Anybody There? Reflections on African American Humanism

by Anthony B. Pinn

I argue here for the possibility of a humanist theology, a theology that holds community rather than God as the center of life altering questions, accompanied by an understanding of religion and theology as centered on the problem of evil, or theodicy. Christian theology as done within African American communities is premised upon a sense of redemptive suffering as the best response to moral evil in the world. Furthermore, this theological stance is intimately tied to the Christian tradition, complete with a God who is concerned for and working on behalf of the oppressed. It continues to be my belief that, although important in many ways, this theological stance and its narrow perception of religion may not be the best means of achieving the social transformation or liberation sought by the African American community. I conclude that a theological stance on moral evil requires an alternate religious system—African American humanism. This is not meant to dismiss Christian approaches out of hand, rather, to broaden the possibilities, the religious terrain, and to foster conversation concerning liberating ways of addressing the problem of evil. Humanist theology, and humanism as a religion, nonetheless need further explication.

Within this essay my goal is to briefly outline the African American humanist religion to which humanist theology corresponds by pointing out several institutionalized sites of humanist thought and praxis. I hope to provide a better sense of where and how humanism functions in African American communities. More precisely put, I hope to explicate the manner in which humanism functions in African American communities as a religious orientation.

I wish to move away from definitions of religion that are strictly positivist and limiting in nature. Such definitions, those rejected by many sociologists of religion, do not serve a useful purpose in light of my comparative agenda. I have in mind, for example, the limited range of religiosity presented by Hans Baer and Merrill Singer with respect to spiritual churches and other religious organizations. In addition, I would like to think of religion in terms of multiple or pluralistic orientations that do not demand a traditional God idea and singular notions of concern. Humanism is a manifestation of religion because of concern with orientations brought to bear on the existential condition of African Americans. It makes use of established rituals (socio-political involvements, and both collective and individual critical reflection) that move toward progressive individual and communal identities. However, my past use of Paul Tillich's notions of ultimate concern and ultimate orientation did not provide the best framework for this understanding of humanism as religion. The Tillichian understanding of ultimate concern is singular in nature and does not really allow for the multiple and immediate orientations I have in mind. In actuality, it contradicts my strong inclination toward multiple locations, of which humanism is one. Rather than a Tillichian move in order to understand humanism as religion, the work of Gordon Kaufman may prove more useful as a way to caste humanism as a religion.

Religion, hence, is understood as that which helps humans find orientation (or direction) "for life in the world, together with motivation for living and acting in accordance with this orientation—that is, would gain, and gradually formulate, a sense of the meaning of human existence." Religion helps individuals and groups to live in beneficial ways in light of life altering questions such as the problem of evil that are not easily addressed through skills and resources associated with "ordinary patterns of meaning and action internalized from infancy on." While through various ritual structures and symbolic sources, humans are enabled to understand their thought and actions as significant and meaningful. In keeping with Kaufman, I'm not suggesting that this orientation is toward the "sacred" understood in traditional terms. Instead, this is orientation toward "reality" in general terms. In this way, both theistic and non-theistic forms of expression are understandable as religion because religion, in short, is not limited to easily identified and historically explored forms of expression. Religion is the "underlying resources of meaning and ritual that inform and fund the ongoing living and dying in a culture as a whole. Therefore humanism is a religion because it is one way to gain orientation and motivation toward the framing of human life through useful goals and agendas. Humanism does not replace other traditions, instead it contributes to the diversity, the plurality that characterizes the religious landscape. Before presenting examples of humanism as praxis oriented religion, it might be useful to briefly position African American humanism within the larger arena of humanist thought and practice. We begin with Europe and the Renaissance.

Early humanists in Europe understood themselves as Christians who addressed the dilemma of bringing to the process of intellectual inquiry both Christian doctrine and "pagan" resources. Many were trained clerics with this question: how does a Christian read the pagan classics without being contaminated? These clerics and others of Italy and Europe in general were concerned with bringing the humanistic disciplines to bear on medieval culture and learning. In this respect, humanism of the medieval period was active and geared toward problem solving, within the confines of a strong and determined church.

