POI Anthony Pinn

Anthony Pinn on Religion, Oppression, and Humanists

July 09, 2020

In this episode of Point of Inquiry, co-host Leighann Lord talks with professor, writer, and humanist Dr. Anthony Pinn.

Lord and Pinn discuss the power and persistence of magical thinking as we face the current pandemic, the role of the church at a time when science is so important, Black Lives Matter and Pinn’s opinion on struggle and progress, how women of color deal with oppression based on race, gender, and class, and the issue with respectability politics. Pinn also proposes the question, “What does our nontheistic perspective offer folks at this moment? What do we offer them beyond the critique of religion?” as we face the pandemic and the ever growing need for honest discussions and action on the issues of race.

Anthony Pinn received his Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University, and is currently the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is also the Founding Director of The Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University, and Director of Research at The Institute for Humanist Studies. Among his many books are Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist and When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race.

You can follow Leighann Lord on twitter @LeighannLord
You can follow Anthony Pinn twitter @anthony_pinn

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This Week’s Music

“Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
“Cold” by Pictures of the Floating World / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
“Paper Feathers” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0


Anthony Pinn It’s a win win proposition. That’s the way theology and faith will work, that if they don’t contract the virus, they will say God looked out for. If they do contract the virus, then they say, well, God has a larger plan. 

Leighann Lord My name is Leighann Lord. Your co-host for Point of Inquiry, my guest. This episode is Dr. Anthony Penn. He received his Masters of Divinity, impeached in the study of religion from Harvard University. He is currently the Agnes Cullen Arnold, professor of humanities and professor of religion at Rice University. He’s the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning, also at Rice. If you look up the word prolific in the dictionary, you will see his face and a list of the over 35 books he has written, including what is humanism and why does it matter? Writing God’s obituary, how good Methodist became a better atheist. And he was the editor of Theism and Public Policy. 

Humanist perspectives and responses. 

Leighann Lord In this episode, we talk about the power and persistence of magical thinking in the face of the pandemic. Black Lives Matter. The intersectionality of race, gender and class. The Web like nature of oppression. How the responsibility to fight injustice is not shared. And how this time right now is an opportunity for the humanist and atheist movement to engage on any and all fronts, but needs to offer something beyond critique. Please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Anthony Pinn. 

Leighann Lord My name is Leighann Lord, your co-host, a point of inquiry. Please welcome my guest, Dr. Anthony Pen. Anthony, thank you for being on the show with me today. Thanks for the invitation. Delighted to be with you. 

I’ve been wanting to reach out to you for for quite a bit now, and not just because of your books and because we had met, but the videos that I’ve watched of you on YouTube and you immediately sort of came to mind as we seem to be wrestling in these pandemic days with whether or not churches are really essential services like that. That’s I can’t believe that’s a question as a person who’s not religious. Are they. Is it necessary to risk people’s lives? And do people not understand that that’s what’s happening? And so that I you know, post May 22nd, you know, when the president said, you know, yes, we’re opening. He didn’t even have the power to do that. But what can you talk a little bit about that mocked that mindset? And this is not a thing. 

Yeah, there are a couple of things with that, right, on some level, it’s understandable that people want to get together. They want to be able to share space. They want to build community. But there’s a downside with in the black church, for example, the assumption that belief in God, God’s favor means that you are protected from viruses, you are protected from harm. 

Just does us a disservice. 

The idea that despite what has been happening, despite what has been happening, to have some ministers suggesting that faith necessitates folks coming out, that if you aren’t willing to risk life and limb, you aren’t properly aligned with God. That’s just nonsense. 

Maybe I’m very removed from the religious experience. That seems so. 

I’m honestly wrong. But our ministers really saying that are they really that willing to put their their flock at risk and test faith in that way? 

Well, we’ve had a lot of ministers, a lot of black ministers, for example, who have said, look, this is nonsense. 

Stay at home. We can do this virtually. But then you have other ministers, black and white, who buck that trend and have said no. We gather in person as a response to our belief that God will look out for us. And it’s important to understand that within the religious context, it becomes very easy for faith to trump reason. 

