To get a better understanding of Nigerian life, we started a series called ‘Compatriots’, detailing the everyday life of the average Nigerian. As a weekly column, a new instalment will drop every Tuesday, exploring some other aspect of the Nigerian landscape.
This week, we’re telling the story of a young lady whose inability to get the answers to her burning questions about God, led to her shunning his existence entirely.
I’ll start the same way I used to start my days: with a word of prayer.
Thank you for seeking out knowledge, for learning the real rights and wrongs, for vesting accountability in no one but yourself and for actively seeking out the grace, to simply be.
In the past, my prayers would have been directed to an all-seeing, all-knowing messiah, whose existence both terrified and soothed me at my most trying moments. These days I keep things simple, directing all gratitude, supplications, and admonishments to a 5’5, chipped-tooth, second-hand clothes-wearing, indecision riddled human being — myself.
I grew up in one of Nigeria’s more conservative churches: popular for sermons which never deviate from salvation and godly living, its fame is eclipsed only by a set of rules, which even by Nigerian wholesome standards, call for some uncomfortable shifting in pews.
No television, no earrings, absolutely no unnatural extensions of any kind. ‘Sisters’ were encouraged to keep their hair covered in readiness for prayer, while women that chose to show off shapely calves in jeans were only highlighting body parts already simmering in the lake of fire. Attending church here was ostracising, judgment igniting and sometimes even laughter-inducing. But it was home and I loved it there.
Or at least I did until I turned 7. Which was right around the time I started losing teeth, a milestone that only left me determined to square up with a creator who reckoned my smile needed a big gap in the middle.
“Who is this God?”
“Where did He come from?”
“What is the source of His power?”
These were some of the questions I burdened my Sunday school teachers with at the time. I remember being disappointed with generic responses like “He is the Alpha and Omega” and “we don’t question where He came from.” This explained nothing. What if we were rooting for the wrong guy? An assertion that didn’t seem too far fetched, especially after the Holy Spirit entered my Shit List for ‘revealing’ to a Sunday School teacher — in full view of everyone — that I dared to wear braids to the House of the Lord. Never mind that my braids (an allowance of my liberal parents) were peeking out of my scarf, clear as day for man and spirit alike to see.
That is not to say it marked the start of my unbelief; that would come very shortly after. But from my tweens, right up until the very early stages of adolescence, I was a model, middling child of God. While I wasn’t crazy about observing weekday hours on weekends just to make it to church before 8 am, I did so with the unquestioning submission of a child still heavily reliant on her parents. I memorised Bible verses (all forgotten now), always completed a daily checklist of trinity prayers: upon waking, before eating and right before bed and I never once took the name of the Lord in vain. But something happened when I made the leap from shimis and a fresh face to training bras and an unbecoming pitch fuzz — I made the realisation that I really, really, didn’t like attending church.
Look, I don’t know what it is about being a teenager that transforms parents from being your cool, employed best friends, to the very last people you’d want to be stuck on earth with, but my parents got this end of the stick, and my heavenly father was no exception.
While my earthly parents were stuck with a teenager prone to mouthing unrepeatable things under her breath, the Lord got one unwilling to visit, even in his own house! I became masterful in avoiding church services, plotting my escape days ahead — blaming everything from phantom period pains to untraceable headaches. It was during these periods that those truly unanswerable questions, once again reared their heads:
“Who is this God?”
“Where did He come from?”
“What is the source of His powers?”
While my family was away, singing hymns and praising at the House of God, I was home alone, spending an unaccountable amount of time staring at a mirror, trying to come to terms with the fact that my reflection was indeed myself, a person fearfully and wonderfully created by a mysterious God.
As I got older, these questions matured as I did. Growing from merely interrogating the origins of my God, to attempting to make sense of His end goal. Where childish exuberance marked my early ploys to avoid church, at 17, they were my crutch to stay sane.
Post-adolescence was riddled with attempts to rationalise a God who would create a world of people, solely to worship Him.
Who could orchestrate scenarios where safety was compromised, simply to guarantee your gratitude that He pulled you to protection.
How could God create a world filled with multiple religions, each believing their tenets correct, but with such intricate devices of worship, only one could truly be correct? A God that fearfully and wonderfully created certain humans a special way, but opened them to damnation, per His book?
Who punished deviants from His word with an eternity spent consumed by a lake of fire. And rewarded adherents with a whole lifetime spent praising Him? Forever and ever, worshipping? I couldn’t help but conclude that if God were a man, I wouldn’t like Him very much.
By 19, I understood the appeal of religion and a higher power interceding, where humans might have failed. Especially in a country like Nigeria where uncertainty in safety, sustenance, and security are the order of the day. Where the promise of finally being able to find rest, in a levitating mansion in heaven, is almost literally the thought keeping many underprivileged citizens alive. It just didn’t make much sense to me.
At that age, I made a decision that marked the start of the rest of my life — a year without religion. One year where no one but I, took centre stage in my life. Where all the credit and blame for my grades went straight to me, and where only my hard work and intuition guaranteed me multiple streams of income in university. No divine grace or exceptions here.
From that year, I decided to wing this life thing. I’m finally done with asking questions with no definitive answers, I’ll just wait to maybe be proved wrong at the other side.