Africa and Religion- Atheism

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.


  1. I'm of the opinion that religion is all about personal relationship with one's chosen God or deity. Growing up, I was extremely interested in Islam (hence the my love for Middle East and North Africa) and currently, I'm reading alot about Budhism. What I've learnt from these these religion (Christianity included) is that in its truest form, it is all about love, peace and kindness. And I learnt to practice these acts in my personal life. I'm very sceptical of ther overly religious cos from my personal experience, they are the worst pretenders. So I have learnt to take whatever they say with a pinch of salt. I don't go out to convert but I believe my act of kindness, peace or love towards another human is the greatest service to God that I can do. I strongly believe that actions speak louder than words and I know my act of kindness to stranger is powerful enough to convert the person from being a mean soul to being a good samaritan. Now would God not be pleased with that simple yet powerful message? I rest my case.

  2. Moody Crab i love your comment!! i agree with you in regard to religion in its truest form which is why i believe it has been corrupted today. i always use myself to show others that what they think of the groups i belong to (such as Nigerian, African, Muslim etc) may not be what is the reality. i exist to shock people 😀

  3. Right okay. So I don’t think Africans are naturally religious. I think that religion appeals to us because it speaks to something more than the reality of our lives, makes us feel that there is more to life than just living for living’s sake. I think that African’s attachment to the earth and nature – both things of which humankind is only a small part of – enables us to believe in God.This is a really interesting post. I appreciated the “God is Imaginary” site, if only because he has a point. I’ve asked these questions time and time again – December 2005 being a prominent one. But, I have come to believe that “religion” as it is used today does not describe what I do and what I experience in my life. “Religion” is a dirty word these days, used to describe only the extremist who commit atrocities and are hateful and wicked in the name of “righteousness”. If that’s “religion” then that’s not me. For me, my faith means believing that the thing that makes us human is what makes us special, makes us important, makes us worth saving and preserving and treating, makes us worthy of love and justice.The dude on God is imaginary has a point, BUT, he seems to be interpreting the Bible to meet his own ends. Jesus said “those who do not believe” but he didn’t say “those who did not believe in me”, so why would this man interpret that sentence as exclusionary if he didn’t feel excluded? And his interpretation of the verse about the eating flesh and drinking blood is interesting, because for him, the words “eat my flesh and drink my blood” end there. For me, as a Catholic, who takes those words seriously and believes that the communion I take IS truly the body and blood of Christ, it means more than that. It means accepting Jesus into yourself, it means allowing yourself to be part of this bigger thing that is God and spirituality. I believe this, but that doesn’t mean that if someone told me to eat flesh and blood because it was Jesus, I would eat it. Even if whoever said it claimed to be God, I’d say “There’s no way God would tell me to do this” because life is precious, and eating a carcass is not acknowledging that. Anyone who wants to discuss this in detail, let me know :)Also, studying science and biology has only made me believe more firmly in the existence of a God, so his argument that science disproves God (which it doesn’t) doesn’t work for me.Finally, I have a feeling that this dude will discover another religion and decide that that is the “true” religion. Until he proves that all other religions beliefs are made up as well, then he is simply launching a vendetta against a religion he doesn’t believe in. If we all did that, the world’s population would be decimated right now. The website is too full of anger and assumption for me to take him seriously. Bring me a philosopher to disprove the existence of God, and then I’ll listen.The truth is though, things like the Bible and the Koran are simply guides to faith. They were written by humans, so that we could have an idea of who this person called “God” is. For me, he is a person whose very being is love. He is someone who loves justice and hates evil. He is a person who believes in the sanctity and dignity of every human being, and in the preservation of this earth where we live. As far as I’m concerned, if you believe in these things – love, justice, dignity, protecting the earth – then you believe in God, whether you want to say that you believe in a being you can’t see or not.And even if God is really imaginary, all that says is that human beings created God as a vessel for their hopes for humankind – that we will be loving and kind and generous and there is more to us than just living.

  4. mellowyel, i have heard someone else echo your views on Africans and religion, saying that basically our ancestors laid down this path for us even though we may not be practising the religions they did.on the ‘God is imaginary’ site thanks for your comments and i agree with you. while reading the site i had actually written down something along the lines that ‘this is just 50 proofs that religion is flawed’ but i deleted that sentence.and thanks for explaining the communion more clearly. it’s symbolic isn’t it? and in regards to spirituality, that is what interests me so much. which is why i’m attracted to mysticism in religions eg Sufism and Kabbalah.the science and God dichotomy depends on the individual. people do find God in science, it is possible. i don’t think science should be the only argument in refuting God’s existence. i love your last paragraph!

  5. Ok here we go again. I was waiting for your epiphany on Asian attraction so I’ll read it later on!I have met African atheists but never a Nigerian atheist. Funny thing isn’t it! I would like to meet one. I have to say too that the argument that science proves there is no God is actually blasphemous to science. Science is an ordely process which means theories are based on fact and reasonable assumptions. They do remain theories until proved to be true or not. If science said God did not exist, we would be reading about it journals like Science and Nature, not on an atheist website. To date nobody has infallible proof on the existence or lack of existence of God. The belief in God is exactly that – a belief. I think that Africans were spiritual long before Europeans and Arabs came. I think Christianity and Islam are foreign religions which were brought to Africa. I think Africa has been indoctrinated by both of these religions. I believe if Hindus had come here first, then Hinduism may be the prevalent religion. Religion and beliefs are greatly founded by our parents own beliefs. Very few parents let their children choose. I believe my parents were superbly unique in this aspect. They are very religious and I am not. We get along famously 🙂

  6. Mysticism is amazing! And if you look, it’s present in all religions. I think it’s a great way to be in touch with this bigger thing that all religions look for.

  7. @Jc, lol @my epiphany! and i’m glad you can comment on the science issue being a scientist yourself. i know they say God cannot be proven yet God cannot be disproved. i second your thoughts regarding foreign religions in Africa and on parents not letting their children choose. that’s why i encourage questioning because in most cases people are just following the religion of their parents.@mellowyel, it is also funny how mystics are looked at as heretics in almost all religions. i think mystics are actually more in touch with spirituality than mainstream religious folks. though they too tend to be corrupted these days.

  8. I’m hesitant to say Christianity was brought to Africa because Ethiopia has the oldest Christian tradition IN THE WORLD and it’s still practiced in almost exactly the same way. But I agree with JC’s point about Science/God thing. Science and religion are in two completely different spheres. Neither of them prove or disprove the other.In my experiences, atheists/humanists/agnostics are all REALLY quiet about their beliefs because of the stigma attached to it. We live in a world that’s undergoing a rise in fundamentalism and it creates a for/against world. I was lucky to find a place near where I go to school that is open about this and it’s safe to talk about any and all beliefs without getting harassed in the streets or exiled from friends and family. I choose to identify myself by NOT identifying myself, if that makes any sense. By choosing to do this, I feel like I can learn and study any and all religions without any “YOU’RE WRONG AND GOING TO HELL!!” sentiments.

  9. it's great you brought that up Alice because just a few hours ago i read that both Christianity and Islam have African roots. i'll add those in the other upcoming posts. i thought Ethiopians were orthodox though while in Nigeria for example most Christians are Catholic or Pentecostal. yes it makes sense! i don't like labels much either.

  10. Yup, large majority of Ethiopians are Coptic Orthodox Christians (say it 10 times fast!).

  11. lol, i tried and failed miserably. there are also Coptics in Egypt and in the book i was reading, apparently, the language used in the Coptic church is closest to what the ancient Egyptians may have spoken.

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