Great journeys often start with a single question. For D. K. Evans, a newly married professional in the Christian-dominated South, that question was, “Why Do I Believe in God?” That simple query led him on a years-long search to better understand the nature of religion and faith, particularly as it applies to the Black community. While many taking such a journey today might immerse themselves in the writing of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Evans took inspiration not only from John Henrik Clarke, Yosef-Ben Jochannan, Hubert Harrison, and John G. Jackson, champions of a rich Black tradition of challenging religious orthodoxy, but also from many others in his own community who had similarly come to question their core religious beliefs. While this journey eventually led him to discount the notion of God, he calls on all to ask their own questions, particularly those within the Black community who act on blind faith. While their own journey might not lead to his truth, he acknowledges, that is the only way they will ever emancipate themselves from the truths thrust on them by others and arrive at their most important truth—their own.
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About the Author
D.K. Evans, PhD, is a corporate trainer in Morrisville, NC. Aside from writing, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids.
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A Conversation to Authenticity
"We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be."
— May Sarton
An Interrogative Mood
My exploration began one evening when I casually walked up to my wife as she was preparing dinner and said, "I don't believe in God anymore."
To tell this story correctly, I'll start where most people begin their stories: with the most interesting parts first. I had just finished a video of a debate organized by Intelligence Squared, a forum dedicated to airing discussions centered on tough and often controversial topics. The question the debaters tackled in the video was whether science refutes God. Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer argued for the affirmative and nuclear scientist Ian Hutchinson and political commentator Dinesh D'Souza argued for the negative. Both sides touched on many disciplines to approach the question, drawing on astrophysics, history, sociology, psychology, and, of course, theology to clarify their points and defend their respective positions in an attempt to win over the live audience.
Prior to the debate, audience members voted for, against, or undecided with respect to the motion "Science refutes God." At the conclusion of the debate, the audience members voted again, knowing the side that persuaded the largest percentage of individuals would win the debate. In this particular debate, the side arguing for the motion won. Both sides had presented compelling arguments, and at the conclusion of the debate I found myself asking a question I'd never asked myself before: "Why do I believe in God?"
I quietly sat on the couch mired in my thoughts. I started wondering why I believed in God. I don't think I'd ever asked myself that question before and, when I asked it, I did not have an immediate response. Asking the question felt unfamiliar, yet invigorating. I guess I'd always taken it for granted and simply assumed there was a God because someone told me there was one.
If I'm being completely honest with myself, the only reason I would admit to believing in God or considered myself a Christian was that my mother had told me there was a God. The responsibility of constructing a foundation for a child should certainly be placed partially, if not entirely, on the parent, but as an adult one should have one's own reasons for one's actions and beliefs. My fallacious reasoning motivated me to think long and hard on how to proceed.
Was my only reason for claiming the existence of God because my mother said so? Was I coincidentally born into the right religion? I thought about church, prayer, fasting, and my own feelings. I'd never had a spiritual experience. I never "caught the Holy Ghost" or thought I heard God's voice.
When I thought about it, I often had felt a little leery around people who talked about spirits and speaking in tongues. I dismissed these acts as common occurrences associated with the hyper-religious, since no one in my circle had experienced supernatural phenomena or had spoken about the supernatural with any degree of gravity.
I was never comfortable talking about God to a lot of people. I came to realize this was unconsciously a clever tactic to maintain my narrow view of religion. I had very basic religious beliefs. I believed there was a God and a pious martyr named Jesus, but the miracles and fantastical stories always made me feel uncomfortable. I thought speaking in tongues and shouting were nothing more than outward displays of intense emotion. I didn't believe in supernatural beings or in the gift of prophecy. I was humored by the pastor's spurious claims of prophetic knowledge, such as his announcements that he knew which church attendees planned to give money to the church.
I never read the Bible, didn't really like gospel music, and the idea of a God or heaven never motivated me to do good or kept me from doing wrong. Avoiding conversations with believers made it easier for me to maintain my unfounded beliefs, as did avoiding questions in my mind.
We're all familiar with that gut feeling you get when something just isn't right. I experienced that every time someone asked me to pray or when people talked about their religious experience; it just felt unnatural.
But Christianity is closely linked to Black culture, so much so that at times the two seem synonymous.
As I summarized my thoughts, I realized I didn't really believe in God. At first I found this information disconcerting, as if I'd just learned that my mother was not my birth mother. But that feeling was fleeting.
The next thought that raced through my head was "What do I tell my wife?" We had not even been married a year and now I had to drop a bomb on her like this. Normally, I would wait and figure out the best way to tell someone such heavy news, but this was fresh on my mind and had to be shared as soon as possible.
