Do atheists have room in Sub-Saharan Africa?

March 13, 2015

Atheists in Sub Saharan Africa will have to stay underground for now and probably for the foreseeable future just like Freemasons. Even with the fast development of social media usage that allows those who don’t believe in the existence of God or Allah to get connected and discuss their beliefs more openly, there is no guarantee that they would be safe from the wrath of chauvinistic religious groups and more worse from the long arm of the state if they come out of the closet. This week, a 27-year- old self-confessed atheist received death threats for spreading her atheist beliefs through her Twitter account and invited hatred and animosity against religious groups in her country. In one posting, she professed “God does not exist”.When I sought opinions after seeing what has befell the girl who works with a corporate company though her social media accounts are under an alias is probably better off, and safer, being silent on her situation.A local friend has been anxious to get its hands on her and she sent me a direct mails claiming that being an atheist in African countries is worse than being a Gay.

Without her full name and photo posted on her Twitter account, there’s no one to find her. In her friends case, assailants walked free after physically assaulting her in a local market. However, she’s not yet out of the hook yet as an aggrieved foe who knows her all too well has filed a case under cybercrime laws in her African country, the court is expected to address the dilemma about the presence of atheists in her country. Do they have the right to exist in her country in the Eastern African, and more importantly, if they are considered as being outside the constitution, can they expect state protections just as all other citizens?.However, I bet there is no room for atheists in Africa like plenty of other countries across the World. Messages of support have poured in the social media since her case came to light, an indication that atheism has a considerable number of followers in Africa, but most of the senders had been careful in not disclosing their real identity.

Outside social media, the court case did not generate that much interest at her home country which your blogger knows all too well, including major news outlets. Many missed the story completely and others made a small mention of the case.Even local human rights organizations, which had been vocal in defending the freedom of religious minorities, have largely remained silent throughout her case.However, she’s lucky that assistance of a small band of lawyers is now working largely on a pro-bono basis in defending her in court case that was filed by the aggrieved for who want to tarnish her reputation and unmask her as an agent of evil.Modern life, some of the time and especially for its elite members, can breed a deceptive security, a misunderstanding that we are basically in control. On the other hand, all religions start by acknowledging human limitations. I believe it to be a useful social service to attempt to disturb agnostic complacency, to resist attempts to sideline religious contributions to public discussion.

Everywhere, and certainly in Africa, Christianity is under pressure and some forms are in marked decline. Moslem fundamentalism like Boko Haram in West Africa, Al-Shabaab in East Africa might continue as a threat, but for most Africans it is not an alternative. Confident atheism is almost growing as an intellectual force, with the rationalist societies in efficient and young. Educated opinion in Africa is not much concerned and often happily ignorant about these issues of religion in society. It is even possible that a higher percentage of those disinterested in religion work in the places like Government, Media, Non Governmental Organizations and Local and International corporate companies.Back to case of the 27 years old girl, she’s among a group of those who hold articulate conviction that religion belongs to an earlier, more primitive stage of human development.There’s no doubt religion is old-fashioned mythology and restrictive on issues of significance like sexuality and life, and Contador Harrison belongs to the school of thought that all religions are more or less the same, useless and sometimes dangerous.

In other words, atheists see secularization as an inevitable consequence of modernization.Africa has seen a marked decline in the variable of religious self-identification that was brought by the Europeans colonizers. In 1990, 0.1 per cent of Africans declared themselves irreligious. In 2000 it was nearly 3.7 per cent, and in the 2010 census it was 8.2 per cent. At this stage some fear a religion collapse in Africa by the turn of the next century but this danger has probably being felt in most parts of the continent as church attendance are continuously falling. I suspect that a major cause for religion disaffiliation and lapsing from regular practice is dissatisfaction with Christian teaching on pre-marital sex, divorce, Lesbianism, Homosexuality, and contraception. Atheism in Africa is an indicator that schools are unable to inculcate or strengthen faith when it is very weak in a family and communal solidarity has failed spectacularly including a framework within which faith can be caught and developed.

Traditional religion in Africa faces particular pastoral challenges, for example, in some rural churches they are struggling to find and form a new religious élite to compensate for the disappearance of some of religious orders.Schools and hospitals run by Catholics or Protestants are already radically different as the religious have passed into retirement or other areas of life and the situation is much weaker due to lack of infusion of vigour and enthusiasm.In broad outline, there seems to be no way of containing and reversing these neo-pagan trends in Africa that existed before colonization by the Europeans. The girls ordeal means devotion to God as the primary focus is no longer chic in the continent where majority of the population are muslims.The abandonment of demanding Christian and other religious teachings would gain few or no converts with young African population.I therefore think atheism has a future in Africa and secularist intellectuals like the 27 years old girl will stop grappling with the ideological significance and antagonists who believe in monotheism and the pagan Roman Empire order will be restored.

Contador Harrison