My guest this week is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities, the Professor of Religious Studies. the Founding Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning Rice University, and the Director of Research of the Institute for Humanist Studies. Dr. Pinn has written a number of books on the intersection of humanism and race. In this episode, we discuss his book, When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer.
We spend so much of our time making fun of and belittling theists.
That’s not very productive.
You don’t transform the world that way.
I learned quite a lot from Dr. Pinn. Both about humanism and the experience of black humanists. Ultimately I was challenged to change my behavior, to “do my homework,” and to understand that it will take dismantling of white supremacy in humanist communities in order to gain the great benefits that diversity brings.
This sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort.
You cannot request comfort and say you are interested in change.
Throughout his book(s) and in the interview Dr. Pinn calls on our humanist values to be less ignorant, to include black and other historically disparaged voices, and to develop our own vocabulary and ways of experiencing awe without calling on theistic traditions. “We can do better.”
[Our] goal should not be removing religion …
Religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who what when and why we are …
But it seems to me, the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world.
Critique of Apologetics
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NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11 This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be a graceful atheist. First off, I just want to thank my newest monthly supporters. Again, I want to say the caveat that in a time of COVID-19, and the economic problems that we are facing, unless you happen to have literally expendable cash on hand, I'm not asking for you to support but it does help, we will go back into the podcast. Anyway, I want to thank new supporters, Libby n. And James T, along with Joel Wu and John G. Thank you for your support. The first thing I'm going to do with the money that comes in is to pay MCI beats for the rights to the waves track. It is currently being used as a creative commons. I will be purchasing that so that MCI receives some support as well. If you find the podcast useful or helpful, I would ask that you please rate and review it in the Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. I have a bit of exciting news. My wife Michelle and I have been talking about deconstruction lately. I don't want to get too excited to hear that I don't think that she's changing her mind in any way. But she rightly points out that after we went to Bible college together, the two of us went our separate ways. And when we came back together and eventually got married, we had both gone through ministry a bit of burnout, and ultimately, what she now calls deconstruction. And she's right. We've also recently been listening to the Michelle Obama podcast and one of the first episodes is Michelle Obama and Barak talking with one another. And I commented about how cool their rapport is with one another. And I jokingly said, We should do that some day. And it was her idea, my wife, Michelle, to do an episode, and it was also her idea to request questions from you, the audience. So I know that there are many of us out there that are in relationships where one partner has either D converted or deconstructed in some way and the other partner is still very much a believer. We jokingly sometimes call this the unequally yoked club from Captain Cassidy's blog role to disbelief. If that's your experience, I would ask that you would send me and my wife in some questions about our relationship how we are or not making it work. And you can do so either via email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org Or you can send me a voicemail on the anchor app or through any recording device and send it in through email. Michelle and I will answer those questions on the episode that she and I are going to record shortly. On today's show. My guest today is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn's resume is a thing to behold but I'll hit the highlights here on his website. He is the Agnes Colin Arnold professor of humanities at Rice University. He's the professor of religious studies. He's the founding director of the Center of engaged research and collaborative learning at Rice University and the director of research at the Institute for humanist studies. Beyond that Dr. Pinn has written a tremendous body of work on humanism and race. Today, he and I discussed the book when colorblindness isn't the answer, humanism and the challenge of race, and we will have links in the show notes for Dr. Anthony Pinn's books. I learned a tremendous amount from this book, not just about the issues that black humanists face, but about humanism itself. Obviously, the most challenging part of the book is on the issues of race. And what Dr. Pinn does brilliantly in the book is The uses the very values that we humanists say we hold dear to point out where we have fallen down where we have been hypocritical, where we have not applied those values when it comes to the topic of race. I cannot do justice to the full argument that Dr. Pinn puts forth. So without further ado, here's my conversation with Dr. Anthony. Dr. Anthony Pinn. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. Anthony Pinn 4:50 Thanks for having me. David Ames 4:52 Dr. Pan I'm very excited to have you on I feel like I can't quite do justice to your CV but some of The titles that you have in your bio, the Agnes Colin Arnold professor of humanities, the professor of religious studies, the founding director of the Center for Engaged research and collaborative learning at Rice University, and Director of Research of the Institute for humanist studies. Does that do you justice at all? Anthony Pinn 5:17 Yeah, that's fine. Thank David Ames 5:19 you. And you've written just a, an enormous body of work, a number of books that began with a book entitled, Why Lord, suffering and evil and Black Theology. You've written a book with your with your mom, as I understand it, the fortress introduction to black church history. And then the book that we'll be discussing today is when colorblindness isn't the answer, humanism and the challenge of race. What I'd like to begin with is your experience of faith and maybe what gets you from growing up in a religious household to writing a book like, Why Lord, not suffering? Anthony Pinn 5:56 Well, I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and a portion of my family was deeply religious, my mother's side of the family. So church was part of our week. We started out attending a Baptist church in Lackawanna, it's outside of Buffalo. Bethlehem Steel was the anchor for Lackawanna. Okay. My grandfather was a deacon in this small Baptist Church. And that's the church we attended. My mother eventually decided that was not the place for us. And so we started attending a non denominational church, maybe five minutes from our home in Buffalo. That church was very small, so small that the senior minister was also my Sunday school teacher. One Sunday, we're sitting in a circle in his office, and he asked a question, and what do you want to be when you grow up? And so you heard the typical things while your Doctor President, when he got to me, I said a minister. And I wasn't quite certain wise that it perhaps it had something to do with the kind of status that ministers have in the community, right, that there was something about the minister that marked out future that marked out visibility, importance, and I claimed it and his response was, okay, we start next week. Yes. And so as a little kid, might I'm lining the hymns, offering prayers, opening the doors of the church. And this goes on for a while. And