Some atheists in Nigeria talk about their conviction and the resentment they suffer from people who believe in God or gods with GBENGA ADENIJI and WILLIAMS BABALOLA
An engineer, Alfred Ayodele, is one of the atheists in Nigeria. He said he started doubting the existence of God when he was in senior secondary school at 18.
He said, “Although I was a born-again Christian in the Assemblies of God, a time came that I questioned some of the beliefs in Christianity. For example, when I prayed to God and I didn’t receive answers, my pastor would tell me to exercise patience that God would answer my prayers when it was the right time. At the time, I discovered that given enough time, most of the things I didn’t pray for but wished and worked for came to pass. Then I questioned what was the difference between a God that does not exist, and that who ‘answers’ prayer at the right time when in reality you could get whatever you need if you work hard and given enough time irrespective of whether or not you pray. That meant logically that I could still get what I wanted irrespective of my praying to God, believing or not believing in Him. So, gradually, I started questioning everything.”
Ayodele added that in the past, before the advent of social media, people thought perhaps he was mentally challenged for saying there was no God.
He said, “They often supported themselves with Psalm 14:1. However, my immediate family joked about it saying, “It is because of too much science knowledge.” But that is all different now because many Africans learnt through social media that there is something called atheism. Most people that discovered that I am an atheist always want to ask me more questions and they often get bewildered to discover that atheists are many in Nigeria.
“There is nothing like ‘convince’ because atheism is not like religion where you preach. You don’t convince someone. You only show people how to reason and question things. There is no dogma, creed or rule. And again, you have to understand that atheism is not a belief. It is a lack of belief in any deity. If you don’t play any sport, nobody will describe your lack of sport as a sport in itself! My two siblings are now atheists too because they found out themselves that religion has no true answers to life’s questions.
“Even though I am an atheist, I show understanding when talking to believers about the non-existence of God. Since I was once a believer like them, I truly understand how they feel. Religion has a very strong effect on its followers especially in this part of the world where science knowledge is very low among the population, and people link astronomical and other physical events to the existence of a deity. Most time I ask my believer-friends that we debate our points so that we could both learn from one another.”
Ayodele added, “There is nothing to show that God is in existence, we only claim God’s existence through faith. That we do not understand how the universe came to be is not enough reason we should fill the vacuum with faith. Faith is the opposite of knowledge. When you have proof of something, then you have the knowledge and faith disappears. To show that God created something, you will need to prove it logically not with faith. Faith does not show anything; it only claims.
“When you see something in the universe, you don’t automatically link it to a deity out of faith, you research it. We all learnt from the Bible that God created the stars on the fourth day and then rested on the seventh day. But Hubble Space Telescope and other orbiting telescopes have been beaming pictures of stars being freshly formed across the universe to earth stations on daily basis. So where do you place that?
“The universe is still forming. Hundreds of stars die while hundreds are born every day. The universe is not fixed but expanding contrary to Bible claim. Therefore, until religion comes up with logical proof about its claim of God’s existence, I will remain an unbeliever.”
He explained that his unbelief had nothing to do with his relationship, adding that belief and unbelief were based on individual understanding and no one should be forced to become a believer just like no one should force anyone to drop one’s belief.
“When I meet with people, I only start discussing religion if the discussion naturally tilts towards that direction, likewise in my workplace. My co-workers understand me as an atheist and most times, they’re inquisitive to know my views about conflicting issues,” he stated.
On how he would react if after death, he discovers God’s existence, Ayodele said, “Both atheists and religious people face the same dilemma when asked this question. It is like asking a Christian what would happened if he dies and finds out that Christianity is not the way but Islam; or what a Muslim would do if he dies and discovers that Judaism is the only true religion. But to answer this question directly, I don’t play Pascal’s Wager. I would still not be bothered if I die and find out that the God of Christians is the right God. This is because I have studied the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and found only a single place where Satan actually took the life of someone and at the permission of God. Millions of people were killed in the Bible by God himself or under His instruction.
