Atheism is growing in Africa: Becoming an Atheist in Ethiopia

On the odds of becoming an atheist in Ethiopia, defying blind faith and translating atheist publications in Amharic. ByYe’lshaday Teklu

Hewn out of solid rock, the extraordinary church of St. George (Bet Giorgis), in Libela, Ethiopia, represents one of the wonders of the ancient world.

I have never been a victim of religious oppression, and I never spent much time explaining my religious views to people that have little patience to hear me out, but I was an extremely outspoken atheist. I never had to hide my disbelief.

I realized I was interested in why people take the most important matters in their lives, which are morality and spirituality, on faith.  As a fundamental Orthodox Christian, I remember fervently defending Mary from Protestant Christian friends who have always tried to belittle her role in Christianity. When I look back at it and try to see the reason/s why I thought I had to defend her, I realize there was nothing but blind faith. I have never met Mary, but I would have died for her the same as I’d have died for Jesus. This is what faith meant to me and what it means to billions around the world.

A little after I lost my faith in God, I realized that something deserted me. Yes! Religious faith has the power to make people feel okay in spite of harsh reality. I think this is the most important reason why people don’t want to let it go easily. Only very few people wish that death is the end, and many of us have the fear of losing the people we love forever. The problem, however, is that such fear gave birth to religions which are coercive and laughably detailed out of proportion to the evidence they provide as proof of themselves. I don’t think the challenge “extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence” bothers them at all. After all, it is about faith. The claims of religion are unfalsifiable. So, it is quite evident that it is not impossible to start a new religion. You just have to say God spoke to you and tell the most murderous of your friends. The rest will lead itself. After a thousand years you will probably have billions of followers.

Ethiopia is a deeply religious country. Even though the literacy rate is going up by the day, most people still lack the basic tools to access the latest developments in science. If 83% of the American population, who lives in one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world, strongly adheres to Stone Age beliefs, I ask myself, what are the odds skepticism can be welcomed by Ethiopian society?  It is obvious that the prospects are not hopeful.

A few months ago I was speaking to a 4th year medical student who rejects evolution without a shred of hesitation. He told me that religion and science deal with different realms. Little did he know religion had been meddling in the affairs of science for centuries only to be proved wrong at in the end. It is true that religious faith makes intelligent people act like children. My question to the religious is, “Why credulity when you are an intelligent animal and can decide for yourselves? It is only the mentally unfit who need others to decide for them. Are you mentally unfit?”

Amharic is the Ethiopian national language

Amharic is the Ethiopian national language, seen here on a Coca Cola bottle.

A couple of friends and I are translating publications by great freethinkers and atheists into the Amharic language in a way that is intelligible. We hope it will give people an alternative explanation to what they have been taking for granted for millennia. There is a local saying which translates as“a lie can become a truth if it is repeated well enough”. Now, our society has only been subjected to one side of the story. I think it is time to challenge this side openly. The road is definitely going to be rough and bumpy but this is something worth going after.

Finally, I think what the average believer conceives when the atheist speaks of disbelief in God/gods is that the atheist is wrestling with the unchallengeable and blaspheming the sacred. I don’t think we have a choice but to submit (of course, involuntarily) if the kind of God billions believe in exists but the extreme likelihood is that this God is also man-made, just like the others who have gone extinct over time, and we are usuallyblaming the people who made it up.

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