An Open Letter To My Friend Bill

The First Ladies

On God, Science and Gabby

Yo Bill!

You need to take a chill pill!!  Your excoriation of the double gold medalist in gymnastics Gabby Douglass on my wall is outrageous! “The “Brown Butterfly” is an inspiration to us all. … I wish, though, she hadn’t made the ignorant comments about god; but what can one expect from a young girl, especially an African American who are the most religious group in the U.S. Even more than white Southerners.”

Your attempt to add clarity to your original statement missed the mark: “What I objected to was her statement, “God is a win win situation. I praise him and he gives me blessings (gold medals), or something to that effect. … This really pisses me off when athletes praise god for their acomplishments. I understand that she is just a young girl so i will cut her some slack and admire her historic achievements.”

Your insensitivity is exceeded only by your arrogance and ignorance!!!  This young lady is entitled to her beliefs!  She was probably raised in the church: which is a very good thing – especially the Afro-American church!  We as a community and a nation would be much better off if the teenagers presently visiting havoc, committing murder as casually as a walk through the park, were in church, listening to the biblical injunction to “do unto others as you would have them “do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” treat thy neighbor as thyself;” “Thou shalt not kill;” etc.

I also know this young people have told me so.  Once I was sitting in an herb spot in Georgia smoking the high grade Wisdom Weed, when all of a sudden some gunmen kicked the door down ad stuck up the joint.  They were holding their roscoes in that sideways fashion common in gangsta rap videos.  Although they were wearing masks I could clearly see their eyes and I recognized the fear in them.

Since I am trained for trouble I remained absolutely calm as they herded us all in one room and robbed the joint.   I told the other dudes in the room if they came back lets jump them…and I pulled out my blade and waited at the side of the door.  The others began to pray.  After the robbers left, one of the people in the room said the Lord had answered his prayer.  I called his statement of faith nonsense!

At which point another said to me “Lemme tell you something Old School, if it wasn’t for the fact that I believe in god I’b be robbin and killin motherfuckers 24/7.  And I can tell you for a a fact that a lotta othere dudes I know would be doin it too.  So you better be glad we believe in God or you wouldn’t be able to walk the street!”  If you view my debate with Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq War, you will see that I defended the black church against Hitchens’ snide and profoundly ignorant dismissal.  And that’s one of the reasons why.

Not too long ago I participated in a “Great Debate,” where the question upon the floor was: “Has the Bible Been Good for Black Americans?”  To the shock and surprise of many, since I may be the best known black atheist in New York, I argued in defense of the Bible.  Yet I was an avowed atheist before you learned how to pee straight!  And unlike most of you who say that you are atheists, but prove to be “fair weather atheist” in time of trial; I am a tried and true atheists, having successfully passed the “high seas test.”

In case you have never heard of it, the high seas test refers to whether you call on the Lord if you are in stormy seas and believe the ship is about to sink.  Well I have been in a horrendous storm at sea and even the old salty dogs were praying, but I could not bring myself to call on the Lord.  So my atheistic credentials are unimpeachable: I concluded at 13 years old that God was a man made myth and that was over a half century ago!

However I find most atheist to be far too arrogant about their beliefs…you are no exception.  The fact is that your fervent belief that God does not exist is no less an act of faith and has much in common with the religious fanatic.  The fact is that SCIENCE CANNOT PROVE THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST!   And please spare me the tiresome arguments that attempt to demonstrate the contrary. For  I shall simply dismiss them, and you, out of hand. I have heard every argument on this question, and further discussion would only be a redundant bore: Trust me!!!

You see, I have many friends who are preachers and theologians, more friends who are atheist, and a former student who may well win the Nobel Prize in the biological/medical sciences: Dr. S. Allen Counter, MD/Ph.d, Professor of biology at Harvard, Senior Research Fellow at the Korylinska Institute in Sweden, where the Nobel Prizes are awarded.  Dr. Counter is one of the world’s greatest biological sciences and was good friends with the late Stephen J. Gould, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.

