Leo Igwe, Nigerian Humanist, discusses religion and superstition in Africa

Started by Former Believer, April 01, 2012, 08:59:22 PM

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Former Believer

Let's all welcome Leo Igwe, a Nigerian free thinker and activist, to the forum for a special visit!

Leo Igwe was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He has bravely worked to end a variety of human rights violations, including anti-gay hate, sorcery, witchcraft, ritual killing, human sacrifice, ?untouchability?, caste discrimination, ?child witch? superstition, and anti-blasphemy laws. He is presently enrolled in a three year research programme on ?Witchcraft accusations in Africa? at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/bio/igwe/

I'll start out the questioning, but feel free to add your own questions before Leo responds to mine.

Leo, first, thanks for agreeing to do the guest visit.  To my knowledge, you are the first Western African to visit our forum.  How did you become a skeptic/humanist in Nigieria, a very religious nation?  Do you define yourself as an atheist, an agnostic, or something else?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

none

welcome here leo,
I have read a brief synopsis on you and your challenges you have faced.
I hope your time here will be enjoyable and friendly.
how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

Leo666

Thank you friends for inviting me to visit and contribute to your forum. It is a great honour and privilege to be in your midst. On how I became I a skeptic/humanist. I think the skeptical/humanist impulse beats in the hearts and minds of every one including the pope or the sheikh. The only difference is that while some decide to express their skeptical sentiments or thoughts others decide to suppress them. So why did I decide to express mine. Anyone brought up in a deeply religious environment can always hear the ?loud pulsation? of skeptical rationality in the doctrines and dogmas, in the rituals and lithurgies, in the practices and pronouncements. Beyond seeing or perceiving the pulses, one can see or feel the impact- the negative impact of lack of acknowledgement, the dark and destructive consequences. One could also envision what a better and enlightened society it would be without these negative impact.
Encouraged by those who did the same in Europe and brought the ?Enlightenment? I decided, on leaving the catholic seminary where I studied for over a decade, to express my skeptical impulses with the hope that it will help ignite some light in a continent that was once described as a ?Dark Continent?.
On whether I define myself as an atheist or an agnostic or?.
I do not bother so much defining myself. I will leave that to history and posterity
Labels can limit and at the same time leverage the positions people take on issues. I describe myself severally as atheist, humanist, skeptic, rationalist, freethinker, bright,?..any definition of a position or identity informed by reason, science, critical thinking and compassion is applicable to me.


none

Quote from: Leo666 on April 02, 2012, 03:21:56 PM...
I think the skeptical/humanist impulse beats in the hearts and minds of every one including the pope or the sheikh. The only difference is that while some decide to express their skeptical sentiments or thoughts others decide to suppress them.
...
hehehe hahaha
I got a good belly laugh out of your comments!
matter of fact I am laughing out loud!
how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

Argyle

Welcome Leo,

I am very interested in hearing about your experience in Nigeria with the entrenched religion there. I have a good friend who is Nigerian and I have become much more familiar with the region as a result. I understand that there is essentially a coalition of many tribes, and that each tribe tends to be dominated by a religion, either Muslim or Christian. Am I very far off it that description?

My friend showed me some home videos and such that he shot while in Nigeria. It appears that the area is modernizing, however one of the primary things being imported seems to be our penchant for producing mega-churches and treating ministers like rockstars. I saw a few thirty foot billboards depicting preachers, and I wondered how the theology being taught differs.

I understand that there are some areas that enforce a form of sharia in which you could literally have your hand cut off for stealing something. Have you ever visited such an area?

Are you familiar with Helen Ukobia and her ilk? It is abominable that such a practice is occurring in the year 2012. I wonder if you could tell me (assuming you have heard of her and her kind) what the popular opinion from the general public is towards them.

I am also very interested in how religion effects the politics throughout Nigeria.

Forgive me if I have overwhelmed you with questions just at the start.
Cheers!
-Argyle

Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe, but look only and surely at what are the facts,

Former Believer

Quote from: Leo666 on April 02, 2012, 03:21:56 PM
Anyone brought up in a deeply religious environment can always hear the ?loud pulsation? of skeptical rationality in the doctrines and dogmas, in the rituals and lithurgies, in the practices and pronouncements. Beyond seeing or perceiving the pulses, one can see or feel the impact- the negative impact of lack of acknowledgement, the dark and destructive consequences.

That's an interesting take.  Christians often will say that atheists "know in their hearts" that there is a God, but you seem to be saying that theists "know in their hearts" that some things are goofy with their religious beliefs and practices.  Or, am I misreading you?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

maritime

Welcome, Leo.

Thank you, Former Believer, for inviting Leo to share/discuss here at IGI. I will be listening.

