From cult member to apatheist

Oge Igboegbunam

Where do I start narrating my God apathy? My teenage years, or from way back to my childhood? My childhood it is!

I was raised in a family of Grail Message adherents. It’s very unlikely you’ve heard of them as the Grail Message is not a popular religious movement. The Grail Message was written by Oskar Ernst Bernhardt under the pen name of Abd-Ru-Shin and was popular in Germany pre-World War 2. Anyway, not to bore you with unnecessary details, let’s continue my narrative.

I recall my childhood filled with stories of elemental beings, God’s little servants that man the air, wind, fire and earth. These servants were somewhat like the fairies, elves, gnomes, and salamanders of ancient times. You were supposed to be good children so that the “beings” would show themselves to you. Oh, I still remember many a time I prayed and begged to see these little beings that were touted as friends of children. Alas, I never saw them!

Then I went away to boarding school and met children from diverse religious backgrounds. The Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses … lots of them. Even at that young age (I was 11 at the time), we little ones were so concerned with living in accordance with God’s Word so that we’d go to Heaven when we die. There were lots of tracts, Saturday fellowships, and religious services. But somehow, I noticed that these activities did little to curb the childish spitefulness and malice prevalent in so many of my schoolmates. In my childlike mind, I put it down to the kids’ not really believing in God.

Characteristic of places where one religion is prevalent, I observed the teachers punishing the Jehovah’s Witness students for refusing to sing the National Anthem, and the students engage in petty arguments over who didn’t act like a true Christian, or Muslim as the case may be. As my self-esteem at this age was still quite low, I kept to myself, reluctant to disclose to anyone where my religious beliefs lay. I still smile wryly whenever I remember those days.

University came and man! My discomfort with religion grew the more. Everywhere you looked, there was a church or student fellowship poster. Students would casually ask you what fellowship you attended, as casually as they would ask your name. I began to wonder if there was anything in my dressing or mannerisms that prompted such morbid curiosity. As I walked to my class, I would sometimes wonder what it would feel like to have no faith in God, any god.

I tried to imagine myself living the life of an atheist and I would push away such thoughts, horrified that they even occurred to me in the first place. In Nigeria, it is generally accepted that you need a god because the omnipresent witches and wizards in Nigerian would pounce on you if you lacked faith in God. How funny!

All the while, I was a practicing Grail Message adherent who firmly believed Abd-Ru-Shin was the Son of Man, the comforter sent by Jesus Christ to bring the Judgment (whatever that means) and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. I took a course in philosophy and my favourite part was Fallacies in Logic, where Argument from Ignorance, Appeal to Authority, and Fallacy of Composition were taught. I accepted the truth in these fallacies, but never really applied them to myself immediately. However, this was the seed of my scepticism.

Fast-forward to a few years later, when I started reading articles on psychology online. I saw a lot of things I recognised as true, but I dismissed because they contradicted the truth of the Grail Message – until I read up on Defense mechanisms in Psychology, and I realized that Abd-Ru-Shin used a lot of defense mechanisms in his book. This realisation made me stop believing in the word of the Grail Message.

I still believed in a God, but I rejected the gods propounded by other religions, saying they were thought out by their founders. Until one day it occurred to me: “Oge, what makes your god any more real than the other gods you rejected? What if this god is also a figment of your imagination?”  And I said ” the heck with it, I’m done with this God stuff!”

In my experiences, I’ve come to realise that belief in a god or in the tenets of his faith does not make a person a good human being. Human beings will always do what suits them, and say God said … God understands … God approves … I observed that the belief in a god is basically like a crutch, a substitute for mature and healthy coping mechanisms for the vicissitudes of life.

I concluded that I can’t prove the existence/non-existence of this god or gods people talk about. Rather than bother myself with it, I will live my life the best way I know how especially as the belief in God won’t stop me from doing what I decide to do. I will make as many meaningful social connections as I can, and not bother myself with what comes after death. To those who ask me “don’t you think of where you’ll go to after you die?” I respond to wherever I was before I was born!

Here I am today, an apatheist!

• Oge Igboegbunam is a freelance content writer and SEO copywriter living in Lagos, Nigeria. You can read her recent Church and State article “Good Without God: The Life of a Nigerian Atheist” here.