eventually, I'm ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, oldest black denomination in the country. And as a deacon, I can marry Barry and baptize, right, went to college in New York City, in part because I wanted to get out of Buffalo. I just didn't think I could be myself my best self, and buffalo. There was just something about it that that wasn't to my liking, right. And so I went to New York, and park to get away from Buffalo, but also because the person who had been the pastor of this church, it was a fairly new pastor, young guy was also moving to Brooklyn, he'd been given a large church in Brooklyn, and I'm in New York, I'm working at this church, and I'm in college. And my assumption was, I'm going to change Colombia for the Lord, right that yeah, power of the Lord is going to transform this place. But these people didn't believe as I believed, for the most part, and they weren't nervous about it. Right? I'm thinking they're going to hell. And they're thinking, what should we do this weekend? Right, that they're, that just weren't fearful of hellfire. And something that was particularly troubling for me as these folks who did not claim belief in Christ often treated me better than people who did say, they loved the Lord and they were leading they were living in accordance with the Lord's will right often treated me better than those folks. I'm working in Bedford Stuyvesant at this church, and if this is the early ad, so crack cocaine, gang gaming, a hold on Big City Life, right. And so I'm encountering young people who are having a easier time planning out their demise and thinking in terms of a bright future, and nothing that I had in my theological bag made any difference. So over the course of time in New York, it became increasingly difficult to preach this faith to believe this space, when it seemed to make no substantive difference in life that I was answering the questions people didn't ask and condemned questions that they did. Hold here, right. And so my, my sense of faith, my sense of God is radically changed. Changing. But I needed to get out of New York after college because people needed Reverend Pinn to have answers, not questions, right. And I didn't have answers. I was finding it extremely difficult to hold on to this faith. Still interested in ministry, but a very different form of ministry. It was a form of ministry that understood the church as an occasion to make change in the physical lives of people, right to make a difference in daily life that this church was the occasion for that it wasn't about personal salvation, it was about social transformation. I went off to seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, still interested in church, but a very different sense of church. I'm working at a church in Roxbury, and that's Roxbury, late 80s Not Roxbury, 2020. It's not a highly place, it's the place struggling, okay. And I'm encountering again, kids who are having an easier time thinking about their demise than their future who understand wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood could result in death for whom Economic Opportunity revolved around selling crack on the corner, not college. Yeah, right. And the faith had nothing that was on this. And so it reached a point, I'm finished the Master of Divinity program, I'm moving into the Ph. D. program. And it reached a point where I had to make a decision, I could not continue to participate in an institution that I did not think that any worldly good, I could not preach a theology that I no longer believed. I could not invite people to be close to a God that I wasn't convinced was there. And so I was willing to be a lot of things, but I was not going to be a hypocrite. So I decided I needed a different way to be of service. I contacted the minister in charge of the church and told him I would not be returning, I contacted my bishop to surrender my ordination. And I left. Wow. And for a while I wasn't quite certain what to call myself. I knew what I wasn't. Right, Christian. But for me, it wasn't simply that Christianity was faulty. From my vantage point, theism was faulty. So it wasn't a matter of moving from Christianity to a different theistic tradition, none of it, I thought had any substantive ability to make a difference in the world. But with time, I came to call myself a humanist in terms of what I do, and an atheist in terms of what I no longer hold to be true. David Ames 12:34 Wow, so much is there I think what is really interesting is you're describing the failure of theistic traditions to meet real world problems, to meet people where they're actually out. And the flip side of this, and I see this definitely in your work, and it's something that I'm constantly trying to get across as well is that I want humanism to be blood, sweat, and tears boots on the ground, something that is living and breathing and actually touches people's lives. And you've touched on on this already, and we'll talk about it from your book, but you differentiate between religion and theism. Could you expound on that a little bit? Anthony Pinn 13:14 Yeah, theism is the belief in God or gods. Religion is something different from my vantage point, religion is a kind of quest for a complex subjectivity. That is to say, religion is a wrestling with the who, what, when, where and why we are questions, you don't need God or gods for that. You just need to be committed to a desire for meaning, right? And I get a lot of resistance from from some humanists and a lot of atheists when it comes to issues of, of meaning, right? That we are not seeking meaning we are not ritually driven. But of course, we are right. Folks who go to the American Atheist meeting every year, sit and listen to talk, have a certain procedure for listening to talks are involved in ritual. You don't have to have God rituals, repeated activity and founded space. Atheists have ritual. Humanists have ritual. And so my argument is, ism is one thing, but religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who, what, when, where and why we are. David Ames 14:21 I love that because, you know, I think ironically, sometimes theists will say that atheism or humanism is a religion and I think, yeah, and like it's, you know, we often as as particularly the atheist community will respond with, you know, horror at that statement. And yet, really, just as you've described as a way of organizing people to come together to seek meaning with one another. That's not a bad thing necessarily. Anthony Pinn 14:45 No. I think my from my vantage point, I think humanists and atheists surrender language too quickly. Right, simply because theists have claimed terminology doesn't mean they own terminology. Right? Right, and that there may be some elements of the vocabulary, that grammar that is still useful for us that allows us to explain and explore the all we feel when we encounter the world, that sense of wonder, is it restricted to theist? Right? The atheist and humanist ought to be able to understand themselves in relationship to something that is much more profound and bigger. And that might simply be a larger arrangement of life. Right? A larger sense of community doesn't have anything to do with God or gods. Right. David Ames 15:39 As I mentioned to you Off mic, you know, I use this term secular grace. And what I mean by that is that the thing that we need most the thing I think, that is just hardwired as a human being, is to feel known to be understood to be loved to be accepted. And we actually get that from one another. It's my having conversations like this, it's my deep friendships, it's my significant others relationships. It's, it's our interaction with one another that we derive meaning from. And that's really what I'm trying to do with this idea of secular grace and again, sounds exactly like what you're describing. The book we're going to discuss today is how colorblindness isn't the answer, and humanism and the challenge of race. Clearly, this moment