduced to me via JET Magazine, I was immediately intrigued. The picture that I had in my head of an Atheist didn’t match up with what I was seeing. She wasn’t an angry, evil, devil worshiping person like so many people try to portray them. She was a normal, everyday woman who could very well blend into your family or mine. Although my beliefs do not mirror Mandisa’s, I wanted to learn about her path to Atheism and provide more insight on this taboo subject.
Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is a founder and current President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism and a bit of Islam. As a child she loved reading and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence in today’s society,” she recalls.
Mandisa was featured in the April 30th issue of JET Magazine, has been a guest speaker with such organizations as the Secular Humanists of the Low Country, Humanists of Florida and American Atheists. She has also been a guest on podcasts including: The Critical Eye, Ask an Atheist, and the Black Freethinkers Blogtalk Radio Show. As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa works to encourage more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones. “The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”
Q. When most people think of Atheism, they think of an absence of God or a higher power. Are they correct to believe that is all there is to Atheism? Please explain to us the wholeness of Atheism in terms of what the belief totally encompasses.
Atheism is simply the lack of belief in any and all Gods and deities. How one comes to this conclusion is subject to an individual’s life experience, circumstances and thought process. But the definition itself is no more than what was originally posed in this question – so yes that is correct.
Q. I was reading “A Word From Our President” on your site and you stated ; “Critical thinking is at an all time low in the Black community – the proof is in the high drug, disease and pregnancy rates. And with so many churches concentrated there – with millions of dollars collectively flowing through them – there’s really no reason why the notion to look to an invisible entity to solve problems should still exist”. I can certainly agree that critical thinking is at an all time low, not only in our community, but worldwide. However, it is apparent that our community is disproportionately affected. From your statement, one can concur that religion has hindered our positive productivity in life. Although religion has been proven to separate more than unify, it is my belief that God is not a religion. With that said, is it the belief in God that has hindered us or is it the dedication to religion that has done the damage?
First, let me say that I agree that critical thinking is at an all-time low worldwide. However, with the United States ranking 18th among 36 industrialized nations in education levels, yet we are considered one of the most powerful in the world, it is a very telling sign . And although this country was not originally founded on religious principles (contrary to popular opinion), it has become overrun with religious fanaticism and people who think they are acting according to how their God would approve. Belief in a God is centered around religious beliefs and practices, so they are not totally separate. It is like a marijuana addict saying they don’t use drugs, as it is all within the scope of the overall problem. Therefore, I think they have both caused an equal amount of damage.
Q. I am a spiritual person who believes in a higher power. Is it possible to be a spiritual “non-believer”? Why or why not?
Spirituality has been defined as belief in an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” That being said, it is definitely possible to be a spiritual nonbeliever, as this definition is geared towards looking within as opposed to relying on an outside entity. Now as far as the higher power aspect, I have to say that it may be a bit disingenuous as it does imply belief in a deity. But those are just my thoughts.
Q. The creation of the universe is one of the greatest mysteries. I have always wondered where life truly began and how. The popular belief is that God created everything from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea to humans. What are your thoughts about creation?
I do not take stock in ANY Godlike creation ideas – from the Christian version to various African tales. I think they are all stories made up during a time when plausible explanations to the world and universe were not available. The mysteries of how life began are unraveling daily, and there has been ample scientific research to indicate that The Big Bang is the most accurate beginning to the creation to the universe and life as we know it.
Q. There are various theories on what occurs after death. Some believe that our body dies yet our spirit lives on. Others believe that we are simply returned to dust. What are your beliefs regarding life after death?
I think the only life after our deaths are the legacies we create for ourselves while still living. Everyone should strive to live a life that will be remembered, cherished and that others can learn from years after we are physically unable.
Q. We all have a moral compass, which can be swayed either positively or negatively. Many of the “moral codes” can be found in various religious doctrines. With that said, how can one have morality without being a believer?
As I was raised a nonbeliever, my morality came from many sources. I was an avid reader, and I enjoyed Aesop’s fables in particular as a child. Those tales did not center around religion or belief in a God AT ALL, but they taught very valuable lessons about life. Also, there have been studies conducted on various animal species which show the ability for them to show compassion towards each other – and they have no idea of a God concept. So religion does not have the monopoly on morality, nor is it required to be a part of our daily lives to function. I think that “code” is a part of our makeup as beings, and is developed by our upbringing, surroundings and lastly our own independent thought process.
Q. What would you say to those who want to embrace free thinking yet do not wish to negate a higher power? What would you say to those who wish to become a non-believer but are afraid to do so?
The path to free thought is not a rat race. It requires time, patience, encouragement and strength. It is also an individualistic journey, and no one has the right to define what your belief/thought process should be. Research the facts, but be honest with yourself at the end of the day about the point of view you choose.
For those who are on the path to becoming nonbelievers altogether, please understand that you are not alone. Religious beliefs (and other rituals surrounding the development of a life outlook) have been ingrained – mostly by well-meaning family members and friends – but ultimately, you CAN make the choice for yourself. It can be scary and challenging, but also liberating and rewarding. And there are many of us out here that support your decision.
Thank you Mandisa for sharing your story with us. Remember, in all things give thanks! Live…Love…Do!
*The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Live IT Love IT Do IT.*