“We read in the Bible where God was said to have intentionally hardened King Pharaoh’s heart so that God could kill all the innocent firstborn of Egyptian families. This is barbaric and I wouldn’t want to be associated with a figure of such unstable behaviour. So, if am to evaluate the personality of God and that of Satan as presented in the Bible, Satan is not responsible for any evil but God. And moreover, it is better to die for a good cause. If I could be good to everyone on earth and still find myself in Satan’s hellfire because I didn’t accept a man as my lord and saviour, then I will be glad to live in such lake of fire.”
He further noted that he had actually not suffered any physical victimisation because of his lack of belief. “But I have suffered ‘systematic victimisation.’ For example, most times when I am filling a form either for government or private institution and I get to ‘religion’ section, only three options: Christianity, Islam and Traditional religions are usually provided. If the section cannot be left blank, I could sometime be forced to choose ‘Christianity’ which is tantamount to systematic victimisation for an atheist like me.”
For another atheist, Dr. Leo Igwe, the way people react whenever he reveals his belief depends on the person’s religious/theistic disposition.
He said, “And there are variations of religiosity and theism. The intensity of theism differs from person to person. Those who are extremely theistic are often hostile and hateful. They want to have nothing to do with me. Extremists are intolerant of the idea of atheism. They think I am a devil’s incarnate. Some believers find it difficult to accept me as an atheist. They think that I am crazy, or that I am out of my mind. Some often tell me to my face to repent otherwise I would burn in hell. Some of them quickly refer to the verse in the Bible that says that a fool has said in his heart that there is no God. That is Psalm 14 verse 1.
“Others, who are not so fanatically inclined, often tell me that they are praying for me that one day I would realise that God exists. That day has not come and I am still waiting and expecting. A few people would casually reply that I’m not the first or the last person not to believe in God. Occasionally, I meet persons who respond by saying, “Look I also do not believe in God.” So the reactions have been mixed. They range from hate, anger, fear, disbelief to me-too.’’
Igwe, the Chairman, Humanist Association of Nigeria and scholar of religion, said his family members also accepted his idea with mixed reactions.
He added, “My father was indifferent, and at a stage, expressed inclination towards religious disbelief. My mother was worried about my future and safety, given the social stigma attached to atheism. The pentecostally-inclined Christians in my family have done all they could to undermine and discredit my atheist awakening. They regard me as an agent of Satan, and treat me with overt as well as veiled suspicion and mistrust. Since I became financially independent, the pressure to convert me or to turn me from Saul to Paul has drastically reduced.
“I try not to ‘preach’ atheism to my family members. I try not to persuade them to renounce their faith in God(s) except when they preach God to me or try to present those flimsy religious/theistic claims as unquestionable and incontrovertible absolute truths that I must accept. And they do this very often. What I do is: I sometimes exercise my right to reply.”
On when he got convinced that God doesn’t exist, Igwe said, “I think the question should have been if there was ever a time I was convinced that God existed. Like all children of my generation, I was never given the option to believe or not to believe in God. Belief in God was forced down my throat. Expressing doubts or disbelief in God was a taboo. I was indoctrinated from childhood and as I was growing up and beginning to think and reason, the scales of indoctrination started falling off; theism started crumbling like a pack of cards.
“The absurdities, contradictions and inconsistencies in god-belief started becoming very obvious. The god idea could not withstand even some basic commonsensical scrutiny. So the conviction that God doesn’t exist was never much of an issue to me but how to contend with the hostility, resentment and antagonism from God believers. That was –and still is — the main challenge.’’
Commenting on why he would disprove God’s existence despite the several theories of creation like the Big Bang, he added that there was nothing that proved God’s existence which he could objectively relate to.
He noted, “In fact, it is utterly disingenuous to think that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being could be proven. Who does that and how? Who does that and from where? How does a finite being demonstrate the existence of an infinite all-encompassing being distinct from and in itself? I don’t know how the religious minds came about such idea that the existence of God, the totality of beings, could be proven. It is a clear demonstration of poverty in thinking and reasoning.
“All arguments to demonstrate the existence of god are exercises in futility and a reductio ad absurdum of the God idea. There is no power outside the omnipotent, no knowledge beside the all-knowing, no place outside the omnipresent, no being outside the totality of being. So God’s existence is fundamentally disproven. It does not need an atheist to declare this. God is an imaginary idea, the creation of the human mind. The God of religion is inexistable; that is why God is designated as invisible, unknowable and inscrutable. These are labels to give it a semblance of existence.”
