Nigeria is home to some of the most religious people across the globe. This is confirmed by the number of churches and mosques, found on almost every street, that get filled up on a weekly basis.
Despite being the most devout region in the world, according to the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, a growing number of people are beginning to identify as atheists.
In the past year, Atheist Alliance International reports that they have organised their first conference, started chapter groups, and are openly monitoring the government.
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Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa reached out to one of the three registered three pro-secular organisations - Atheist Society of Nigeria - in order to find out what is like to live in this country, where religion is considered the way of life.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Tell us about the Atheist Society of Nigeria?
On one level we are about providing a place where atheists and freethinkers can meet and socialise. We find that a lot of atheists in Nigeria have only met fellow atheists on social media.
On another level, we believe science and critical thinking are important and could help all of us in this country. So we champion rationality and try to show people that superstitions can be damaging.
When was it founded?
We registered the society with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), an autonomous body charged with the registration and regulation of companies and organisations in Nigeria, in April 2017, though we have had many Atheist and Atheist-friendly groups in social media before then.
How many members do you have?
We have close to 100 registered members, but we have hundreds more who attend our events and participate in social media groups and activities with us.
What is it like having an atheist organisation in such a religious country like ours?
There is the shock some people feel when they find out that there are atheists in Nigeria. But for the most part, we find Nigerians are tolerant and love to speak their minds when they disagree with you. So we have plenty of discussions but very few instances of being threatened or bullied. We believe in the power of conversation to help each other understand different opinions and worldviews.
Have you been fully accepted?
There were a few issues in getting to register with the CAC in the first place, but in the long run, we haven't had any enduring issues.
What is your organisation's opinion of people in God?
We believe people have a right to believe in and practice any religion they like, just as they have the right to not believe or practice any.
In almost all cases people believe in the god they were raised to believe in. That's why you don't see Christians and Muslims spread randomly through the population. Christians almost always come from Christian homes and Muslims almost always come from Muslim homes. That's just how humans are.
Of course, we don't think people who believe in God have thought it through properly but that's another matter. Whatever religion people have, we see them as our brothers and sisters.
Do atheists believe in an afterlife?
Typically, the answer is NO. As I said, we believe in critical thinking so we won't believe in anything unless we can find good reasons to believe. We see no evidence that an afterlife exists, so we don't believe in it.
What about sin, premarital sex for instance?
Atheism is lacking a belief in God. That is the only thing all atheists have in common so we don't have a standard view on matters such as premarital sex.
We also do not have a notion of sin. There are things that are morally wrong, based on society's definitions, but we don't refer to them as sin.
We think there are rational ways to decide what's right and what's wrong.
What guides your principles of right and wrong?
Morality is mostly about how we treat each other. Being moral is about helping others rather than harming them. It's about being concerned about other people's well-being. We are all humans so we have a pretty good idea what helps people and what harms them. That means we can use reason and knowledge to decide what is moral and what is not.
There is also the issue of the values of society. What are the things we hold dear as a society?
How can we promote values that bring us together, increase happiness and well-being, and give us a sense of belonging?
Christians have the Bible, Muslims the Quran, what do atheists have?
We have logic, we have science, we have critical thinking. Everybody else has these tools as well, but we consider them more useful for navigating reality than books that people claim to have either been written or inspired by deities we have no evidence even exist.
Apart from your strong belief in the non-existence of a God, are there any other principles that guide your organisation?
An atheist does not need to have a "strong belief in the non-existence" of a god. In fact, most atheists I know simply have not seen good enough reasons to believe any gods exist.
Our society is guided by 2 basic ideas: Reason and Humanity. We try to base our decisions on rationality and logic, and we try to cater to the well-being of members and other atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in Nigeria.
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In your own words, what would you like people to know about atheists?
Atheists are just like everybody else. Just like a Christian may not believe in Amadioha or Ogun, and just like a Muslim may not believe in Krishna or Kali; we simply do not believe in any of them. And for the most part, we find it doesn't change our morals or our zest for life.