Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How was religion in your family and community growing up?
Bayo Opadeyi: Religion was very important in our home growing up, Catholicism especially. Though my father came from an Anglican/Baptist family, he wasn’t much into church going when we were young, and so my mother a staunch Catholic was responsible for our religious education. The Nigerian society is made up of mostly Christians and Muslims, with some who still practice our traditional religions. It would have shocked me as a 10-year-old to hear from someone that there were no gods. A lot of the stories we heard were packed with the supernatural.
Jacobsen: Did this impact your own view on religion? How so? Also, what were some moments that were crucial for leaving religion?
Opadeyi: Looking at my childhood and my then firm belief in the teachings of the “church”, I can empathize with religious people I meet today and understand their visceral reaction when they hear for the first time that some people believe there are no gods. My religious upbringing, I think, has given me that. The seeds of disbelief for me started when I was in my teens and in the middle of an “evangelical” phase. I decided to read the bible from cover to cover but had to pause when I got to 1 Samuel, the story of Saul and his army going to kill all the Amalekites. My 15 yr. old’s sensibilities were shocked by the morality of killing children and animals just because, I could not understand how the “loving” god I worshipped would want this, and so I asked older people what they thought. They just beat about the bush and tried unsuccessfully to explain it away. And that was when I realized that the people whom I assumed understood the “faith” were more or less like myself. So why would I accept their views blindly? I started to read the Bible with a pinch of salt from that moment. Another important point was during a vacation we spent with our grandparents, I was going through their library and came across a book by Winwood Reade “The Martyrdom of Man” where he talked about the history of religion. This was the first time I was seeing religion being talked about from a secular, irreverent point of view. And from that moment I was on my way for another 20 years to call myself an atheist.
Jacobsen: What do you consider the strongest argument against religion and for reason, and for secularism and against theocratic tendencies (implicit or explicit, e.g. in culture and political life, or in law, respectively)?
Opadeyi: I think religion encourages a lot of harmful practices. In the North (of Nigeria), free-speech is often met with mob action that sometimes leads to death or serious injury. Women’s rights being trampled upon because some religious book says so. In the South, old women are assaulted on accusations of witchcraft, Mega-church pastors milk their congregation on promises of “divine favor”, and people fall into this “magical thinking” mindset that is not very useful for solving problems and planning long-term.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Bayo.