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Why Criticism of Religion is Important in Contemporary Africa

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 Source: Igwe, Leo

Leo Igwe

Criticizing religion is urgently needed in today's world particularly in Africa because it is in this region that the negative effects of religious dogmatism and absolutism are so glaring. In fact it has become a moral and intellectual duty for all free and open minds to highlight and expose through writing, cartoons, drama, music and comedy shows the absurdities, misconceptions, falsehoods and illusions of religion. First of all, religion is a human phenomenon and nothing human is – and should be beyond criticism. Criticizing religion is important because it is a human right that has long been ignored and has long been denied. It is a power and entitlement the exercise of which is important for human happiness and human flourishing.

Unfortunately, one of the greatest tragedies in human history is that human beings created ideas – religious ideas - and then made it a crime, a forbidden act, for others to question them. Human beings have placed a heavy price on critical examination of religious and superstitious beliefs particularly Islam thereby perpetuating these ideas with all their limitations and shortcomings.

The situation in Africa is quiet disturbing because the continent has a triple religious heritage – traditional, Christian and Islamic and these layers of dogma and absolutism make critical examination of faith claims more challenging, and yes, more urgent and compelling.

The three faiths make conflicting and contradictory claims about this life and what happens after death, about what is right and wrong, what is true and what is false, what is allowed or forbidden, what is good or bad, what is fact or fiction, what is myth or reality. They peddle counter intuitive notions like virgin birth, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the divine revelation of the Koran, the ascent into heaven of Muhammad on a flaming horse, the existence of paradise and Hell fire, the existence of ancestors, spirits and gods that intervene in nature etc. Many Africans grow up confused, not knowing which religion is true and which is false, if any at all, which faith or philosophy is a suitable moral guide in this 21st century. Africans grow up with their minds enchanted, beclouded and not understanding clearly what to believe and what not to believe, not comprehending how to distinguish facts from fantasy.

Critical evaluation of religious teaching is important for the intellectual emancipation and enlightenment of Africans. Exposing the illogics and gaps in religious thinking - the contradictions in its conception of life and nature, needling the balloon of otherworldly faiths will free the minds and morals of Africans from the grip of superstition and fundamentalism. Due to lack of critical thinking, many Africans are embracing religious extremism and are being indoctrinated into thinking that killing others in the name of their god, prophet and religion is a demonstration of faith and a mark of religious virtue.

They do not know that God is an imaginary being and that the so called prophets are historical entities who are dead and gone or mythical figures who never existed in time and space.

Religious promises of paradise, divine judgment and reward in an afterlife are driving Africans to commit atrocities because many people across Africa think that religious promises are true. African Christians and muslims are really working and hoping to inherit paradise as promised in the Bible and the Koran. Sadly, they are mistaken and we need criticism of religion to foreground the erroneous propositions of faith systems and awaken Africans from their religious slumber. Criticism of religion will help disabuse the minds of Africans of religious illusions and delusions and dissuade them from religious credulousness and extremism. Religion is a potent force in human culture and society, and without criticism it will become a treacherous weapon, a lethal, vicious and potentially dangerous agent. We have witnessed how the destructive force of religious extremism is raging and ravaging different parts of Africa and the world today. We need criticism of religion to counter the narratives of religious extremism and exploitation. So to all Africans I say "Criticize every religion - all religions. Spare no faith, god, prophet or holy book no matter how exalted or revered. Expose their erroneous assumptions, absurd claims and misconceptions. Demand evidence for religious claims even at the risk of causing offence. African enlightenment will not be achieved without offending the sensibilities of those who have vested interest in the religious status quo, in African 'endarkenment'. Question all religious dogmas because dogmatization is a cover, a way of preserving and perpetuating error and falsehood. Seek the truth. Ignite the flame of rational inquiry and rid this continent of dark and destructive forces of superstition and unreason.

Columnist: Igwe, Leo