Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Re: We are all atheists by Leo Igwe

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My attention is drawn to the article written by the humanist scholar, Leo Igwe, in Sahara Reporters of 13th May 2020 where he argued that “we are all atheists”. This my piece is more of a response to the philosophical underpinnings of his argument than to the issues he raised in his discourse.

First of all, I want to state clearly that I believe in people’s right to life, freedom of conscience, expression and association because I believe that God has endowed human beings with these inalienable rights and freewill; they are made in His image. Every human being has essential worth, therefore, violation of any of these rights for any reason, whether religious or otherwise, is a violation of God’s purpose for humanity. If God allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their freewill in the Garden of Eden, I believe it is against His plan for any man to dictate, force or punish any man because of belief or disbelief, as the case may be. Hence, I join to call for the release of Mubarak Bala who was arrested in connection with posts that he made on Facebook which was alleged to have insulted the prophet of Islam, Mohammed. Though I may disagree with his lack of sensitivity and respect for his Muslim neighbours, he has right to life. He has right to defend himself in a competent court of law without molestation or persecution.

Having said that, my focus is on the author’s statement, “we are all atheists” and his line of argument that brought him to that conclusion. It presents to be a very flawed argument. The reasons are obvious to every thinking person that reads in-between the lines.

First, the author is influenced by his concept of God – he seems to believe that God is a human idea that people use to fill up the gaps for anything they do not understand, hence his coining of the word Allah-god and Christian god in his discourse. It shows either a gross misunderstanding of those words or the usual atheist’s irreverence towards God. Almost in every language, there exists the consciousness of the Almighty God. Though they may have names for several gods, they have a name reserved for the Almighty. In Igboland where I suppose the author is from, there are many names for different gods but one is reserved for the Creator – Chineke. Chineke is in His own class, as it were, among the gods as the God who created the Universe. Allah actually is the name used for the Almighty God by both Arabic Christians and Muslims, though their connotations may be different just like when the Igbos use the word Chi. When you mention Chi, you can be asked a further question, which Chi? It will help your listener to understand which you are referring to. The writer majors his arguments on these differences in connotations and misunderstands the use of the word God in different languages. This perhaps explains why he mixed everything up when he gave his listings of the gods worshiped in different cultures. So he was not only playing with words, he was also displaying that he does not understand the relationship between the use of those words for the gods and the word used for the Almighty God.

Secondly, atheism by its definition does not accommodate belief in any god.  By saying that we are all atheists, he negates the common understanding of the word, atheism, as defined by atheists themselves – “a rejection of the assertion that there are gods”. By saying “all Muslims are atheists, even though all atheists are not Muslims”, the author accommodates the possibility of having an atheist who is a theist of a sort but not a Muslim. The author’s accommodation of belief, at all, in any god shows the confusion that exists within their set of belief or disbelief, whatever the atheist accepts. It is more of a moral issue, where the person has chosen to believe that there is no God or to deny the existence of God, despite all the evidences. Therefore, it is not because there is no God that the atheist believes in atheism, but because that is the choice he has made.

Again, the argument that “atheism entails a lack of belief in a god or gods. Muslims believe in Allah but do not believe in other gods like Ogun. Therefore, Muslims are also atheists” does not have logical consistency based on the definition of the terms. It self-destructs and falls like a pack of cards. It violates the law of rational inference in logic. You cannot say, “I have ears. Elephants have ears, therefore I am an elephant”. That two things have one thing in common does not mean that they have everything in common a. Someone may be an unbeliever in Ogun or Amadioha but the fact that he believes in the God of the Bible, for example, disqualifies him from being an atheist. Atheism, by its definition, is not defined in relation to any god as the author tends to portray. It is a lack of believe in gods or according to IEP, the view that there is no God b. So, in my view, the author over-generalized when he concluded, “we are all atheists”. The truth is that, we are not all atheists.

In conclusion, I posit that it is only in the Judeo-Christian worldview can the virtues the author tends to promote can and indeed have survived. God gives essential worth to every human being. You cannot violate someone’s life because you do not like him or because you do not believe what he believes. God has His image on every human being, hence as free moral agents, everyone should be free to make his decisions. Yes, our decisions have consequences, but they must be made out of freewill and not out of compulsion. I call on the author to examine authentic and biblical Christianity with an open mind and he will discover that the life and teachings of Christ worth believing and following. C.S. Lewis once said “If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.” c.

Finally, in addressing my fellow Christians, we must pay attention to what our Lord Jesus taught us. The gullibility, merchandise, arrogance and loveless behaviours we exhibit today are strange to the Gospel of Jesus and cannot allow us to effectively be His witnesses in this world that is in so much need. We must go back to missions and social work. This gap in identifying with the existential issues of our time makes the modern mind to view Christianity as not being relevant to their day-to-day life struggles. We built hospitals, schools, leproseums, refuge homes for the most vulnerable of the society, rescued twins, championed the stoppage of slavery etc etc. Where are those social actions today, especially in Africa and within the Nigerian church? This is a food for thought. When we resemble our Lord, it will be easier for the believer to think and the thinker to believe.

References
a.       Zacharias R. (2019). The 3.4.5 Grid. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module
b.       Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP). Atheism. Online at https://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/. Accessed 19/05/20.
Lewis, C.S. (1970). God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 108-109.
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