FFRF 2015 convention speech: Jeremiah Camara

This speech and Q&A session occurred on Oct. 9, 2015, at FFRF’s 38th annual convention at Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker introduced Jeremiah Camara, who produced the film, “Contradiction,” a documentary on black freethought, humanism and unbelief:
How many of you saw the movie this afternoon, “Contradiction”? Wasn’t that a wonderful movie?

Jeremiah Camara is a writer and an award-winning poet. He’s the author of the books Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress? and The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks, and Blind Belief. He’s the creator of the very popular YouTube series “Slave Sermons.”

He’s based in Atlanta, where he lives with his wife of 26 years. Jeremiah has won several poetry awards and he’s performed poetry at the prestigious Apollo Theater. He’s the author of a collection of poetry called “Smoke and Haze,” dealing with social injustice. He’s notably the producer of this film “Contradiction,” which explores how faith in a supernatural creator is affecting society, particularly among African-Americans.

So, come on up Jeremiah.

By Jeremiah Camara

Wow, we wouldn’t even be here if Jesus would have just stayed a carpenter, you know what I mean? The bible never made sense to me — especially the part, where it said that God made the world in about a week. I know that was a lie.

My wife, when we met, said she was an atheist, but I didn’t believe her because the first time she saw my body she just said, “Oh, my God.” The first time I saw her, I was like, “Lord, have mercy.”

I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I didn’t really come from a religious family, to be honest. We went to church, but I really didn’t have that opposition at home that a lot of blacks have. My parents were behind me 100% in everything that I did. My mom, she’s 87 years old now and she’s like, “go get ’em.” I’m just so glad that I have a mom like that who’s in my corner.

I did manage to go to church quite often — I was seeking this spirit. I wanted to fall out and pass out and speak in tongues and all that kind of stuff. But every time I tried to speak in tongues, it just didn’t work. I just kept saying, “Yabba dabba doo.” It never worked for me.

I get kind of fiery sometimes when I speak, so they call me the reverse preacher. I actually preach the opposite of what you think with my emotions, but I learned that in the black church. There is a lot of entertainment there.

You all have seen me with this glove on. It’s Dan’s fault, actually. I have a pinched nerve in my hand and it’s all because of Dan, because I’m an aspiring pianist.
I said, “Dan, can you spare some time where I get in there and play some on the piano?”
He said, “Listen man. I got three things, the three most important things for becoming a pianist. He said, “The first thing is practice.”

I said “OK.”

He said, “The second thing is practice.”

I said OK.

He said “But the third thing is practice.”
And I kept practicing and practicing, and I wound up getting a pinched nerve in my palm. So hopefully you don’t mind, I’ll just give you a fist bump. We can get on with the Q and A.

Audience member: We saw your movie this afternoon. It was wonderful. In this context today, there’s a lot of like-minded people who certainly were enjoying the film and took it the way I’m certain you intended. What is the response of either some of the people that are in the film, whose words are being used? They don’t come off looking all that well. Or when you showed it to communities or in places where you don’t have a like-minded group of people, what kind of reactions do you get from this type of film?

Jeremiah: I think that the most surprising thing so far was the lack of backlash. And I think the reason is because in order to defend yourself, you have to know a little bit about your religion and they don’t know anything about it. One person, she came up to me, we had like 400 people at our premiere, and she said, “You just made all Christians look stupid.” I didn’t debate them in the movie, I just let everyone talk. And one guy in New York said, “Don’t make me look like a fool.” You did that. I didn’t really make you do anything.

No one has really challenged it. We’ve reached out to the church community and they won’t have us, of course. And a couple of the prominent preachers in Atlanta, they’ve seen the film. But they won’t touch it because they know that if this gets in the hands of their parishioners, they’ll say “Wow! This stuff does make sense.” And so they just keep it away from there. It’s been received positively for the most part. But as a writer, a filmmaker, an artist and aspiring pianist, I’m not always the best at the business behind it because I’m busy making it. I can use all the help that I can get and I say that everywhere. But it’s true because, if you notice, it just takes one person to see the film.

One lady asked, “Have you been on NPR?” I would love to get it on NPR so that everyone can know that there is a segment of African-Americans that doesn’t believe this stuff.

