Skepticism and Freethought in Lagos

I would like to salute fellow humanists and skeptics, and other curious and inquisitive friends for honouring our invitation to the meeting of April 28, 2013 and for considering being there the best way to spend their time and observe their Sunday. Their presence was a clear indication that the idea of a skeptical Lagos of doubters, critical thinking and questioning individuals and groups was one whose time had come.

A day before the event, I was out in Sabo area distributing some flyers and inviting the people I met on the streets to attend this event. Interestingly some of the people whom I gave the flyers without looking or reading the content simply said “God Bless you”. Yes, God bless me indeed for promoting an event for skeptics and humanists!

And on my way back to the hotel, I met some young ladies and men mostly in their 20s also distributing some flyers but this time around, inviting me and some other passers-by to ‘worship and fellowship’ with them at the ‘Manna’s Court’ branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Montgomery Road Sabo Yaba. The first flyer has a photo of a man with two kids and a bold inscription that reads- Jesus Loves You. Quite appealing, isn’t it?

It goes on to give 3 incoherent and unpersuasive reasons why Jesus loves ‘you’ (I guess it was not referring to me), all starting with ‘because….’. 1. Because you have a past of sin and failure and Jesus wiped the slate of your past and ‘give{sic} you a new beginning’. But the flyer does not state Jesus’ purpose for giving you a new beginning. 2. Because you need a friend and Jesus is this friend because he knows the worst about ‘you’ and still believes in the best (whatever that means).

3. Because he (Jesus) holds the future. But the author of the flyer does not state the reason why Jesus is holding on to the future of his friends. The author, like other purported readers, transmitters and transcribers of the mind of god or Jesus, finds it hard to give us a coherent, consistent and intelligible articulation of the basis of christian love. Like other religious texts believers hardly subject them to critical evaluation. They accept such messages as infallible divine wisdom.

A second flyer contains the timetable for the church’s program which includes a Faith Clinic session on Thursdays. I guess at this faith clinic session ‘Dr Jesus’ visits and presides over the healing of every disease including HIV/AIDS.

But I found more hilarious the third flyer which has a short testimony on ‘About the Bible’. It states -

“I was told that I had to go to the seminary to understand the Bible. I was told not to open it. But one day I read it and it was like sunshine to my heart. I discovered that the Bible is{sic} really God speaking to me, and I could understand it. It said, “ For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life(John 3:16). It also said, “He who does not believe the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him”(John 3:36).

It further states, “Does it take {a} seminary graduate to understand these wonderful words? It’s so simple! God means what He says, and says what He means. I am resting on what God says”.

Going by the message, you do not need to be a skeptic to understand how mistaken the author and his/her God are. And mistake is something not often associated with sacred writing.

From the above-mentioned reasons and others, this notion persists – and many people still insist – that there are no skeptics, atheists or freethinkers in Africa; that the African continent is a region of blind dogmatic believers and fetish voodoo worshippers; that Africans express skepticism only by imitating the western mentality; that skepticism is alien to African thought and culture. But friends, is skepticism a western outlook? Is the skeptical outlook alien to us? The answer is an unequivocal NO! The skeptical viewpoint is an impulse that beats in the minds of every human being. In fact anytime one casts doubt at any claim, teaching or belief; anytime one questions or demands reason or proof for any claim made by someone, the person expresses skepticism.

Skepticism speaks directly to those ideals which make us human – curiosity, critical thinking, questioning, doubting, objection, interrogation, examination, review and revision, investigation and inquiry.

Actually, you don’t need to be a skeptic in order to be skeptical. But it takes skeptics for skepticism to be visible, vibrant and effective. Even the most faithful and believing folks entertain doubts. The difference between the skepticism of skeptics and the skepticism of believers – religious believers – is that skeptics at least aim to apply or express critical thinking and doubts in all areas of human endeavor, while religious believers suppress their doubts, keep their doubts to themselves, or apply their critical thinking in some areas of human endeavor, particularly those claims or doctrines they reject or disbelieve or those beliefs that are opposed to their religion or those that conflict with the dogmas they profess or accept.

But many religious folks suppress and cannot express openly their doubts not really because they think these doubts are pointless and senseless but because of the social costs and consequences of doing so. (The doubting Thomases are always vilified and demonised.)

This is particularly the case when doubts are openly expressed about dominant religious teachings or popular superstitions and traditions. Such a fellow could be attacked or ostracized by family members. The person is persecuted or could be killed at least in some parts of the country. So we find ourselves in a situation where it is risky and dangerous to doubt or question issues openly and publicly.

In fact we find ourselves in a situation where it is risky and dangerous to think. So ours is a society where many people are afraid to hold independent views and opinions. Ours has become a believing – a blind believing – not a thinking society. And most of the problems that plague us today are due to our inability to think freely and critically about issues, our inability to encourage critical evaluation of claims. Our country Nigeria needs a freethinking and skeptical climate to generate the ideas we need to tackle the problems we face. Unfortunately, most people in our society prefer, have resigned themselves to, or are contented with received ‘wisdoms’ which are sometimes not appropriate or suitable to the specific and contemporary challenges we face today.

So most skeptics and humanists are in the closet. Skeptical views are expressed in hushed tones. And this shouldn’t be the case. We need to let the world know that we have skeptics in Lagos, that not all the people in Lagos believe or accept the miracle claims of T. B Joshua, Enoch Adeboye, David Oyedepo and other fake healers. Not all the people in Lagos accept and consume the paranormal and penticostal wares of prophets and magicians, witch doctors and soothsayers that dot the nook and cranny of this city. Not everyone endorses religious exploitation and faith based abuses being perpetrated across the state.

A skeptical Lagos holds a lot of promise for the people in Lagos, in Nigeria and Africa.

So let’s work and campaign to make it happen.

Arise, all skeptics in Lagos.

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