Humanists call for African age of "Enlightenment"

Thu Nov 15, 2012 7:03am EST
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By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - African Humanists -- atheists, secularists and freethinkers -- gather next week in Ghana, one of the world's most religious countries, to look at ways to promote an "Enlightenment" they argue is vital to bring their continent into the modern age.

But despite stirrings of dissent over the power of preachers and imams, they recognize they have an uphill battle to convince ordinary people to question faiths -- Christianity and Islam -- brought to Africa by missionaries and conquerors.

Just as difficult, they say, is the fight against traditional African beliefs often supported by new "churches" like sorcery which lead to the killings of children and albinos accused of being witches.

"At a time when the dark and destructive forces of religious fundamentalism and superstition are ravaging the continent, the Ghana conference is a sign of light, hope and renewal," said prominent Nigerian humanist campaigner Leo Igwe.

Ghana's newly formed Humanist Association, host of the three-day gathering in Accra from November 23-25, said that just the announcement that it is being held has encouraged closet atheists to "come out" and sign up.

"We do not wish to eradicate religion from our culture but to show there are alternative ways of viewing the world and that asking questions and following the evidence is essential if we are to develop as a nation," an association statement said.

What is needed, Igwe told Reuters, is a process like the 18th century Enlightenment in Europe which loosened the grip of religion and churches on the popular mind and eventually all but removed their power to dictate to governments.

With its overwhelming religiosity and adherence to superstition like witchcraft, he notes, Africa also figures at the tail-end of United Nations indexes on development and heads those on poverty and early death.   Continued...