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An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two)

July 8, 2019

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 20.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Sixteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2019

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,396

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Alix Jules is a Writer at Patheos Nonreligious. He discusses: secular communities and positive work; the proportion of African Americans who identify, not simply as secular, but as an atheist, in America; the slower trajectory for the black community compared to the white community in America in secularization; and communicating and socializing.

Keywords: Alix Jules, atheism, Catholic, intellectual trajectory, Patheos, secularism.

An Interview with Alix Jules on Background and Meeting an Atheist: Writer (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of the narrative or story provided before, or the personal ups and downs about the trajectory of world view, this has a lot of overlays. Some of them not necessarily stated explicitly, but they’ve come up in other conversations in personal journalistic work, for me, talking to other people in secular communities.

One of them has to do with the explicit and implicit bias, if not outright prejudice, against the secular from the nonsecular, from the religious. Sometimes, it can go the other way. That’s an internal conversation secular communities need to have about civility standards, providing dignity to even those one opposes.

However, in other conversations, we could find sectors of the secular community having conversations about inclusion, the inclusion of more women, the inclusion of more people of colour, not simply having the conversations, but actually doing things about it. In terms of American secular communities, for those who would like to help or include more people of colour, and more women, what would be a baseline recommendation? What has been some positive work that has been done?

Alix Jules: That is a tough one. I used to travel, talking about how we need to build bridges in the secular community. This was one of the first things I did in terms of outreach. My guidance then was first an explanation to these communities as to why it is so difficult to build these bridges.

Even though you’re an atheist- and you may be a white atheist, however you identify, ethnically- when you take a look at black atheists, or atheists of colour, and women, we still exist in a much broader context. This one thing that we share in common, may not be enough to bring us together. In fact, that’s what we’ve seen. If you consider that there was a much larger, much broader big-time atheist movement in the US. There’s been a lot of fracturing and factionalization.

I would argue, no, it’s just what someone would call “dividing lines” have been defining lines, all along. Just because you’re an atheist on those side of the tracks, doesn’t mean that you’re going to cross those tracks to come to see me. So, just saying that, “Hey, I’m an atheist now and we should all just come together and form a large community,” doesn’t work.

The first thing that I tell people is, “You’ve got to be cognizant of all the biases that still exist, even within your own community.” Even if we just say, “I’m a big atheist community.” But 98% are white males. That’s not necessarily inviting because there is the rest of who I am that is built, as a black person, or a person of colour, around the identity of being an atheist.

I have not been profiled in the US driving while being an atheist. I’ve been profiled driving while being black. I’ve been pulled over because I was black. I’ve been stopped in the street because I was black. I was followed in stores because I was black. I had to run away from groups of Confederate-wielding youth because I was black, not because I was an atheist. We have not addressed those issues within the larger context.

If you want me to meet you where you’re at, the first thing you have to do, not necessarily ideologically, but physically, is meet me where I’m at. You need, because of the issue of trust that just exists between these communities, plain black communities. Within those subsets, there are groups of atheists, humanists, et cetera.

First, you’ve got to break down that barrier, which in itself, is very difficult. You’ve got to show up on my other issues, what you would call “fringe issues” or what others have just called “identity politics”. Those “identity politics” allow me to vote, allow me to buy and purchase equally, allow me to scream and get heard when police are harassing me. That’s the first thing, is meet me where I’m at.

The second one is to realize that these what you call “fringe issues”, or what some call “fringe issues”, aren’t. They’re issues that define my humanity. I didn’t ask for them. I didn’t ask for them. I want them gone, as much as anyone else.

I often get into the discussion. “Why are we all so hung up on race? Race is a social construct.” Well, we live in a society. The beginning of the word “society” is S-O-C. It’s all a related social construct. It exists in society. We are social creatures. We are influenced by societal norms. You can’t say that you’re immune to them just because you’re an atheist.

Just like Christianity, there was magical thinking. In various religious thought and circles, there’s magical thinking. You can’t have the same magical thinking in the atheist community if you say that you are evidence-based. It’s incongruent. It doesn’t happen.

If you can look at me and say, “I understand that you have issues outside of Christianity, regardless of what the root cause is. If you take a big step back, yes, absolutely, in the beginning, when we take a look at how we even define what race is, you take a look at The Inquisition; how do we define bloodlines, and “the other”? Yes, it’s tied to race, but the racial construct is more tied to religion that most people will even acknowledge. Sure, I get that, totally.

