“For the believer there can be no questions; for the nonbeliever there can be no answers” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel).
Some friends and group members recently lost loved-ones. Commiserating with them became awkward since I don’t pray or call on a supposed higher power. All cultures and religion have prayers and poems and requiems that accompanies such moments. With that in mind, how do one console the bereaved without, in one form or another, mention God? You wish the bereaved “God’s grace” and “God’s love,” and then ask God to “grant you the fortitude to bear this irreparable lose.” “God” also comes into the conversation as in when people say “God Bless You!” I have generally greeted such supplication with silence or, I’d say something like “Thanks!” or “you, too.” I can never ever bring myself, even if in a perfunctory matter, to mentioning God or to pray. I can’t do it. I won’t do it.
I wasn’t always an atheist or an agnostic. Nevertheless, I cannot tell, with any degree of certainty when I first began to pull away from the norm or when I began to close my eyes and my heart and my senses to religion and to spirituality and to any notion of an omnipotent and omnipresent being. Frankly, I am not sure whether I am an agnostic or an atheist. I vacillate between the two. I have no way of knowing or proving there is a supreme being; I have no way of proving there isn’t one. Either way, it doesn’t really matter to me since religion or spirituality has no place in my life.
I am not searching for some great answers; I am not in quest of a big mystery, some great unknown. I formally abandoned the Church in 1989 and have only stepped into one on three occasions. My best friend cajoled me into attending service on two consecutive Sundays in 1993 (in
To save myself a whole lot of headache, I could lie; I could put on a show like so many people do — people who claim to be Christians, who claim to be sons and daughters of God. Beyond that I could put up an act and say I am a born again. I could be like some people I know who preach fire and brimstone, shouting their lungs off — claiming to have a direct line to God. I could claim this and that and everything in between. I could claim to have the ability to make the hearing and visually impaired hear and see again. In Christendom, as with other religion, one could claim the unclaimables. But very few indignities compare to the indignity I sometimes suffer in the hands of some fanatics.
First, I always get the evil-look when I tell gatherings that I don’t pray and don’t want to join them in their prayer sessions. In such moments, it is not unusual for someone to say “If you don’t want prayers, do you want curses and evil spells…if you are not serving God, you must be serving juju.” Indeed, not a few have asked what type of god I serve. One such person showed up in my one-bedroom apartment, looked around and quipped: “You no dey go Church…you no be Christian and you no be Muslim…I fear you oo” The belief is that if I am not a Christian or a Muslim, then, I must be “something.” What that “something” is beats me. I get a kick out of people’s misplaced suspicion. I pity them.
And secondly, some people don’t know how to relate to me. They act and speak as though my irreligiosity is some kind of communicable disease, something and somebody to avoid at all cost. It is as though my irreligiosity negatively defines who I am, shapes my worldview, and impact my sense of right and wrong, my humanity, my benevolence and my essence. It is as if without faith, I am nothing. Foolishly, some tell me I will burn in hell unless I change my ways and accept Jesus Christ (and then going as far as quoting John 3:16 to me). Nigerians, that is.
I sometimes wonder if Nigerians didn’t “invent” religion, especially Christianity. On the exterior, they are more Catholic than the Pope, more pious than
For unknown reasons, the more I study religion, the farther I get from it; the more learned I get, the greater the distance between spirituality and my daily life. Education seem to have allowed me to decide for myself “whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions.” I do not know whether God-seekers will ever find or know him now or in the future, I do not know whether a day will ever come when humans will “come before God and account for their deeds on earth,” and I certainly do not know if paradise awaits anyone. No one knows with any measure of certainty if there is a God. All they can do is guess, or hope there is one. Others go beyond guessing, they believe; they worship and praise and bow before him. As for me, I do not know and do not want to know.
Another cost to my irreligiousness is finding a suitable and marriageable African woman. Put another way, after all these years, I am yet to meet an African woman who is an agnostic or atheist or who is comfortable with one. No matter how Americanized or westernized, they seem to hold dear to their religious faith. Without any type of empirical backing, African women seem to be more religious compared to their male counterparts. In Churches at least, they are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. Except for the inner sanctum, they seem to be in charge of everything — including nurturing the young and the newcomers. Women take matters of faith and spirituality very seriously. And that probably accounts for why snow will rain on
Nothing else seems to matter — smartness that borders on brilliance, versatility, kindness and generosity of the heart, great culinary skills, fine lineage, great sense of ethics and morality, etc — and even if they matter, they seem pale in comparison to the religious and spiritual requirement of African women. In a way, that is good. It is good because it allows one to cross all racial boundaries.