I can identify with the "loud pulsation" and listening to the inner imperative to separate from those who would keep one narrow minded and under domination to some set way of thinking, that determines inclusion or not, that determines privilege or not, and the systemic thinking that subjects others to ridicule and mistreatment (and/or worse).

Leo666

As you rightly pointed out, religion is entrenched in Nigeria. Not too long ago, Nigeria was polled to be the most religious nation on earth. Traditional/animist religion was the norm prior to the advent of christianity and Islam. But right now these two alien faiths are dominant after centuries of forced convertion and jihad. Infact today the two religious are pitched in a fierce battle for control and influence. Christianity is dominant in the Southern states and communities while Islam is dominant in most parts of the North. Most Nigerians are brought up, educated and socialized to profess one religion or the other. Due to their upbringing many Nigerians identify, support or align with religious positions whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, harmful or beneficient. In the sharia dominated states in the North, sharia is in force but a militant group Boko Haram is saying that the sharia currently in place is not forceful enough So the group is currently prosecuting a jihad to enforce their own Talibanic version of sharia. The government of Nigeria is currently waging a fierce battle against this terrorist group which has killed thousands of Nigerians including muslims who are critical of the violent campaign. While in the South, penticostal churches are having a field day exploiting poor, guillible Nigeria and using the money to erect mega churches.
And one of them is a notorious witch hunter Helen Ukpabio,    Just do a google search of her name and you will find out for your self the damage she and other pentucostal nuts have done to children and vulnerable members of the population. Ukpabio is not alone in this 'sacred business'. Many Nigerian prophets, pastors, Bishops and Imams are into it. Religion has become the most lucrative business in the country
Yes religious fundamentalism and exploitation is thriving at the expense of reason and critical thinking. The dominant faiths are holding politics and democracy in Nigeria hostage.
My country is laid back because of superstition and dogma. Nigeria is in urgent need of intellectual awakening, religious reformation and enlightenemnt

Airyaman

This, in my opinion, is why religions such as Christianity and Islam are still growing in the world. There are still places that breed the right kind of environment for the religious to exploit. Sad but very true. I am not saying all do it, I used to know quite a few home folks (here in the US) that were all about the gospel of Christ (in a good way I think) and all they wanted to do is share what they thought was good news.

America is slowly becoming a country where the environment is no longer good for these religions. Maybe Islam to some extent because many people are ignorant of it, but Christianity is slowly losing its foothold, regardless of our fellow Christians who might say otherwise. With each new survey, you see less and less people identifying with any definable religion. They simply don't see the need, imho.

Now that I've been agnostic atheist for many years, I really no longer see the appeal either. Sure, the community aspect, the fun of singing ("worship"), and other activities, but none of these are really focused on praising any god as much as they are about seeking self satisfaction.

Thanks for stopping in Leo, +1 from me.
Please take a moment to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks in Bowling Green, Atlanta, and Sweden.

Argyle

I had not heard about the Boko Haram. That is indeed disappointing. Also disappointing is that the only way I am likely to have any understanding at all about the governance and events in a non-white foreign country is if I am talking directly to someone from the region. The news here in the states does not even seem to understand that Africa is not a country but a continent. I wish you and your people the best of luck in combating this virulent strain of Islamic fundamentalism. I can only hope that some of the western enlightenment values are also being imported.

How is Helen Ukpabio being seen in the public eye. Are here supporters the fringe or do you see a general acceptance of her practices among your contemporaries there?
The "Magic Sandwich Show" (an atheist talk show of sorts, which you may have heard of) devoted several hours to the practices of her and her kind this past month, and it was rather sickening.

Cheers!
-Argyle

Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe, but look only and surely at what are the facts,

Leo666

Sickening to a critically oriented mind- a mind that can question and express its doubt and objections without fear. Not one that is crippled by fear of the Lord- even when the Lord or the Lord?s is Ukpabio- which they said is the beginning of wisdom. Because so many people in Nigeria believe in witchcraft few people are ready to speak out against her. Afterall  were they not told in their so called holy book 'Touch not my anointed do my prophet not harm? 1 Chron 16 22)?  This is believed by millions of Nigerians to be the word of God and anyone who goes against it risks going to Hell fire...and NO NIGERIAN wants to go to HELL even if it is imaginary. That is why the likes of Helen Ukpabio and other prophets and imams/marabous are having a field day exploiting the gullible while a few of us continue to hope and strive for a new DAWN... a New Day .....a new Enlightenment

Argyle

Are there forums for free expression in Nigeria? The enlightenment came out of an environment in which great thinkers were able to express and distribute their ideas throughout the known world through the printing press. Does Nigeria have such a forum? What is the level of access to the internet for example?
Cheers!
-Argyle

Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe, but look only and surely at what are the facts,

Leo666

There are actually forums which people adjudge free like the local media But the question is this: are the media really free? Particularly when it comes to matters concerning or critcal of religion ?islam for instance?  Definitely no. Yes internet access is growing and providing freethinking Nigerians forums to express themselves. Yes the internet has been helpful Just check out this link  http://grahamghana.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/the-role-of-the-internet-in-spreading-humanism/

Freethinking people still need more and better internet access..... for the African Spring whenever it happens

Former Believer

Leo,let me apologize!  I just noticed I named the thread "Leo Igwe discuss his religion and superstition in Africa".  I didn't mean to include the word "his"!  I corrected the title, but unfortunately, you'll still see it in some subsequent posts.  As most people on this forum can tell you, I frequently make typos that don't do justice to my keen intellect and writing abilities  ||grin||.