Because Christianity dominated the landscape and claimed control over the discussion of moral conduct, humanists were obligated, at least in a limited way, to address religious institutions and theological concerns to provide guidance that the professional religious elements of Italy failed to address. In addressing religious and theological thought, humanists felt a need to respond to methodological issues that directly effected attitudes toward action. The centrality of human life in a less than ideal world is present within humanism at this stage in that humanist scholars saw little value in abstract theological discussion when people were struggling to live ethically. Religious conversation and theological language had to address the moral struggles of humanity. Therefore, humanists of this period brought into one conversation, devotion to God and a concern for humanity. These two, with respect to questions of moral living, were inseparable. In short, an interest in pragmatically connecting thought and life marked the work of humanists, whether described as Christian or not. The twin concerns of God and humanity would continue to motivate humanists as their ideas blazed a trail across Europe, establishing centers of thought in locations such as Germany, France and England by 1517.

Humanism's compatibility with theism came into question and, with time, some humanists such as Wilhelm von Humbolt moved away from "religious " orientations, asserting instead the dominance of experience as the key to truth. The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason would, therefore, spark a radical appeal to human perfectibility and the inevitability of progress on earth. In the twentieth century this "antireligious" sentiment would mutate into what Lewis W. Spitz and others refer to as a "new humanism"—human centered and aggressively antireligious in nature.

Similar concerns also fostered an appreciation for humanism in North America. In the United States the promise and pitfalls of a new democracy generated a concern for human life. Blood, sweat, and toil generated the fundamental questions of life's meaning and purpose: the Civil War, Reconstruction, etc., especially required the creation of a worldview that made sense of human promise and misery in the modern era. The result was the emergence of humanist inspired thought and organizations. Although Enlightenment ideas related to freethought and humanism were under siege during the Great Awakening revivals, this questioning of God, and the countervailing idea of the centrality of humanity, were never completely wiped out. Humanist sentiments continued to grow, then, from this early period into the work of philosophers such as John Dewey, and radical liberal clergy like John H. Dietrich of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.

African American humanism shares the human-centered emphasis of humanism, but there's a different rationale for this position based upon various forms of oppression encountered by African Americans that were, at times, justified theologically. Manifestations of humanism begin early with suspicion concerning the Christian message as pointed out in 1839 by Daniel Payne, one of the leading figures in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Fearful that slaves will completely give up on the Christian faith if they aren't introduced to the "true " gospel message, Payne writes:

The slaves are sensible of the oppression exercised by their masters and they see these masters on the Lord's day worshipping in his holy Sanctuary—and they know that oppression and slavery are inconsistent with the Christian religion; therefore they scoff at religion itself—mock their masters, and distrust both the goodness and justice of God. Yes, I have known them even to question his existence. A few nights ago between 10 and 11 o'clock a runaway slave came to the house where I live for safety and succor. I asked him if he was a Christian; "no sir, " said he, "white men treat us so bad in Mississippi that we can't be christians. "

Based upon Payne's depiction, it seems fairly clear that the early presence and rationale for humanism within African American communities revolve around the inadequacy of Christianity for responding to moral evil. This initial phase of humanism is primarily addressed on the level of the individual and in cultural manifestations such as work songs, the blues, and folklore. Although African Americans have held humanist perspectives and operated accordingly for centuries, use of the phrase, Black Humanism, as a reference is fairly recent. Empowerment: One Denomination's Quest for Racial Justice, 1967-1982 provides the following information concerning the use of this term, linking its use with the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus created to respond to racial issues within the UUA:

Black humanists understood humanism as a process, an existential process by which one finds and lives his humanity. To be human is to direct one's own life; therefore, Black Humanism calls for a seizure of decision making and implementation for oneself. Gaining power is an essential element of humanism.

