By Camille Mcgregor
I grew up in a Caribbean household. Both of my parents are Jamaican and were born and raised there. I grew up having to attend church every Sunday. As far back as I can recall, I NEVER liked going to church. I had to wake up too early (and I’m not a morning person), I had to put on these gaudy outfits (my style is best described as simple), they did way too much yelling in church (I’m not a fan of being yelled at), I felt like I was always being closely watched and scrutinized even as a child and overall I just never enjoyed the way that being there made me feel.
At the age of eleven I decided that I was actually going to begin to listen to the things that the preacher and other adults in the church were saying rather than passing notes or playing tic tac toe to pass the time. The more I listened the more I realized that I didn’t agree with a lot of what was being said. I also realized that I detested the amount of pressure that was put on members of the church to “get saved” and how there was always a point in which all the “unsaved” people were asked to stand so that every single person in the church could know who they were. Other things such as; the way people in the church were so critical of everyone and everything, how the offering basket was passed around several times during the service and the actual length of the church service, were all things that turned me off.
I felt like I was being guilted or pressured into believing in this god they kept speaking about as opposed to believing on my accord. My mind was made up. I went home after church one Sunday and told my mother that I had absolutely no desire to go back to church and came to the conclusion that I did not believe in god. After yelling at me for about an hour or at least what seemed to be an hour, my mother proceeded to pick up the phone and call up family members and let them know that her 11-year-old daughter was the devil because she did not believe in god.
That summer I met an uncle of mine in Jamaica for the first time. He was a very kind man who was well-spoken and very intelligent. As he took my older sister, my mother and I around the island he spoke about Jamaica and stated that the major problem in Jamaica was that a church could be found on almost every other block, but there were nowhere near enough schools. He openly talked about not believing in god or religion and as he spoke I was both shocked and comforted by his words. He was the first Caribbean and black adult I had been around that I heard make such statements. It felt great to finally be in the presence of someone who shared the same position on religion as I did. Black atheists did exist!
Interesting enough, over the years the more I became grounded in my feelings about religion and god and openly stated how I felt, the more I would come across like-minded people. I have worked in a setting where I was surrounded by devout Muslims and Christians and funny enough both groups assumed that because I was black, I was Christian or at least had some type of religious affiliation or belief. When I told my Muslim co-workers where I stood they respected my position, didn’t treat me any differently and never imposed their beliefs on me. However my Jamaican co-worker who is one of those Christians that feel they need to lecture people on their religion everywhere they go, was more than shocked to discover that someone who looks like her and is from the same culture as her does not believe what she believes.
I have definitely met a good amount of white people along the way that are atheist and the ones that I have met tend to be atheist because they did not grow up in households where religion was force fed to them like it had been for many of their black counterparts. We were pacified with Christianity and many of us ran with it and are still running with it. However, I have met and continue to meet black folks that have begun to question their religious beliefs and have begun to see religion for what it is and have decided that they are, in fact, atheists. I am more than happy to say that one of those black people is my own mother. The same lady that once called me “the devil.”