My apologies as I realize you are neither religious nor superstitious.
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

Former Believer

From some of the internet stories I read about you, it seems like your father is a "free thinker" as well?  How religious (if you don't mind me asking) are other members of your family and how much support do you get from them in your efforts?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

Leo666

Yes my father is a freethinker He became a freethinker lately in the course of probing and trying to understand why I embraced freethought. This is how it happened. My parents did nt know or understand much of what I was doing because I left the catholic seminary and moved to another part of the country. But my in law who is a pastor with a church in the US got to know at a point and ?reported? me to my father. My in-law called humanists satanists. So he downloaded some stuff on humanism from the internet and sent to my father who was curious to know what had gotten over the son. I visited home without knowing all these. I only knew that my parents were worried about my ?non challant? attitude towards religion.
So while I was visiting, my father confronted me with the matter and told me straight away that he read the stuff on humanism from my in-law and that he agreed with much of what they(humanists) said. He asked me to send him some more humanist books and publications which I did... I gave him Ingersoll?s the Mistake of Moses and Dan Barker?s Losing Faith in Faith. After reading these two books he said he was done with religion. He refused to return my copy of Dan Barker?s book till date. My mother is religious but she does not bother me. She is constantly worried about my safety and fears that fanatics might attack, harm or kill me. My brothers simply do not care but sometimes they make feel as if I am the other(that my brother who does not believe in god' is the way they often describe me). But I faced serious a lot of challenges when I wanted to marry. I never met any woman even the one with whom I am living with right now who was confortable and happy with my atheism. One lady dropped the phone on me as soon as I told her I was an atheist, another one walked me out of her room, a mother to one, on realizing that I was godless, threatened to arrest me with police if she saw me around her house Even though some were not so religious by my own assessment but for them atheism was a taboo and even if I decide to be an atheist I should not be open or vocal about my atheism I should simply be an atheist and SHUT UP, and keep my atheism to myself. But I pressed on and I am still pressing on...thanks to the support of friends out there.

Pressures? Yes I anticipated them and I am weathering and treating them to the best of my ability....but generally I can say that THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER.....



Argyle

How can we in the states help to support the efforts of yourself and others in Nigeria. One suggestion that was made within the American Atheists Convention if I remember correctly was to start translating or at least subtitling videos from PZ Meyers, Thunderf00t, and Aronra into other languages. Nigeria, if I remember rightly, generally has some English as a part of their inter-tribal communication, but I don't remember what is the general language, or whether there are multiples in the region. Is there a language barrier which is making it more difficult for western ideas to be adopted?
Cheers!
-Argyle

Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe, but look only and surely at what are the facts,

Leo666

First of all, events and programs by humanist groups should be global or international in nature. I understand there are local specific challenges but a national approach to them is almost outdated.

There is no language barrier in terms of Nigerians accessing or using materials published in English. English is the official language. Freethought publications in Enligsh will be helpful

Pastafarian

It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.
-- Robert Green Ingersoll, "Which Way?" (1884)


FGOH

How much does superstition pervade everyday life in Africa?

I have not visited Africa save for a week in Zimbabwe in around 1993. Whilst in Harare for a day we bought a local newspaper. There was an article in it about a series of robberies that had taken place in a nearby village. The villagers had lain in wait and discovered who the perpetrator was. Then they reported this to the police. Some time later the police still had not arrested the villain so the villagers had demanded to know why not. The answer from the police was that they could not arrest the villain because he had visited the local witchdoctor and obtained a potion which rendered him invisible every time the police came to arrest him.

Is this type of thing common?
I'm not signing anything without consulting my lawyer.

Former Believer

I just found this old article that Leo wrote in 2004.  It is scary.

http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/ritual_killing_and_pseudoscience_in_nigeria

Religion, superstition, and belief based on hearsay and assertion still play a prominent role in the lives of most Americans, but the problems that we face here pale to what you're dealing with in  Nigeria (and I'm guessing many other African nations, although I realize Africa is an incredibly diverse continent and I know that things vary from nation to nation, region to region and culture to culture).