Its appeal to social justice is similar to that used historically within African American Christian churches minus one ingredient: justice is demanded and premised upon a humanocentric appeal to accountability and progress, not on the dictates of scripture lived through the Christ figure. However, because of the work of William R. Jones and Mark Morrison-Reed, for example, this site of Black humanism—the UUA—is somewhat known. Therefore let's now give attention to what I think are sites readily connected with praxis rarely thought of as humanist.

With the development of the Harlem Renaissance and its exploration of uncomfortable and raw life questions as well as the "de-radicalization of churches, " the increase in alternate responses to oppression made space available for humanist interpretations. Although figures such as Richard Wright are referred to, there are others whose work deserves attention. And beyond a theological exploration of their writings, attention should also be given to the personal religious perspectives of these figures. For instance, how does the agnosticism of a James Baldwin or the humanism of a Zora Neale Hurston effect their inclusion in theological reflection and religious studies in general? The literature of the Harlem Renaissance provides insights that not only inform theological reflection because of their concern with religious themes and imagery, but it also provides, when personal positions are considered, a much needed challenge to theological assumptions (e.g., answers to the problem of evil) and ideas of religious normality within Black communities. In this way, they provide license to advocate the humanism I find interesting and noteworthy.

Many of the above figures continued to understand the Christian church as an important cultural development, but without acceptance of its theological stance. Others involved themselves in institutional structures that allowed for the further development of their humanism. That is to say,

Doubt, frustration, and denial of God's existence arise also from social crises. The repudiation or negation of God may influence the behavior of Negroes in many ways. It may lead many of them into the humanistic camp—Negroes would then seek to perfect social change—without relying on God or super-natural aid. The negation of the idea of God may also drive Negroes into the communistic camp, whereby more militant or violent means would be used to achieve political and economic status.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I nonetheless suspect that the non-theist stance of the Communist Party and its rhetorical appeal to African Americans (thin as it was) provided a forum and home for African American humanists who found churches either uncomfortable or hopelessy backward.

Documents available at the Schomburg Center, the division of the New York Public Library geared toward research in African American culture, and other locations, document Party organizing activities in African American communities such as Harlem during the early during the 1920s and 1930s. The Communist Party, however, was reluctant to "attack " black churches owing to the strength of churches that in the end could hamper organizing efforts. Others were unwilling to move in this direction because of personal commitment to the Christian church. Robin D. G. Kelley has documented this. Nonetheless this support, as Kelley points out, was mixed with a critique of less than liberating activity on the part of clergy who spent their time gaining wealth and preaching against transformation. Some took this critique further and rejected the Christian church and its doctrine altogether as non-liberating activity and thought. According to Kelley:

Challenges to religious beliefs frequently surfaced in personal conversations and arguments within the Party. Such challenges did not only come from white Communists; they were common among some leading blacks. What Hosea Hudson's recollections reveal is that attacks on religion often had little bearing on politics or theory. He was rebuked by comments such as in "Ain't no God....Nobody ever seen God. How you know it's a God? " When he cited the Bible as his witness, he recalled a common retort was, "The white man wrote the Bible " ÖIn other words, black Communists who questioned the viability of religion had concerns kindred to a good portion of working-class blacks throughout the United States. Therefore, we cannot assume that the party experience itself was the sole reason for "atheism " practiced by a small minority of Communists in Alabama. On the contrary, it is likely that blacks who questioned the existence of an omnipresent God or were simply fed up with clerical corruption, were drawn to the party because of its scathing critique of the church.

Although some Black communists like Hosea Hudson were active in the church they often indirectly critiqued its activities via a challenge of God. As Hudson recalls:

I challenge one or two deacons one Sunday afternoon. We all sitting around talking. I told them, I said, "It ain't no such thing as no God. You all go around here singing and praying, " I said, "and they regular lynching Negroes, and you ain't doing nothing about it. "

Hudson recounts that he never lost his belief in God. However, what he states actually sounds like a version of agnosticism.

