In January, a humanist convention is taking place in Nigeria. The event will explore the topic: Leaving religion. Attendees will examine the risks and dangers that are associated with exiting religion in one of the world’s most devout nations. In this piece, I argue that the renunciation of religion is necessary for the realization of real freedom of religion in Nigeria. Before delving into the argument, it is pertinent to clarify that an apostate is not necessarily an atheist. Apostasy does not strictly translate into atheism because a person may renounce a religion and then embrace another religion; a person may also renounce a religion and still believe in a god. Whatever the case, apostasy may or may not lead to atheism or to other theisms. But the renunciation of religious faith is a  social necessity and a critical force for cultural awakening and rebirth in Nigeria. Why do I think so?

Apostasy is crucial for people to be true to themselves in terms of they believe or not believe. Intellectual honesty is virtually impossible in a situation where people cannot express their belief or unbelief. Unfortunately, that saying, ‘To thine own self be true’, does not usually apply to the religious business in Nigeria because the religious are made to lie about their personal beliefs. People are made to pretend to be believers even when they are not.  Individuals present themselves as faithful even though they are skeptical about religion. Believers are forced to suppress their thoughts or express them in hushed tones especially when such sentiments conflict or contradict the teachings of their religion.

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Moreover, there is a huge price on disbelief, on openly and publicly expressing one’s doubts and objections to religious teachings. Religious establishments overtly or covertly forbid critical viewpoints. They designate the views and ideas of apostates as heresies and blasphemers, as offenses against society and the state.

Thus, many religious believers live false, double and deceptive lives. they are privately skeptics, atheists or agnostic but publicly believers practicing christians, muslims or ‘traditionalists’. This is because many people cannot openly question the positions of the religious organizations. Religious faithful are unable to voice out their objections and critical ideas. For instance, many believers in Nigeria are skeptical of the teachings about the afterlife, the paternity, and savior-status of Jesus, the revelation of the Bible and the Quran, the prophethood of Muhammad and the inheritance of virgins in the hereafter. They seriously doubt the veracity of these fundamental religious doctrines but cannot categorically say so or take a definitive stand based on such sentiments. Still, they continue to identify as Christians and Muslims.

Persons who find religious teachings unconvincing, incoherence and absurd are unable to express their religion critical thoughts or to exit these religions. Instead, they continue to present themselves as believers even when they are not. They continue to impersonate as people of faith. So, apostasy is needed to intellectually liberate Nigerians and end the pervasive hypocrisy, mental slavery, confessional and intellectual hostage.

In addition, as a social imperative, apostasy is needed in order to have a genuine and more reliable statistics on religious belief and unbelief in the country. Incidentally, what is presented as the religious population and distribution in the country is questionable and flies in the face of facts. The religious demography is presented as if there are no changes in religious affiliation and disaffiliation. Given that the renunciation of religion is a taboo and a crime in the country, the religious population has been bloated and inflated to include nonreligious, ex-religious and non-theistic persons. The current religious demography does not represent the actual situation. It does not reflect the religious landscape as it is because nonbelievers are coerced to identify and then be counted as believers- ex Muslims as Muslims, ex Christians as Christians and atheists/agnostics as theists. This is totally unacceptable.

Moreover, apostasy is necessary to curb religious extremism because it could provide fanatics a mechanism to rationally process religious absurdities. The teachings of the regions are quite incredible and counter-intuitive. They are mentally tasking and require the suspense of reason, and common sense. Many believers become fanatics in the quest to make sense of religious nonsense, in the absence of an effective tool to treat religious misconceptions and misinformation. Many people become religious bigots in the course of taking seriously and literally the teachings of religion, blindly and unquestionably believing religious dogmas, mistaking religious fictions for facts, religious lies for eternal and unchangeable truths and the superstitious claims for moral guide. Apostasy is needed to clear this confusion in the minds of religious Nigerians that stokes the flames of extremism and bigotry.

Furthermore, apostasy is important for the fullest exercise and enjoyment of freedom of religion in Nigeria. At the moment, there is no real freedom of religion in Nigeria because there is a warped understanding of this human right. What applies in contemporary Nigeria is freedom to profess a religion, Christianity or Islam and in some cases the indigenous religion, not freedom to renounce a religion or freedom not to profess any religion at all. Real freedom of religion must embrace freedom from religion, freedom to criticize all religious beliefs. Thus, apostasy must be an essential component of the religious freedom project and an imperative for the socio-cultural transformation and renewal of Nigeria.

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Opinion piece by Leo Igwe