Interview with Donald Wright
Interview with: Donald Wright, Vice-President of the Humanists of Houston, and Author of the Freethought book, The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go
Echoes of Commonsense Editor, Nathalie Woods, discusses significant issues relating to the Author’s transformation from a life of redundant delusion as a Deacon in the Christian faith, into embracing a new life in astute affirmation of all that is rational and factual as an Atheist, Secular Humanist, and Free-thought activist.
Donald Wright resolutely proclaims in this interview: “If there is a god that answers prayers, I would request releasing black people in America from their extreme addiction to religion.”
You were born into the Christian faith, and served the Christian church as a Deacon for several years. Certainly a grave cause must have instigated you into renouncing your deep faith; why did you forsake the religion of your birth?
I was a member of this pre-dominantly black mega-church in Houston for 19 years. It was the church where I was a deacon. In 2003, the pastor was exposed in a homosexual scandal. It found its way into the local and national media. The pastor was portraying a happy heterosexual marriage. This was devastating to the membership. A special meeting was held to determine his fate. The membership voted and by a small margin, the majority preferred him to remain as pastor with the condition that he would agree to counseling.
Our family was not alone in leaving, as a substantial number of members immediately chose to find another church. This situation was very disturbing because within two years the church membership decreased well over 50%. Homosexuality is a major theological challenge for most Christians and obviously I did not accept it as a lifestyle choice for a church leader.
This incident initiated my religious renouncement. Following the decision to find another church, I committed to becoming a greater student of the Bible and the religious practice of Christianity. I was no longer going to be dependent on the preachers and anointed Bible teachers for interpretation and instructions. The next two years involved intense self-study in addition to enrollment in a local Bible college to obtain a Bible teaching certificate. Some family members and friends suggested I was being called to the ministry. The study required me to ask hard and challenging questions. It required me to pursue the history and origin of the Bible. It led me to observing clear contradictions in Bible. Eventually I would find my way to reading the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and in September 2006 my religious journey was terminated. Self-study and the pursuit of truth led me away from religion and into a life-stance centered on Humanism and Atheism, not the pastor’s homosexual scandal. I am glad I finally decided to scholarly study the Bible.
Has life fared any significantly better since being atheist? Are you happier with no religious beliefs?
A better perspective on life and being happier are both products of my revised life stance being free from religion and that is because I am no longer in mental bondage confined to religious dogma.
There are some many things that can affect our lives. Being an Atheist, Christian, or any other belief system does not prevent negative experiences. I am uncertain as to whether a better life can be experienced as long as humans are being oppressed and exploited by other humans.
The title of your new book—The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go—is pregnant with profound array of meanings. What’s the true story behind the title? Is it in any way an advocacy for freedom from religion?
The title is a reflection on a major activity within the Christian religion that I view now as a waste of time—Prayer. As we (wife and daughter) were discussing some religious concepts during the writing of the manuscript, my daughter reminded me of not having to pray any more. Coupling this with the overall purpose of the book lead to the title; which, of course, is an advocacy for freedom from religion. If there is a god that answers prayers I would request releasing black people in America from their extreme addiction to religion.
What’s your purpose for writing the book? Is it aimed at converting your people into Atheism or Secular Humanism because you’ve come to realize a new world view that exposes religion as a hoax that has for a long time misled them?
The point of focus in the book is on organized religion, primarily Christianity, and why I think blacks in America
should strongly and urgently consider disregarding the need for religion. It is about my journey and it is based on a practical, common sense perspective of religion and its harmful influence in the society. It is not aimed at converting people into Atheism, but I do think that Secular Humanism is a better alternative. I agree with the expression that religion is a hoax that has misled too many people, not just black people in America, but the entire human race.
What is the relevance of your book to the community of African-American? Do you think your people will ever listen to any thought that may constitute a hindrance to their very strong attachment to religious practices?
African-Americans should find my book to be thought-provoking and a candid display of a logical process by which I came to a very difficult decision. It encourages each of us to ask the tough questions and demand fact-based answers. It takes courage to change, but I have come to the realization that with the right information and a little motivation and desire, attitudes and behaviors can be modified regardless of the attachment. I expect a gradual increase of African-Americans that will find freedom from religion.
