The true unbeliever

If you think everyone in the black community is Christian, listen to the Infidel Guy and his brand of atheism

Atheist Reginald Finley Sr. hopes to take his Internet show to mainstream radio.

Atheist Reginald Finley Sr. hopes to take his Internet show to mainstream radio.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Reginald Finley Sr. says he is not really out to change the world, nor is he necessarily out to change people’s mind about matters of faith. He is, however, fairly motivated to stand up for his own beliefs and people’s collective right to, well, not believe. This might not sound like a Herculean task, but when you are a black man raised in the South, an area where churches practically outnumber McDonald’s restaurants, thumbing your nose at fundamental Christianity is not apt to win you many friends. Actually, standing up and shouting your disbelief to the masses might even be considered insane.

Finley, whose thoughtful, friendly manner and scholarly appearance suggest no trace of mental illness, is better known these days as the Infidel Guy, creator of an Internet radio show and Web site produced in Sacramento that serves as a voice for the atheist world and a forum to debate all things religious. He claims to get more than 300,000 visitors every month to his site, which features a variety of information both pro-atheist and anti-theist in nature.

Finley openly debates religious leaders on the radio side, and, just in case you miss him, he also travels here and there to participate in public forums, where he argues with local theologians. He also takes calls and e-mail from his listeners. If all this sounds like someone who has set himself up for his share—and yours—of argument, disdain and occasionally abuse, you’re right.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I have had my car keyed up, tires flattened and vandalized. I’ve also had my Darwin fish ripped off of my car. All because I express what I don’t believe.”

It is this kind of negative reaction that got Finley started down this road in the first place. After traveling the world as an infantryman for the U.S. Army, Finley came home to Georgia to attend college, where a theology class or two raised serious questions in his mind about religion and the effects it has on the black community. Before long, Finley decided he did not believe in Scripture anymore, a feeling strong enough to inspire him to do something to express himself. That “something” was to start a simple one-page Web site espousing his lack of belief, and that got the ball rolling. The simple page begat a much more complex site, which begat the radio broadcast, which begat Finley’s transformation into the Infidel Guy.

Finley said he never really intended to target the black community in specific or to try to alter anyone’s cultural foundations. He did, however, want to dispel what he called “the myth that there are no black atheists” and to establish a network for them to contact each other.

“I really like to think of myself as colorblind on this,” he said. “But I do understand that because I’m black, I’m something of a portal to other blacks that may have some religious doubts. I know how I felt when I was first starting out. It was like, ‘Man, I’m black and an atheist, and I live in the South? I’m really in trouble here.’ I felt like I must be the only black atheist on Earth. So, I do have a section on my Web site that reaches out specifically to other black atheists and helps them to reach each other.”

After starting the show in his Atlanta home six years ago, Finley recently relocated to Sacramento, ostensibly to get away from the heavy Christian trappings of the South. California’s more liberal leanings—and a girlfriend—convinced him to move West. His goals now, he said, are to keep gaining Internet listeners and eventually to move on to mainstream radio. Neither task is proving to be a cakewalk, though.

“I’ve approached virtually every radio station in California,” he said. “But, so far, I have not received any positive reply.”

The lack of response has not slowed down his efforts. Finley had to overcome a host of technical issues to get the show up and running here. But when he did, the results were fairly positive. A recent show featuring a debate with the Rev. Gene Cook from San Diego’s Unchained Christian Ministry was an interesting collection of ideas, phone calls and occasional barbs rolled into a lively 59 minutes. Though not overly polished in his manner, Finley is nonetheless a capable host who manages to keep the action flowing throughout his time slot. He jostles his guests a bit, challenging them to explain certain points without falling into the confrontational blather so common to AM radio hosts who speak about controversial topics.

Finley also continues to grow in increments. A visit to the site reveals not only access to his radio broadcasts, but a textual smattering of his atheistic mantra. One recently posted banner ends with what appears to be typical Infidel Guy aplomb: “Evolution of man from ape-like ancestors is a fact. Get over it.”

The Web site also contains, among other things, myriad chat rooms, personals ads and links to other sites that hawk irreverent products, all aimed at reeling in atheists looking to connect with others who think the same way. It lends the site some interesting kitsch, but all of the extra stuff seems a bit much.

David Kennedy, a business owner and part-time radio producer for Access Sacramento, can relate to much of Finley’s stance and background. After growing up in the only black family in his middle-class San Jose neighborhood, Kennedy obtained a degree in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. But education alone could not answer his questions about the meaning of life, so he, too, ventured forth to see most of the globe firsthand through Uncle Sam’s military prism, an experience that changed him for good. Kennedy also has serious doubts about organized religion, although he said he does believe in God. And, after listening to the Infidel Guy show and perusing the Web site, he said he wondered about Finley’s motives—specifically whether Finley really is dedicated to the tenets of atheism or is using it to kick-start a radio career.

“None of the positions he takes on anything actually makes him an atheist,” Kennedy contended. “He posits that the Bible isn’t the word of God, but rather a bunch of old white guys from the 12th century who wanted to exert control over their wives, children and community. Well, a lot of people believe that—including me—but that doesn’t make them atheists. Rather, many people believe that what any particular society calls ‘God’ is unknowable by mortals, so any claim by any religion or faith—Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Hindu, voodoo, whatever—that they know God is false. So, the question I have is: Does he really consider himself an atheist, or does he just take the moniker that society would brand him if his message were to become more mainstream?”

Although local religious leaders are not jumping up in droves to accept Finley’s invitation to come on his show, some are at least aware of his presence. Timothy Jemmott, an evangelist who presides in the Armor Up Ministry of Sacramento’s Shiloh Baptist Church, said Finley’s presence is welcomed by the black community.

“One of the great things about America is that we all have the freedom to express our views, no matter how ludicrous,” Jemmott said.

Jemmott, who also is black, said he didn’t think Finley’s rationale would hold much water with most of Shiloh Baptist’s parishioners. He claimed that more than 90 percent of the black community has had good experiences with the church.

“With all of the problems that face kids today, things are slowly changing with the younger members,” he added. “So, I do think there is a chance for Mr. Finley to eventually find a following in the mainstream, but I don’t think he has any chance at all of truly changing our community over to his way of thinking.”

For the record, Finley said he is unquestionably an atheist, and his goal is simply to remove what he sees as a stigma that is attached to such a title.

“I just really want to show people on both sides that it is OK for us all not to believe in the same things,” he said. “I want people to see that being an atheist doesn’t equate to something evil. You know, we’re not baby killers; we just don’t believe in God. That’s all.”