Atheism is the belief in the non-existence of God or any god; it is the belief in nothing. Atheists believe more in hard work, perseverance and a healthy dose of good luck than in the existence of a Supreme Being or pantheon of beings that control the affairs of men. They do not believe in the existence of a hell or heaven either.
While Atheism may be seen as normal in the western world, it is not the same in most of the third world; African countries in particularly. It is known world over, that the world’s poorest countries are the most religious save for the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, an African, nay a Nigerian Atheist will still turn Heads, Necks and Shoulders wherever they exist.
Such is the case of several Nigerians who profess Atheism as they granted an interview to the Punch Newspapers about their convictions and how they are seen by the larger society. The highlight of the interview was at the end of the day they wouldn’t be disappointed if they realised there was a God afterall and heaven and hell existed.
According to Alfred Ayodele who is an engineer, he started doubting the existence of God at the age of 18 while in secondary school. In his own words;
“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.”
This new knowledge came at a price however, Ayodele was lucky enough not to be bundle off to a psychiatric ward because everyone around him thought he was mentally challenged for saying there was no God. Before the advent of social media, people would ask him, ‘how can you say there is no God?’ This however changed over time and he continues further;
“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.”
As he went on, he spoke further with passion as he tried to expand the inner workings of his convictions;
“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, as he reiterated that both belief and unbelief was dependant on the understanding of the individual involved. Therefore, 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 emphatically.
At this point, the interviewer asked him, how he would react should he discover the existence of a God after his death; 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 i 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.”
Finally, he concluded that while he had never been attacked physically for his lack of belief, he has suffered what he called systematic victimization, he says;
“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.”
Another Nigerian Atheist, this time a doctor, Dr, Leo Igwe says people’s reaction towards his conviction very often depends on the religious disposition of such an individual. Dr. Igwe who is also the Chairman, Humanist Association of Nigeria and scholar of religion tried to elaborate further on the variations of theism and atheism, he says;
“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 said further that his family members also accepted his idea with mixed reactions.
“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.”
Dr. Igwe further said he couldn’t quite remember the exact moment when he had started having these convictions because like every other Nigerian child, he was never given a choice to discover if there was a God or not; rather, religion had been forced down his throat just like millions of other individuals who now profess one religion or the other. He said further;
“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 ridiculed the idea;
“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.”
He also speaks on his experiences as an Atheist in Nigeria;
“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.”
Speaking on the idea of a God after death, he described the idea as senseless, he 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.”