Changing attitudes in a nation and continent where "goofy thinking" is so deeply entrenched seems like an overwhelming task. 

When you were in Nigeria, I know that you organized an anti-witchcraft hunting conference as part of an effort to educate Nigerians.  Can you share with us what some of the other things you have done in the past to help make a dent in the problems caused by religion and superstition, what your current efforts in Germany entail, what your plans are for the future, and if any long-term strategy exists to bring more rational thinking to Nigeria and Africa as a whole?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

Leo666

Superstition pervades everyday life in Africa the way snow covers most parts of Europe at the peak of Winter season. There is hardly any definitive space for science and critical thinking. And when you talk about superstition do not restrict it to traditional beliefs like the one you pointed out. That is still common as you can see from this story.. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/4325377/Nigerian-police-hold-magic-goat-over-attempted-car-theft.html Superstitions also included those of christianity and islam. In fact these two religions are the greatest obstacle to the process of eradicating superstition in Africa. While many traditional superstitious beliefs still persist, many have been christianized or islamized. In fact christianity and islam have introduced new ones that are causing additional damage. They have made fighting superstitions a very dangerous undertaking. But there is no price that is too small to pay in combating these forces of  dark age

Dexter

The success of Islam and Christianity has been dependent on the ability to absorb local superstitions and traditions. Nowhere near on the scale you are relating, I cite Christmas and Easter from a Christian perspective.
"Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road"
― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Leo666

What I have in the past to address the problems caused by religion and superstition in Africa are so many. For instance I formed or helped form humanist, skeptics or freethought groups in many countries across the region. I believe there is power in organization. I have organized meetings conferences and campaigns in many African countries. Becuase I believe it is important to provide forums for people to discuss and debate these issues. I have written articles and letters to the editor in newspapers Because I believe it is important the voice of reasion and critical thinking is captured by the media. I represented IHEU at the African Commission on Human and People?s Rights where I made statements drawing the attention of the commission to these problem. In March I address the Human Rights Council http://www.iheu.org/iheu-slams-witchcraft-belief-un. I believe the problem is such that we have to tackle it on difference fronts using different strategies including scholarship. Last year I was given a place at the University of Bayreuth. I will be returning to Africa later in the year for my field work. Meanwhile I continue to follow and monitor events and developments in Africa and in African communities abroad on superstition related issues. I guess you must have heard about this case http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17255470. At the end of my problem I look forward to returning to Africa or to taking up a position with an regional or international institution that will enable me further the campaign.

Leo666

May be you are talking about the success of christianity in Europe not in Africa, where the tradition and superstitions of christmas held sway. In Africa the two religions have tried also to absord local traditions and superstitions like witchcraft, caste discrimination, patriachy, gender inequity, faith healing thereby making it difficult to combat these abuses or related injustices

Dexter

Wherever Christianity goes it is always prepared to change the word to suit local customs. Easter and Christmas are only examples from Western Europe. I am sure in earlier times the concept of the virgin birth and the popularity of Mithras would also have had an effect on shaping the early New Testament. Jesus is a shape shifter.
"Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road"
― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Hemingway

Quote from: Leo666 on April 03, 2012, 04:51:06 PM
May be you are talking about the success of christianity in Europe not in Africa, where the tradition and superstitions of christmas held sway. In Africa the two religions have tried also to absord local traditions and superstitions like witchcraft, caste discrimination, patriachy, gender inequity, faith healing thereby making it difficult to combat these abuses or related injustices

Wow... that is interesting. Both religions have really attempted to incorporate elements of witchcraft etc? I would have thought that the preachers of both Islam and Christianity would have attempted to eradicate such beliefs in native peoples.

Oh and welcome by the way.

I have read your story with great interest on the other threads FB has started here about your work.
"Dont try to fix me, I'm not broken"

nateswift

"Wow" is a good word.  You have got your work cut out for you for sure.  What I see you saying seems in part at least to be derived from intense competition between the two major religious incursions, so that it seems that both retreat to a kind of mindless and violent fundamentalism in order to not only keep their own folowers in line but to inspire acts of terror aimed not only at the "enemy" faith tradition, but at less than enthusiastic followers of their own.  My question is how moderate or even liberal (if there are such) members of the two competing systems (or even possibly some enlightenend animists) may help in getting a more open and less violent dialogue.
The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do-  Kerouac

Leo666

Sadly the so called moderate and liberals are not proactive with their moderate and liberal stance. A lot of them are misconstrued to be enemies or infidels and are often targeted or demonized. In the case of Boko Haram, many outspoken moderate or liberal muslims are shot and killed. So the moderates are just there speaking from both sides of their mouth, too afraid to call a spade a spade. Unfortunately there are verses in the Koran and the Bible which sanction and sanctify violence...and piety is often understood as living in line with these injunctions