This morning I posted a brief status update on Facebook about the fact I am black atheist mourning the deaths of nine people who were shot in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. I began this message to help contribute to the community of mourning and to distinguish myself from others. I actually began speaking out at work this past week when I first hear about the attack because I knew my co-workers and clients had probably heard the news and might have been affected by it.
My younger sister lives in South Carolina and is deeply religious. She is the kind of person who might have been targeted for worshiping in a black church. Much has been said and written about the historic nature of this church and its role in the struggle for freedom. But less has been said about the role of black atheists because there are so few of us. There undoubtedly were not any interviews of atheists talking about this latest hate crime.
All of us who are atheists have connections to churches that our families attend or churches we used to attend. Even though we have left the church, we are human, too, and we suffer just as much as them when one of our loved ones is taken from us. The default in our society is to say that “our thoughts and prayers” are with the people whose lives have been touched by violence. But that leaves out the millions of us who do not pray. We don’t believe that our loved ones are in a better place and we don’t expect to see them in an afterlife. For us, there is sadness and the desire for people to take actions.
How long will the gun lobby continue to own our elected officials? How many more laws will be passed loosening the few restrictions on gun ownership? How many more grim statistics must be published showing how much safer it is in almost any modern nation than in America? Atheists don’t blame the devil and we don’t ask god to act on our behalf. We know that laws are made and broken by people and that it is trime for them to take responsibility for their own deeds. It is time to mourn the dead but fight like hell for the living, to paraphrase Mother Jones.