I guess that’s always the fight because I’m thinking. Did they just not know that Zoome was a possibility? 

And they could pass that pay pal collection plate just as easily as they do the regular collection of short night. 

But I think a lot of them have a kind of warped sense of scripture, for example. So they take this proclamation from scripture. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and called according to the Lord’s purpose. Right. Say what? They take that and run with it literally that as long as they are doing what is in line with their faith, God is gonna look out for not doing matter, that they have friends and family who have succumb to this virus. God’s going to look out for them yet? 

No, I was going to say, you know, in the in the face of real world evidence and not just, you know, folk over there, but as you said, people that they know, people in their family in the face of that evidence, they are still going to put on the cloak of faith that that will protect them. 

What we get is with some churches. Yes. Because they are gathering right up the argument. And for them, it’s a it’s a win win proposition. 

That’s the way theology and faith will work, that if they don’t contract the virus, they will say God looked out for them. If they do contract the virus, then they say, well, God has a larger plan. 

And that’s an area where there’s no way God blues killed the folks. We understand. Keep them alive. They understand it. 

I’m in the wrong business, sir. I had made that kind of plausible deniability in my life. Sure. 

You know, I guess I watched, you know, just like you, where the president, current president of the United States, felt it necessary to have a photo op. In front of St. John’s Church, which I think for for most people has backfired. He’s not really shown himself. I’m being very kind here to be a man of faith, a religious man. Did he really think that this was going to play? But I mean. I mean, clearly he did. He you know, he thought this were going to be the PR stunt to end all. But am I wrong in thinking then even his base has given him the side eye on that? 

Yeah, there are some folks in his base who don’t quite understand that. Right. 

That it was he didn’t even hold the Bible for him was an awkward move. Right. And that says a whole lot. Right. And that says a whole lot for some of his base. This was just much too much. It was a pimping of a symbol that means too much to them. 

And for some, that just wasn’t going to work. They understand. I mean, this symbol. But he pimped it. 

Right. Right. You know, I kept thinking we didn’t even have a practice run. That’s it. OK. When you get there, open it, have a passage ready to go. 

Maybe say something kind like none of that happened. 

I think that’s what it was like. Right. He’d done like doing homework. Oh, yeah. Right. And I would imagine. Yeah. And I would imagine running through his mind was nobody holds a Bible better than I do, that I am the best Bible holder there has ever been. 

You know, once again, if I just had, you know, a percentage of that self-esteem, I would be super famous by now, I guess, even in the in the broader scope. 

I mean, because this didn’t work. Right. And I’m wondering maybe if this was an impetus for, you know, not not to make this necessarily a political discussion, but in terms of the role of religion and science, you know, are people going that that that’s not right and maybe taking a step back and going, OK, here is my faith. But here’s what’s really going on. And I really need to start looking at science or what the what we should be doing practically to keep ourselves safe and healthy. 

You know, I mean, if that maybe was maybe a little kickstart for some people, I’m not quite certain that it kickstarted an interest in turning away from that magical thinking to science. 

I think for a lot of folks, particularly some folks who’ve shifted from allegiance to Trump to a questioning of Trump, it was just a bizarre and vulgar use of a symbol that means a great deal to them. 

And when you add to that the process of disregard and violence, the clearing of a path for him in order to make this awkward proclamation, I think for a whole lot of folks that that was just a formula that did not work when you denied nine inch formulas on you work out. 

I wonder if you’re noticing is is the opposite happening? Are people turning more to religion instead of science? Because science isn’t giving any satisfying answers right now or the answers that we want, that we just got to snap our fingers and open up and be fine. 

Find that with science we get answers to the how question. Right. 

So we think in terms of natural disasters, science gives us a sense of how this is occurring. 

And I think for a lot of folks with Kovik 19 with with the way in which death has been so very apparent that they’re not so much interested in the how, but they’ve come up with a Y. 

And I think for folks who turn to religion, that answer to the why question linked to magical thinking. 