I walked over to my wife, who was finishing dinner, and said I needed to talk to her for a little bit. I told her I'd been thinking about religion for a few months now and that the debate I had just watched forced me to question my beliefs. I told her that I no longer believed in God and I was interested in doing more research to learn more about religion and the concept of God. I reassured her that my feelings for her had not changed and would not change regardless of her beliefs. I paused, hoping that my impromptu speech was good enough to preempt a multilayered, never-ending debate/argument with my wife. She gazed at me with a perplexed and concerned look on her face.
After an extended pause, my wife looked at me and said, "Thank you for sharing your feelings. I know it took a lot of guts to say that."
Then she asked, "So what now for us? Can we still be married?"
I replied, "Why can't we? Nothing between us has changed."
In truth, according to 1 Corinthians 6:14 and 7:13-14, my wife should have left me or at least tried to convert me. Fortunately, my wife can think for herself and, to be candid, she's not much of a rule follower anyway.
A few months later I eagerly shared my new view with my mother. She was predictably supportive of my decision to leave faith behind. My mother said, "It's not for everyone," which I completely agreed with. Her initial reaction was consistent with the way I had been raised, which was to think for myself and look deeper to gain a better understanding of the world. Little did I know then that she would make many attempts to bring me back to faith in the near future. But in that first discussion, my mother approached my revelation with the same open-mindedness and logical thinking I knew she always possessed.
Later that evening, after reassuring my wife that religion is a belief, and that my realization did not alter the dynamics of our relationship at all, I sat by myself contemplating my new view of everything. I wanted a deeper understanding of religion. I understood that, like many, I could simply acquiesce to my religious upbringing or conduct onesided research to confirm what I had been taught, but I wanted to learn more. I truly felt like I had been misled as a child by my mother and other influential adults in my life. I began thinking of the long list of stories in the Bible. Were the tales of Noah and his ark true? Did Jonah really live in the mouth of a fish? Did Moses really part the Red Sea (or, rather, Reid Sea) for the people of Israel? And Jesus, what about Jesus? If he really existed, was he truly a messiah of some sort? Did he really perform all of those miracles? Did he rise from the dead?
When I was a Christian, I never believed in transubstantiation, spirits/ghosts, or Adam and Eve, among other things. How had I determined which parts of the Christian faith to believe in and which parts to reject? Had I inadvertently created my own denomination, based solely on personal preference? Did everyone do that? I always found it odd that, with all the diversity in any religious community, every believer prayed to a god that agreed with them on everything.
It was as if I had just peeked behind the big red curtain only to reveal a theatrical production taking place. This intensified my curiosity, and all the questions I never bothered to ask or answer earlier were burning inside me. Why had it taken me thirty-one years to ask such an elementary question? I later realized it was my upbringing that led me to this moment. As the father of two children, I decided then that I would teach my kids that no subject or ideology is above a thorough examination. The more important the proposition, the more exhaustive the inquiry.
The purpose of this book is to document my attempt to understand religion, religious believers, and the idea of a god. I knew that throughout history, humankind's obsession with religion has been evident, while the one true religion — if any — has not been so evident. I thus did a fair amount of research to understand the formation of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other, less prevalent, world religions and myths. I examined in-depth the religion I was brought up in, Christianity. I also tried to understand how religion influences political and social practices.
While believers might question my process and strongly suggest that I simply pray, believe, or pray about believing, I considered the research I conducted to be a step above the type of research I would expect anyone to do before seriously committing to a belief system. During my research, I collected and reviewed almost fifty books on world religions. I watched countless hours of religious debates, talks, and documentaries online. Most importantly, I read the Bible for the first time, or as much as I was able to tolerate. Getting through the ridiculous laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy was mentally taxing. I had to jump to the New Testament and give it a cursory review. I took copious notes on the subject of religion, slowly revealing the truth shrouded in centuries' worth of myth and misinformation.
When gathering facts and statistics, I made a point of ensuring that those sources I referenced were credible and diverse. I didn't want to use an excessive number of sources or cherry pick data in a hunt for answers that matched my preconceptions. I gathered the majority of my extra- biblical research from Pew Research Center, Gallup, Barna Group, corroborated news reports, the U.S. Census, and peer-reviewed academic studies. I purposely avoided most pro-theist or pro-atheist sources so as not to adversely affect the objectivity of my research.
As I immersed myself in my research, regarding my own religious culture with a more observant eye, I became more aware of the subtle messages and deep-seated meaning behind Christianity's timeless practices. I was fascinated by what I was learning, but at the same time I was slightly disappointed with myself that I had not learned this information before. I know I could have made a more informed decision about religion had I known the history, meaning, and ritualistic facets of religion in general and Christianity in particular.
I learned a long time ago the invaluable wisdom one could glean from other people's life experiences. I thus decided to conduct a series of interviews to qualitatively examine Christianity's current effect on society, specifically Black culture. I spoke to Black believers and nonbelievers to intimately capture their journey and paint a detailed picture that statistics can't fully uncover. I wanted to learn from the journeys of others and listen to people's unique stories with a sympathetic ear. I sincerely thank the interviewees for their honesty, time, and candor.