I never did finally stop believing in God. I haven't stopped believing yet today. I don't argue about it. I don't discuss it, because it's some-thing I can't explain. I don't know whether it's a God, I don't know whether it's not a God. But I know science, if you take science for it, and all these developments, I can't see what God had much to do with it—So it's something beyond my knowledge to deal with. And I don't deal with it. I don't try to deal with it.

Hudson also recounts that this type of rejection of God was genuinely embraced by some members of the Party who never attended church, and who used this critique of God as more than a challenge to passivity. Hudson states that:

I had heard other Party people talking. Some of them had never been members of no church, talking about there wont no such thing as God: "Where is he at? You say it's a God, where is he at? You can't prove where he's at." Negro Party people said that to me, Murphy and Horton and Raymond Knox. We'd have big discussions. One Sunday I said I was going to church.

"What you going for? What you going for?"

I said, "I'm going to serve God."

They said, "Where is God at? You can't prove it's no God nowhere."

They said, "Where is God?"

I said, "In heaven."

"Well, where is heaven?"

The objections of Black Communists who rejected God often revolved around the problem of evil. In the words of Raymond Knox: "...here they lynching Negroes...if God's all that good, how come he don't stop the police from killing Negroes, lynching Negroes, if God is all that just? " In rejecting God, the humanists Hudson knew in the Communist Party held humanity responsible for social transformation. Hudson found it difficult to respond to these charges. In his words:

I just didn't have a [sic] answer. And them was the kind of questions they put. "If God is such a just God, and here you walking around here, ain't got no food. The only way you can get food is you have to organize. So if you have to organize to demand food, why you going to pray to God about it? Why don't you go on and put your time in organizing and talk to people?"

Disillusionment with the Communist Party grew (as is brilliantly narrated in the work of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright) because the Party—by the time African Americans participated in noticeable numbers—had withdrawn from a strong interest in the negro question. Although some African Americans undoubtedly remained within the Party hoping for change in its policy on racism, others took their humanism in the direction of Black nationalism.

Theologians such as James Cone gave attention to the Black Power movement in a way that displayed the distance between the compatibility of Christianity and Black Power. In his early writings, Cone argues for an understanding of Christianity (and theological reflection) through recognizing the Christ event as an affirmation of the need for power. This connection is certainly present particularly in the early phases of the Civil Rights movement and SNCC. Nonetheless this distance between Christ and "mundane" manifestations of power, as expressed in the late 1960s, was not completely reconciled. Consequently, in the late twentieth century, the Black Panther Party and SNCC became emblematic of other locations of humanist praxis and religion.

I cannot help but believe that the movement away from the Christian-based Civil Rights movement sparked by SNCC and the thundering call for Black Power pointed to deep theological differences. It's more than likely that theistic motivations and explanations failed adequately to address the concerns and ideas of some of the more "radical" elements of the movement. The break, I argue, also marks a move away from the theism of the Civil Rights movement and toward materialist analysis and human-centered solutions. Gone were integrationist goals and reliance upon Christian doctrine and paradigms for action. SNCC decided that social transformation would only occur when African Americans took control of their destiny and worked toward change. Reliance on human potential praxis was heightened in ways that distinguished this phase of SNCC's personae from the Civil Rights movement. Although inadequately defined in terms of social transformative thrusts and foci, Black Power—for some of its advocates—did harness rather clearly defined theological assumptions based upon humanist leanings and the language of self-determination. Consider here the thoughts of James Forman, a member of SNCC.

In his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman describes his "conversion" to humanism (as defined above) which did not hamper but rather informed Forman's praxis. His work toward social transformation with SNCC, for example, points to the nature and sustainability of humanist praxis. He notes that during his time at Wilson Junior College in Chicago his doubts concerning the existence of God, based primarily on the problem of evil, grew. This process was intensified through contact with questionable Black preachers whose self-centered and selfish ways resulted in his distaste for ministry and the church. Such interactions are summed up by this comment: "God was not quite dead in me, but he was dying fast." After returning from military service some years later, Forman came to a final conclusion concerning the existence of God. He writes:

The next six years of my life were a time of ideas. A time when things were germinating and changing in me. A time of deciding what I would do with my life. It was also a time in which I rid myself, once and for all, of the greatest disorder that cluttered my mind—the belief in God or any type of supreme being.

