Faith & Philosophy

Speaking of Religion, Speaking of Women

“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 Lagos); on another occasion in 2004, I waited in a Church foyer until a friend’s children completed their baptism rituals (in Norman, Oklahoma). Otherwise, going to Church on Sundays or on any other day is the last thing on my mind, praying to a deity or to any other supernatural being doesn’t occur to me. There is a common saying: “there are no atheists in foxholes, well, I have been in many foxholes and haven’t flinched.

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 Vatican Saints. Mario Azevedo it was who said, “Throughout the centuries, religion has played a crucial role in the destiny of man. It has shaped his outlook of the universe, provided an explanation of his existence, and impacted his political, social, and economic behavior…brought harmony, strengthened the bonds of brotherhood among peoples of the world…it has likewise caused untold suffering…” In Nigeria and amongst Nigerians, religion has been a source of suffering and disillusionment for most. It has made a sizeable number of Nigerians fatalistic and indolent.

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 Lagos before an African woman agrees to marry an atheist or an agnostic like me.

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.

6 Comments

  1. Sabella one thing at least you are honest. Maybe too much for most to handle. But religion has nothing to do with finding a good African wife, its just you who has not made your mind up!

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  2. African women marry whites who are agnostics or atheists, so it cant be your lack of religion thats preventing you from finding an African woman to marry.

    Come on, Sabella.

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  3. Wolf Sabella is not so alone. There are a growing number of Nigerian agnostics, atheists, humanists and many other categories in between. The difference is that there aren’t too many who publicly declare where they stand in an extremely intolerant “religious” society/environment. Those Nigerians who do not join the Christian or Muslim camp among are often treated worse than criminals! Even those “religious” folk who have no idea what their religious books contain feel entitled to throw punches. I should know.

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  4. Bros Sabella, can you see dat some1 ‘loves’ you so much 4 ur agnostic/atheistic views? Well-written and dare I say, honest article. To be frank, we Christians have not helped matters both by the examples we show, and the disdainful manner we tend to treat seeming ‘unbelievers’. Now Jesus Christ gave a hint that the singular trait that’ll define his disciples would be LOVE, and he also summarized the purpose of man on earth as the pursuit of love for God, and love for humanity;spelt ‘our neighbours’. When we truly love others, they’d see and experience an ‘apparition’ of God whether they believe in God or not…afterall, GOD is LOVE. That said, I understand and sympathisize with your reasons for not believing in God, as this can’t be empirically-proven. As a young boy, I grew up being religious as I was an altar boy in my local catholic church and at some point wanted to become a Capuschin Monk like Padre Pio. That was in my mid teen years, but as I entered the university and began to ask questions like…”How did we get into this world? why am I alive? Who created all that I see? What is the mind,soul and spirit?…the questions raged on and on, and the more I read about world religions, the more I was confused, and got to the point of despairing. I tried to follow the ‘naturalists’ and came to believe in evolution and the existentialist views. But for all that I bugged my mind with…none of this questions were answered to set my heart at peace. In my early 20s, I was proud to tell anyone that mattered that I’m a ‘student of the mind’ since spiritual things didn’t make much of a meaning then. But deep in my heart, I sought and longed for the TRUTH that will settle my mind and defuse the tension within.

    How did this restlessness resolve? I had a transcedent and personalized experience that brought me to the point that I realized that I can’t truly figure God with my MIND….ie REASON alone can’t make any sense of God for REVELATION ,when placed in the right perspective and before reason can open a channel through which faith can be exercised. Did all my questions get answers you may ask? Nay! But was I left confused at the Island of Uncertainty? Nay! The restlessness of trying to get answers to my was dissipated and am better for it ever since.It’s now 14 years since I sorted out myself and belief in God such that no one can shake me off it. The fact still remains that God will reveal Himself to anyone who truly want to know Him…I don’t know how it will happen,or how long it will take, but I know from my own experience that God didn’t leave me unattended to, for the length of time that I saw the Bible as a Book of Fables, and Christianity; a religion that couldn’t answer my questions about life!

    Bros, you may wish to google or read about the lives of C.S. Lewis , Derek Prince , Francis Schaffeur and John Stott whose apologetic books helped me at some point as they were also based on their personal experiences combined with deep thinking, but if you’re looking for empirical evidence to support or disprove God’s existance, I doubt if you’d find any in the best scientific laboratory. Some ‘neurotheologists’ have tried to dissect the brain so as to understand the dynamics of why we believe in God…and they’ve hit snags and brickwalls cos if the best of brain scientists have only scratched the superficial surface of the brain because of its complexity, how much tough would it be to untangle the cobweb that shrouds our knowledge of God.

    We’re waiting at the other end…and whether you believe in God or not…you’re still my BROTHER cos in the words of Ben Okafor (www.benokafor.com) …” I am not because I am, I am just because We are. Those who make YOU suffer, do ME wrong…”

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  5. Ah Sabella,I never love you so much as when you write about your atheism/agnosticism.I can hear your heart-cry and longing to know for sure that there is God.There is one but it doesn’t make a difference whether you want to know him or not because He does know you and loves you.I enjoyed this article.Keep writing.

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