- By Leo Igwe
Abia is designated as “God’s Own State”, but this nickname is misleading because it misrepresents the diverse religious and belief landscape in the state.
The population of Abia is mainly Christian, but individuals who self describe as non-religious or irreligious also exist.
Like in other states in southeastern Nigeria, traditional religion was the dominant faith before the arrival of Christian missionaries from Europe in the 19th century.
Centuries of Christian evangelism and demonization of traditional religious belief have turned Christianity into the dominant religion in Abia.
What applies is a mix of Christianity and traditional religion because most people never abandoned their traditional beliefs and practices.
Out of socio-political pressure, identify as Christians or as religious or theistic. This does not negate the fact that many individuals in Abia identify as non-religious and non-theistic.
Due to a Christian layered stigma linked to atheism, nontheistic individuals seldom identify as godless or god-free. Non-religious persons are reluctant to publicly identify as freethinkers, humanists, and sometimes skeptics or nones.
To openly identify as an atheist or to imply that one is entertaining atheistic thoughts has social costs, especially for those who are still dependent on religious family members and relatives for financial support.
Public declaration of atheism has consequences. It could lead to ostracization, severance of family ties, loss of a job, and business opportunities. A person who publicly identifies as atheist risks being hated and persecuted. The person could be designated as the devil in the family.
People could scapegoat the individual, branding him/her as a witch, or an agent of the occult and blamed for the misfortunes in the community. Due to the enormous social costs of non-religiosity and non-theism, irreligious persons are closeted and seldom visible.
But since the advent of the internet, the irreligious/religious landscape in Abia has been undergoing rapid changes.
The internet has provided an alternative space for non-religious persons to connect with people of like minds and to express their views and opinions without fear of repercussions.
But it must be noted that the internet is not free from religious censorship, and policing. Many religious individuals monitor the posts and pages of relatives and friends and sometimes threaten to report or expose them for making comments that are blasphemous or critical of God and religion.
But compared to the pre-internet era, non-religious persons in Abia are better today. Abia state stands to benefit from the growing visibility of skeptics and freethinkers because the critical views of irreligious persons could help advance the values of social change and enlightenment.
Superstitions are running rampant in Abia state. Abuses linked to Pentecostal Christianity are pervasive.
A toxic mix of Christianity and traditional beliefs has had its dark and destructive effects on individual lives and the collective well being of the people.
Hatred and conflicts in families and communities across Abia state are often rooted in suspicions of occult harm and baseless allegations of demonic possession.
Superstition free humanists and freethinkers are needed to help dispel occult fears and anxieties that cripple the minds of the people and hamper the growth and development of Abia state.
That is why the formation of the online group, the Abia Skeptics and Humanists, is a welcome development.
Humanists and skeptics should seize this opportunity to connect and forge a robust community of reason and compassion for the good of Abia state.
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