Outlining the rationale for his "disbelief," Forman notes that during a philosophy course he set firm upon the following:

I reject the existence of God. He is not all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere. He is not just or unjust because he does not exist. God is a myth; churches are institutions designed to perpetuate this myth and thereby keep people in subjugation.

For him humanism required a strong commitment on the part of people to change their present condition in ways that belief in God did not allow. He continues:

The belief in a supreme being or God weakens the will of a people to change conditions themselves. As a Negro who has grown up in the United States, I believe that the belief in God has hurt my people. We have put off doing something about our condition on this earth because we have believed that God was going to take care of business in heavenÖMy philosophy course had finally satisfied my need for intellectual as well as emotional certainty that God did not exist. I reached the point of rejecting God out of personal experience and observations...

Critiques of the black church based upon materialist approaches to social transformation continued through the Black Panther Party. The attraction of some SNCC workers to the Black Panther Party led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale was based upon a common concern with transformative activity that held as its measuring stick the welfare of African Americans and other oppressed groups. The Party had a clearly defined platform and was much more certain of its armed and revolutionary stance. Reflecting on the ultimate demise of many Black Panthers, Bobby Seale sums up the goals of the Party, goals which speak to a universal humanist agenda:

We need activists who cross all ethnic and religious backgrounds and color lines who will establish civil and human rights for all, including the right to an ecologically balanced, pollution-free environment. We must create a world of decent human relationships where revolutionary humanism is grounded in democratic human rights for every person on earth. Those were the political revolutionary objectives of my old Black Panther Party. They must now belong to the youth of today.

Drawing heavily from Marx, Fanon, Engels, Lenin, Mao, etc., the Party initially denounced the church, and, one can assume, its teachings as well, labelling both counterproductive. Huey P. Newton reflects on this:

As far as the church was concerned, the Black Panther Party and other community groups emphasized the political and criticized the spiritual. We said the church is only a ritual, it is irrelevant, and therefore we will have nothing to do with it. We said this in the context of the whole community being involved with the church on one level or another. That is one way of defecting from the community, and that is exactly what we did. Once we stepped outside of the whole thing that the community was involved in and we said, "You follow our example; your reality is not true and you don't need it."

However, the Party softened its position when it recognized the central role the church held in Black communities. Like the Communist Party, the Panthers recognized that recruitment would be difficult if open hostility existed between the Panthers and Black churches. The Panthers fostered a relationship of convenience and socio-political necessity, but without a firm commitment to the churches' theological underpinnings. Newton rationalizes this strategy by arguing for a different conception of God, God as the "unknown " that, interestingly enough, science will ultimately "discover." In this sense, God does not exist in the affirmative. This was the Panthers compromise with socio-political necessities of community connections and the teachings of Marx. Quoting Newton again:

So we do go to church, are involved in the church, and not in any hypocritical way. Religion perhaps is a thing that man needs at this time because scientists cannot answer all of the questions—the unexplained and the unknown is God. We know nothing about God, really, and that is why as soon as the scientist develops or points out a new way of controlling a part of the universe, that aspect of the universe is no longer God.

Whether successful or misguided, the Black Panther Party's humanism is notable. In essence, attention is taken off of divine assistance because talk of God is ignored. Rather, humans are given sole responsibility for altering the world. In the words of Bobby Seale:

We are fighting for the preservation of life. We refuse to be brainwashed by comic-book notions that distort the real situation. The only way that the world is ever going to be free is when the youth of this country moves with every principle of human respect and with every soft spot we have in our hearts for human life. We know that as a people, we must seize our time.