Gives them some relief. 

Right. So they’re not really interested in the nuts and bolts. They want a way of thinking in the immediate short term. They want a way of thinking, OK, this is gonna be all right. 

And it’s not gonna get me as opposed to preparing for a stick gets me and gives them a magical way of thinking. 

Right. The idea that there is this force larger than and more powerful than cold at 19. 

That at the end of the day is looking out for them. They find compelling. Comforting. 

Now, I could see that. But then, you know, that’s why I have Netflix. 

That’s where I put my I put my fantasy. A lot of Star Trek fan. 

I put it there, you know, because because we all do have that, you know, need for fantasy. One of the folks had an opportunity to interview was Card Anderson in his book Fantasy Land. And how that met that sense of magical thinking really takes hold. Like United States, we just take it and rise it to Olympic levels and that none of us are immune. 

We all have a little of a place where in our in our brain, because we’re human, where we are susceptible to that. And I would think that, you know, in a crisis as large as this, that we set that aside and I’m wrong. 

I’m completely wrong on that. There is something of this magnitude. People like it, taking it off the shelf and embracing it with enthusiasm. 

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The separation of church and state is that are are we losing that concept? Are we losing that battle? 

I don’t know that we were ever making significant progress with respect to that. Whether one thinks in terms of Bush or Obama. And now Trump, I don’t know that we were making progress. It seems to me we reached a point where folks had to reboot. So there was a kind of bracketing of the question, but not a real wrestling with the question. And now you’ve got these modes of extreme trauma. Right. This these more most graphic signs of disregard for black life, anti black racism. Kovik, 19. And that has just resurfaced. Attention. Separation of church and state that we had set aside for a moment. 

It seems to me that in the struggle that we’re having, the rebellion, as I’ve heard it referred to, people have said it’s very different in character from the left, from from protest that we’ve seen in the past. It seems to me that this is something that the church is not necessarily in charge of, that these you know, I don’t know, though, the religious status or affiliations of, say, the leaders of Black Lives Matter, but they don’t seem to me to be sort of Bible waving folk. These are just good human beings that are saying enough is enough. You know, I think has the ability to cross to reach more people in that sense because it sets that that religion. 

The question of religiosity aside, I think something really interesting happened with Black Lives Matter. 

So within that movement, it seems to me you’ve got theists, you’ve got non theists, you’ve got folks who don’t want to have that conversation. But the bottom line is they’ve decided bracket personal belief. And let’s look at what affects us. All right. Rather than arguing over belief and doctrine. We’re going gonna be about the business of redeeming, saving life. And they made it quite clear that they were going to do this in a way that cut against how we’ve traditionally understood protest based upon a kind of church model, one way in which they did it was no hierarchy. Right. We’re not assuming that particular people are best equipped to lead this. That’s why Al Sharpton got booed. Right. That’s why they had questions about Disney checks. Now, we are not going. No, the church is not going dominate this. 

That this isn’t about this isn’t about doctrine and creed improving the utility of Christianity. 

It’s about saving black lives. 

So it seems to me from the very beginning of Black Lives Matter moving forward, religious organizations have been have been D center. 

When it comes to protests, which I don’t know, I think that’s more important. But I could be wrong. I tried to keep up on the news, but it is it is an exhausting endeavor. When did Mr. Sharpton get booed? And what where where did this happen? Did I miss. 

I miss that clearly. Oh, this was some time ago. That as as Ferguson. Just as Ferguson is heating up. 

And ministers are making themselves visible, I can’t remember the date and the time, but as they’re making themselves visible, Black Lives Matter has made it clear that the usual suspects, the typical folks, were not to lead this endeavor. 

Does that do you think that I am not trying to entrap you in any way with this next question? Do you think that has something to do with the fact that Black Lives Matter is predominantly female led or female created and led? Ah ah ah. Women somehow better suited for this task? She asks with a bit of bias. 

