Edward Seaborne is the Administrator of “The African Atheist.” He is 46-years-old, and a father of 2 girls and married to an atheist wife, too. His parenting methodology is not to force religious or areligious views on his children. Here we talk for a bit.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How was early family life and education? Was religion incorporated into this in any way?
Edward Seaborne: I have to clarify something before I answer this question. So the South Africa when I was a child and the South Africa today are basically two completely different countries.
I was raised in the Apartheid South Africa. As you are well aware this was a country ruled by mostly “White Afrikaans Men” and because of this we were an extremely religious country.
The majority of the Afrikaans speaking families went to the Nederduits Geherformde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) and the majority of the English speaking were either Baptist or Methodist.
My mother was Afrikaans and my father was English. My earliest memories of church in South Africa was that of the Dutch Reformed Church, but from about the age of 7 we belonged to the Methodist Church. At about the age of 16 my mother joined the Baptist church and we went along with that.
I went to an Afrikaans Primary and High school and at that time religious studies and prayers was almost a daily part of your school day. We used to have to pray and sing hymns during all our school events and this was just the norm for all schools.
This however has changed in the last few years and my teenage daughter goes to an all girls school where no religion is taught and they have non secular “prayers”.
Jacobsen: If you reflect on pivotal people within the community relevant to personal philosophical development, who were they for you?
Seaborne: I don’t think I would be able to answer this question and give you names of people who influenced me in becoming an atheist. I was never exposed to any atheists when I decided to break away from my religious background. For me it was more like a defining moment in my life where a tragedy made me wonder about this so called “God of Love”.
I think I was 17 or 18 when my sisters baby daughter passed away from a mysterious illness. She was about 11 months old and I thought to myself how this god could just take a baby from a family.
My sister stood in the stark white hospital corridor and her words were “Jesus also needs pretty angels”. I on the other hand thought that this was a cruel and horrible thing to do and at that moment in my life I decided to question my Christian upbringing.
Jacobsen: What about literature and film, and other artistic and humanities productions, of influence on personal philosophical worldview?
Seaborne: Unlike today I didn’t have the luxury of internet and social media where I could read about people like me with similar religious views or even non-views. After finishing school, I was drafted into the Navy as part of a conscription to fight the terrorists.
That was the ANC, that at that time was a banned group. Today I can say that the South African military during the late 1980’and early 90’s was controlled by the same mentality as the country and you had to tow the line.
You went to church & you sang hymns and said prayers during parades. I can’t remember ever actually reading the bible or saying any prayers during my time in the Navy. I guess this was a time in my life where I drifted further away from religion without knowing why.
In my early 20’s I started to read the bible and actually study it in-depth. I didn’t study it to find religion, but basically to form arguments against it. I remember I had this Good News Bible with copious amount of notes in it.
I started to ask more and more questions and nobody in my family could actually answer me. I started to read more about evolution and for the 1st time things started to make sense.
Darwin gave me the answers to the questions I had that was missing from the religious texts. I remember reading a book about how the Vatican hid the body of Jesus and this in turn led me to find out about the Deuterocanonical and Apocryphal books that never formed part of the bible.
This made me think about other things that religion and the churches keep from us. I started trying to learn more about other religions including the Muslim, Hindu and even the satanic bible.
Jacobsen: When did you find the atheist community inasmuch as one was available to you?
Seaborne: This might come as a surprise to you, but I think the 1st time I ever really heard the word Atheist was while watching a short comedy sketch by Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). He played the role of the devil welcoming everybody to hell.
The internet being in its infancy gave me the opportunity to do some research and I started to speak to people about religion and my views on it via Irc (internet relay chat). I met up with a few members of the channels I was part of and this would basically be where it all started for me.
Jacobsen: Why found The African Atheist? What have been some of its stages of development?
Seaborne: Why did I start The African Atheist? It was basically started on a whim one evening. I wanted a place where I could be anonymous and post my meme’s and a few articles. I never intended the page to be much more than an outlet for my self-expression, but without people knowing it was me.
I have to clarify this anonymity. Friends and family know my religious views, but many of my work colleagues and other connections had no idea about my religious views. Even if we as South Africans have moved forward in many things religion is still one of those topics you don’t go against. I guess this leads perfectly into your next question.
Jacobsen: What are some unique difficulties facing African atheists? How does this extend into the online sphere as well?
Seaborne: South Africa and maybe Africa as a continent are still very backwards in their views on religion and religious practices. There are a number of North African countries where saying you are an Atheist is a criminal offence. I have traveled to Libya for example and if they had to find out my views on religion I would have been incarcerated.
South Africa on the other hand might be far more free and equal, but in reality this isn’t completely true. I honestly feel that if my Employers had to know my stance on religion I would more than likely not have been hired. Recently a friend of mine went to Supreme Court of South Africa to enforce the banning of religious teaching in public schools.
So how does religion extend into the online sphere and how does that affect me daily. Honestly on my personal page it doesn’t affect me that much anymore as I can simply unfriend somebody on Facebook when their posts become overbearing, however in the more public areas I daily battle with the sending of religious (mainly Christian) texts and pictures.
I have even been bombarded by a minister who on a regular basis sent me religious scriptures. I replied to him stating that for every one scripture he sent me I will be sending him 2 atheist memes in return. His texts ended quite soon thereafter.
Another story I can tell is when I confronted a Hindu community online for how their Diwali celebrations and the letting off of fireworks impacted on animals, the aged and people with certain mental conditions. I received a reply from one individual that I should just sedate the little boy with Autism as it is their religious right and there is nothing I can do about it.
I admit that my reply may have been rather uncalled for and me cursing his “Blue god” was out of line. The aftermath of this incident was me being called a racist, receiving threatening messages and calls and even threats of being charged with a human rights violation and hate speech.
Jacobsen: How can people help and become involved with the African online community?
Seaborne: There is a growing community for Atheists in South Africa and Facebook allows for you to join a number of groups. As with many groups on Facebook you have to ignore the obvious trolls, but every once in a while, somebody posts something of interest. I feel that the best page or group to join would be SAAM (South African Atheist Movement).
Jacobsen: What have been some of the positive developments for the African atheist population?
Seaborne: As mentioned before I think the biggest step forward must the court case between OGOD and the South African Department of Education. Further to this I am seeing more and more people (myself included) becoming open about their Atheism. SAAM members have taken part in events wearing t-shirts with atheist slogans on them.
We really still have a long way to go in South Africa before “discrimination” against those with non-religious views come to an end. It is however something that I battle for in my own way on a daily basis.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Edward.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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