Bayo Opadeyi on irreligious youth culture in Nigeria
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How robust is the irreligious youth culture where you live?
Bayo Opadeyi: Irreligious youth culture basically exists on social media. Being irreligious is synonymous with betraying your family and friends at best, and can be met with quite dire sometimes fatal consequences at worst. So most young people who have given up religion depend on the anonymity of the internet to express themselves, while attending their family religious services especially if they are economically dependent. That said, there are many online and offline groups of atheists/agnostics/skeptics. Also with the growing number of atheist/humanist societies we get to see more and more people willing to identify as irreligious, going as far as to organize meet-ups and conferences. But it is still far from being normal here.
Jacobsen: What are the common narratives of youth who leave the religion of their family and community? How does the wider culture and their own family treat them now? How does society treat those who lack a formal religion, generally?
Opadeyi: Youth who leave religion and are assertive about it frequently meet with a lot of resistance from family. In the northern muslim-majority areas, people fear for their lives sometimes and often their livelihood. In the south it is rare to find families willing to go so far as to threaten the lives of their children/wards over religion, but they can get ostracized by family members and they find themselves left to struggle through education. So most irreligious youth I know stay in the closet till they are financially independent. Urban areas are more tolerant of a lack of religion, and you find more people willing to discuss ideas instead of using force. But the smaller the community, and the more monolithic the religious environment, the more likely some form of coercion or force would be used on people who identify as irreligious. Especially if they are vocal about it.
Jacobsen: What are some effective ways of mobilization for the irreligious youth into a bloc for the change in social and cultural life, as in to normalize and make acceptable lack of religious faith — or at least doubt in it?
Opadeyi: I think a great first step will be getting more and more discussions out there with public debates/discussions (safest in urban areas in the south), blogs, podcasts, social media posts to get a lot of young people confident enough to come out of the closet. Also, periodic “coming out” campaigns should help.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Bayo.