Dr. Counter tells me that very thing he has learned in science has made him a better Baptist!  He says scientist have no clue whether God exist or how the miracle of life came about…not really!  He feels that all scientist are doing is tracing the marvelous handiwork of God!  He believes that people who think scientist can explain the riddle of creation are fools!

Professor Counter scoffs at the idea.  He also tells me that among his scientific colleagues – the greatest scientist in the world – about half are atheist and half are intensely religious!  Hence if the world’s greatest scientist cannot resolve this question you strike me as the man who tried to be more royal than the king!

The point of this discussion is that you need to show a bit of humility on this question!  Of course you are a grown man and can do whatever you pleas.  But if your convictions lead you to attack a wonderful young lady for her beliefs then  you are an arrogant fool and I will continue to point this out to you.  Consider the following proposition: IT DOES NOT MATTER IF GOD EXIST OR NOT IF THE A BELIEF IN GOD INSPIRES GREAT THINGS FROM HUMAN BEINGS!!!!!!

There can be little doubt that a belief in God inspired Gabby to greatness.  And it’s not just because she is a “young girl.” There is absolutely no doubt that an intense belief in God inspired Muhammad Ali in his astonishingly easy victory over the murderous Sonny Liston to win the Undisputed  Heavy-Weight Championship of the World!

Liston scared the shit outta everybody and won his fights mentally before they ever got in the ring!  Former champion looked like he was going to shit his trunks before a single punch was thrown.  But the time Ali spent with Minister Malcolm X  in the week before the fight gave him a feeling of invulnerability, and he came in the ring talkin smack: Joking. jiving and signifying: as Dr. Geneva Smitherman put it. But Sonny was a an ex-muscle man for the St. Louis Mob who learned to box in Prison; he was a for real killer and there was reason to be scared!

Who but an ignoramus could deny that an intense belief in God inspired the artistic genius Michelangelo displayed when he painted the magnificent Sistine Chapel, or Bach when he wrote the marvelous B Minor Mass, or Mozart’s Requiem. Or George Frederik Handel’s transcendent “Messiah,” or the soul stirring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King that inspired my neighbors in St. Augustine Florida to walk in the shadow of death and fear no evil!!!  I know this because they told me so!!!

What, pray tell, but a belief in the power of the almighty could have enabled by people to survive the long horrible night of slavery here in America – 250 years – and emerge from that experience where everything around them conspired to deny their humanity, yet emerge with their soul in tack but a powerful belief in a just God who would deliver them on the day of Jubilee!!!

Dr. DuBois, the most broadly learned, prophetic, consequential American humanist intellectual of the 20th century – who was also an atheist – wrote some of the most moving prose ever penned in the English language about the power of religious belief among the slaves, and how it helped them through their trials and tribulations.

Read the chapter “The Coming of the Lord” in his masterpiece “Black Reconstruction.” Read his essay on the Afro-American spirituals “Of the Sorrow Songs” in “The Souls of Black Folks.”    Then read my analysis of that essay in my book “Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk.”

Few white Americans have any idea what the church has meant in Afro-American history or what it means now.  The church has been an overwhelmingly positive institution despite the ignorant denunciations of the church by Black Nationalists and Marxist; unlike much of the white church- which supported slavery, genocide, and apartheid.  But there is also a heroic tradition in the white American church too.  Both the Abolitionist Movement that ended slavery and the Civil Rights Movement that ended Southern Apartheid are unimaginable without it.

I know of nothing that atheist have come up with that can match the grandeur of the progressive black church: the music, the poetry of the sermon; the magnificence of its life giving message to a people in constant struggle for freedom.  If you know of anything please hip me to it.  Otherwise a little humility on your part would be in order!

 The Greatest!

Belief in God is the wind beneath this Butterfly’s wings


As always, I remain

Your friend, Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 15, 2012


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