in time, after the killing of George Floyd, the number of black Americans who have died at the hands of police, Breanna Taylor, the list is so long that it's ludicrous. And one thing that I am definitely concerned about is how humanism can participate in Black Lives Matter and be again, boots on the ground and something real, something meaningful. And when I asked you which book I should read in preparation for this, this is this the book that you suggested, and boy, it is it's a profound moving book, it is challenging on every level, we'll get into that a little bit, what I'd like to do is just, I want to tell a little bit about my experience of reading the book, and then we will go through the questions that you pose throughout it. My feeling of the book is that the first half of the book is questions you've been asked 1000 times that out of exhaustion, you finally wrote these down to say, read the manual. I'm from the tech world, we do things called frequently asked questions and RTFM means I spent the time to put this down on paper, please go look at that rather than wasting time. Maybe that's unfair. But it strikes me as the exhaustion of black people in general being asked to explain what should be abundantly obvious to everyone. That was my experience of the first half. The second half I think you are posing, or suggesting to humanist in particular, the questions we ought to be asking ourselves the questions that would provide a meaningful change or a meaningful interaction to help black people in America. So maybe we could go through some of those questions. And you can explain just a little bit about about each of those. Sure. So in that first section, where we're these are kind of the questions you probably have been asked 1000 times and in some ways they they reveal an ignorance maybe of the questioner. But at the same time, you're you're gentle in suggesting that you understand why, particularly white humanists might ask these questions. But So beginning with, why does your community embrace religious traditions that have been used to do harm? Anthony Pinn 18:44 Well, what we need is a much more complex understanding of how let's take Christianity, for example, how it is functioning within the context of black communities, that on some level, sure, blacks embracing it, are embracing strategies that were meant to dehumanize. But you cannot explain a Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser or Denmark vz, that way, who argued that this same religion required them to physically fight for their freedom, and if folks had to die in the process, so be it right. So here is a kind of revolutionary stand that this same Bible, the same doctrines motivated them to make change. Can't think of the civil rights movement and have such a narrow understanding of how religion has functioned within African American communities, regardless of how one might think about it. Religion was a factor. And it wasn't passive. Right. So religion, on one level, used to harm blacks, but there are also ways in which blacks have actively tried to reshape the Stockman so as to provide a sense of their own humanities. It's a complex story, right? But it seems to me coming from humanists and atheists the better question in this is this, why hasn't humanism been more attractive? Rather than blaming victims? Let's look at this orientation and figure out why it hasn't been more attractive, in part because humanists and atheists spend so much time dogging out religion and the religious and not as much time offering people a safe place to land, right. And if you're talking about African Americans, you are talking about a population that already faces double jeopardy, at least double jeopardy. And so to claim humanism, or atheism is to add another way in which you are despised, and what do they get for their effort? Nothing other than a critique of the churches they've David Ames 20:59 left, right? Anthony Pinn 21:02 And it requestion is about their culture. Right, so the question is, why hasn't humanism been more attractive? David Ames 21:10 Right? I wanted to touch on just a couple of things that you bring up in this section. I love the way that you describe I use the word earthy several times and you're describing a humanism as earthy and I love that you used the Blues as an example almost of anti spiritual is kind of the the opposite of spirituals. And, you know, I, you mentioned Willie Dixon's coochie coochie man, and my all time favorite is muddy waters mannish boy, which is also a reference to Bo Diddley's. I'm a man which is a part of it. It's a reference to Willie Dixon's. And I've never thought of those as manifestos of humanism. But as soon as you said it, it clicked. Like, it is the opposite. It's it's a breaking away from the religious constraints. Anthony Pinn 22:01 Yeah, right. And so in the same way, you have folks who use Christianity as a way to counter Christianity, think think in terms of Ida B. Wells, who was deeply religious, deeply Christian, and extremely critical of violence against African Americans, right. She provides a profound critique of lynching and terms of the blues you have someone like Ma Rainey or Bessie Smith, who celebrates black bodies that are otherwise despised, that celebrates the pleasures that black bodies give other bodies, and a larger society where these black bodies are demonized, despise, and destroyed. Right? So you get on one hand, the blues, critiquing theism, but on the other hand, you have the blues, critiquing anti black racism and dehumanization through a celebration of black life. David Ames 22:57 And, in fact, the mannish boy is about saying, I'm a man. Very famous pictures from the civil rights movements of black men with signboard saying, I'm a man to say, I'm a human being I exist in this world, I'm embodied here, Anthony Pinn 23:13 rightfully occupying time and space. David Ames 23:16 Absolutely. Yeah. The other other thing that I think that this touches on with the the blues, and obviously has been a part of the black culture of the black experience is kind of outsmarting the white culture around them that all the way back into slavery of being able to have the songs where they're passing on information, passing on hope, what have you, in a way that is coded such that the white people around them are not getting that and it strikes me that the blues isn't anyways, is that as well, during that civil rights time period? Anthony Pinn 23:50 Yeah, there's something deeply poetic about it, you have a population, using the language forced upon them. Right, a language that was initially used to belittle them to dehumanize them, right to construct them as something that as as other and here you have the them using it to critique that very system to celebrate themselves to critique that very system, and why it's not even recognizing what's taking place. David Ames 24:21 So let's go on to the second again, this is a question that just are not a question, but a statement that sometimes people make that again, may reveal some ignorance. And the idea is humanism is driven by reason and logic. So it doesn't see race as a biological reality, that should determine any significant dimension of life. And yet it does, correct. Anthony Pinn 24:42 Right? It is not a biological fact. But it is a social fact. And it's a social fact that can be deadly. And so humanists and atheists don't gain ground by simply saying, it isn't biologically real. It isn't about us and simply pointing the finger at the religious right, pointing the finger at theists saying, Well, if we didn't have religion, we wouldn't have these problems, which is just it's not true, right? It is not true, that we can turn to the enlightenment that so many humanists and atheists uncritically embrace, and you find a deep anti black racism from folks who are not claiming church, they're claiming reason, David Ames 25:25 right? Anthony Pinn 25:27 And so there's, you know, we have to move away from the assumption that