What Unitarian Universalists Should Know About African American Humanists and Why It Should Matter

 What Unitarian Universalists Should Know About African American Humanists and Why It Should Matter
by Chris Bell

A. Introductory Remarks

B. What is humanism and its principle beliefs? Humanism is a philosophy that is concerned with values and ideals that are distinctly human as opposed to values and ideals that were set up by a superhuman power. Humanism is rooted in the belief that it is possible for civilized people to create moral codes to live by, and that they do not need a supernatural arbiter. ) Emphasis is on what man can and should do to attain the “good life” and not on what God demands of man.

C. What are the principles beliefs of Humanism

(1) Humanity is responsible for the human condition and the corrections of humanity’s plight; that achieving the “good” must be the result of human values and human effort rather than upon the actions and dictates of a superior or divine power;

(2) that if man is to improve himself, his life, or the character of the world in which he lives, he must do it by himself. He cannot count on God to look after him; and the sooner he realizes this, the better for all concern

(3) Modern humanists adhere to the moral principles of

_The Golden Rule (do as you would be done by)
_Utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number)
_ The use of the human conscious in consideration of the consequences of our

(4) Suspicion toward or rejection of supernatural explanations and claims

(5) Most humanists will acknowledge the existence of forces and dynamics that create and sustain human life and the world (the existence), but would say that man can only wonder and speculate about these forces and dynamics.

D. A humanist has a different way of looking at life than a theist (a believer in the existence of a God or gods)

(1) A theist says that suffering is the product of some divine plan, i.e., the Will of God. However, a humanist says suffering is the result of two things (1) human action (thru folly or malice) and the randomness of nature. Under these two schemes, it is not God who has the power to end suffering, but humanity. (Is Haiti a natural disaster story or a poverty story or a combination of both?) (Does Haiti’s tragedy result from the earthquake alone or from a history of the structural violence of poverty, racism, and economic isolation/colonization that are prolonged acts of human wickedness?).

(2) A theist may say that suffering is redemptive, but a humanist would say that suffering is not redemptive and saying that it is so makes the oppressed complicit in their own oppression. Any religion that denies human responsibility for suffering or conceives of the pain of the oppressed as redeeming or as a saving Grace is a religion of oppression.

Note: Redemptive means to repair, restore, reform, to free from the consequences of sin, to release from blame.

(3) A theist may start to explain the physic of the world by saying:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and then created man and … (did so and so).

But the humanist would start to explain the physics of the world by saying:
In the beginning, man looked out at an unkind and unfriendly world, became afraid, and then created the idea of gods with whom he might gain favor or advantage in coping with or conquering his hardships or enemies

E. Comparison of UU and Humanist Principles

(1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Comparative humanistic values:

a. Strive and work together for the common good;
b. Right to privacy, Right to be able to die with dignity

(2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Comparative humanistic values: Work to secure justice and fairness in society

( 3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregation
Comparative humanistic values:

a. Concerned about moral education and moral decencies such as altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, etc.

b. A way of thinking that turns away from a theology or philosophy of despair or violence .

(4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Comparative humanistic values:

a. Committed to reason and science to explain the world and not to supernatural explanations
b. Does not look outside of nature to solve mankinds’ problems.

(5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our      congregations and in society at large
Comparative humanistic values

a. Democracy is the best guarantee of the protection of human rights

(6) The goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Note: Of interest is the UU mantra of “On the Side of Love.”
Comparative humanistic values:

a. Believe in optimism rather than pessimism, and hope rather than despair;
b. Believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
c. Will work to eliminate or transcend divisive loyalties based on race, religion, gender, etc

(7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence
Comparative humanistic values:

a. Acknowledges that man is a part of the creation and should respect the contributions of all species toward the grandeur of the creation itself.
b. Believe in protecting and enhancing the earth and to preserve it for future generations
c. Believe in avoiding inflicting needless suffering on other species

Additional humanists beliefs

a. Believe that “freedom from religion” should be an inherent right for all
b. Believe in a rigid separation between church and state,
c. Believe that no special tax exemptions should benefit the professional clergy.