But regardless of where it came from, where we are today being this is still my reality. Acknowledge the reality. You want to be an ally; you have to show up. Once you gain that trust, I’ll meet you where you want me to be.

2. Jacobsen: One thing pointed out to me. It was the notion, or the idea, or the reality of if in the African American or the black community in America, not religious, then not fully black, or African American. How does this play out in practical terms in the life of an African American male, or a black woman?

Jules: I can say that, for me, in my generation- I’m Generation X, if that means anything. Previous generations, it was infinitely more taboo to be non-religious. In fact, it was once you become a doubting Thomas, you become an Uncle Tom. That’s true.

We saw that in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You get a little bit of education from the white man. I’ll be blunt. You come back home and you’re doubting God. How dare you? It doesn’t matter who gave you the god. All those arguments just do not matter because the identity of being black, or African American, in the United States, is so tied to religion. It’s Moses. It’s Harriet Tubman. Her story is tied to lore, of course, or the meso-self of the Bible and the Christian Moses.

The fact that so much of the civil rights movement itself was enabled, to a certain extent, by black churches. Of course, you had really strong secular influences, as well, that just never got the attention as secular influences. It was “brethren so-and-so”, “pastor so-and-so”. We can’t ignore the truth that the church has played a galvanizing force in the African America community for so long. You just can’t undo that.

I think that was generational. “You say that you don’t believe. I say that you’re not black.” I think that’s changed. I think we’re changing. I think a lot of what we’re seeing, in the US anyway, is an artefact of the black civil rights movement, where we are beginning to see, even in the streets when there were significantly more protests, or significant more coverage regarding the protests.

I would talk to young organizers and they would tell me, “God hasn’t done anything for me. The church isn’t here. They’re not doing anything. Why would I believe in that?” So, there are challenges that we’re seeing with the younger generation, the Millennials and younger, that show a significant dip in religiosity in the African community. It’s significant. Even if it’s single-digit, 5%, 8%, 9%, that’s pretty significant given that when you take a look at their cohorts in different strata.

Whites, we’re seeing 70% religiosity, 30% “nones” or atheists, if you lump it all together. Even the Hispanic community was actually more or less secular than the white community. What we saw, at least if you use solid polls, is within the African American community, we saw about a 95% of the African American community identified as being heavily religious. That’s changed. It’s below 90%. I think it’s 80-something percent. That’s a big change. That’s a big shift.

The churches we still have, obviously, they’re strong church groups. That’s not going to go away but we’re not seeing the coherence to that identity as much. It is loosening. That, right there, has also, in the US, played a role in why we’ve seen it be so sticky. When you had your identity taken from you, stolen from you, and a new one given to you, or you created one and even the one that you created, you were told was ugly, and lazy, and dumb.

Again, many of those are Christian sentiments from the past and the South in the US that were just pushed onto the negro from about the 1600s all the way through to Jim Crow. It’s the reason why those stereotypes still exist, this identity that African Americans were able to cohere. Identity is complex. It just stuck. Yes, black is beautiful but black also includes this. Fortunately, we’re seeing that black identity is no longer monolithic. It’s wonderful.

3. Jacobsen: What would be the proportion of African Americans who identify, not simply as secular, but as an atheist, in America?

Jules: I think it’s still less than 1% It’s been a while since I looked up the numbers but it’s hovered around the 1% to 2%. It’s going to be low. It’s going to be low, but the ones that identify as “nones”, or say that– I think we’ve reached a tipping point in the US, as a whole, where secularism is just becoming significantly more wide-spread.

We are seeing the lashing out from the other side, especially the evangelical movement. They’re not happy about it. I don’t believe it’s in the death throes. I think we still have a few generations of them being there, but white evangelical children are not going to church anymore. They’re just not.

As that becomes more common, I think we’ll see more of that on the African American side. It’ll be slower but as those numbers really begin to dip, I think you’ll see more people identify as atheist. Even if they won’t call themselves atheist, they’ll know that they are. Just like me. I stayed in that bubble for years.

4. Jacobsen: Why is that trajectory slower for the black community compared to the white community in America?

Jules: I think one of them is the need for the church. The church has been there for childcare. It has been there for education. It’s been there as a safe haven. There’s a lot of reasons why the church exists in some communities, as well. Good and bad comes with the church.

The idea of community itself is necessary with the church. You have the moms. You have the grandmas, the aunts. “We’re going to see you in church, right? I’m taking her to church.” Continuously. It’s a conveyor belt system, to that extent. [Laughing]

Just wanting to continue to be part of that community. That community has, in numbers, been able to push the needle on civil rights movements where no other driving, massive force has. It is still going to be a little bit.