humanism and atheism are prophylactic against nonsense. This is not the case that humanists and atheists can be just as racist, as fundamentalist Christians can be. David Ames 25:44 Right. Yeah, it's interesting, I think, the experience of deconversion of having had a faith, a theistic faith and then becoming a humanist. I feel like that what one of the things I bring from that experience is some humility. I've had the experience in my life over and over again, of being wrong, deeply wrong, profoundly wrong about the most important questions in life. And I think that one of the great criticisms of the atheist community is that they are blinded by their own sense of the power of their own reason. And I think that what we need as a community and Titan, the entirety is some humility, about recognizing that our reasoning didn't go haywire. It can lead to, you know, undergirding racism, rather than defeating racism, it can lead to terrible atrocities, if you think of the time of Eugenics and things of that nature. So you know, reason can go terribly, terribly wrong. And we need a quite a bit of humility as we come to this, to have other people challenge our own reason and be willing to say, I might be wrong. Anthony Pinn 26:57 And I think humanists and atheists often have a misguided and go, mind that the end goal for too many is the dismantling and removal of traditional forms of religion, right, getting rid of this stuff. It seems to me a better end goal is radically decreasing the harm that theists and non theists do in the world. Right? Right, that the end goal ought to be the development of ways of living that are more nurturing and healthy for the larger web of life. And if folks want to continue to go gather for worship services on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so be it. But it seems to me the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world. David Ames 27:47 Couldn't agree more, again, just alleviating suffering, providing the environment for people to thrive. That should be the goal of humanism. I've loved the way you much throughout the book, you kind of speak to humanist ideals or thinking and turn them in such a way that particularly white humanists are forced to look at themselves. One of the ways that you do that, as you describe how we humanists, or atheists will long for spaces in which they can talk about the atheist bias within the world. And then you point out the need for cultural spaces for black Americans, black humanists to have the same, right that they the exact same way that we need to have a space where we feel safe and comfortable, we can talk to one another. And we're understood, we don't we're not going to be misconstrued that black humanists need exactly the same, Anthony Pinn 28:43 right, right. A space in which we can catch our breath space in which we don't have to explain why we're angry. David Ames 28:55 The third question that people might ask human is would be of great benefit to your community, wouldn't it if only we could get more of you involved? Anthony Pinn 29:04 And the question again, one, why isn't it more appealing? Yeah. And secondly, when I get that question, for me, the answer is a question. More of us for what reason, right, that often what humanist organizations, humanist communities want, are more shades of the same. That is to say they want African Americans to come but don't change anything. Right? Right, just fit in, don't change anything. And it seems to me if we're really serious about diversity, it means fundamental structural change, right? So organizations have to then reinvent themselves so that they are compelling with respect to this range of participants, radically rethinking leadership and leadership structures, radically, reimagining communities of concern, radically rethinking our vocabulary and our grammar, right that this requires a tremendous amount of change. And it seems to me that what humanists and atheists have to become aware of is this, that this sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort. You cannot request comfort, and say you're interested in change, David Ames 30:29 right. And, as has been commented on in a number of contexts, the feeling of bringing a subjugated group up to equity can sometimes feel by the group that's in power as a loss of something a loss of power or what have you. And we have to be willing to include a diverse group of voices, including in leadership roles, including in a being voices for our movement, that includes a wide variety of perspectives. Anthony Pinn 31:03 It means recognizing and wrestling with something that so many would rather ignore white privilege, right, that this has to be acknowledged and dismantled, that all of this has been set up for the benefit of a certain population that has to be rethought and rearranged. And that can't be done, if the demand is to remain comfortable. David Ames 31:28 That's a good segue, the second half of your book you are suggesting to the humanist the questions that we ought to be asking ourselves, and the first one is about the nature of privilege. The idea here is an end, let me quote here, white privilege isn't about having wealth. No, it's about the positive assumptions that follow and inform the life of white Americans. It's the often unspoken and unrecognized access to the workings of social life that come with a membership card of whiteness. What of this privilege, are you, me, US willing to surrender in order to promote equality, and justice and what is gained by doing the right thing regarding the negative effects of privilege, I want to linger here just a little bit, and just mention a bit of personal story. I have a slightly complex relationship with race in that my father's side of the family, I have a Mexican American grandfather and Spanish American grandmother, which makes me you know, genetically three quarters white. And yet my father's side of family is very culturally Mexican American, very, you know, they were Catholic. They were Gatos, they were you know, cowboys, really. So me and several of my cousins, you know, when whenever we get back together, we talk about how it what it's like to have to be wise we are, I mean, in all ways I pass as white, but to also have this part of part of our lives and, and I sometimes think of it that I haven't experienced racism myself, but I feel like maybe through a dim glass darkly, I have a sense of something that's out there. And I say all that to say this, that. Even with that dim perspective, the events of the last year, including up to including your book, were revelatory in breaking down my naivete. By a twist of fate. My last name is very Anglo, and not Mexican sounding, understanding. And so I know how many times I've had the benefit of the doubt that the career that I have now, you know, I worked my butt off, but I absolutely understand how many points along the way. Privilege played a role in allowing me to be where I am today. So again, just to set that all up to say, I think that white America, in 2020 is going through, as you mentioned, uncomfortable, but a process of learning of recognizing, in a new way that the modern day suffering that black Americans are going through in a way that we were probably trying to lie to ourselves to hide, to minimize to rationalize to, to ignore. And now we are unable to ignore it is in our faces and it must be addressed. Anthony Pinn 34:38 Yeah. And it's not about purity, right. I mean, that doesn't exist. And so it's not simply a question of lineage. It's a question of social perception. How is one perceived socially, right? That makes a world of difference how one is perceived socially can be deaf clearly. How to the relative Those of George Floyd, right and this word we're clear on. And so we make a mistake when we assume that white privilege is synonymous with economic advantage. That is not the case. But even how economic struggle gets mapped out and articulated, differs. So it's often the case for African Americans