6th place — Azarius Williams: My journey to secularism
FFRF awarded Azarius $500.
By Azarius Williams
hen I was growing up, my mother would take my siblings and me to a popular church called Redeeming Word Christian Center International. We were the typical “Sunday saints,” attending the bare minimum Sunday service to appease our Christian-valued extended family. My mother felt this immense pressure to conform to Christianity due to her black-sheep status during her own upbringing. This status was bestowed upon her by her grandmother, who was her guardian as a child, for being dark-skinned. The reasoning changed when my mother came out as a lesbian during her mid-20s. The sermons always included heteronormative speech, an insinuation that heterosexuality was the only acceptable partnership. Church folk and family members would coat their homophobia with cherry-picked bible scriptures to “turn her straight.” We stopped going to church.
During my adolescence, I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. This was linked to the emotionally abusive relationship I had with my father, coupled with the grueling process of discovering my identity as a transgender man. I repressed my identity out of a learned fear that God would hate me if I transitioned to male. This led to self-hatred and embarrassment, feelings I soon affixed toward my mother’s lifestyle. Soon, I formulated a plan to cease existing due to the severity of my internal conflict. Fortunately, I chose to live as I intended, not to the approval of oppressive interpretations of some outdated novel that remains unverifiable. Thus began my rejection of religion.
The anti-liberating nature of black religious institutions has strengthened my position as a secularist. As I grew intellectually and consciously of my black identity, so did my skepticism. The same book that was used to justify the institution of slavery in the United States is the same book that much of the black community subscribes to. Slave capturers and plantation owners used religion to subjugate slaves into believing that their slave status was their divine duty. This problematic indoctrination of religion into the black community has been used as a foundation of the immense black subscription to religious institutions. Often, in my experience, these churches promote behaviors and ideologies that directly contrast with the liberation of marginalized groups. It encourages the community to rely on a deity for liberation from oppression rather than to object to the creators of the oppression. Children are scorned if they question what is being taught to them, which is oppressive and detrimental.
Mental health is hardly regarded as an issue that necessitates counseling and treatment, but as an issue that can be remedied by strengthening one’s faith. Women are taught and expected to conform to the patriarchy. The LGBTQIA community is vehemently demonized. All of this has aided the formulation and persistence of a social hierarchy within the black community, which is stalling our liberation.
The overwhelming presence of religion in the black community has made me a minority within a minority. It is very difficult to have conversations about religion with most black people I know due to their strong religious beliefs. Multiple people have attempted to convert me to their religion upon discovering that I am nonreligious. My religion, or lack thereof, is a topic that I do not feel comfortable discussing due to the negative response I have gotten from strangers and loved ones. I’ve quickly learned that discussions based on my rejection of religion are unwelcomed, but discussions of discovering Christ are encouraged. I have had more than my share of sit-downs with devout individuals “concerned” about my rejection of religion, often ending with prayers for my discovery of their deity. An essential feat of black religion for a lot of black people is the “hope” and sense of community that it provides to people who have been disenfranchised for centuries. Perhaps the freethought movement could utilize this knowledge as an opportunity to provide spaces and advocacy for black individuals.
Azarius 20, is from Port St. Lucie, Fla., and attends Syracuse University, but will be studying in Hong Kong in the fall 2018 semester. He wants to study global markets and would also like to found a nonprofit that focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline and LGBTQ+ youth of color.