F. What role does faith play in the life of a humanist?
There are many definitions of faith, but Humanist have faith in the ability of men (human beings) to find and live the “good life” and to promote compassion and sharing between human beings at the “personal level,” and to be persuasive in those forums that address world peace.

G. So what is the big deal about Black Humanist and why should their existence matter to UUs?

1. The Big Deal is: The fact that a group of “African American Humanists” held their first national conference means they have come out of the closet and are now brave enough and numerous enough to publicly make their feelings known. This is big news? Why?
African Americans have been “haunted” for years by claims from some of their own activists members that their acceptance of mysticisms (as reflected in Christian dogma) retards their development as human beings.

In addition, American white society now equates black people’s propensity for religion with their failure to use rational thinking to improve their lives and their historical position of powerlessness in society. The AAH now refutes these claims, and UUs should know and appreciate that some black people are beginning to leave (runaway from) the religious reservations on which they were raised.

Many whites see blacks as a group of people who are waiting for some unseen force (Jesus Christ or God) to rescue or deliver them from the various oppressive evils of their society; and perhaps take them to heaven. For a group of African American to make themselves seen and known as humanists is tantamount to an open challenge to the whole of American society. Remember, not only are these black humanists off the black religious plantation, they are also thinking in ways that are contrary to the majority white population. These African Americans are making themselves into fringe-dwellers or pace-setters with respect to both the black community and the white population. And this is big news, because for centuries, blacks have followed the thinking patterns that they have learned from white people in almost everything. This variance in religious thinking is a landmark occurrence in black people’s trek toward self-realization.

2. Why should it matter to UUs?

It should matter because: Most of us who are UUs are humanists whether we know it or not, and we should have information concerning those who share our basic understanding about the physics of the world and about the fears, hopes, and struggles of mankind.

Now you know that as UUs, you are not unique in your perspectives on traditional religion. Most of us who are UUs are “runaways” from our traditional family religion and may not be welcomed in our own families. Now you are aware that there are some black people who think and feel the same way as you do about their traditional “family” religion and have now made a public statement about their non-beliefs in the present pattern of Christianity. Most AAH have come to their religious and spiritual persuasion independent of white people, but have not yet organized themselves as UUs. have done. In fact, some of these AAH may be good candidates to become UUs.

It should matter because now you know, that like you, some black people are aware of the psychological oppression of many religious beliefs and are trying to free themselves from such oppressions. Christianity like most religions has a “group-think” mantra; a “hear and obey” mode of thinking. White UUs do not feel the same oppressions from Christianity as do black humanists. White UUs become “runaways from Christianity” because of a need for “intellectual” freedom. Black humanist are runaways from Christianity and they too seek intellectual freedom, but they are also seeking a psychological and emotional relief from the stress produced by the white superiority trappings of the white man’s Christianity.

It should matter because: Like UUs the AAH are either fringe dwellers or pace setters Most black people like most white people in America are Christians. Most black people in American have ancestors that received Christianity as a result of the training and compelling actions of their white slave masters. Black Humanists do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and many do not believe in the classical God of the Bible and as a result of their un-belief in these matter they are outsiders. Black humanists are seen as ‘fringe-dwellers” with regard to the general black population. Thus black humanists are in the same predicament with black people as UUs are with regard to the larger white population, and each must determine how they view themselves; as pace-setters or fringe-dweller.


1. We have reviewed the similarities and differences between UUs and black humanists beliefs and principles.

2. We may conclude that most UUs are themselves humanist.

3. We know that black humanists like UUs are either fringe-dwellers or pace- setters; it depends on their individual perspective, but their presence in the larger society has not raised much curiosity and is seen only as a small aberration.

4. Black humanists would probably be good candidates to become UUs

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