are struggling economically, the popular conversation is they just don't want. They're unwilling to work to get. But for whites, it's a matter of the system being unfair, right? So they are not understood as being inherently flawed, right. Whereas African Americans based upon white privilege and anti black racism are understood as embodying the problem. For whites, the problem is external to them. And we often and there's an added dilemma there, that we often try to get at this through the individual. And that doesn't work. Right? We're not talking about Jim Smith over here, versus Robert Jones over there. It's systemic, as a group, whites have done so much better than any other group. And there is privilege in place unspoken social privilege in place that makes that the case. So it's not a one, one, it's not the end of it. We're not talking about this on the level of the individual. We're talking about this on the level of communities. David Ames 36:37 I think that's the word systemic is the revelation that feels like White America is experiencing right now is, and let me be clear, black people have been saying this forever. It's not. And we're gonna get to that we have no no excuse, right? There is no ignorance is not an excuse. But that the visceral experience of seeing the system work against black people, black bodies, black lives, is again, unendurable at this moment in time. It should be. Yeah, yes, Anthony Pinn 37:15 it should be. But it's, it's surprising the number of people for whom this isn't a turning point. David Ames 37:24 I feel the burden of having now read your book. Again, you don't give any space for ignorance as an excuse. But even having read your book, it feels like I am more compelled now. To be more vocal to be more outspoken. Again, I feel guilty about all that, that it takes. It takes something like this, but I'm trying to be honest here to bring out what it feels like this experience of trying to learn to try to be less ignorant. In this chapter, you you make one provocative statement that I'd like you to expand upon, you say that the term people of color is not helpful. Why do you say that? Anthony Pinn 38:08 It isn't helpful, because when we use that phrase, we mean everyone other than white people. Right, so what it does, from my vantage point, is allow whiteness to remain normative. Because then there's whiteness, and everything else that has been othered. Right? So it allows whiteness to remain normative. It also suggests that white people are not raced. When every population is raced, the difference is some populations are raised to their disadvantage, and others are raised to their advantage. And so this idea of people of color, again, allows whiteness to remain normative, that allows whiteness to go unchallenged, and allows whites to remain invisible when it's convenient. And it renders everyone else hyper visible. And so it seems to me more authentic to our history, to say people of a despised color. Or we can do what's even better than that. And that is to recognize how bulky and awkward our language is, and specify groups David Ames 39:28 to enumerate them to list them out to call them out by notice that you in many times do you refer to the Native Americans as well in your book that as also a despised group that has been deeply affected by white supremacy deeply hurt deeply affected, Anthony Pinn 39:46 and in ways that we we have often been rendered invisible, right. We don't often talk in terms of the land we occupy. And how we got that land right Even so even despise populations existing within geographies that were violently ripped away from others, right. So there's this animosity, this racism, this anger, this violence is layered, right. And we often fail to acknowledge that. David Ames 40:25 And it's interesting the way that we the education system as well that we just gloss over. Even the way we teach about slavery, the way we talk about states rights, quote, unquote, the way we talk about Manifest Destiny, the way we are taught these things is whitewashed. To begin with, I'm definitely more and more aware of that as time goes on of the simplicity, in the way that we we talk about our history without acknowledging deep problems. Anthony Pinn 40:57 Yeah, yeah. David Ames 41:00 So again, another of your your posed questions, setting that up, knowledge is a certain form of power. And humanists read and study, they work based on logic. And with much energy they suggest that theists do likewise, logic and reason rule the day, the question is, how much of this call for knowledge information is applied to the issue of race, and racism. And again, this is where I've mentioned that, you know, this book was uncomfortable, every time my inclination was to squirm a bit and to look for excuses or to find a way out, you very effectively stop that from occurring. But again, I love the way that you are using the humanist ideals to say, you need to face this truth, if you say that knowledge and study and and understandings important than race has to be at the near the top of that list. Anthony Pinn 41:52 Yeah, the number of humanists and atheists who believe that ignorance on this issue is okay, right, that ignorance should stop the conversation? Well, I just don't really know anything about this. That is unacceptable from a population that understands itself to be deeply committed to reason, logic and learning that learn something about this, right and stop assuming that African American humanists and atheists have some obligation to teach on this. Right, if that is the case, if we have to deal with these with toxic attitudes, toxic understandings toxics arrangement, then we ought to receive hazard pay. Yes, it seems to be humanists and atheists rather than saying, I don't know, and patting themselves on the back, or to say, I don't know, and start reading. The materials are easy to find so many of them on our New York Times bestsellers list, you define, exactly. Get them read them learn. Yeah. Because humanist communities cannot say they are taking seriously African Americans, for example, and learn nothing about us. David Ames 43:18 Using the idea that the value of education and saying that we have no excuse that the information is available, and that should be a top priority of humanist organizations is providing or pointing to black humanist voices to learn. Anthony Pinn 43:37 Yeah, and I think, in addition to that, we've reached a point where white humanists have to take some accountability and responsibility for this, because black humanist didn't create the problem, we suffer from it. And it seems to me that white humanist have to also start talking about the need for change and addressing strategies. So we ought to be able to go to these large gatherings of humanists and atheists and have more than the usual suspects talking about racism. The population that benefits from it should be publicly trying to dismantle it. David Ames 44:21 There are lots of parallels to the deconversion experience of the systemic part of systemic racism means that it is so culturally ingrained. It's like asking a fish what is wet feel like? We as humanists should be better at recognizing when we have failed to see the wetness to see the systemic racism and yet, that is just as pervasive within humanist organizations as it might be envious or just secular environments. Anthony Pinn 44:53 Again, we have a commitment to learning. Right? We have a commitment to discovery we have have a commitment to critical engagement. So we ought to be able to get our thinking on this, right? David Ames 45:07 Absolutely. I think one of the notes that I took reading this chapter was Do your homework. Just yeah, to the to the overachieving kid, you know, do your homework. We know what we need to go learn and where it find it. We just need to do it. Yeah, yeah. On to the next section here, you describe difference as an opportunity. And you say that quotes, more shades of the same end quote, is a comforting