I am hoping to get some feedback on a research project I am in the process of conducting. Below is a rough abstract to a paper I will deliver on a panel this summer.
The church — both the Black Protestant and white church cannot fully reconcile their racial differences, due to the barrier capitalism poses toward social and class progress. After 1970, capitalism transformed the Black church from an agent seeking radical change, to one procuring cultural materialism, as noted by a consumer-driven culture that seeks status and measures of wealth. As a result, the Black church continues to fall short of being a revolutionary change agent for Black folk, in the dawn of the 21st century, as self-interest and wealth have usurped the Gospels. Such measures of self have not only divided the Black and white working class from their achievable class interest, but have furthered intra-racial division due to commodification and economic inequality.
W.E.B. Du Bois contended that the white church was incapable of mending the color line, but the Negro church, though flawed, provided hope for Blacks, as it held onto the roots of Africa, which were transported to North America. Du Bois also noted that the Negro church presented challenging divisions among its fellowship. Though he did not delve too deeply into the nomenclature of class division within the Negro church, he took a systematic approach in understanding the notion of faith – and Negro religiosity. Du Bois did, however, write about apathy and self-care, as they pertained to the church. And while Du Bois saw the Negro church as a cultural center and fixture for Black congregants seeking rescue from a racist society, he examined the paradoxical nature of religion and individual values. Carter G. Woodson expressed grave concerns when he noted that the Negro church “suffered from a generational divide, a class divide, and regional one but ultimately from a division over ideas”. By the 1950s, the Negro church evolved into the classical Black church, as E. Franklin Frazier published a scathing critique of the Negro church, he noted it no longer existed; as the Negro church died…it was reborn.
This paper offers a lens to critique the historical and emerging shift away from the Black church and religion. My research furthers that notion, as many within the Black community continue to showcase their religious conservatism and belief in God, while others have slowly drifted away, often due to greater economic opportunities at the expense of the Black community. Due to integration, this post-1970 Black bourgeoisie progressed from the Black church—as well as from religion. With black educational attainment and hence the rise of the Black middle class, more and more Black people are reflecting their values by asking, Do I believe in God? Can I afford to believe in God? This shift, in part, reflects the stark class differences among Blacks by the 21st century. This class divide and shift in faith morphed by Blacks to reflect an emerging non-churched bourgeois attitude. Through countless interviews, observations, demographic studies, and discussions with Black atheist network leaders, my research looks at the rise of Black atheists, and the importance of class and materialism, over the church in the age of Black Lives Matter. For some racial identity will be sacrificed, while for others the loss of religion will advance a new consciousness.