I realize that the examples provided here, particularly those of the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party, raise questions concerning the essential notion of atheism vs. humanism in what I advocate, as well as questions concerning either one's ultimate usefulness beyond immediate issues. The latter I address thusly: these serve as useful examples because they point beyond immediate context to a larger and continued concern for identities and dignity. Granted, many Blacks moved away from this humanist position (e.g., Eldridge Cleaver), and humanism has hardly meant the complete transformation of the world! Still, this does not seal humanism's fate as indefensible. Rather, it has always understood that failure is a possibility, but one that should not prevent us from continuing to work. Humanism does not provide guarantees; rather it suggests possibilities sustainable through human effort alone. Kaufman's sense of religions providing world-pictures is helpful here. He writes that these pictures may not be accurate; ultimately they may not be true, but they are indispensable because humans need them in order to orient themselves. Ultimately, humanism provides a world-picture, one that I suggest avoids the harmful effects of redemptive suffering in ways the Christian tradition does not. Humanism, I believe, is a way of ordering our world and our lives through giving equal attention to human failure and human potential as the launching platform for more sustained engagement with community and dignity.

Moving back to the first question: what is the relationship between atheism and humanism? Putting it frankly: the lines between agnosticism, atheism, and humanism are inevitably blurred. This is particularly evident in the section of this essay concerning the Communist party when the Church and God are brought into question as the result of their perceived inability to respond adequately to the problem of evil as manifested, say, in regard to the lynching of blacks. But does this mean that the Christian church and its theology are hopelessly flawed? Must a humanist be an atheist? As I have argued elsewhere (Why, Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology), humanism in some phases of its emergence can arrive in theistic guise. Much of liberation theology, for example, entails this type of partnership with God. Therefore, humanists can be theists, concern for humanity assuming theistic or other comparable forms. As I've argued in my book, theistic humanists must continue to think through the problem of evil (in ways that atheistic or agnostic humanists can avoid) because they continue to embrace a traditional notion of God as present, just, good, and working toward the liberation of a continually oppressed group.

But for many there is simply not enough evidence of this God to warrant continued theism. And these, in response to the problem of evil—as the examples have shown—embrace an atheistic or an agnostic humanism that puts God aside and relies exclusively upon humanity for the resolution of questions caused by moral evil. This represents a position that is not overly concerned with God as a negative myth, but rather God as a liberating myth that is nonetheless unsubstantiated. I'm wary of such normative stances because exclusivity is damaging and certainly unwarranted; yet in the end religious relativism does not completely satisfy. The key is a reflexive and reflective tension because the relationship between the various religions and their alleged truth content is, for all we know, ever unfolding. Thus, while advocating humanism, I remain mindful of Kaufman's words:

"Religion" is, however, an enormously diverse and diffuse sphere of human existence, including wide ranges of perspectives and practices, institutions and symbolisms. Moreover, it is not at all clear that there is any way, at this time, in which the descriptive and historical study of this vast and complex field can (or should attempt to) develop norms or standards coherent enough and specific enough to provide effective orientation and guidance for contemporary human life—a central theological objective. Theologians, therefore, will need to conduct their explorations and reflections in terms of some particular meaning-and-value complexes, some frameworks of interpretation which command their respect and commitment; but whatever frameworks are employed today must be open enough and comprehensive enough to allow considerable freedom and experimentation in the investigation of the many issues pertinent to the orientation and guidance of contemporary life.

My goal is to challenge both humanists and theists to think through the consequences (in terms of social transformation) of their claims. But first it has been necessary to demonstrate the existence and viability of humanist theology and humanism as a religion.

FOOTNOTES

[Web Admin's Note: The document conversion process unfortunately did not retain footnote numbering.]

I must thank Dr. Victor Anderson for his careful reading of an earlier draft of this essay. His insights and suggestions were invaluable. I am also grateful to two Macalester College students, Gregory Colleton and Gretchen Rohr, for research assistance during the early phases of preparation for writing this piece. A more detailed examination of humanism as a religious system, drawing from this essay, is provided in my book: The Varieties of African American Religious Experience: Theological Introduction (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, Fall 1998).

Hans A. Baer and Merrill Singer, African-American Religion in the Twentieth Century: Varieties of Protest and Accommodation (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992).

Gordon Kaufman, In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 225.

