This starts my mini-series on Africa and religion, there are three all together (because 3 is a magic number seriously) and though the way I’ve split them up is a bit odd, these things have been on my mind for years and the only way I can free myself is to write. I must start by saying that I have a sort of love and hate relationship with religion, mind this is not just in terms of my religion but in terms of almost every single religion that exists in this world. I love learning about religions and I most especially enjoy finding similarities between religions and religious thought. I am someone who believes that religion can be corrupted over time and is not perfect just to make things clear from the beginning.
I know religion is a sensitive issue so if you are overly-sensitive you probably shouldn’t be reading this. I’ll try not to offend anyone however I need to write this to get it off my mind. I know I’m not going to be offensive at all, I also know that religion is a sensitive topic which is why I’ve written this disclaimer.
I was on my university’s radio show some months ago, the idea of the show is 30 minutes around the world where the host would ask questions about different countries such as food, culture, music etc. The show had been going on for a while and I was the first Nigerian to be on it. Imagine my surprise, there are a few Nigerians in this town so maybe they were not interested. Anyway the issue of religion came up but the question the host asked was not one which I was expecting. She didn’t ask about religious intolerance or riots, instead she asked me about atheism in Nigeria. I replied that I have never actually met a Nigerian atheist and if any were listening in on the show they should call in to make themselves heard. Now this world is a big place and I’m pretty sure there are Nigerian atheist out there, the thing is I’ve not personally met one. Thus I started asking the usual questions, actually these questions have been in my head for years. I used to look at the religiousness of most Africans as a good thing however that doesn’t happen so much these days as I’ve become a sort of religious sceptic. It surprises me that I have never actually met an African atheist. I’ve met people who do whatever they want to do but still stick to the religion they were brought up in (nominally or whatever).
I know some people suggest that Africans are naturally religious however I don’t believe that.
The only answer I could come up with for the widespread existence of very religious Africans is that Africa is still developing. When one lives in or around poverty, it is necessary to have some kind of hope. When I look at developed countries, yes some very religious people exist in those countries however a significant amount of the population don’t really care for religion. I always use Japan as an example. I used to think UK was a Christian nation though and yes it is in some ways. I notice where I live some members of the population do seem to be deeply religious and it seems to be more than I’ve noticed elsewhere.
Personally, I only started becoming more religious after my sister passed away. The events surrounding her death piqued my interest in Islam. I have always been interested in religions and I think that was just the side effect of being a Muslim in a Catholic school. However I was an atheist for a few months in my life. Yes it is the truth, I was really radical in those early teenage days so I questioned the existence of God. At that time, I read about Christianity, I read about Islam, I looked at the religiosity of Africans and the non-religiosity in the West then I concluded that God was a myth designed to keep Africa in chains. I must have been 13 then, it was also around that time that I was interested in ancient Greek and Roman religions. At that time I didn’t know much about African traditional religions. It is interesting that I kept my decisions to myself and told my friend I was considering becoming Christian when at that time I didn’t believe in God at all. In fact, I only realised I was an atheist at that point in my life last week. Today I’ve gone through my religious stage and I’m now somewhere in the middle, I still think it is necessary for everybody to question not only God but their religion (and others too) because I believe it actually makes you more true to your religion (increases faith). By questioning, you learn more though I’ve come to realise that questioning is not for everybody and I (am learning to) respect that.
Does anyone else have an opinion on Africans and our ‘passion for religion’? I hope some African atheists can drop by and say hello. Onto the next part of this post where I shall basically vent so be prepared for some excess rambling.
I was on several atheist sites last week and it was then that I realised that (among other things) people make such convincing arguments! Last week was my week of being free so I spent a lot of time online clicking away. One way or the other, I landed on a blog hosted by a woman who had left Islam and it was through that blog that I found the website I will be linking to. I found several other websites but I’m linking to only one website. I’m sure if anyone is interested in finding any website disproving any religion or any god, a quick Google search will suffice.
So without further ado, the site is God is imaginary and on it is a list of 50 proofs that God is imaginary. The site quotes its arguments from a Christian perspective* and I did visit a lot of sites that day that argued from different religious perspectives, however it is the most thought-provoking atheist site I’ve been to yet. Almost everything they said on that site made sense. I initially didn’t want to link to it but after thinking about it, I concluded ‘why not?’. It’ll be a nice entertaining read for whoever is interested. I remember being advised not to visit certain (non)religious websites but the thing is this, why shouldn’t I visit an atheist’s website? There really is nothing to be afraid of (unless you are scared of losing your faith or something and you really shouldn’t be). I’ve wanted to write a post regarding religion and I had lost the drive for it, that website proved to be a driving force. I actually enjoyed browsing through that website, it was a great experience and I feel like I’ve learnt something though I haven’t been convinced that God is imaginary.
