In my intro to philosophy class, I teach arguments for the existence of God.
We cover the cosmological argument (the notion that we can deduce God’s existence by looking at things like motion and causation), the teleological argument (that the logical structure of the earth and created beings point to the existence of an intelligent designer) and the ontological argument (that the very definition of God points to the reality of a being that must exist).
While these arguments are important, they are not very convincing, each has an inherent flaw in the logic that opens it to criticism. Yet, atheism is not prevalent in the Black community. That is not to say that there is not a rich atheist intellectual tradition in the Black community (indeed Ta-Nehisi Coates counts himself among them), but that “no other racial group falls outside the margin of error for proportional representation.”
I think this dynamic exists because there are things inherent to the Black experience that suggest God exists. For example…
1. "Cash Money taking over for the 99 and 2000…"
How can you hear these words and conclude that God ain't real?
2. Lalah Hathaway’s voice
The daughter of the great Donny Hathaway is a brilliant songwriter and performer, but it’s her vocals that puts one in the presence of “s/he who sits high but does look low.” Her effortless sensuality speaks to the divine nature of possibility, because, to quote Darius in Love Jones, “Love is about the possibility of the thang.”
3. Soul Food
Enslaved Africans were not given choice cuts of meat. They were forced to take the scraps and make them work. The result was hot water cornbread, candied yams and dressing (not stuffing). Only a divine being could inspire a people to create something so magisterial.
4. John Coltrane
Listening to a Love Supreme is a transcendental experience. On that record, you hear a man communing with something beyond comprehension. The way he not only plays a note but plays around the notes inspires deep introspection.
5. Louisiana Hot Sauce
…is the sweat that drips from the brow of the Almighty. Using anything else is just uncivilized. (Looking at you Frank’s Red Hot adherents.) Fight me.
6. Frankie Beverly and Maze
Just play “Before I let Go” and watch what the opening chords do to black people in attendance. It touches upon something primal and unspeakable. It reminds me of Jeremiah 20:9, when it says, “my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.”
7. The word "Nigga"
With the word nigga, one sees the linguistic creative of black people. We were able to take something dehumanizing and turn it into a term of endearment so pliable that it can be used as an audible signifier for both a door that is jammed (“this nigga won’t open”) and the current president-elect (“I can’t believe white folks voted for this nigga.”)
8. Black women
They live in a world that says to them that they have the wrong lips, hips, and skin pigmentation. They thrive in the face of white supremacy, patriarchy, economic inequality and trifling niggas. They have been and will continue to be our salvation…because black women are magic. Yes Lawd.
9. Barack Obama
When he was elected in 2008, my then-84 year old grandmother, a woman who lived through Jim Crow in the South and participated in the civil rights movement, said she never thought a black family would live in the White House. One cannot overstate the symbolic importance of a Black person as the representative of this country around the world—especially given the vicious legacy of white supremacy in America. I have many criticisms of President Obama and his policies, but his election was earth-shattering.
10. Our very existence
We were brought here in chains, but our spirits and minds were never enslaved. I come from a people who learned to take what was ugly and find the beauty therein. Give us scraps, and we will make soul food. Enslave our bodies, and we will sing. Force us to live under the shadow of Jim Crow, and we will find inventive ways to fight back. Take away funding for the arts in the inner city, and we will invent hip-hop—and this art will take over the world. The way we found a way to persevere in the face of inhumanity is, in itself, a miracle. I was once ashamed to be the decedent of slaves—now, I wear it as a badge of honor. I am the dream for which my ancestors fought and died. I love my blackness…and yours.
This list is not exhaustive (I didn’t even mention Jollof, Prince or the work of Toni Morrison), and I do not mean to suggest that atheism is a position lacking in Black intellectual pedigree. Yet, when I look at the experience of Black people in America and around the world, it causes me to see the hand of a divine being at work. Especially when the beat drops on Knuck If You Buck.