As I travel around the country, you would be shocked at how many black people don’t believe this stuff. But they’re in the closet with it and it’s just, “Hey, I’m going to lose everything if I come out with this. My wife, my mom, my family — they’re going to ostracize me.” So it’s just a deep fear. But once you present this stuff, people look at this and say, “You know this makes a lot of sense,” but they’ll have this cognitive dissonance.

Audience member: Could you talk more about the money and how these wolves exploit the black community all the way back from the Civil War to the present?

Jeremiah: I’m going to bring up something a little more current and one of the things that broke my heart and almost got me out of this business. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I was into this before a lot of this stuff was going on. But what happened recently, this year, almost made me give it up.

I call it the Harriet Tubman business that I’m in. Harriet Tubman said “I could have freed more if they only knew they were slaves.” But what just happened this year with Creflo Dollar (we call him Klepto Dollar). He asked for $65 million. He wound up getting $70 million for a plane. And the street that he’s on in Atlanta is a street called Old National Highway and this street is crime-ridden. And you get a plane so that you can go out and preach mythology around the world. But there is no way to measure who you’ve reached or what the effect of them being reached is going to have on society. There’s no way to measure it.

And I thought about all the elderly people who could’ve got their mortgages paid. I thought of the science and math academies that you could have built with that money. I thought about the young men — African-American men — who have felonies, who are now disenfranchised for life. Let me tell you, I did a lot of things when I was coming up as a teenager. I just didn’t get caught. I’m no better than a lot of the young black men who have felonies and will never get an opportunity. And so you hold this against them for a life. Look at all of the training that $70 million could help make, produce, create. Just so much besides a jet plane. I was so disappointed; I almost said, “To heck with it” and went into the medical marijuana business.

Dan called me and said, “I want you to come out.” I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity. Your feedback from the movie has really inspired me even more. So I think I’m going to stay with this Harriet Tubman business a little bit longer.

Audience member: The black churches are involved in a lot of social activism. They work with jobs, with justice. They were front and center in Missouri’s expansion of Medicaid, trying to get that through. And in the Ferguson commission, they’re working with officials on that. How do we keep that activism without the religion?
Jeremiah: Dan, John, chapter one, verse one. Right? You know that by heart and I can answer that question. “In the beginning.”

Dan: “Was the word.”

Jeremiah: I’m going to translate. “In the beginning was the word.” In the beginning — that’s going to be a tough job and this is why in the beginning, as far as African-Americans in this country, was the church.

“And the word was with God.” And the church was with blacks and blacks were with the church. “And the word was God.” And the church was the black community. You see where I’m going. There was no separation.

And everything that we’ve ever gotten, all the steps that we’ve made, was because of the church. So this is how it is perceived in the black community. So when you take that away, you pretty much take everything away. Now, you’ll take the social aspect away from it, but my experience in being out of the church is so liberating. It feels so good to know as opposed to just believing. In fact, our ancestors would have been eaten alive if we believed there wasn’t something lurking behind those bushes as opposed to knowing that a predator was behind those bushes. Belief can get you in trouble. And I’m just free now. I would take that over the social aspect any day. Take a lot of people that you go to church with, they just put on airs.

I remember one time I was with my church community and they’re so judgmental. Christians are some of the meanest people out here. I was sitting there and they looked over, we were at a restaurant, and there was this guy drinking a beer. You know the slogan of Miller; the can says Miller High Life. And he looked at him and he said, “Look at that. If he only knew what the high life was.” I just saw the whole charade and all that kind of stuff.

Audience member: My husband and I were just overwhelmed with your film. We’re really very impressed and were wondering how long it took to do this. What is the oldest picture you had and what is the newest picture?

Jeremiah: Wow. It took 18 months to do. The oldest picture that I had was probably that Praise House. When the missionaries were from Europe and they were in Africa, that went way back to the 1800s. The newest one, I can’t recall what the newest one was.
Audience member: What are you working on now? What are we going to see next from you?

Jeremiah: I don’t know. I may do some comedy. I’ve been praying about it but I know God is not going to answer my prayers. Here’s his son, on the cross, crying out for help and he said, “To hell with him,” so I know he’s not going to help me out. He has all these mansions in heaven but let his son be born in a filthy manger. What kind of father is that?

So, I don’t know, but we’ll see. I’m in between projects right now but I’ve got to do something because I have a creative itch. Thanks for coming out, and I am looking forward to coming again.

Go to jeremiahcamara.com to see more of Jeremiah’s work.

Freedom From Religion Foundation