Well, it seems to me I’d like to say a couple of things on that one when it comes to injustice and marginalization in the United States. Black women understand this in a way that black men don’t, right? That they suffer from triple at least triple jeopardy, at least triple jeopardy. So there’s a kind of sensitivity there that I think is important. But in terms of the question of religion, I don’t know that that solves it. If you think just in terms of the black church that roughly, what, 70 percent of the black church is composed of black women. Yeah. Now, they don’t want. They’re not as represented when it comes to leadership. But when it comes to membership, roughly 70 percent. But I think there is there is a sense of intersectionality that is present. And that is really important. 

What does it mean to be oppressed by a connection between racial disregard, gender bias, class structures and the list goes on? Right. So. Understanding the web like nature of oppression. Gives us a better starting point for thinking about solidarity. And I think if you if you talk in terms of black women who’ve been associated with organized religion. The. 

Sexism within black churches, for example, has resulted in them being extremely creative in terms of how they get their voices heard. Developing alternate strategies of getting things done and that kind of creativity, it seems to me, has been vital indeed. 

And just so that for folks who are listening, I want to make sure that that folks are not missing your points and are completely understanding. You mentioned triple jeopardy. Can you say what that triple is? Right. So my argument with poor black women. 

Yeah, I would my argument would be, at the very least, black women, the United States are targeted and attacked along racial lines, gender lines and class lines. So they don’t suffer simply because they’re black. They suffer because they are black. And they are women. But they don’t just suffer because they are black and they are women. 

They also suffer because they are black and they are women. And the class structures of the United States work against them. 

And I’ll throw this thought into when you say class, people can’t necessarily tell what economic class you’re in and they will look at you and assume where you are. 

You are painted with the same brush because you’re not walking around with your with your W 2s and your tax return life or or your report card from high school to say, no, no, no. I’m you know, I’m OK with no dad. There is no OK. I’ve been talking with friends of mine about how I’m being raised in the respectability politics generation has come to bear. And is it hurts because we thought. And I really think our parents, grandparents, they did not do this out of malice. They really thought that all we had to do now was study and be smart and yes, pull our pants up and speak well. And yes, you still have to work harder than everybody else, but you’re going to be fine if you do these things that they never imagined that you would be back here because we were supposed to behave our way out of this and that and which the younger generation just looks at us like y’all stupid, you know. I mean, it seems ridiculous now, but I remember being taught this. If you just behave. And it feels like the bait and switch because there’s no number of degrees that I could have that would protect me, you know, in an altercation with the authority. Right. 


Yeah, they don’t know so much. 

No, they don’t. 

I can’t walk around in a cap and gown often, and some are as my graduate school. 

Shoot, not, you know, throw a fourth one in there. I’ll say ageism and people don’t think of that for black. Let me just quickly wear it so. Well, I’m 83 years old. Nobody. But but but let me ask you this, because I keep I keep hearing this this theme of hopefulness, this thread. 

And as a as a casual student of history, I’m sure that there was hopefulness during reconstruction and they thought, OK, we got we got it. 

Now we also we have we have, you know, black congressmen and slavery’s over and things are gonna change. And little did we know. 

And this theme keeps this cycle keeps replaying. 

And so I want to hope that today is different. And like I said earlier, it does seem different in a lot of ways. Do you really think we’re gonna get, earn, fight for receive some substantive change here in the way that this country goes forward? Or are we really going to have to bring it all down? 

I’ll say I’m not one who is particularly hopeful. I think the genius of discrimination is its ability to shift and change. So I want to think in terms of two people of African descent when it comes to this. The first is WBB Dubois, the souls of black folk. Nineteen o three continues to influence and inform our understanding of race and racial injustice. He puts forth a plan to rethink this. He’s involved on a variety of fronts within a variety of organizations. But before he leaves the United States heading to Ghana, he’s he has a an exchange with a friend and I’m paraphrasing here. 

He tells this friend, chin up, fight on knowing the Negro can’t win. 

It seems to me what he points to is a move away from outcome driven strategies. 

I fight because we can win to a strategy. That privilege is effort. I fight because we can. The other is Alberich moved a North African who with the story of Sisyphus fist riding. 