Ibid., 227.

Ibid.

Charles Trinkaus, "Italian Humanism and Scholastic Theology, " in Albert Rabil, Jr., Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy, Volume 3 Humanism and the Disciplines (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 327-328.

Lewis W. Spitz, "Humanism and the Protestant Reformation, " in Albert Rabil, 1988, 380.

Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1965), 17-18.

John H. Dietrich, "Unitarianism and Humanism, " in What If The World Went Humanist?: Ten Sermons, selected by Mason Olds (Yellow Springs, OH: Fellowship of Religious Humanists, 1989), 58.

Daniel Alexander Payne, "Daniel Payne's Protestation of Slavery, " in Lutheran Herald and Journal of the Franckean Synod (August 1, 1839), 114-115.

Empowerment, 1983, 24.

For an interesting discussion of the Harlem Renaissance and literary developments within other Black communities see: Wilson Jeremiah Moses, The Wings of Ethiopia: Studies in African-American Life and Letters ( Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990), chapter 12.

Benjamin Mays, The Negro's God as Reflected in His Literature (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 243.

See Mark Naison's "The Communist Party in Harlem, 1928-1936. " Relevant holdings include: the Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers.

Robin D. G. Kelley, "Comrades, Praise Gawd for Lenin and Them!: Ideology and Culture Among Black Communists in Alabama, 1930-1935, " Science and Society, Vol. 52, No. 1, Spring 1988, 61-62. Also see Robin Kelley's "Afric's Sons with Banners Red " in Imagining Home. Furthermore, some churches actively worked with the Communist Party:

Although the Communists never had a sympathetic ear from the larger, well-established black churches, several ministers and working-class congregations of smaller Baptist churches in and around Birmingham provided critical support for the Communists and the International Labor Defense in opposition to a state-wide anti-sedition bill. (Ibid., 63)

Ibid., 64.

In addition some churches supported efforts to organize around economic and political issues and for this purpose, offered their buildings for meetings.

Kelley, 1988, 65-66.

Ibid., 133.

Ibid., 134-135.

Nell Irvin Painter, The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 133.

Ibid., 134.

Ibid.

See Harold Cruse, "Jews and Negroes in the Communist Party, " in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure of Black Leadership (New York: William Morrow and Company/Quill, © 1984), 147.

James Forman, "Corrupt Black preachers, " in The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Washington,DC: Open Hand Publishing, Inc., 1985), 58.

Ibid., "God Is Dead: A Question of Power, " 80-81.

Ibid., 83.

Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of The Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1991, Introduction, 3.

Huey P. Newton, To Die For The People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, edited by Toni Morrison (New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, Inc., 1995),

Newton, 1995, 64.

Seale, 1991, 429.

Gordon Kaufman, God, Mystery, Diversity: Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 6. I believe that my humanist theology and humanism as a religious system avoid charges of idolatry in light of Kaufman's understanding of religious diversity and plurality, and because all religious traditions contain an element of reflection that wrestles with the life altering questions, based upon their sense of primary concern. For humanism as I understand it, this primary concern is community and the dignity it must foster; what theological reflection seeks is to make sense of all else in light of community and human dignity. Within the religion of humanism, then, this is not idolatry.

New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1995.

If there were more sustainable evidence that God exists and is working toward the liberation of the oppressed, atheistic humanism might not exist. It is, in this way, owing to inadequate responses to the problem of evil: humanism of this kind is primarily concerned with evidence. Therefore, if science, for example, were to demonstrate as correct the claims of liberation minded theists, humanists would have to embrace theism and seek to work in a fitting manner toward social transformation.

Kaufman, 1993, 27.

 


This paper was first published in Religious Humanism, vol. 31, nos. 3 & 4, summer/fall 1997, p. 61-78. Copyright © 1997 by the HUUmanists, Inc.
For more information about Religious Humanism and the HUUmanists, please contact:   HUUmanists Email address: huumanists@huumanists.org

 

Copyright 2002-2009 HUUmanists, Inc. All rights reserved.