How Questioning Religious Beliefs Will Benefit Africans

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 Source: Igwe, Leo

By Leo Igwe

Skeptics and humanists are meeting in Lagos this August to discuss a very crucial topic - The Benefits of Questioning Beliefs. This event is another indication of a growing trend in critical thinking and reasoned inquiry in the region. As the Greek philosopher, Socrates once said "An unexamined life is not worth living". Surely, many Africans are beginning to realize that an unexamined religion is not worth believing, so they are beginning to ask questions.

For too long, Africa has been presented as a continent of fetish, magically minded and superstitious people who cannot think scientifically and logically like their western counterparts. While magical notions are found virtually in all cultures, magical thinking is too often associated with African cultures. An African scholar, John S Mbiti once said that 'Africans are notoriously religious'. While the French thinker, Lucien Levy Bruhl also speculated that mystical participation characterized the mentality and global conception of African people. Anyone who takes a closer look at the situation in contemporary Africa would agree that these are not totally baseless utterances by some misguided eggheads.

While I take exception to the line of reasoning that portrays Africans as essentially wired to be dogmatic or magical in their mental functions, I think there is some reason to entertain such views. Magic is so present and pronounced in all aspects of African life, thought and culture. A magical interpretation of life is dominant in rural and urban communities. Social interaction is ridden with witchcraft insinuation and occult epistemologies. Religions wield so much influence in what Africans do or say (at least publicly).

Questioning religious, traditional and cultural beliefs is widely seen as a taboo. In African politics, 'science' and 'philosophy', and in the educational and legislative systems, theism plays an overbearing role. Supernaturalism is an unyielding point of reference in public discussions and debates. Questioning religious and cultural beliefs will help Africans in so many ways. It will facilitate intellectual emancipation in the region because, at the moment, the dogmas of Christianity and Islam are holding most Africans hostage. Many Africans cannot think outside the religious Christian and Islamic boxes. Questioning beliefs will get Africans to break away from the magical thinking category which has too often been associated with the continent and which underlies the stereotypical distinction between African mystical (pre/other logical) mindedness and the western logical, scientific outlook which persists in the anthropological discourse. In particular, questioning religious beliefs will help correct this erroneous notion and get people to understand that skeptical reasoning is not western - yes it is not. The will to doubt is not alien to Africa and does not belong to any race or region. Questioning ideas is a human not an European value. Furthermore, critically examining beliefs will enhance African liberation from the tyranny of received ideas and get the people of this region to embark on the exciting venture of discovery, of invention and innovation. Africans have for too long relied on received ideas. The continent cannot grow or prosper if Africans continue to depend and blindly follow the dictates of received ideas as contained in the sacred texts. The knowledge claims in the Koran and the Bible belong to the past. They are largely outdated, and governing Africa based on these ancient religious traditions is backward looking and jeopardizes its future.

Questioning, challenging and examining the dogmas and revelations of all religions especially the codified versions of Christianity and Islam will set Africans on the part of exploring, embracing and relishing new forward looking ideas – and new ways of thinking and living. Questioning religious beliefs will help African people tinker with limits of knowledge, and embark on adventurous thinking, on conquering ignorance and possibly extending the frontiers of the known. By refusing to question, Africans impoverish themselves. They rob themselves and the world at large of those unique ideas, thoughts and wisdom, of inventions and innovations that could accrue from original and independent thinking. They are depriving the world of new cures to diseases and new solutions to some of the world's problems. The logic of questioning is the logic of discovery; it is the logic of recreation and renewal. Yes it is the logic of independence and enlightenment. Africans should embrace it now. Africans should exercise that logic in its fullness. So this century presents Africans with a clear choice – the choice of harvesting the benefits of doubt and questioning, or resigning to the bondage of religious dogmatism and blind faith. If skeptical rationality is to emerge as a potent force in Africa; if Humanism in Africa is to survive and thrive, if the continent of Africa is not to succumb to the dark enslaving forces of intolerant faiths and mistrusted ideologies then African people must begin to question - and question aloud - all religious beliefs.

To all Africans, I say, dare to question, dare to know!

Columnist: Igwe, Leo