On how he handles discussions involving God, he says he handles it the way he handles all ideas he thinks are mistaken or misplaced by trying to clarify and properly situate it.
He also stated that on many occasions, he had been rejected both directly and indirectly on account of being an atheist.
Igwe said, “In the past, some persons have turned down proposals for friendship and partnership on realising that I was an atheist. Atheism was a deal breaker, something I dared not to mention whenever I was negotiating relationships. But that was then. This situation is beginning to change. In fact, it is changing so rapidly because many atheists are leaving the closet.
“In fact, some persons have dissociated themselves from the humanist association on realising that it is a non-theistic organisation. They cancelled their participation in our events.”
He also described as a senseless proposition what he would do upon realising God’s existence after death.
Igwe added, “Look, when we die, we rot. This is a fact, and an incontrovertible fact. The evidence is there. The organ/faculty that makes it possible to realise anything rots and disintegrates. So there is no way to realise the existence of anything including God when the facility for realisation is not there. Religion has always tried to create and superimpose God on this life and on an imagined post mortem realm.
“This is one of the narratives driving religious extremism in today’s world. Unfortunately, religion has made a huge capital out of death and what happens hereafter. Whatever makes the idea of God impossible, and untenable; whatever makes God an inexistable being before death makes God’s existence unrealisable after death. Religious minds should get over this childish thinking.”
A pharmacist and another atheist, Isaiah Akorita, says the way people relate with him usually depends on the circumstance, location or relationship with the person.
He explained that the predominant reaction was often surprise followed by a religious themed comment by the person.
Akorita said, “Some people try to preach to me; others just make a statement reaffirming why they believe. It’s always fun to watch. I relate well with my family members. I don’t try to convince them to drop their faith but wherever possible, I try to let them know how certain beliefs or statements could be detrimental.”
The Head of Media, Atheist Society of Nigeria, also stated that he started doubting God’s existence sometime in 2012.
He said, “Honestly, I haven’t seen any good reason to believe that there’s a God somewhere out there. On how I handle discussions involving God, it depends on the situation, my mood and location. These days, I mostly ignore them.”
According to him, he has lost one or two romantic relationships because of his conviction.
Akorita said it would be interesting as he had many questions if after death God’s existence manifests to him.
Besides, a serving corps member and a political analyst, Daniel Nnaji, told SUNDAY PUNCH that people were often shocked upon discovering that he’s an atheist.
Nnaji said, “People within my environment are often shocked when they get to know I’m atheist. My relationship with my immediate family is very cordial. This arises from the fact that I rarely bring up faith-based issues given that my family is irreligious. Convincing anyone to drop their faith makes no sense. It is irrelevant.
“It is important to note that the concept of ‘God’ remains under contestation. But the religious (especially organised religion) concept of God makes no comprehensive sense. I became convinced that God doesn’t exist upon my study and understanding of a variety of religious texts and the environment. Their God is cruel, wicked, vile, and is referred to as a celestial tyrant in certain quarters. Thanks, it is all fairy-tale. Again, looking at me as an albino, the reason my physical characteristics cannot be explained by religion sowed a seed of doubt.”
On why he disapproved God’s existence, the political analyst noted, “Let me ask this question in return. If all prayers are not answered, what makes seemingly answered prayers more than mere coincidence? My disapproval of God’s existence arises out of an observation and understanding of history, and basics governing the environment; science and rationality being my reasons.”
Commenting on how he handles discussions involving God, he said, “I’m calm and collected. If I engage in a sincere argument, I insist we define God, so we know our take-off position. This helps to give focus to such discussions.”
He also said he tried not to bring his idea into relationship, workplace and interactions with people.
The corps member said, “I avoid this as much as possible. I only react when I feel threatened like being roasted in hell and turned into ‘suya’ by the supreme ‘suyameister’ and celestial tyrant.
“I have been rejected by many people on the discovery of my atheist stance. But you know what, I always try to be in a position of strength, so as to have a significant edge over such dubiously discriminatory persons.”
He added that he would query, interrogate and possibly rebuke God for the state at which she/he/genderless caused the world to be if he discovers God’s existence upon death.
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