Jacobsen: I’m out of questions. I’m trying to think of another one.

Child: Dad.

Jacobsen: Is that your kid?

Jules: You heard that. Yes. She just ran in from one room to the other.

Jacobsen: Kids are almost like apparitions, sometimes. They just go in and out.

Jules: Yes.

5. Jacobsen: Aside from internal demographic, and inclusion, and dignity issues, and civility issues of the secular communities in North America, how can secular people, for want of better terminology, learn, potentially, some better social skills in communicating, in socializing, and in interacting with those who harbour more supernatural sentiments than them, in public, and in private? This has come up as an issue in some commentary.

Jules: I don’t know that there is a lot of work outside of the human dignity piece that is going to drive people together. One of the problems with not being able to bridge that first. If an outside group comes knocking on a black door, you wind up having the concerns about a white saviour. “Why are you here? Why are you trying to deconvert me? Why are you doing this?” Again, the trust issue is a significant issue. “Why are you trying to sell me this?”

Regardless of the fact that you were sold on the opposite message by the same person, or your core belief system. That’s really difficult. I think it still winds up being interfaith issues or interfaith initiatives. If you can find the white youth in the US, some of them- I know a lot of atheists have issues with churches and their acceptance of magical thinking, or just the acceptance of everyone, but those wind up being really fertile grounds for cross-cultural communication and “contamination”, in the best way.

I will drive down in some areas around here and I will see a huge “black lives matter” banner out front on the church. I already know that’s a UU church, right there, and they’re at least 70% white. I walk in there. Maybe it’s 90% white, but they’re taking the initiative to roll out the carpet and say, “Number one, I hear you. Number two, I acknowledge what’s going on. Three, if you want a place to be, here I am.” That’s something that UUs, Unitarian Universalists, have done well.

In fact, I guess it was in Ferguson, and during the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, after the Michael Brown murder, and then again in Baltimore, after the Freddie Gray murder. The people that are out there, if they were white, they usually were carrying a UU pin or UU banner. If you are able to get close to them and build enough bridges there, sometimes it comes.

I have got a very quick story. A few years ago, we did- it was The North Texas Food Bank. They had what was called a “full on faith” week, where they would invite all these churches to work at the food bank and package food and ship food, et cetera.

One of my colleagues, Dr. Zachary Moore, found out about it, and said, “Wait a minute. Why aren’t we doing this as well?” He reached out to them. They said, “You’re not really a church. You’re faithless. It’s like, “Yes, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t do exactly the same thing. It’s not that we aren’t without charity, without motivation. We’re humanist as well.”

The first event that we went to, I want to say there were maybe 30 people that showed up, which I thought was a great number. We were there and we were mixing it up with other- Christians. Maybe five people, one person, in particular, asked me, “What church are you with?” I explained the organization that I was with. I said “atheist” and “humanist”. She said, “I’m not familiar with that denomination.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing]

Jules: Right. Exactly. I enjoyed the internal giggles for about a good 15 minutes, maybe, but as we worked together, as we were bumping into each other and helping each other, at the end of that, we were, “Where do we learn more about you all?” They had questions. I was probably one of the only black atheists there. There were maybe one or two more.

Even the black church members were very generous and wanted to talk. Some of them kept in contact. One of them is no longer Christian. She was like, “I knew I had questions but I didn’t know who to ask.” That’s one person that was able to leave religion and say, “It’s not that I hate religion. It’s just I don’t need it for what I thought I needed it for.”

That’s a great example of bumping into people doing service, and just being out where people are and having an atheist spin, a human spin. You don’t necessarily need to be competition. You just need to show them that you’re there, and you’re there to help. Sometimes it just takes that much, or at least, that’s a good first step.

6. Jacobsen: I think that’s a perfect place to end on. Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Alix.

Jules: You’re very welcome. It was fun. [Laughing] I get to go back. It’s been a very long work day. I was like, “Wait. What’s going on?” [Laughing] This was good, thank you. I appreciate the conversation.

Jacobsen: It’s one drop at a time.

Jules: All right. Yes, absolutely.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Writer, Patheos Nonreligious.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 8, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two) [Online].July 2019; 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, July 8). An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A, July. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A (July 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 20.A (2019):July. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Alix Jules on American Secular Communities, Positive Work, Secularization of Communities, and Communication (Part Two) [Internet]. (2019, July 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/jules-two.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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