I was born in Benin City, Nigeria in 1959 and as with most Nigerians, religion was a central part of my life right from the beginning. The first thing we learned at school was how to memorise the Lord’s Prayer and recite it to the class. My days were filled with Sunday worship services and Sunday school (bible study), and in-between that, I took part in the daily service at the school assembly. Growing up, the indoctrination was such that there was no doubt in my mind that there was a God. I never once heard the word “atheist” and could not conceive of the possibility of such a thing.
I did not think about religion itself as an idea until late into my forties when my daughter asked me; “Daddy, what is science?” It was at that moment that it occurred to me that all my life, I had never deliberated on science outside an academic environment. I began a process of research that led me to the fact that the universe was started by the big bang, not God. Planets and stars were created by a natural process, not God. The huge variety of species on earth was the result of evolution by means of natural selection, not the work of God. I read about the philosophy of ontological naturalism that underpins belief in naturalism and dismisses the notion of the supernatural.
The beliefs I once held about creationism were at odds with science and I had to choose: Do I continue to believe in the religious supernatural narrative for which there is no evidence at all, or do I accept the natural scientific explanation for things for which there were masses of evidence? I chose the latter and that decision changed my life forever.
I told my family and friends that I was no longer a believer in religion and God, and they simply could not believe it. Even today, 10 years on, they still cannot believe it. So strong is the belief in God within the African community, that non-belief just cannot register in their mind as an option or a reality. They still think if they can get me to watch something, or hear something, or see someone, I will return to Christianity. As a full grown adult with an independent source of income and my own family, they could not bully me or ostracise me, but there is no doubt that they regard atheism as, at best foolishness and at worst, possibly evil.
My world views are naturalistic, evidence based, atheist and humanist. I think all religions are false, but the Abrahamic religions are particularly pernicious and should be openly resisted because they serve as examples of religious and cultural colonialism that persists till today. Yahweh, Jesus and Allah are no more real than Juju idols, Shango, Thor, Zeus or any of the thousands of other Gods previously worshipped throughout history.
There is no evidence of an afterlife in relation to heaven or hell. The natural way of thinking about an afterlife is the process of human life starting from and ending as stardust. Nearly every element on earth was formed at the heart of a star and as such, when we die, our elements will go back into the natural recycling process and we may one day end up as stardust again. I like the symmetry of the natural cycle and think it is much more beautiful and poetic than the false dichotomy of heaven and hell.
Clive Aruede is a founding member of London Black Atheists, a community group open to people of all religious persuasions, races, creeds, ethnicity and orientation. The group organises meetings in London on a monthly basis, as well as open forums, events, talks and debates.