In Conversation with Agomo Atambire — Organizing Secretary, Humanist Association of Ghana
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: As the Organizing Secretary, Humanist Association of Ghana, what is involved in your work with them? How did you find them?
Agomo Atambire: I had found these interesting people online when I was searching for irreligious groups in Ghana. I saw the Freethought Ghana Facebook page and liked it. Later I was contacted by Graham night asking me where I was, whether I was irreligious or not. I told him I was in Tamale, irreligious and in school and that I’d be in Accra during recess. He was eager to meet and the feeling was mutual on my end. I was excited when I attended the first meeting. For the first time in my life, I was in the company of people who shared my world view and I didn’t feel Isolated anymore. We become friends and have been till date. We met regularly every month where we had great discussions on varied topics, from social issues to the political, scientific matters and philosophy. On one such meeting, Graham Knight brought up the possibility of forming a Humanist group in Ghana since our worldview was without doubt humanist in nature. We went along with it, agreed and the Humanist Association was founded.
Jacobsen: Why did you become a humanist?
Atambire: Humanist principles have guided my life for as long as I can remember though I hadn’t put a label on it. Irreligiosity in itself was not enough of a foundation to live one’s life, for that something in addition was needed. This prior thinking ensured that when the suggestion came that we form a Humanist Association, there was no reason to object, this is what I already felt but now I had a label; Humanism.
Jacobsen: What is its more appealing set of values?
Atambire: To pick what would be its most appealing value to me is frankly hard to do but I would attempt to mention a few if pushed to single them out. The need for empathy is very important to me. It is so because using critical thinking without empathy to keep rational thought in check can be dangerous. I say this because of my scientific background. As a scientist, that keeps me check in whatever I do. Reason or rational and critical enquiry might make us things like Nuclear weapons but it takes empathy to make sure we don’t go over the edge with such knowledge.
Jacobsen: What is the state of religion in Ghana at the moment?
Atambire: Religion literally is the Life of Ghanaians. You cannot describe Ghanaian society without religion and one cannot understand Ghanaians without understand religion. Christianity being the dominant religion followed by Islam and Traditional African Religion. It is not uncommon to have a blend between Christianity and Traditional religions and same goes for Islam. It is taken for granted how religious fluidity is In Ghana. An individual who professes to be Christian might be at a Traditional African Religion shrine on Saturday and on Sunday be in Church too. This fluidity has created an atmosphere where Religious tolerance in Ghana is quite high and this has helped to foster peace between the various faiths. However, this tolerance is not extended towards those who don’t profess any religion. A family would tolerate a child converting from Christianity to Islam but if that child professes irreligion, he/she could be cut off from the family, psychologically and socially. This tolerance for other faiths is not without problems though. Given the pervasiveness of religion, even problems that can be explained materially are given spiritual connotations. If there’s erratic rainfall, people are asked to pray for rain. If the economy is doing poorly, it is blamed on mystical dwarfs. The critical thinking minds of children are stunted in school by teachers who prefer to teach superstitious answers over scientific ones. The churches are very powerful and they use that power to influence policy decisions and social attitudes.
Jacobsen: How do you work as a team to move the humanist movement forward?
Atambire: The structure of the Humanist group is very interesting, we do have elected leaders alright but in practice it is a non-hierarchical organization. Decisions are taken by the whole group and acted upon by all. Since we are a volunteer organization, we depend entirely on our members volunteering their time, energy and resources to get our activities going.
Jacobsen: Who have been the better allies in working for irreligion in Ghana?
Atambire: Our situation here has ensured that we tackle irreligion in a strategic manner. We have affiliated groups like Common sense Ghana who actively deal with irreligion but ironically, some of our partners have been quasi-religious bodies. We do promote critical thinking and the need for ethical living, knowing that their acceptance and application would ultimately loosen the grip of religion on people. Our activism on human rights issues for minorities like the LGBTIQ communities tackles religious dogma indirectly. We tackle religion directly a few times but much of our work circumvent the antagonism that come with challenging religion publicly by using subtle measures.
Jacobsen: Who are the major threats to the free practice of and belief in humanism in Ghana?
Atambire: The biggest stumbling block to the practice of Humanism in Ghana is clearly organized religion. One loses opportunities if they make known their irreligious position. Humanists face contempt at workplace, at school and in the home with their families. The constitution does allow for freedom of association but professing a different worldview yields and strong and serious backlash such that many wouldn’t dare make their position public.
Jacobsen: What do you consider the best means by which to move humanism forward? In fact, what are some more subtle, but long-term, ways to do so too?
Atambire: Engaging the public less antagonistically by virtue of our critical thinking programs. If we open people’s minds to others ways of living and demonstrate it in our lives as humanists that one can live a happy ethical life without the need to appeal to superstition or a deity then others would learn from us and become humanists. By actively engaging with religious people to carry out social programs and activism, we are showing that Humanism is positive life stance.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Atambire: I wish everyone were a Humanist but that seems too much a dream to be realized in my lifetime but I do believe there’s a possibility that the future might offer this. Until such a day comes, by nice, be kind and be empathetic.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Agomo.