How did you come to the conclusion that the God of religion is imaginary? Are you in any way influenced by the work of any Atheist or Freethinker?
It was my desire to find the origin of the Bible, Christianity and other religions. This study advanced my knowledge of the three dominant world religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and that the Bible is a common thread. A thorough objective study of the Bible guided me into a discovery of how human imagination can be posted as divinely inspired without any factual proof. When a statement is challenged to be supported with facts and evidence, and it fails, it is very reasonable to conclude human imagination is involved. God speaks to Moses in a burning bush but the plant is not destroyed by the fire—Human imagination. I was and I am still influenced by a number of individuals that are Atheists and freethinkers, but the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine had the greatest impact on me. After reading it, I could no longer justify the practice and support of any organized religion.
Looking at the complex structure of the universe from the point of view of a rational thinker, do you believe Atheists truly have any logical indication to refute the powerful Argument from Design that Theists have advanced in support of the existence of a creator-God?
I am an Atheist because there is not enough evidence to support the existence of a god. Especially the gods of the various religions. I don’t believe in a god because I don’t have to. From my perspective as a rational thinker, it is never a requirement to prove the negative. The theists should have the burden to prove the existence of a god as the creator of this magnificent universe especially since they promote the concept that life, human and non-human, is governed by this supreme being. I prefer science rather than theology as a means to understanding this complex structure. This debate is led by individuals with brilliant minds and I am not one of them. At this point in my life, I am a lot more concern about the conditions affecting our existence in this universe than how or who created it. It appears that the god of the theists enjoys human suffering.
We have had stories of discrimination against Atheists, especially in black communities; have you in any way experienced any form of unfair prejudice? Are your Christian friends still your friends, or do you now fraternize with like minds only?
I have not experienced or detected any discrimination or unfair prejudice as an Atheist. However, I am almost certain that some Christian friends, associates, and probably a few relatives would prefer to limit their contact with me. The majority certainly would rather avoid the conversation. Some are still in shock of my transition and lack the words to substantiate their position other than, “well, all I need is faith.” I continue to maintain relationships with many Christians, but I would like to increase the number of quality relationships with other Atheists and humanists.
There are several cases of Atheists re-converting to religious practices because of the feeling of loneliness? Don’t you sometimes feel there’s a vacuum in your life? Ain’t you missing something in religion that Atheism cannot provide?
I am certain in my declaration that there is nothing about religion that I miss. The most common positive aspects of the religious experience in the black community are the fellowship and the music. The church fellowship is replaced by many other opportunities to meet with family, friends, and acquaintances through other special occasions, organizational meetings, and business activities. The many genres in music provide endless opportunities for listening pleasure. Sunday is no longer a day of obligation; church attendance and placing money in the basket whenever it is passed.
Do you see the need for Atheists or sceptics to belong to liberal religious group, such as Unitarian Universalism? Is there any contradiction in an Atheist merging non-belief with religious tradition, because s/he deeply misses the practice of an act s/he had been initiated to perform from childhood?
As individuals, we continue to evolve regarding needs that will sustain us socially. It is a necessity for group
participation and gatherings for some but not for others. Currently, I am opposed to all religious type institutions and find it unnecessary for me to participate in non-religious organizations that deem it relevant to offer
practices or rituals similar to religious institutions. I have no interest in being reminded of church worship services. I would not call it a contradiction, but it would be rather surprising that an Atheist would need to maintain similarities to religious practices learned during childhood to sustain a secular life.
If I got the information right, the “Day of Solidarity” is a project you’ve proposed to boost solidarity among African America non-believers. Did you record an impressive turnout for the first edition of the event?
Instead of impressive, I would call the turnout or response noticeable considering I made the proposal only three weeks in advance. The responses were all positive. There was a gathering here in Houston, in the D.C. area, and Los Angeles. I have formed a committee to assist in promoting next year’s observance and to give ample time for event planning. In the African-Americans Non-religious Day of Solidarity, I visualized a special day of observance once a year on the fourth Sunday in February, Black History Month, to promote fellowship, share experiences, meet new non-believers, and discuss the lives of black non-believers that our typical history books omit. Also, this could be the opportunity to encourage community activism. Obviously, my hope is for this to become an annual event organized in cities and towns across the entire United States.