strategy, because it highlights the familiar while giving the pretense of difference. Its natural, but unproductive default position when racist the topic or the challenge? And the question, what kind of racial justice work? Might you find and promote if differences understood differently? Anthony Pinn 45:55 My understanding is the way in which US society is framed, the way it is constructed, it's very logic is premised upon a sense of difference as a problem to solve, right, that we've got to move from all these different things to one unified thing. And that is just poor thinking, right? It seems to me, we really ought to reach a point within humanist circles in which we understand the value of difference the way in which different gives us opportunity to adjust and to rethink our assumptions that it provides a certain type of strength that provides opportunities that don't emerge, if everything and everyone is the same. Yes. So just in terms of practical elements, so rather than bringing in African American Humanist into our organizations, and assuming they should just blend in, recognize that in bringing in African American humanists, we're called to change our organizations, that their presence provides an opportunity to rethink what we've been doing. David Ames 47:04 Yes. And it occurs to me that we often talk about diversity as almost like a checkbox, like we need to have diversity, check whether it's done or it's not done. And yet, what you're making a compelling argument for is the the benefit of diversity. And it strikes me that there's a strong parallel between the ethos of the scientific method, which kind of relies on almost antagonistic skepticism, in order to better come to closer to the truth, a closer approximation to reality. And in a similar analogous way, the diversity and competing ideas, computing, cultural perspectives, competing life experiences, can help a group come to a better understanding of how to live life to thrive, to be human in this world. Yeah. The last section, and I love this, this was so this was so much fun for me learning from unlikely sources. So you talk about hip hop culture and the built in diversity that's within the hip hop culture. You say that, you know, some people can come to the hip hop culture and say, Well, why is it violent? Why is it so materialistic, that kind of thing, but you say, a better question is, what can we learn from hip hop? Anthony Pinn 48:27 You know, I mean, because to to raise the question of why is it so violent? Right? Why is it so antagonistic? Why is it so committed to dollars? doesn't distinguish hip hop from the larger arrangements of economic life in the United States? Right? What's the difference? Right? Can we say the same thing about so many other organizations and development, right, that that doesn't make Hip Hop unique? And so I bring up hip hop for a couple of reasons, one, to reinforce the necessity of discomfort, right that this is not a population that humanists and atheists necessarily turn to, although we share quite a bit so for example, hip hop culture, develops within a context of black and brown despised young people trying to come to grips with the world. Humanists and atheists understand themselves as being despised disliked within us society. Yeah, right. So we share that, right. But whereas hip hop has grown from that point, to become internationally, influential Hip Hop shapes, popular imagination, it shapes our vocabulary and grammar, it shapes our aesthetics. It seems to me rather than getting on board with a traditional critique of hip hop, we humanists and atheists who are also despised might want to ask the question, what are they doing right that we're doing wrong? Right and just look systematically and strategically at how hip hop culture has grown. So for example, one of the things that hip hop culture has done that we have not effectively done is develop a vocabulary and grammar that is organic. That speaks from and to us. We've not really done that night. So hip hop culture has developed a way of naming and communicating the world that is organic. And in part, what they've done is highly poetic. And by that I mean, they have destroyed language in order to free to express a different reality. Right? We have not effectively done that. Right. So again, my argument is simply we need models of successful transformation. And Hip Hop culture provides one of those models it has done over the course of a relatively short period of time, what we have been unable to accomplish in almost 200 years. David Ames 51:04 Along the lines of the point, you were just making you say this, that humans are still playing by the rules offered by theists. And that there's almost a sense of the humanist is asking to be liked, please like me. And so we're still using the theists language, we're still defining ourselves in opposition to the essence. So I think what you're trying to say is, we need to be creative and create our own vocabulary, our own way of talking about the world and about ourselves. That is not just within the confines of the theists game, Anthony Pinn 51:37 we need to be proactive rather than reactive, that we spend so much of our time together, making fun of and belittling theist, right. That's not very productive. David Ames 51:51 Yes, no, it is not. Anthony Pinn 51:54 You don't transform the world that way. David Ames 51:58 Some of the points that you draw from the hip hop community, we'll just touch on them and ask you to expand on them this idea of thick diversity. What did you mean by that? Anthony Pinn 52:09 Well, within hip hop, it seems to me you have a significant appreciation for a range of beings a range of expression, a range of ways to occupy time and space. Right? There isn't one way there is all of this, all of these possibilities, these conflicting and competing ways that all constitute an element of hip hop culture. Right? Well, it seems to me humanists and atheists have been too preoccupied with trying to boil things down to one way of being right that atheists do this. They're concerned with church and state, not gay rights, right? They're concerned with this. They're not concerned with that humanists are concerned with these issues, not those issues. Humanists talk this way they conduct themselves this way they think about ritual this way, we need a greater sense of diversity, and difference, right, a greater sense of what our culture has the capacity to hold. David Ames 53:15 Right. Another thing that you point out is the significance of the ordinary and live this I'd like to but please expand upon it. Anthony Pinn 53:23 And it seems to me one of the things you get in hip hop is a profound appreciation for the ordinary, the mundane markers of life, the mundane elements of pleasure, and engagement. And I think that sort of appreciation would give humanists and atheists a different way of valuing ritual, and the production of meaning. Right, that none of this is lost on hip hop culture. And so it seems to me it provides humanists and atheists with a way of gaining greater clarity concerning the web of life, and the role we can play and nurturing that. David Ames 54:13 Again, to maybe play off of the theist for a second, the what's interesting about this is that theism in many ways is the denial of our humanity. It is saying that our natural passions are wrong, that it's trying to make us less human in some ways. And I think this idea of significance of the ordinary is to embrace one's humaneness. Right, and to, to revel in some ways in that that earthiness to use that internal use. Anthony Pinn 54:44 Yeah, I wouldn't, I wouldn't say it's a denial of our humanity. I would say it's a distrust of our humanity. Okay. Right. It's the assumption that it's the assumption that we have necessity are going to do the wrong thing that we start out Behind, right. And in that thinking there is a preoccupation with rejecting anything that might constitute an opportunity for sin, this kind of distrust of