Atheists in the southern African country of Zambia are beginning to go open and public with their non-belief. But godless and god-doubting people in this country have a key concern: religious hatred. At the moment, atheists in Zambia have established some presence on the Internet. A Facebook group for atheists in the country exists and has over two hundred members. Recently, one of the members shared his frustration over some behavior by religious people. Apparently he was unhappy that some religious persons took advantage of the father’s ailment to pray for him: “Just when I am beginning to get comfortable with my atheism, I am surrounded by babbling religious folks. Recently my dad lost a part of his leg due to gangrene. He is diabetic. The amount of prayers every day is incredible. I think my dad's a closeted atheist. His never said it, but he never seemed to say amen to these prayers or agreed in any way. I tend to wonder if we are in the same prison. That is being afraid to say the truth because you know...it's exorcism time and the devil’s spawn kinda thing. Thought I should share with my fellow heathens”.
The Internet has been an important resource for atheist fellowship. The Facebook provides a platform for atheists to share their thoughts, and to connect with other like-minded persons in the country and beyond.
It is difficult to be an atheist in Zambia. Zambia is a predominantly Christian country. According to a Zambian atheist: “Being an atheist or a non-religious person only results in being singled out, ostracised and hated”. Asked why theists would dislike those who do not see evidence for the existence of God, this was his reply: indoctrination. Theists are brought up to hate atheists: “I think theistic people do not have inborn hatred for atheists. They are taught to hate nonbelievers by their religious leaders”.
Another atheist from Zambia put it differently: “It's not really that they hate us, it is the fear they have because they do not understand who we are. They call us Satanists. They confuse atheism with Satanism”. Unfortunately this conflation persists.
Some atheists in Zambia have observed that religious persons in the country regard atheists as devil worshippers. “In fact, they are convinced that devil is what we, atheists, worship”.
But it may be more helpful to explain and make theists to understand the difference between atheism and Satanism. In fact, it should be easy to let religious persons in Zambia know that atheists do not see evidence for the existence of both god and the devil. Or better why can’t theists try to wonder: How can atheists be Satanists when they do not believe in Satan? How can atheists be devil worshippers when they don’t even believe that the devil exists? Atheists in Zambia claim that this clarification is largely a futile exercise: “Even if one explains they can't logically fathom it”. One atheist observed.
Zambian atheists attribute the hatred to religious indoctrination and brainwashing. They are of the notion that, what religious people fear or do not understand, they tend to associate with the devil because “It's easier for them than grasping what atheism is”. Another atheist noted: “Most don't have the cognitive ability to understand due to massive brainwashing. They cannot think beyond religion”.
Atheists in Zambia have a huge task ahead of them: to re-educate the religious persons and get them to abandon this pernicious misconception of atheism. The conflation of atheism with Satanism is absurd and leads to persecution and discrimination against atheists.
However, some atheists in Zambia think that the situation could change
According to one of them, it is important to keep explaining and re-explaining that atheism is not Satanism: “Try to educate them so that they can grasp its true meaning. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it fails. It's a matter of how well you can articulate yourself in your explanation and who is actually reading or listening”.
Despite the hatred for atheists and atheism, some nonbelievers still think that the people of Zambia stand to gain from atheism: “It's not really about how atheism will benefit Zambia, it’s really about liberating the mindset of Zambians. Religion makes people unprogressive. We would rather have people who are more self-aware and not brainwashed entirely so that they are able to think. Secularism should be enforced. Things like the ministry of religious affairs should be scrapped, and should not be part of the government. I also think schools shouldn't make religious education compulsory”.
Some atheists in Zambia are coming forward to help make atheism a social reality: “I am willing to play my part, and encourage as many young people as possible to embrace rational thought”. One Zambian atheist said. However, time will tell if the spread of rational thought would reach a critical mass and define an era in the history of Zambia; whether freethought activism would eventually dispel the deep-seated misconception, hatred, and prejudice that have hunted atheists and atheism in contemporary Zambia.