He tells this traditional story of this office that this is the dude who is being punished by the gods. And this punishment involves having to roll this rock up the hill. Right. It comes back down. And this is forever. KOMU argues there’s a point of awareness of of lucidity when he reaches the top. 

And he’s not broken by this task. 

He continues to do this work simply because he can and he ends that short essay with this statement. One must imagine Sicilia’s happy. I take DeBois and I take KOMU. And my take away from those two is we really need to shift away from outcome driven strategies. The argument that we do this work because we know it will make a difference if we fight hard enough, things will change. 

History seems to work against that. Instead, it seems to me we ought to be about the business of struggling for justice because we can and value something about that process of struggle that at the end of the day. All we may be able to muster is a strong and persistent No. Two injustice, recognizing that there’s no to injustice has to be perpetual. 

And this is my Americanness showing second generation born of race here. You know, you cannot necessarily always pull your mindset out of the culture. And this is a culture that is outcome driven. It’s, you know, what is the endgame? What is the goal? What can I win? What can I put on the top more or what? What check? Can I check off that I’ve accomplished? And that is a real, real shift in mindset to to think that we’re not it’s not for the win, but for the struggle itself. 

You know that as they say, I guess. And Joe, enjoying the journey, not the destination. I think that’s something people casually say, but they don’t believe it. And if that is really the case, how many people have that fortitude? How many people have that tenacity that I’m. I’m in the fight because I’m in the fight as hard? 

Yeah, I understand that. 

But my argument would be this. That at least for humanist atheist freethinkers, you pick the label for us. 

For those of us for whom there is no God and there are no God, we are all we have. 

This sort of thinking, it seems to me, ought to be the standard that I get people who are theist arguing that our effort will make a difference because they understand they don’t wrestle alone. Right. They’re saying that there’s some force out there that is greater than I am that is more knowledgeable. What that I am, who wants the good for us. And so what we do will have consequence we know is just us. 

We read history differently. We know it’s us. And we know there’s been more failure than there’s been success. 

And so we can’t make those sorts of grand claims if we think in terms of antiblack racism, what kind of functional difference is there really from the hatred, the objectification, the demonizing of black bodies you get during the period of slavery and the demonizing, the objectifying of black bodies we have today? I’m gonna pick up the phone and call and say there’s an African-American threatening my life. 

I can’t tell you how that video messed me up. I got up. I walked away from my computer. I just. And she said when she was gone to fully aware of what it man. 

And then today and then at that Academy Award moment at the end, where her voice got all, you know, scared. And I’m like, had there been no video? If I’d only heard the audio. We all would have thought that her life was in danger. Mike, how many how many men have we lost? 

Two phone calls like that to accusations like. 

And think about it. And she look like anybody I could have gone to school with, worked with young woman is when somebody 80 years old, you don’t fall back into basic old woman. 

And her mind went there with a quickness that was frightening because that strategy has been effective. 

And she wasn’t just going to make a phone call. He is recording this. But whiteness trumps our facts. Whiteness trumps our right to time and space. Right. It didn’t matter that he was recording this. It could be posted forever. It did not matter. 

Her whiteness was going to trump all functionally in terms of how black people are perceived in the United States functionally. How is that any different? In both instances, blackness out of place can result in death. Whether you’re caught by the slave patrol or someone in 20, 20. Picks up the phone and calls. And so if we understand that, if we see that in history, how can we honestly say our effort will make a difference? It seems to me what we can say is our our effort will disrupt our effort, will make it harder to maintain the narrative of white privilege. I know is disruptive. Does it ultimately win the day? There’s little evidence to suggest it will be all. 

No glitter, no sugar coating. Although I do. It does, though, make you think that what if we didn’t struggle at all? 

How much worse would this be without the stone? Even without the win. Right. Yeah. You know, I think this would be worth. But it it absolutely can be. It’s just this the historical through line that you draw. But it’s a historical through line that I think those of us who want to see it see it. Yeah. All right. When you’re dealing with folk for whom history is not taught and they have no desire to seek out extra curricular knowledge, you know that black history is what Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, maybe some Booker T. Washington, if you’re lucky, you know. Maybe so. George Washington Carver, maybe. 