I realize that some of the ideas in this book may be similar to those found in other works, but I wanted to do my own research and formulate my own conclusions about what's true, without regard to peer pressure or fear of ridicule. I knew not to trust my gut; a topic this complex and personal would require a hands-on approach to ensure as much authenticity and objectivity as possible.
In interviewing others, I was also, in many respects, interviewing myself. Why did I believe? Did I really believe? What evidence did I have? Can I truly believe something about which I have just the most cursory understanding? How did the environment I grew up in shape my beliefs?
As mentioned, my upbringing led me to my eventual conclusion. I lived in New York City as a child before moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was nine years old. I spent my formative years there in what I would describe as a culturally Christian home. But I grew up in a single- parent home where critical thinking was emphasized more than Christianity.
I wasn't inculcated with the fairy tales of the Old Testament, the draconian laws of Deuteronomy, or even the teachings of Jesus. Instead, I was imbued with the guidance of my mother, who chided my sister and me for not critically examining our actions or not having an answer when she asked us, "Why did you do that?" My mother would continuously remind us, "If I asked you why you did something, the last thing I want to hear is 'I don't know.'" She stressed the importance of knowing why we do what we do and of thinking through our decisions. If I made an irrational decision, my mother would quickly point out the flaws in my logic, and at a volume that was difficult to ignore.
The sayings she deployed and the parables she told to emphasize these lessons were never Bible-based. The words "God" and "Jesus" were not part of her parenting vocabulary. Yes, we did go to church, but I don't recall talking about the lesson in the sermon after church, or being encouraged to read the Bible outside of church. Further, we never prayed as a family, unless over food at a social gathering, and Christianity, the Bible, or God never served as a foundation for how I lived my life or made decisions. Even so, if someone were to ask me what religion I was affiliated with back then, I would have stated without hesitation that I was a Christian. I now realize that I related to Christianity only on a cultural level.
Indeed, praying may have provided me with marginal psychological comfort the same way wearing one's lucky socks to an interview or knocking on wood to not tempt fate would, but my religious beliefs or the idea of a God never comforted me or made me feel very emotional. Religion never grounded me, accurately informed me of the world around me, or solved any of my problems. In fact, I don't recall going to church much until we moved to Raleigh.
One time when I was about nine or ten, my mother, sister, and I visited a church, where we sat through what seemed like an endless sermon. About halfway through the sermon, I decided to actually pay attention and I found myself hypnotized by the pastor's voice. I never really enjoyed gospel music, I could care less about the other rituals, and I equated listening to the announcements to getting teeth pulled. But even at a young age, I thought sermons were somewhat pertinent to everyday life. In hindsight, my interest in them also marked the beginning of my interest in public speaking.
Alas, within a couple years of our move, my mother had found us a church home, and she had my sister and me baptized. As a matter of fact, it occurred the weekend of the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase. I remember watching the theatrics unfold on my mother's 13" bedroom television while sitting next to my grandmother, who had come down from New York to witness my baptism that Sunday.
Following my baptism, I had what you might call a normal church experience. We went to church most Sundays, but I also knew that if my mother didn't knock on my door to wake me up by a certain time, more than likely we weren't going to church that morning. My sister and I even attended Bible study for a short period and served as acolytes or ushers from time to time. For her part, my mother, the natural socialite, served as a member and chair of every church committee there was, and, oddly enough, even ones that didn't exist. It was common to see her in the pulpit informing the congregation of one announcement or another. We used to joke that my mother secretly ran the church.
Nothing about my church experience seemed all that out of the ordinary to me until I was about eleven or twelve, when my Sunday school teacher went off on a tangent and claimed that both the moon landing and the moon itself were fake. I vividly recall those words snapping me out of a daze. The coupling of "moon" and "fake" didn't sound right to me. I had never learned any such thing in school. I associated the words and actions of the church leadership directly to the reputation of the religion itself, so I couldn't understand why we were even talking about something out of the ordinary like this in Sunday school. That moment became one of many minor blemishes that I came to overlook — until, that is, I began reflecting more seriously on my own religious experiences and questioning what I had long accepted as truth As I came to learn, this path to truth takes many forms.
Excerpted from "Emancipation of a Black Atheist"
Copyright © 2017 D. K. Evans, PhD.
Excerpted by permission of Pitchstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 A Conversion to Authenticity 13
2 The Belief of Knowing 25
3 The Suspiciousness of Scripture 41
4 Testaments in a Test Tube 63
5 The Impetus of Faith 73
6 An Eye for an Eye of the Beholder 85
7 The Consequences of the Christ-Minded 93
8 The Nigrescence of Jesus 107
9 Coming Out of the Prayer Closet 127
10 A Theory of God 147
11 Veritas 159
Recommended Materials 171
About the Author 173