ourselves anything that might lead us down the wrong path. It seems to me that what we have with hip hop is what we have with the blues, a celebration and an appreciation for connection, togetherness for the messy nature of life, right that both of them the hip, hip hop, and the Blues have a deep appreciation for the messy arrangements, the messy nature of life. David Ames 55:40 Right. One of the last things you mentioned here is and I love the way that you frame this call it measured realism. Can you expand on that for me? Anthony Pinn 55:51 Yeah, it seems to me that, I'd argue it makes sense for theists to be hyper optimistic, radically optimistic in terms of possibility. Because from their vantage point, they don't wrestle alone, right there. They're not trying to change the world alone. There is a cosmic force that shapes the universe that is on their side, so they can be highly optimistic, right? That is not the case. For humanist and atheist, it's just us. And history demonstrates, we are likely to get it wrong. But it also demonstrates we have the capacity to start over to try to get it right. And so what I'm calling for is a sense of that messiness, the way in which we are prone to get it wrong, that all we have is human accountability and responsibility, and that alone won't win the day. Right. So I one of my favorite thinkers is Albert Kumu. And I like witty, I like the way in which he frames the myth of Sisyphus that he argues that Sisyphus is not defeated by this ongoing chore given to him by the gods, right, he's going to be responsible for rolling this rock up the hill forever. And this was supposed to break him for commu. He says, No, he is not broken by this he reaches a point of lucidity of awareness, he becomes better he develops a better understanding of his circumstances. And that alone is the when one must imagine Sisyphus happy. And so what you get from Kung Fu, and I think this is absolutely right, is a need to understand that our struggle is perpetual. That we will find ways to do harm. Our struggle is perpetual. And so I want this measured realism is a move away from outcome driven strategies. David Ames 57:46 Right, I want you to expand on that as well. Yeah. So rather Anthony Pinn 57:49 than so what would you get with the civil rights movement, for example, and even more recent conversation 2020 conversations is, if we get our actions, right, if we think properly, and we act properly, we can transform the world. I don't know that that's the case. So rather than the kind of hope that that generate, I'd much prefer to think in terms of persistence. Right? I don't know that we will fundamentally change any of this. But we do this work, not because we know we will, when I leave that a theist, we do this work, because it's the last best option. Regardless of whether or not it wins the day, it's what we can do, that perhaps the best we can do is to generate a loud and persistent no to injustice, and measure our success by the persistence and the volume of that no perpetual rebellion. I don't think humanists and atheists ought to be talking about transformation the way he is talking about it, right? Because we're not working with the same tools, right? David Ames 58:59 Because I want to hear criticisms of the things that I hold, dear. I think one of the criticisms that is out there from secularists about humanism is that there's some implicit teleology that there's something that's drawn from Christianity. And what I find interesting is that that is not what I think at all, I think it's precisely because we don't know that everything is going to turn out okay. That we must feel compelled to do something to do the right thing. Because there's no teleology, nothing is driving the moral arc of the universe in the right direction. We have to go out there and try to bend it to be a part of that process to be a one of those voices. Anthony Pinn 59:43 Yeah, we don't. Yeah. I don't think that it's teleological in nature and that we don't assume that there is purpose behind any of this. Right, right. The universe has no particular purpose for us. I alberca. Mu is correct. We ask the universe questions and answer with silence, right, it is not here for us. It has not generated some sort of purpose driven existence for us. From my vantage point, what we have is an unreasonable level of optimism that history should demonstrate this level of optimism with respect to human activity. And human capacity for change isn't reasonable? David Ames 1:00:28 Yes, history is painful when it's looked at unfiltered. Absolutely. If Anthony Pinn 1:00:33 anyone, if we just look at the the history of this country, there is no justification for that high level optimism. We have continuously gotten it wrong. And we move from Obama to Trump. We have continuously gotten it wrong. Yeah. David Ames 1:00:53 So I think we've gotten through your book at this point, I have a handful of questions that I legitimately just want your take on the question that I brought to the table before reading the book that might also be naive. And we've answered it to some degree is the broader question of why why humanism has failed to capture hearts and minds in general, not just the black community. But then to frame that just a little bit. I went through the this, you know, loss of faith experience. And the first things that you find are, you know, the four horsemen, you find debate culture, you find hostility towards Christianity, which is justified, don't get me wrong, it's all that is justified. And I felt all that and, but it took a while to find kind of humanist voices talking about what do we do now? So okay, you know, we we now understand what we don't believe, what do we believe? And and what do we value? What do we find out? What do we do about it? And I find like that those voices, they're all out there that people like yourself, there are lots of podcasts. There's lots of tons of books. But those aren't the first things that people find. So how is it that we have failed to be compelling to the nuns? Let's say that Anthony Pinn 1:02:07 NES? I think, because we by and large, had we offered little that is constructive. Right? When we tried to develop a language of life when we try to develop community and, and rituals of meaning, we often strayed into something that is fear, some light think in terms of ethical culture, or the UAE, right, that we haven't developed ways of thinking of speaking and doing that are uniquely us, we do so much of this by negation. Why would that be compelling? David Ames 1:02:45 Yeah, I think we have a lot of work to do. You point out in the book, the humanist tendency to look uncritically at particularly Enlightenment thinkers, particularly when we look at the founding of America and slave owners who wrote our founding documents. I'm also reading at the same time, Daniel Allen's our declaration and finding the beauty of the egalitarian nature of that document. And we're also in the moment in time in which Hamilton just came out on on Disney plus. And so I think it's on everyone's minds, how ought we to look back at what there are some very humanist ideas built into some of the America's founding documents? How should we be looking at those? Anthony Pinn 1:03:36 Right, so here's the example I often give that I don't know very many humanists, or atheists or free thinkers or skeptics who don't have deep appreciation for Thomas Jefferson. And while they should, embracing Thomas Jefferson, bringing him into our various movements, also brings in sexual violence and anti black racism. Right, so we have to have a kind of critical and informed appreciation for these figures, right, what we often do is shift into a kind of celebration that ignores shortcomings. And so it seems to me and embracing these figures. We are then held accountable to do two things. Recognize the anti black shortcomings within our our movement, our thought, the gender bias within our thought, right, and do better. But we have to get to that