Mon | Dec 17, 2018

The Black Atheist - A personal account by Karl Salmon

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:08 AM

During the brutal and inhumane slave trade in the 18th century, black families were mercilessly torn apart. Men were tortured and killed, the women raped, children separated from the protective arms of their mothers. Our native beliefs and customs were removed from our daily rituals, and replaced with a doctrine called Christianity - introduced to instil in us "purity".

This religion was a literature of worship based on the teachings of a deity. He was portrayed to us as a Caucasian with skin soft and gentle, hair of gold, and eyes sparkling blue. As the slave traders, murderers descended, the frightened black child looked to his mother and cried for reassurance:

"When is God coming to save us?"

"Don't worry, dear," she reassured, "he will soon come to save us all. He won't tell us when, but he will come in the still of the night under fire and brimstone."

Fast forward to the 20th century; numerous blacks were by then "washed in the blood of the lamb" with the promise of salvation and eternal life to those who believe.

It was a terrible period back then. The Jim Crow era justified the indiscriminate lynching of black men, raping of their women and children, denial of basic social services, and the constant subjection to ridicule.

As the mob disguised in hoods, white robes and burning crosses descended upon the black society, a frightened black child turned to his mother and pleaded:

"Mama, when is God coming to save us"?

"Don't worry, dear," she reassured, "he will soon come to save us all. He won't tell us when, but he will come in the still of the night under fire and brimstone."

It is written that The Second Coming is important because it will come at the time when the world is most in need of a righteous King.


Was the slave trade, or the Jim Crow era that facilitated the loss of thousands of lives, not significant enough to warrant the intervention of such a righteous and loving King?


Fascination with Christianity


According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Jamaica (my county of birth and predominantly black) has the highest number of churches per square mile than any other country in the world.

I was born and raised in a Catholic family and progressed through the catholic elementary and high-school system. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, I was inundated with various reasoning why Christianity was the only route to prosperity. They varied from social governance to outright fear.


Social structure


Black communities believe that Christianity and the church are the centre of ethical and moral values. We often turn to this foundation to resolve various social issues. For years, black churches served as a place of worship, as well as to plan and galvanise against racist and oppressive attacks.

For centuries, we have turned to religion to find the answers to our various sufferings. Many social problems are solved by churches that run local food banks, provide day care, marriage counselling, and skills training.

It is seen as important to work with religious leaders and organisations to solve various social issues facing the community.




Christianity was widely packaged and sold to us with fear-driven pronouncements.

Today, some ordained leaders have since softened their teachings towards the more palatable prosperity preaching.

As children, we were constantly warned that if we did not believe in God or honour his teachings, then we were evil. Blacks who were reluctant to convert to Christianity, or those who renounced the faith were in fear of being ostracised and demonised. Some were even attacked and accused of being on the side of the devil - the price for which would be God's wrath with eternal damnation in burning hell.

If I failed an exam, or a tree branch fell on my head, it was judged by my elders that God was punishing me for a sin I had committed earlier in time.

These kinds of retributions wreaked havoc on an innocent child's mind.

We inevitably held fear and awe of this deity who watched over us and evaluated our every move.

With the events of slavery behind us, it was plausible to see why blacks readily aligned ourselves to this faith, out of fear of not wanting to endure anything close to the horrendous pain, suffering and continuous misfortunes that befell our forefathers.


Good vs Evil


The late, great author and columnist, Christopher Hitchens, posed the following questions to a group of Christian leaders: "Name one good deed only a Christian can perform because he is a Christian that a non-Christian cannot perform, because he is a non-Christian".

The room went silent, searching for answers.

He then reversed the question: "Name one evil deed that a non-Christian has committed that a Christian is not able to commit, because he is a Christian."

Again, silence

I support most of the core principles of Christianity. The commandments 5-10 support this foundation that was created to foster and encourage loving, respectful, and harmonious family and community gathering. Its values are similar to most well-intended faiths throughout the world.

My conflict with Christianity are the numerous and conflicting directives, interpreted through ordained ministers and handed down from a deity who we have yet to behold, as promised through his Second Coming.

Secular groups broke away from the original Christian foundation and formed various denominations which led to different interpretations and teachings, and ultimately confusion among society whose sacred desire was to seek love and happiness among themselves.

A realistic, omnipotent, and loving deity would not stand by and "see all and hear all" the suffering that his people has (and continue to) endure, with the repeated assurance that he is coming soon.

We have been promised his impending salvation since the 18th century.