And we shall overcome. That’s it. Yeah. That’s all we’re getting. 

Yeah, you know, so that and that lack of education hurts on both sides now and somebody like me, you know, and Congresswoman, I’m going to go out and learn more what young white Bogarde necessarily doing that. What is their impetus to do so? America has never wrestled with its history until forced, you know. 

And the minute that force is, is that that pressure is taken off, it will ease up. 

And I say this for folks who claim to be WOAK, who want to be in solidarity. Solidarity requires familiarity. That is to say, if you are going gonna be in solidarity, know something about the struggles of the community you want to safeguard. Learn something about the cultural world of the people. 

You say you are working with. But you can’t be ignorant of the plight of black folks and say you are in solidarity. And I don’t think this meant that we also have to recognize within the context United States, the. The responsibility for struggling against antiblack racism is not equally shared. White folks, merrow, a greater burden. 

The folks who have benefited from anti black racism bear a greater burden to say no to injustice. To do something to struggle against it than those who have been the victims of it. 

Do they know that, though? No. I mean, you’re you’re standing there and I’m like, Yeah, but do the folk that know that they have this responsibility know that they have it? 

We are much, too. 

That is folks with in the marginalized community, the folks in the community who is experiencing anti black racism, that we are often much too generous when it comes to. 

What we understand is solidarity and how we let folks in, as we say in my family, not everybody gets invited to the barbecue. Right, right, right. 

You know, it’s funny in the in the unrest and that’s been happening and just the absolute indignities and injustices and murders. 

I had some folks turn up in my inbox based on some things that I had posted. And in all sincerity, Leigh Ann, I’m so sorry. What can I do? What is going on? And pure sincerity. And I did not feel like holding class necessarily. You know, I didn’t like. Why am I handholding you through my community’s trauma? That’s exactly how I felt. Some folks see it as an opportunity. I was annoyed. But what I did do was post a very, you know, just three references to what I called my anti reading, anti-racism, reading and listening list. I offered two books and a podcast like Bull Just Easy. Like before you ask me to help you, I need you to have this knowledge and of white fragility. Of course, I mentioned white rage. And then another podcast called Seeing White, which. Phenomenal. Phenomenal. Are there more I could’ve listed? Absolutely. But folk get overwhelmed know. Because first of all, my answer was to read and woo folks don’t like to read. So I do audio books and do a podcast. And I just put it out there to my surprise, my my absolute delight as far as I have one of these same folk ease back up into my inbox and go, wow, I’m so sorry. 

All right, that I came to you and I didn’t realize what I was asking you to do. You know, and she says she’s Jewish. She was started with white fragility and she’s like, wow, I didn’t know. She says, I’m upset, I didn’t know, but I’m learning. 

And she came to apologize almost like, well, my work here is done. Not not. Not at all, but. 

You know, each I think with this is a grown woman, this is a woman and that’s older than me and has been able to go her entire life without this affecting her life. When my entire life that all that that awareness has always been there. 

And I can’t even imagine life without it. Yeah. You know, just the knowledge of not having to think that way, to strategize because of your color. 

And then for folks to finally try to understand and I’m really hope they’re holding onto this. 

I think you’re right. You’re right. 

Solidarity with the man. It does. Yes, it does require work and it’s it’s it’s exhausting work and like if you’re tired, just learning about it. Magin Livny. 

Yeah, yeah. So and I was torn because it again, but I guess it comes down to individual responses. Some people, you know, took up the banner was like, oh, you want to know what I’m gonna tell you? Like, they were ready to jump in and educate. And, you know, when they’re called to be, you know, the talking heads on talk shows, they were jumping in and I was like. 

I’ve been here. 

It’s here. 

You know what, I was able to recommend those books in that podcast because I’m reading it. I don’t even need to read it, but I like to deepen my knowledge and my education in them and know about the history of where I’m living. 

