Revolution#120, February 17, 2008
From the Harlem Revolution Club
Debating God on 125th St.
We received the following correspondence from a member of the Harlem Revolution Club:
People talk about god all the time in Harlem. But, in very real ways, people rarely get a chance to really talk about that non-existent homicidal myth and all the damage it does. A suffocating blanket of mind-numbing convention and religious superstition keeps people from seeing how things really work and what they can really do.
Last week the Harlem Revolution Club and supporters of Revolution newspaper fought to lift that blanket and let people get some daylight. We took out a leaflet denouncing the BattleCry Christian fascist youth crusade being held here in New York and the Black minister, T.D. Jakes, who is its featured speaker. “God Does Not Exist!” declares the leaflet, “ But We Do and We Can Emancipate Humanity!” “It’s time to lift our heads, get up off our knees, reject enslaving superstition, and take up the most radical and truly scientific way of understanding and changing reality, communism.”
Passionate debates and probing conversations about God, science, revolution, and communism took place up and down 125th Street last week. Here is a sample of some of the back and forth:
A 40-something Black woman with an English accent pulled out her Bible and raised it a little above her head. “That is not in there,” she told the person she was debating. He pulled out his Bible, turned to Numbers 31. “Here it is. God commanded the Israelites through Moses to slaughter the Midianites—all the women who weren’t virgins, all the male children, in addition to killing all the men. Do you want to say to your children—let this be your guide?” After verifying the passage in her own Bible, she said, “No. Of course people shouldn’t act that way today. It’s terrible. But we have to look at the context.” She could not come up with a context that would justify this god-induced murder spree. “It’s good that you are making people think about these things,” she said, “but I don’t know, maybe you are going to hell.”
Starbucks on the corner of 125th and Lenox: A guy in a gray shirt says, “I agree with 90% of what you’re saying but why do you say that god is not real?” He had been on the street corner just outside taking in what one of our people was saying from atop a milk crate. Now the rain had driven us all into the Starbucks. He continued, “I like what you’re saying but there has to be some spiritual force that is behind all this.”
His friend chimes in, arguing that people would not be able to change anything without the help of god. Then after a couple of rounds into the conversation it’s clear he’s actually arguing that people need god and personal salvation because society cannot be changed under any circumstances.
What about Katrina, the Iraq war, slavery, global poverty—there are very earthly causes for all this, not god or some heavenly plan.
“That’s Satan’s work!” announces the friend. We struggle over how this kind of thinking cuts against people making revolution and should be abandoned.
The discussion morphs into a debate about evolution. A woman from across the room comes over and says her friend wants to say something. We wave her friend over and pull up a chair. The woman tells us she remembers from high school that the continents were at one time connected but had broken apart over the course of many, many years. She adds that she had also learned that all human life had its origins in Africa. The gray shirt guy tries to argue intelligent design—that this is all part of god’s plan—but he also thinks evolution does explain some things. He says maybe science can explain the world but god made science. Someone counters: What does this over-seeing god do then if science gives us the only understanding of reality we have? Now, there are the three of us who had been handing out the leaflet, plus four other people around the table. And, everybody in the joint is listening in on our conversation.
When the rain lets up and we head back to the corner, the woman says, “I have never participated in something like this. I never liked to speak up like that but I feel that was good.”
On one bustling corner, six Black 15- and 14-year-old women stop to listen to one of our people standing on a milk crate saying: “You know that the god in the Bible is worse than Freddy Kruger. The Bible justifies rape, murder, war, slavery…. Do you think a woman who is not a virgin when she gets married should be killed by the men of the neighborhood?”
“Hell no!” they all respond loudly with variations on that general theme.
“Well that shit is in the Bible and it’s a good thing god is made up because the mf in the Bible is a mean and twisted piece of work.”
“Ooooo…if you went to church and said that they’d beat you up,” a youth warns.
“Why? They afraid of reality over at the church?”
“So, Mr. Smarty Pants—she doesn’t say this, but that’s the tone—if there is no god what woke you up this morning?” She’s confident that this is a winning argument.
“My alarm clock woke me up. Think we should build a church for it?”
Most of the youth are laughing out loud now. Wagging their fingers and shaking their heads in that—“You goin’ to hell” way, they head into the crosswalk, laughing. Debating forbidden topics was fun.
“God does not exist and the Bible is a nightmare?” A young Latino couple quickly turn their heads toward us as they hear this. They take a leaflet but keep walking. Someone catches up with them and asks what they think. It’s like opening a box or lifting a blanket. “People have been killed because of religion. Hatred is being spread because of religion. I don’t know if there is a god but I’m sick of hearing everybody talk about god, god, god.” They go on and on. They’re grateful we are challenging this but they wouldn’t join us on the spot. “Where do you meet?” the young woman asks. They buy the paper, take extra fliers, and give us a way to contact them.
A guy in a Catholic school uniform, looks about 14 years old, listens carefully for a long time as he watches the crazy scene on the corner unfold. Then says, “You really don’t believe in god—I do because there are a lot of people who wouldn’t make it without god, he is their hope.” His parents are from Africa and he argues that religion has been good for Africa. We talk about the role of Christianity and Islam in Africa and how they were brought to Africa at the point of the sword and gun. We talk about the devastating oppression of women promoted and justified by religion and how it causes tremendous suffering everywhere.
He says, even if most of what we’re saying is true, that didn’t cover everything. “How did we get here?” he asks with an honest voice.
Then we’re off to the races—15 billion years ago, matter moving and transforming, natural selection and evolution. Sometimes he gets a little frustrated when he can’t find the words to express his thoughts. He apologizes for not making his points as clearly as he wants. At one point, more talking to himself than to us he says, “It’s good I met you because I don’t talk to anybody about this sort of thing and I’m not sure what I really think.” We heard this more than a few times this week. He raises Darfur, AIDs, Iraq.
We tell him, “People like you have to grab hold of the scientific method for really understanding the world and how to change it. Why are the poorest kids cut off from understanding biology, astronomy, history? Why do they give kids in places like Harlem and Africa sick twisted fairytales about a god? Humanity needs more people like you to be revolutionary scientists, communists.” He’s a bit shaken as well as unleashed by the exchange, buys Revolution newspaper, takes leaflets and we make arrangements to continue the conversation.
So much has happened in the last wild and woolly week. Let me add just one other note. The Revolution Club members have been studying their Bibles and getting a lot of practice in struggling with people to cut god and the Bible loose. We’ve gotten stronger with each outing. One club member did a presentation for one of his college classes titled “The Revealed Bible” and he exposed the horror it represents. Club members came to confront the BattleCry crusade having studied Bob Avakian’s talk on religion and with their Bibles under their arms. Once you start pulling that blanket away, you want to pull more and more and more.
Away with All Gods,
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