In Search of African Women Who Question Religion
This is a guest post by Leo Igwe. Igwe is a Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist. He is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations.
She is from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa but currently lives in Canada. Rudo, 30 is a skeptic with a mission, a salient ‘silent’ mission to foster skeptical rationality among African women. She describes her home country Zimbabwe as a place where ‘the religious rhetoric is deafening’ and she is committed to providing a counter narrative. Recently I chatted with Rudo and she told me how she became a skeptic. We discussed her initiative to support and provide a sense of community to skeptically minded African women.
Rudo informed me that she started questioning her faith when she was 21. “When I went to college in the US I took a class in English. We learnt about Greek Mythology and I started to question Biblical stories. I had not been exposed to any other faiths when I was in Zimbabwe so when I moved to the states I realized that there were many other faiths. I could no longer be sure which faith would lead one to eternal life”. Hold on Rudo. Were you sure that there was something like eternal life in the first place?
Well, Rudo considers herself an agnostic because she is not certain about the existence or non-existence of God:
“I continued to question, but I did not let go of my faith because I was afraid to do so. About 7 years ago I finally realized that I did not believe in the Bible anymore. I had grown tired of trying to justify the unbelievable stories. One day I came across the term agnostic and that described me at that point. I was not sure if there was a god or not. But I was pretty sure that the God of the bible was not for me.” Other scriptural Gods – God of the Torah, God of the Quran, God-of-that-name-it holy book may not be for you too.
Rudo started a ‘secret group’ for female skeptics and has been reaching out to other doubters, questers and inquirers “We just need to know that there are other female skeptics out there. It’s easier to come out when we are aware that there are others like us. When I started the group I knew only two others like myself but there are now 20 women in the group. They are so grateful to find other black women who question.”
Indeed it is usually a great feeling to know that one is not alone and that there are others who entertain doubts and who question the questionable teachings of religions.
Rudo acknowledges that it is more challenging for African women than men to express their doubts about religion: “It is difficult for female skeptics to admit that they no longer believe in their religion. But it is easier for men to come out as atheists. For African women it is not that easy. We are afraid of being judged and being called satanists. It’s not that I fear judgement from my peers. It’s judgement from family. I have in-laws who are deeply spiritual and they would not be happy to hear that I am a skeptic.”
Due to fear of persecution from family members, many African women who are skeptics, agnostics or atheists remain in the closet. They cannot express themselves freely. African women who question religion cannot do so openly and publicly. However, Rudo was fortunate. At least she has the support of her partner. The husband used to be a religious believer but later ‘repented’. “Yes, my husband is a non-believer. He took a little longer to lose his faith. He is an agnostic too”.
Even at that, Rudo is hesitant about embracing full blown skeptical activism. “I don’t think I am ready to be actively involved in the skeptics movement. Maybe in the future when I am more comfortable”. The group which Rudo manages is exclusively a social and support facility for black women who are questioning their faith. She said: “A lot of black women do not realize that questioning faith is an option, so they question in silence”. Rudo thinks that organizing African female skeptics could serve a useful purpose. It would enable women who are skeptics to muster the courage to go open with their doubts, break the wall of dogmatic silence and question aloud.
Rudo can be reached at the following email address: [email protected]
Featured Image by Ethan Lofton.