And just so I don’t forget some of that some of those historical through lines, because people who think this is new, that’s because they just got here. Yeah. And maybe that’s what’s required. Maybe we we need the new people. 

The young folk who don’t know it all just yet. Who who are fired up with passion and indignation because they haven’t seen it many times. Right. So they can take up the battle so they can we can pass them the baton because they have more energy. 

Yeah, but you got me started when you said the responsibility is shared. And I’m like, yeah, that’s like doing group work and school. One does the work and the other people in a group don’t do it. 

And that’s now going play. That’s not all right. 

No, no. But I do feel, again, I want to be hopeful. I want to see, you know, seeing seeing what the what the protests are looking. 

I and in seeing that passion, I can I can only hope that it is sustained and it is substantive. 

Going forward now, I guess my my question to you is, as you you beautifully straddle both worlds multiple what I say to the multi universe, you are you know, you are such a renaissance man in terms of in terms of thought, you know, you can you can hold these things in your head, like coming from a religious background. Now, being, you know, in the in the it’s also a secular world to into a title broad. And so you you are able to navigate and translate beautifully. 

And I admire that so very much, which is really why I wanted to to talk to you and have your have your wisdom here. 

What does all of this mean for the secular community? 

Because we because there are multiple fronts that are that are that require our attention as human beings. You know, the pandemic is still going on a moment and going to where and how that’s affecting the world and in particular, vulnerable communities. 

And then we have, you know, finally racial injustice coming to the fore as if we weren’t already busy. Where are we? Where is the secular community in this? You know, is it is it on the legal front? You know, is it on the social front? Is it or or I shouldn’t make it be making these things mutually exclusive. Is it anywhere and everywhere? 

We can be anywhere and everywhere, it seems to me. This is quite an opportunity for us to wrestle with a fundamental question. What does our non theistic perspective offer, folks? At this moment, right? What do we offer them beyond a critique of religion? Do we give folks a soft place to land? An alternate way to think M.B in the world that is robust and meaningful. 

I have heard you ask that question and pose that. And I get real quiet. 

Do not let me just do it, because this that a damn good question. 

After we critique religion, after we tear down what they think, you know, even if we do it kindly, you know how we have intellectually won. Now what? Where do we. Right. What do we have to offer we’re. Where do they land? 

Beyond critique. And it seems to me within too many humanists and atheist circles, they’re still an energetic conversation concerning whether or not justice work is fundamental. Right. Do we really need to do justice work? Should we really be involved in racial justice activities? Why would that be a question? Rather than an obligation. 

This is huge for some folk. Yeah, and some folk don’t know that point of entry. You know, they beat you. 

To me, it’s a simple matter of we are only as strong and this is, you know, a common expression. We are only as strong as our weakest link. 

Watching the police not only do what they do to our community. But now they can’t. They they so can’t hold it back. Yeah. 

That Amazon must pay it plenty, white folks are getting out. Yeah. How are your kitchen? Rubber bullets and tear gas? Like what? Clutch the pearls. 

You know, and I feel like we’ve been trying to tell and only listen, if they don’t respect us, at some point they come in for y’all. And so this is not just a racial justice fight. This is an everybody fight. This is a this is a humanity fight in some way, shape or form. 

We are all tied to these struggles. It’s like fighting for women’s rights, not human rights. But it seems to me we need to reach a point within humanists and atheist circles when that is just assumed to rather than debate it. Of course, we are about justice. We shouldn’t have to debate that. 

Well, do you think that’s the nature of the beast? Cause if he ever met a group of folk who liked to debate and argue. 

Is us. 

Yeah. No, I don’t think it’s the humanism, an atheist ism. I think it’s the various forms of privilege that the humanism atheists carry through the world. OK. I don’t make a humanist or atheist. Doesn’t mean dropping white privilege. Become a humanist or atheist. 

Doesn’t mean dropping the privilege of masculinity. Right. The list goes on and on. We bring this stuff with us to those social codes we carry with us by trying to remember where I read this. 

