Black History Month, day 18

Some of the theological issues that engage me most are theodicy, the interplay between our lived experiences and our theologies, humanism, and naturalistic theism. As I prepared a talk last fall on humanism, theism, and naturalism, it became clear to me that I should be reading much more from black humanists. From the little I’ve read so far from such theologians as Anthony Pinn and William R. Jones, humanism as a whole (and the variety I know best, Unitarian Universalist humanism) could learn a few things from African-American humanists:

  1. An emphasis on the evil done by human beings. Banjamin Mays is critical of humanism but makes an illuminating point that among African-Americans, it may be that humanist perspectives “do not develop as the results of the findings of modern science, nor from the observations that nature is cruel and indifferent”–here I would interject, “as they frequently have done among more privileged people”–“but primarily because in the social situation, the [black American] finds himself [or herself] hampered and restricted . . . Heretical ideas of God develop because in the social situation, the ‘breaks’ seem to be against the Negro and the black thinkers are unable to harmonize this fact with the God pictured by Christianity.” I am white and privileged in many other ways, yet this echoes my experience growing up Jewish and, from hearing the accounts of survivors of the Holocaust from a very early age, being fully aware of the almost unimaginable depths of human evil. As a result of its clearsightedness about human evil, black humanism offers…
  2. …a liberationist perspective that, in contrast, has tended to be weak in the (mostly white) humanism I have encountered within Unitarian Universalism.
  3. A positive declaration of what it means to be humanist.Like Unitarian Universalism as a whole, humanism within UUism can get stuck defining itself by what it is not. I haven’t read Pinn’s Why Lord?, but according to the author(s) of the Wikipedia article on Pinn, in it he “notes that Black humanism has no interest in disproving the existence of God”; it is “not overly concerned with God as a negative myth, but rather God as a liberating myth that is nonetheless unsubstantiated.” Thus “African-Americans need not waste their time disproving God’s existence, but are simply better off seeking their liberation with the human tools of ‘desire for transformation, human creativity, physical strength, and untapped collective potential.’”
  4. And the final, perhaps most obvious lesson of black humanism is: There are a lot of black humanists out there. Why aren’t more of them finding a home within Unitarian Universalism?