‘Coming out’ as a Zulu atheist

2015-08-06 06:00


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I WOULD like to tell you the story of how I “came out” to my family and community as an atheist. I would, more than anything, like to tell you what a difficult transition it was and how I can now put it all behind me. I would also like to tell you how accepting the Zulu culture - my culture - is of atheists and other free-thinkers. I would love to tell you all these things, but I have learned that the truth is far from being rosy. Imagine being the only child who did not believe in God when everyone you have ever known does. Now, imagine being an adult always defending what you (do not) believe in. The trouble with telling people that I am an atheist, in isiZulu inparticular does not sound as romantic as it does in English. Now, “I do not believe in God” sounds pretty straight forward to anyone who understands the language. The exact statement in isiZulu makes you sound like a crazy person or someone telling a sick, tasteless joke. “Angikholelwa ku-Nkulunkulu”, makes moderate and ‘advanced’ Christians think you’re a lost soul or the spawn of the devil. I have even been invited to my very own exorcism by a prominent ‘prophet’ in the small suburb of eSikhawini. While atheism may be accepted as an alternative religion in some contexts, I must stress here how the nature of atheism (opposite of theism - a belief in God or a deity) is the absence of belief in God. It is as much a religion as “off” is a TV channel.

This is very hard to explain in Zulu, not because my native tongue is backward in anyway, but because of the entrenchment of (ironically) Western religions in many of my fellow Zulus. You see, prayer and the acknowledgment of God makes up almost every family you will ever encounter in the Zulu nation. “A family that prays together, stays together.” There comes this Rasta-looking young man talking all this “rubbish”. “By the grace of God, he will one day see the light and repent from his ways,” they say. The irony of the statement is uncanny. My coming out as an atheist to my family and my community has not been smooth at all. I suppose all the years I have spent contemplating my decision, as I went on parading like a regular Christian should have prepared me for this backlash. Church members who have looked up to me as a humble and respectful boy, can now barely spare me a second glance at the local mall. How very “Christian” of them. Respected former pastors today tell me how mistaken I am in my view and how I should do away with reason and replace it with unquestioning faith instead. Some concerned Christians have even tried to gauge whichever traumatic experience in my past has led me to this path. Others are even claiming that “it is all these books you keep reading”. Perhaps I should tone it down on the Douglas Adams and company. This makes me wonder, though. Having not been exposed to this ‘western idea’ of atheism, would I be a devoted Christian instead? Well, even when the Bible was read to me in Zulu, I found it very hard to reason how a man could turn water into wine, how two people populated the Earth, or how God created the Earth only to drown almost everyone for some reason. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not an atheist because I do not like the Christian God’s personality, or that I am not overly excited about spending three hours at church every Sunday (and falling asleep half the time). I am an atheist solely because I am sceptical of the existence of God.How do I explain that in Zulu so that I do not offend anyone in doing so, or make myself seem like a devil-worker? I have not yet figured that one out.

I SUPPOSE ALL THE YEARS I HAVE SPENT CONTEMPLATING MY DECISION, AS I WENT ON PARADING LIKE A REGULAR CHRISTIAN SHOULD HAVE PREPARED ME FOR THIS BACKLASH. CHURCH MEMBERS WHO HAVE LOOKED UP TO ME AS A HUMBLE AND RESPECTFUL BOY, CAN NOW BARELY SPARE ME A SECOND GLANCE AT THE LOCAL MALL

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