I believe it was white fragility. I’m not sure. I don’t want to credit someone inaccurately. But you cannot be raised here. Here, meaning the United States, and claim it doesn’t touch you. 

It does. I had a conversation with someone and he said, no. 

I mean, I was you know, there were no black people in my in my neighborhood. But, you know, my family raised me to be fair. And, you know, everybody’s equal. 

And I never thought poorly of people of color. And I said, OK. But what TV shows are you watching? What magazines are you reading? What music are you listening to? What movies are you watching? You know, those messages, those images sync in. 

On both sides, on both sides, and we’ve we’ve you know, it’s hard to outrun your raising, so to speak, is my name. 

And it’s one thing to say, you know, I was raised to be fair, I was raised to treat people equally. For me, that then comes a little too close to I don’t see color, but bracketing that right. I was trained to be fair, to treat people equally. 

Doesn’t wipe out white privilege. Right. White people still move the world. Whether they they claim to be about justice, claimed to be about equality, they still move through the world. With that privilege intact. Right. 

Right. It’s a very different moving through the world. Yeah. I often joke that I want I want someday to be wealthy enough to have the benefit of the doubt. Yeah. That buys them cartons of economic or class status. It’s funny, someone did an experiment about just about how you dress. A white gentleman can walk in shorts, flip flops, t shirt, looking scruffy. He’s still gonna get the benefit of the doubt, whereas I might have to dress up, I. I don’t play I when I leave my house, I dress up because I was taught again that that respectability politics generation, you better look like beyond reproach. 

But it doesn’t solve the problem. Right. The number of times I’ve been on a hotel lobby with a suit on and had Gus come in, wanted me to handle the bags or asking me about the hotel policy, I’m not wearing a uniform. I’m wearing a suit. 

While this is in the book, the B.S. days before Cauvin man, I’ll be at Staples. People just think I know what I’m doing. I just gave up. I’m like, yes, what you want is an aisle seven. 

You know, we’re laughing about this. 

And I think that’s important, too. Yeah. I call it the, you know, finding the humor in the horror. That’s what we do. That’s what that’s what human beings do. I feel I am remiss. I fail to ask you right up front, man, because there’s a lot going on. And that that’s in quotes. How are you doing in all of this? 

Oh, thank you. I’m I’m I’m fine. I’m making it. I’m doing OK. How about yourself. 

I’m all right, man. I almost feel like that’s a trick question. People say, how you doing a movie? 

Have you read the paper? 

Don’t. No. I’m okay. 

As I can be. And I’m way better than most. Yeah. 

Yeah. Well, there’s a lot that I am incredibly grateful for and thankful for. And this is actually one of those things. This opportunity to co-host this podcast and and look down my list of people that whose work I admire and want to have a conversation with and want to further expose the listening audience to you, man, when you are my in my top, definitely America. 

I am assuming that you are working on, what, another 30, 35 books on a lot of that, you know, pop up in another six months with some scintillating books, not not to put you on the spot, but now you are indeed prolific and important voice in the secular community. 

And so I’m I’m glad you were able to spend some time with me today. 

Well, thank you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it. 

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Leighann Lord

Leighann Lord

Standup Comedian Leighann Lord was the New York City face of the African Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and it’s Millions Living Happily Without Religion campaign. Author Chris Johnson featured her in The Atheist Book: A Better Life. Leighann has been a co-host on the Emmy-nominated StarTalk with Neil de Grasse Tyson. Leighann has shared her comedic and hosting talents at many secular conferences including American Atheists, American Humanists, Center for Inquiry, CSICon, DragonCon – SkepTrack, The PA Freethought Society, NECSS: The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism, PASHTACon, and Skepticon. Leighann is also a CFI certified Secular Celebrant; officiating at milestone life events commemorated with a nonreligious worldview. And she was honored with the 2019 Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association. As a veteran standup comedian, Leighann has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, and HBO. She is the author of Leighann Lord’s Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget (Volumes 1 and 2) and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady; available on Amazon.