It’s a question that get asked everyday. It’s a question that requires consideration before answering. I, as a self-proclaimed secular humanist (atheist), am the only non-religious one among my black friends. D.L Hughley, who’s not exactly an authority figure, but who did have his own show on CNN between 2008 -2009, proclaimed that he had never met a black atheist.
At that point, it occurred to me that I have never met more than two black atheists, including myself.
It does appear that black people (of [mostly] African descent) love Jesus, and are more avid Christians and church goers than every other group.
Here’s what I found.
“Have you attended a formal religious service at a church or synagogue in the last seven days?”
Among Blacks, 53 percent answered “yes” to the question: The question was part of a three year study of 6,083 adults. About 44 percent of Whites and 44 percent of Hispanics said yes, while 39 percent of Asian and others answered yes.
According to this survey, the average for Americans is about 40 percent regular church attendance, with only 15% saying they never attend (this is not to say 15% are atheist).
Here are some stats for blacks and religion from a 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey:
- Nearly eight in 10 blacks (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among all U.S. adults.
- Blacks attend religious services and pray more frequently than the general population. While 39 percent of all Americans report attending religious services at least once a week, 53 percent of blacks report the same.
- Similarly, while 58 percent of all Americans report praying at least once a day, 76 percent of blacks report praying daily.
- The vast majority of blacks are Protestant (78 percent), compared with 51 percent of the U.S. adult population as a whole.
No doubt the stats for the Caribbean and Africa are quite similar. We now know that blacks are indeed more religious than other groups, but the question is why? Here are some reasons people give for attending church.
BASED ON 562 ADULTS WHO ATTEND CHURCH AT LEAST MONTHLY
2007 Mar 26-29 % For spiritual growth and guidance 23 Keeps me grounded/inspired 20 It’s my faith 15 To worship God 15 The fellowship of other members/The community 13 Believe in God/Believe in religion 12 Brought up that way/A family value/Tradition 12 Other 4 No reason in particular 1 No opinion *
Here’s where speculation may come into analysis. By speculation, I mean theories.
- It’s my opinion that most blacks attend church for social gathering. This is to say, church is a place to meet, greet and chat with people. It’s also good for networking, and finding opportunities. During slavery, slaves were allowed to attend church. In the post-slavery years of segregation and Jim Crow, churches provided the only place where a black person could feel free, if not safe, also.
- But why Christianity? Well, as I am speaking mainly of western blacks, Christianity is the dominant religion in the west. During slavery, it was Christianity and its bible that was used to justify the enslavement of blacks (the curse of Ham), but also Christianity was the religion of the slave master. In other words, blacks didn’t have a choice in the matter of their religious conversion. (It was the White man’s burden to baptize the ‘soulless’ black slave.)
- Furthermore, black people relate to the oppression of the Israelite in the Bible. Like them, the Israelite were slaves, and they (slaves and oppressed blacks) too dreamed that one day, they’d be released from bondage by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- Blacks in modern society generally suffer from low self-esteem and worthlessness. They feel judged, disrespected, hated and confined. They feel they cannot be vindicated or redeemed in this temporal world. Naturally, heaven, a place where they’ll not be judged or looked down upon but respected and loved, appeals greatly to them.
- Karl Marx wrote that ‘religion is the opium of the masses.’ He meant that religion, like opium in the 18th and 19th century, serves the purpose of inspiring false hope and happiness in the absence of real hope and happiness. Where you find people in despair, hopelessness and poverty, rest assure religion will be popular. Naturally, Latin America and Africa are more religious than other parts of the world (except for Islamic countries), but also have the highest level of poverty and uneducated people. Also, note on the chart above that the better-educated and financially successful black people are the least likely to attend church. There’s a correlation between education level and religiosity and church attendance.