Atheist experience in Africa(?)

It is while reading this post that the question occurred to me of what is the atheist experience in Kenya. First, works such as those by Mbiti add credence to the claim

that Africans are deeply religious and theistic.

I also think the main thesis of the piece, that

The way and manner that atheists in Africa are treated have largely been overlooked. What atheists encounter in the course of their lives has not been adequately highlighted.

Is largely true. Unlike the author, I have not had the opportunity to attend a large gathering of freethinkers or agnostics and atheists. Well, I have attended a beer drinking session organised by my godless friends but never a conference.

Those who have followed this blog long enough recall the furore over registration of an atheist society in Kenya that wound up being decided by the high court in the favour of atheists. Generally, however, it can be argued almost convincingly that atheists are invisible. It is however hard to tell if it is by design or whether it is as a result of mistreatment or a fear of atheists to speak up.

Because I am not a social scientist, nor am I going to do a longitudinal study of atheist experience in Kenya any time soon, the sample for this post is yours truly and the conclusions drawn from it cannot be said to apply to the general population.

In many instances when I have spoken of my godlessness, others have claimed it is a phase, while others think I am confused or worse still others think I am pretending. They convince themselves that I am a believer in their god, maybe even more devoutly so, especially since to some of them, my knowledge of the bible is superior to theirs. The explanation that I read it every so often just to be able to respond to their claims doesn’t cut it with many people.

My workplace is the best. I love my colleagues. While majority are christian only divided by the cult they have opted to associate with, religious discussions hardly feature in our interactions except when I am in my cheerful self and making fun of a thing or two about their beliefs.

While I have read of people who have been disowned by their families, especially America or whose relationships have broken down, I have no such fear. My immediate family is resolved to my godlessness. It bothers no one. My extended family has no such say in how I live my life, so there is no chance they would do something so drastic. Besides, how would they achieve their ends? Block me from going to my house?

What I would however hope for is to get more writings by African scholars on atheism from an African perspective. The Judeo-Christian and Muslim conceptions though interesting, are no longer attractive to me. I am interested in whether in the traditional African societies, atheism existed and how was it articulated? How did society respond to the claims of atheism or is it a western thing in the continent finding its foundation in the rejection of both the missionary and colonial overlord.

I am aware that some of the Kenyans who were at the forefront in the fight for independence, who had at first converted to christianity either quit or only appeared to believe while in public. It is also the case that some of the Independent African Churches were a repudiation of some of the teachings of Jesus, some to the extent of claiming divine revelation without the need for Jesus. These aspects should interest a cultural anthropologist which I am not. My interest would extend only as far as how they treated of houses of worship, if they had such or whether worship took place under sacred trees, stones or in caves. The rest lies in the province of social and cultural anthropologists.

In the next month or two I will read Nkrumah’s Consciencism (if I can find it) and his exposition of materialism as a philosophy. Two books by Okot p’Bitek Decolonizing African Religion and African Religion in Western Scholarship will also be looked at.

I think the thesis of the article attached above has some truth in it, considering for example the experience of atheists in Egypt, Nigeria and so on. But since a study or poll covering Africa hasn’t been done, we can agree there is much more work to be done. Asking atheists of their experience would not be enough. To be meaningful for our purposes, I do think it would be useful to also find out how the rest of society views us.

As a starting point, any atheist, especially of African descent and living in the continent should weigh in. Ark you are not counted :0