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

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

69 thoughts on “Atheist experience in Africa(?)

  1. UnRelatable says:

    First time I came out atheist I got asked if I’m a satanist… it would only be the first of many

    Liked by 2 people

  2. truthspew says:

    Interesting post. Me, I live in southeast New England region of the United States. The Catholic church likes to spout that 50% of the population is Catholic but I call bovine effluent on that. My favorite though – I was at a hearing at the State House and I commented about Atheism – got one legislator to admit that she too was an atheist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. foolsmusings says:

    Although we have a small minority of people here in Canada who would like nothing better than laws forcing church attendance, making abortion illegal and imprisonment for homosexuals, most people religious or not could care less about my atheism. The trick is keeping this small minority from the reigns of power as they’ll try every trick in the book to gain it, much like our neighbour to the south.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. jim- says:

    Mak here is a cool Ugandan Atheist blog. Dr Seggy has a smooth and simple style that resonates very well. https://teabreaksite.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/in-response-atheists-do-not-have-to-believe-that-there-is-no-god/

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Arkenaten says:

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

    What! That’s almost anti-colonialist, that is! I bet I’ve lived here longer than you’ve been born, so I’m as African as you. I’m just a very, very light African.
    Sheesh!

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Hahah Ark. That was the only way of getting you out of slumber lo. Plus you need to read interesting stuff after that mess from Mel

      Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      How has been your experience in SA from way back? Though from what I have gathered, you have been tethered at home for a while now

      Liked by 1 person

      • Arkenaten says:

        Experience? You mean religious/atheist?

        It only reared its head once at a end of year finction. Before we started our own firm we worked for a real estate company called Chas Everitt.
        At this end of year do, the owners, who were devout Christians, called everyone to bow their heads for a prayer.
        I didn’t and received a dagger-like look from a middle age woman at our table who also hissed:
        ”Chas is a Christian, you know?”
        ”Oh, really? I’m not.”

        And that was that.

        Otherwise, being atheist has never been an issue here in SA for me at all.
        There seems to be a fairly high degree of religious tolerance all round down here. Certainly nothing religious seems to make the news except on very rare occasions.

        There’s no noise about gays or atheists or abortion or even Liverpool supporters, so I’m okay.

        You might remember Zuma stating the ANC would remain in power until Jesus returned!
        It made the news but most people just thought it was a stupid thing to say rather than express any sort of monumental outrage.

        And yes, I am ”tethered” at home. lol …
        chained to my kennel in fact.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. From a sociological viewpoint, much depends on how the general populace reacts to atheism or disbelief. If heretics are burned at the stake, like during The Inquisition, then the self-suppression of atheist sentiments would most definitely be motivated by fear. Today, our societies are a little more tolerant. Even the most fervent Christians accept my right to disbelief even though they vainly try to change my mind. The reasons why I don’t typically like to discuss religion with my family, friends, and neighbors, is because it is a pointless waste of time, and because it interferes with finding common ground with people in social settings.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I hear lots of people in Wakanda are atheists.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. john zande says:

    I suspect the African experience is very similiar to the Brazilian/S American experience… we’re surrounded by highly superstitious people.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I want to live in Kenya now.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. nasimolo says:

    Black panther gives a glimpse of how spiritual practice was conducted in ancient times. Through shamans.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      But my friend, that is not a complete picture. There were shamans yes for special occasions but what happened on day to day life of our ancestors? Was religion what it is today? Obligation to go to church? Or was their more

      Like

      • nasimolo says:

        spirituality was a day to day affair for each individual, the way it should. Church attendance doesn’t necessarily make one spiritual, this is just one of the many activities which have been made into dogmas by some.

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        • makagutu says:

          Do you think Africans lost their spirituality when they became Christians and Muslims?

          Like

          • nasimolo says:

            Yes they did, what remains is a shell of what they originally had. Most rituals today are symbolic for the real practices of ancient days

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            There is argument that the African Christian is two faced. When all that is christian and western fails, he or she goes back to tradition that is not well remembered. The argument goes further that to most people, in a conflict between Christianity and tradition, the latter will carry the day

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          • nasimolo says:

            Ha ha ha. That’s true. But I am slowly coming to realize that it’s a myth to say that everything Christian is western. African traditions/pagan practices can be seen in Christianity. The conflict you mention about African Christian is because mainstream Christianity suppresses or denies it’s relation with pagan practices.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            There’s some truth in this.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. nannus says:

    You already mentioned Okot p’Bitek. In the second book of him you mention, he describes a non-theistic belief system (among the Luo, as far as I remember). It is also funny to read.
    You may look at http://asq.africa.ufl.edu/files/Vol-1-Issue-4-Wiredu.pdf (describing West African religion). This is basically a monotheism, combined with a belief in ancestral spirits. There is a belief in superhuman, but not supernatural, “spirits” (the word spirit is giving it a wrong connotation, however), and since these are thought to be created beings like animals and humans, they don’t really form part of the religion. The missionaries reinterpreted this belief system by introducing the devil and hell, turning the superhuman natural beings into supernatural (mostly demonic, devilish) demons and declaring the dealing with them to be witchcraft (a concept introduced by Europeans into Africa, together with the devil).
    Also, you may put on your reading list Christopher Ehret “The civilizations of Africa”. Among other things, Ehret also describes traditional belief systems, two of which were non-theistic (one among the Khoisan, the other one according to him the original belief system of the Nilo-Saharans (he calls this “Koman religion”, as far as I recall, after one of the branches of the language family. I think the belief system descripbed by Okot p’Bitek may be a version of this.
    Besides this, there where three traditions of Monotheism (in West Africa (see above), among Nilo-Saharans (a pure monotheism, versions of this still exist where they have not been absorbed and assimilated by christianity or Islam) and later among the Kushites, a subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic (or Afrasan) tradition (called Afro-Asiatic because one of their branches, the Semites, moved into Asia). In Nigeria, the West-African tradition gave rise to a belief system that may be described as polytheistic (by elevating some superhuman beings or ancestral spirits to god-like level (the Orisha)). The Afrasans originally seem to have a form of Henotheism with clan deities (you can find a trace of that in the stories of Abraham, the clan deity forms an alliance with the founder of the clan. The clan members may belief that there are other gods but must venerate only their clan god, whose chosen people they are – only later was this reinterpreted into a monotheism and some creation myth from somewhere else added). In Egypt, several Afrasan and Sudanic groups where politically united and as a result, their clan gods (in the north) and sudanic monotheistic deity (in the south) where merged into a form of polytheism (it looks like Akhenaten more or less etched out the Sudanic part of this mix out of it again; in any case the view that his was the first monotheistic religion is definitely wrong, monotheism in Africa is much older). Ehret used reconstructions from linguistics (e.g. tracing words for deities or religious concepts to common precursor languages) to arrive at some of his conclusions. Some of his theories might be controversial but I think he got much nearer to the truth than, for example, Cheikh Anta Diop, who tried to put the puzzle together when a lot of pieces where still missing and seems to have gotten a lot of things wrong (e.g. Diop seems to have believed that African cultures can be largely derived from Egypt, although more recent research shows that this was clearly not the case – e.g. people in central Africa invented iron smelting before the Egyptians had it, invented copper smelting on their own, invented agriculture on their own (four times), invented ceramics before the middle east (the Nilo-Saharans) etc. Definitely a book worth reading.

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    • makagutu says:

      Thanks for this very informative response. I have a copy of the article you shared. I think it is a very good article. On the Luo, which yours truly belong, were monotheistic, or more accurately, henotheistic.
      I will look for the work of C. Ehret.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. shelldigger says:

    Wait! There was a beer drinking event by freethinking types? Why the hell were we not notified of this event? 😉

    I am careful around town, in being non vocal about my religious preferences (that they all be discarded to the trash.) Unless I encounter other like minded souls. Which has happened once lol. I am not concerned for myself so much, but still have a boy in school, and I also get an odd job or two in these parts because of my mad custom home finish skills. This being the Uber Religious South, these people just would not understand. Good chance of my boy getting the x-ian shun at school, and me missing out on a little work here and there, just because we don’t conform to the norm, of being jeebus loving, beer swilling, rednecks, who hate Obama and Hillary and say yeehaw a lot.

    So, we laugh at them at home, and keep a close eye on them when we are out. I also keep a months supply of food in the house and plenty of ammo, just in case we get surrounded. 😉 While that is sorta kinda a joke, these people really do concern me at times…

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      There was weed too, I should add and good food. Next time, I will do a banner.
      Your way of dealing with it makes sense. It’s never that serious. No need to lose opportunities just because of differences of opinion.

      Like

      • shelldigger says:

        I thought the way you dealt with your praryer monger was pretty smooth. 🙂

        We all have to walk among the masses, treading carefully is probably wise to some extent.

        Had to bring my old work truck back up to road worthy, with tires and some light mechanical work (because of our new driver we need another vehicle in the mix). Then had to get a licence plate, while in the courthouse getting the tags, the lady asked me if we wanted the tag with the logo “In Dog We Trust” or the regular plate without it. I was dumbstruck for a moment, before I replied “Just give us the regular one” with a tad of irritation. I could not help but notice the god monger tag pile was noticeably shorter than the regular tag pile. Now where live that probably means they have to renew the god mongerer pile twice a day…

        Tags, and license plate are interchangable ’round these parts, sorry if there was any confusion.