point, right. But we It seems to me to many humanists, and atheists still want to think about our movement outside of the confines of anti black racism and other forms of social injustice. Not recognizing that these things are deeply embedded in a humanist understanding of the world, whether one's thinking about David Hume or, or Thomas Jefferson or the list goes on, right, it is deeply embedded, and we have an obligation to wrestle with that. David Ames 1:05:15 Right. And even the Constitution itself has amendments, we can do better. We can rethink, and better. Anthony Pinn 1:05:22 Yeah, because it My attitude is the constitution in and of itself is a fantastic document. It celebrates a wonderful experiment. It just didn't include everyone. Right? And then moving to include everyone requires not just a shift in the language of that document, but it requires structural change in the country to accommodate those new ideas. David Ames 1:05:50 One last question that I have for you. And again, this is me being a bit vulnerable. I think, my hesitancy to address the topic of race is a balance of not wanting to be performatively woke, and to not make it about me, which I know I'm guilty of that in this conversation. I'm still learning. And I, you know, I want to know how to be a better ally how to participate, how to be a voice that supports black lives, and yet doesn't make it about me doesn't make make it about Yeah, my wokeness my, yeah, my experience. What advice do you have for me or people like me, Anthony Pinn 1:06:38 I think there are several things that are important here. One is to be in conversation with the community of concern. Ask that community of concern, how you can be helpful, what you should be doing, get your marching orders, and be quiet. And by that I mean to say, you don't get to lead anything here. Right, right. If you're committed to addressing anti black racism, find an organization find a community, ask what you can do. And don't assume you get to be in charge of anything. Right. That's how that's one way. You keep it from being about you. Because you're just you're getting your instructions, and you're doing what this community says would be helpful, and you're leaving it at that. I'd also say finally, it requires avoiding the litany of what folks have done, right? Right. So don't don't ask to be a part of a movement. Don't ask to be an ally, and then rehearse all of the wonderful things you've done to make a difference, David Ames 1:07:48 right? Absolutely. Well, thank you, Dr. Pinn. You have been incredibly gracious with your time. Oh, my pleasure sharing your wisdom. Can you tell people how they can get in touch with you and your work? Anthony Pinn 1:08:01 Yeah, you can. Most of my stuff is available on my website. It's just Anthony pen.com. Or you can follow me on Twitter that's at Anthony underscore pen. Those are probably the best two ways to reach me. David Ames 1:08:16 Fantastic. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it so much. Anthony Pinn 1:08:19 Thank you. Thank you. David Ames 1:08:27 My thoughts on the episode, some of the conversations that I get to have change me, this is very much one of those conversations, I cannot unsee the arguments that Dr. Pinn has made both in his book, and in our conversation. I hope you can hear during our conversation I was attempting to be honest. I also realized that in many ways, I was also making it about me and the exact way that I was trying not to do but I hope if you happen to be a white humanists that you could hear what needs to change what needs to be learned, what excuses that we would tend to move towards no longer apply, based on the argument that Dr. Penn is making. I want to thank Dr. Penn for his graciousness in giving of his time, sharing of his wisdom and being patient with yet another white person talking to him in ignorance. I am a little less ignorant. Having had this conversation you haven't read this book I highly recommend not only the book when colorblindness isn't the answer, but all of Dr. Pinn's work. I am profoundly changed even in the way that I understand humanism in general, not just specifically about race. In talking with Dr. Penn. I'll highlight here the distinction between religion and theism. The point that Dr. Pinn is making is what we actually want as humaneness is to come together and community and to find meaning and purpose and wonder together. And that kind of is a definition of religion. So it isn't religion that we have a problem with it is the supernaturalism it is theism it is believing in something that doesn't have evidence. I'm also fascinated by his discussion of using the theists vocabulary and the desire for some in the atheists or humanist community to be liked. It's almost like we are we're trying to get the theists to not agree with us, but to like us somehow. And in that sense, we are using their vocabulary and we are playing by their rules. I'm inspired by Dr. Pinn to see how we can have a humanism that is boots on the ground that develops its own language that develops its own way of speaking about its own way of reaching out to the world and effecting actual real change of alleviating suffering, of making the world a better place without referring to theistic or teleological frameworks. Lastly, I'll just say that we as humanists, and those of us who are not a member of a historically disparaged group or race, need to do our homework, we know where that information can be found. And we need to go do that we need to have empathy to recognize someone's experience that is not our own. The history of black people telling the white community about the systemic racism that they were experiencing that horrific tragedies that they have faced, throughout at least all of American history, if not well beyond that. And the unfortunate truth is that the white community has typically ignored this 2020 has made that impossible. My naivete over the last 16 years or so watching the election of President Obama and then the violent response to that has broken down that naivete on a daily basis, to the point where I think how could it possibly be worse, and yet, every day something new occurs? Even just recently, there was a discussion on Twitter, it was a philosophical discussion that really isn't pertinent. A black mathematician, chose to share the memes of hatred and racism that in his direct messages from people, I just horrified and knew I couldn't believe it. If this killing of George Floyd hasn't shocked us, I don't know what will. So my secular Grace Thought of the Week is do your homework, go find a book from a black author from a disenfranchised, disparage group, read it, empathize with it, try to put yourself in that person's shoes. Try to understand why they might be angry, try to understand why people might riot people might be so mad that they go to the streets, what drives a person to be angry. We should recognize this above all other people as atheists and humanists, the entire x Evangelical community is about the anger that is felt having grown up in an oppressive culture. We should understand this more than anyone else. And yet, we often don't apply that when it comes to race. Do your homework. As I mentioned in the intro, I'll be talking with my wife, Michelle, about our relationship on mic coming shortly. And if you have any questions that you'd like to pose to one or both of us, I'd ask that you please send that in, either as a voice message or as just an email at graceful email@example.com. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and being a graceful human being. Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. 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There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful firstname.lastname@example.org You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well, this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you. This has been the graceful atheist podcast Transcribed by https://otter.ai