I tend to stay clear from ‘religious’ folks because they upset me. I personally don’t understand how someone can think I’m destined for hell because of my beliefs. I find it offensive, I’m Muslim and I don’t believe the same. The only overtly religious folks I don’t mind hanging around with are Baha’is and I’m yet to meet a Baha’i that has tried to convert me. I do attend a Baha’i study circle because I feel comfortable learning about a religion in midst of those who practice it and are not trying to convert me. Most times with other religions people mistake my interest as me wanting to become one of them and most times I’m too polite to say that I actually don’t believe what they do and I’m just there to learn.
I also detest when people compare religions, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I strongly believe in the live and let live policy yet I wonder if people don’t think they are offending others when they try to ‘disprove’ another religion. Personally I don’t mind if I met an atheist who tried to disprove religion, they don’t follow any so they don’t have to claim that their religion is perfect. However when I see ‘religious’ people ‘disproving’ another religion, my estimation of them drops dramatically. I see that as a serious weakness as to me whatever they say about another religion can be applied to theirs though in most cases they don’t think so.
Religion is inherently personal. I understand why some atheists are so vocal, it is because they have found their own truth and want to share it. It is similar to the way some religious people want to spread their own truth too. This to me is very acceptable, what I cannot stand is the forcing of your truth down my throat. I do believe that to each person his/her own. Some people actually need to have blind faith to live happily. More cheers to them. Some people (such as me) need to critically question and regard faith to live happily. Cheers to us. Others don’t need faith at all and cheers to them. All our opinions need to be heard so that other people will reach their own conclusions and find their own truths. We just shouldn’t force it on other people.
Can I also add that I reject the idea that atheists are morally wrong? I just don’t believe it, what makes a religious person morally superior? Nothing in my regard, these things all depend on how a person is brought up. And lest we forget so-called ‘religious’ people engaged in slavery, started unnecessary wars, beat up their wives etc. I believe in social construction, in other words what you believe is essentially due to your social environment (social conditioning). For example, what makes skirts feminine and trousers masculine? Scottish men wore kilts back in the day and if I am to believe those historical romances, they were nothing close to feminine. Similarly in African cultures, didn’t men wear wrappers in those days (and in these days too)? Correct me if I am wrong. Thus, this idea that a skirt is feminine and trousers are masculine is essentially a social construction. Another easy example is money, why do we attach value to a piece of paper? Another common argument is sexuality, what makes certain sexual acts right and others wrong? It is due to the theory of social construction that I believe that a person can be brought up with no religion and be moral. Really, religion and morality are not mutually exclusive.
I identify as Muslim yet I’m pretty sure there are Muslims out there who will brand me as blasphemous (just the same way some Nigerians accuse me of ‘self-hate’) and I also know that people tend to forget that I’m Muslim. I’ve come to realise that I dance to my own drummers, I used to have blind faith once upon a time however never again. I believe that my religion encourages me to continuously seek knowledge (thus to question stuff). In the end, I ask myself if it is all worth it, this bickering and arguments regarding religion. Theists versus the atheists, my God is better than your ‘god’, we’ll be going to heaven while you burn miserably in hell, sect versus sect etc. I don’t think it is worth it. I mean when we die it is the end isn’t it? It is when you die that you will see and since near death experiences have also been debunked, they don’t count.
There are some secrets only the dead shall know. Till then, I just wish people would stop hating and be open-minded regarding religions (like me!). It also helps that I’ve found a website that seems to echo what I believe in, it’s called religious tolerance. In conclusion, this eccentric is limiting serious thinking about religion and God, to once every 5 months (because 5 is also a magical number). For now, I do think some atheists are too logical and scientific, it really doesn’t hurt to have some faith (you know just a little). Not faith in holy books or prophets or miracles but faith in the God that has yet to be scientifically disproved. The same can be said about theists though, it really doesn’t hurt to question the ‘things that should not be questioned’. There that is the end of part one and I don’t really have much left to say.
*Since I’m an equal opportunity practitioner here is a link to another thought-provoking website, the Council of Ex-Muslims. Most of the things on the website, I already know as I’m a curious one and yes I do have a problem with them, I accept that religion is not perfect. Achelois’s post ‘Not One Of You Anymore’ sums up my position perfectly.