        Like

      • shelldigger says:

        …and YES! Please post a banner next time so I can at least have an opportunity to realize I probably won’t be able to get there 😉

        Like

  13. A great read for skeptics:
    The Cure, imagine there’s no religion.
    A novel from David Millett
    #Novel #SciFi #DMP http://davidmillett.net/Books/TheCure/TheCure.aspx

    Like

  14. Hello friend. I understand that you might feel justified in your belief that God does not exist. It is perfectly understandable that you read the bible and use it to respond to people with theistic beliefs, you know what they know and more so you might feel as though you can completely prove that God is not real. However, dear friend, these theistic friends of yours have something that you do not have, they have the holy spirit. The gift of the holy spirit is what allows us Christians to see beyond just the words written in the pages of the bible, and to see its true spiritual effects on our personal lives. What you have read are simply words and nothing more. The gift of the holy spirit is something that only God can give, God won’t give it to those who are simply trying to assess whether he is real or not, but to those who truly believe in him. I understand that you might have questions, feel free to ask me. I would love for you to consider God, he loves us all and wants to connect with us.

    Like

    • Nan says:

      Pardon me for putting it this way, CCR, but HOGWASH! First, there is no “holy spirit,” and second, the words on the page are the same no matter whether you read them standing on your head, outside in the sun, or sitting in a church pew. And I would venture to say you have not read ALL the words or you would not be so certain that god “loves us all” — because if he does, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

      Like

      • Dear friend, saying that there is no holy spirit is something that only a person without the holy spirit will say. This simply proves my initial assumption that you are reading the bare words of the bible without garnering any understanding in the spirit. Also, make sure that you are reading the word carefully. If God does not love us all, he would not send his son to die for us. He has compassion for us. Make sure that you are reading consistently while noting the differences between the old and new testament. Good luck and God bless.

        Like

        • Nan says:

          Dear “FRIEND,”

          Just for the record, I’ve been there, done that … saved, baptized, filled with the (so-called) holy spirit. And I could have written exactly what you have in your comments — word-for-word.

          BUT … many years ago I dug out from under all that silly stuff and was able to actually see what a fallacy it is. Thank the gods!

          Whether you want to accept it or not, the bible is FILLED with atrocious stories and acts that Yahweh either instigated or permitted. If you truly believe “he” is a good god, then it is YOU who is not reading “the word” carefully. I urge you to take off your rose-colored glasses and read what is really there. Church leaders are VERY good at leaving out the actual stories and events — as is evidenced by your comments.

          Oh and BTW, in regards to your response to atheistsmeow, “Satan” does NOT exist. Do some research (OUTSIDE of the bible). I am certain you will be VERY surprised at how this false belief came about.

          Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        I can’t agree more with you, Nan

        Liked by 1 person

    • BS! Tell it to the starving kids, or the kids with cancer, or birth defects, or the ones who are raped, kidnapped, killed

      Like

      • Nowhere in the bible did God promise that only good things will happen on earth. On the contrary the bible tells us that Satan was cast down from the heavens, and he came upon the earth. He has come to steal, to kill and to destroy. A lot of unfortunate events are caused by Satan and not God. However, our God can save us. You may ask, then why does he not save us? God has power over Satan and can save us, however he is a righteous God who cannot look upon sin. He sent Adam and Eve away from his presence because of their sin, because he cannot look upon sin. However, even with sin, he has never ceased to love us. He still blessed Adam and Eve, and he has sent many prophets i.e. Elijah, Noah and even his son Jesus to preach to us and show us the way away from sin. Satan entices us into sin because he knows that when we sin we would be distant from God and that would allow him to cause mischief in our lives. You may ask, but bad things happen too in the lives of even good bible-believing Christians: yes it does. This is because although some are holier than others, no one is perfectly clean from sin. The trials and tribulations that true Christians go through is sometimes used as a test from the devil to see whether we are true believers or whether we would crack under pressure and have only a superficial faith. You may ask, then why does God not simply destroy the devil: the answer is because God has set out an appointed time to destroy the devil, he has promised that he will. The devil seeks to cause as much destruction as possible because he only has a short time left before he is destroyed.

        Like

    • makagutu says:

      Tell that to the holy spirit, will you?

      Like

  15. […] ask me) was a short story of the past. Then there was reflections on Christianity and finally about atheist experience in […]

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