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Jamila Bey doesn't believe in God, a fact she realized at an early age and one that greatly displeased her staunchly religious African-American mother.

"The look I got from my mother left no question that I would be beaten to death if I said another word. There are certain things you do not question," Bey says about the time she complained about the fanaticism in her religion class when she was 12.

Bey, a comedian, journalist, and former editor of NPR's Morning Edition. will speak on the need for critical thinking in the deeply religious African-American community at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on Sunday, August 21st, at 1:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by Memphis Freethought Alliance.

Flyer: When did you realize you didn't believe in God?

Bey: I was raised Catholic, and, frankly, I never bought it. I was always getting thrown out of religion class for asking questions. I was told my questioning was blasphemous. In retrospect, I've been an atheist since I learned about Santa Claus, and that was around 4 years old. I needed proof. You can't show me some cookie crumbs on a plate and tell me he was here.

Why is atheism rare in the African-American community?

Blacks have been taught wrongly that the civil rights movement was a religious movement. The movement happened in churches, and it had a lot of pastors working very hard for greater justice. But why was that? It was practical. Every community had a church, and there was a level of respect and restraint afforded when a pastor said, "Here's what my people are asking for." In the South, where the Jim Crow laws were such that more than two black people gathered is a congregation, the easiest way to get a whole bunch of black people together is to say it's a church meeting. The church was a little sanctuary, and when you're an oppressed people who could be slaughtered in the street, a sanctuary is a good thing to have. But that's outlived its utility."

"Critical Thinking: A Problem in the African-American Community." Sunday, August 21st, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. memphisfreethought.com

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