Of Inherited Faith and Deconversion
During the past weekend (Saturday 11th November, precisely), I was opportune to attend the first edition of the Atheist Society of Nigeria Convention, held at the University of Lagos in Akoka, Yaba.
The convention was tagged, “The Road to Reason,” and included several keynote speakers including a Swede, Bill Flavell, who is also the Vice President of the Atheist Alliance International. Others included Roslyn Mould from Ghana, and Nigerian duo of Mubara Bala (an Ex-Muslim) and Leo Igwe.
I was full of enthusiasm and expectation as I made my way down to the venue of the event. Having been an avid fan of the atheist community – reading their publications, listening to their arguments and engaging in somewhat amateur dialogues with them, I have become quite familiar with their various arguments and deductions.
However, this was going to be a different challenge for me, as the scenario was never going to be like any I had ever encountered prior. For indeed, one could be familiar with arguments but when placed in a context filled with a gamut of “freethinkers”, the reaction would be different.
Were they going to finally present a knockdown argument that would extinguish any further belief in God? Or were they going to resort to ridiculing religious beliefs and believers? These were few of the numerous questions that plagued my mind.
The buzz and excitement around the venue was spectacularly lit. I was glad to finally meet a group of atheists in Nigeria. I say this because I always knew they existed and it was only a matter of time before they formed a group. Indeed, some of them described themselves as closet-atheists, having not revealed their new found faith and belief to family and friends.
HOW WE LOST “OUR FAITH”
As the event kicked off, the moderator requested three to four participants to share their individual deconversion stories (really, after listening to the narrations, I could safely say that none of them was actually converted in the first place. Honestly. But more about that later). In the end about five or six of them spoke (six, I think).
Sieving through the half-a-dozen stories, I realized they had a lot in common. First, there was the general affirmation of being born in a Christian home or, at least, to parents who regularly attend(ed) Church. This was generic among the entire testifiers.
Secondly, they accused their parents of forcing their private beliefs on them (child abuse some described it as). According to them, going to Church was not of their own volition but rather coercion.
Thirdly, they were not allowed to ask questions nor question anything. Any attempt at such was a heinous blasphemy and affront of authority. Hence, you must believe it coz the Bible, the Church and her Leaders say so.
Finally, there was an accusation of hypocrisy leveled against Christians. “They do not even do what they instruct others to do,” one said. The man narrated his ordeal as an altar server. According to him, during his days as a server, they were ordered not to take any meal before Holy Communion. However, to his astonishment one fateful day, he saw a Priest having breakfast before the communion service. This, to him, was the height of hypocrisy. “I finally concluded this religion thing was a total lie and deception…I then embraced atheism,” he said.
Pondering over the entire narrations, I found no compelling reason to believe atheism was a logical conclusion. Of course, all the above are valid in their own rights, but they engender no logical inference to an atheistic worldview. I thought to myself, “Come on guys, I thought we were talking about “reason” here.” (I hope to address this particular point subsequently).
HOW THEN SHOULD WE RESPOND
As one in his twenties, I resonate with some of the points made by my atheist friends. Many young people today feel lost and alienated from their parents. Hence, deep down they are boxed in a world parents know nothing about. The advent of the social media and plethora of information on the web therefore provides a safe haven for them. There they find solace among like minds.
Three out of the four of the above summations are a direct offshoot of a lacuna in the family. Interestingly, in one of the sessions there was a suggestion that they [atheists] begin to influence their wards from the family, from their individual homes.
In response, may I suggest possible ways to respond to this worldview beginning from the home.
First, whether you like it or not, regardless of how strict you are as a parent, your wards would encounter different and conflating beliefs, ideas and worldviews. May I suggest that, possibly, they already have? It might not necessarily be a worldview that denies God’s existence, but also any that is different from that which you hold. Parents should therefore encourage questions from their kids right from the early stage. Allow them to ask you questions about anything and everything.
As Frank Powell notes, “It is more important than ever that parents open up space to discuss difficult topics. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to the questions prevalent in the lives of your kids. Naivety is not an excuse. Awkwardness and tension won’t work as excuses either.
“Yes, these conversations are awkward. Yes, they create tension. But your children are asking them. Unless you create space for the hard questions, they will turn to other sources for answers. And that usually doesn’t end well.” (1)
This is extremely vital in our world today.
Secondly, whether you have answers to their questions or not, assure them of your willingness to search for answers and journey through such with them. Ravi Zacharias once said, “Questions do not need answers, people do.” So, when you brush off a question, you are not really doing that to a bunch of words but to a person. Research with them, study for them and come alongside them. This would indeed assure them that you care and that you are not simply forcing them to believe that which you believe, but also that you are interested in them coming to know the truth. The truth should definitely be our individual pursuit.
I said earlier that there was no evidence that any of the narrators was genuinely converted. And here is why, each and every one of them were totally being dragged along by their parent’s faith which was bound to implode sooner or later. And for some of them, unanswered questions were at the root.
Thirdly, love them. Regardless of the choices young people make today, they desire to be loved and appreciated. Whether they come to faith or not, love them.
Let them see the genuineness of your faith in you. Share your stories with the, let them know you have some struggles as well. Of course that would require some humility. We all are humans full of doubts and struggles.
Your love for them should also include your never ending praying. Pray for them daily.
Powell encourages, “Never stop praying for your kids. Don’t allow their current circumstances to impact God’s power. Even if your child is light years from God, God is only a prayer away from them. One prayer can change everything.”
I have heard of once hard-nosed atheists and agnostics who today are heralding the greatness of Christ – Lee Stobel, Alister McGrath and Francis Collins are only a few. No one is far-off His saving hand.
Manuel Chukwudi is the content manager of Naija Gospel Radio.
(1) Frank Powell, 7 Things Christian Parents Should Do to Keep Their Kids From Abandoning God.