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DECONVERTED

By Dominic Omenai ~

CHAPTER ONE

My late mother was a devout Christian, a Catholic and my mum’s parents were Muslims, She only became a Catholic after marriage. She never missed Sunday mass or weekly devotion. She encouraged us, her children, to attend church regularly with her. It is interesting to note that my mother had to change her religion immediately after marriage, which she did submissively to please my father.

Baptism was already done for us when we were babies in my household. We had to attend Saturday Catechism classes for first holy communication classes. I can remember me and my younger brother would be sleeping during the Catholic mass on Sunday. Years later, I will understand, why we were not awake during the mass. The Catechism classes was where I met my first love Helen, although, at that time I have not yet known what love is. I remember attending happily the church harvest and spending the time at the church harvest with Daniel, a friend from my Catechism classes. After about many classes in catechism, we were to be examined and asked some questions in order to see if we were qualified to receive the Holy Communion.

I managed to pass the examination to receive first Holy Communion. I dressed in white shirt and white knickers alongside others like myself one Sunday morning to receive Holy Communion for the first time, and three of my sisters also received Holy Communion with me that day.

In retrospect, I did not feel anything spectacular that day after receiving Holy Communion for the first time. After having received the Holy Communion, I decided to become an altar boy, so that I was able to see what other church goers were not privy to. I was able to see the sacristy, where the priest changes before he reads mass, and I also sat near the priest at the Altar ready to serve him.

As an altar boy, I had to serve on the altar during Sunday mass as well as during weekly masses. Hence, I noticed that my life revolved around the church. If I was not serving on the altar on Sundays, I would be serving during the week. Then, my Saturdays were also spent at the church attending the altar boy meetings and to know my alltar schedule for the week. So I had to make the decision to disengage from the church, as it was taking all of my time and attention, not that I had questions about God and religion at this time. I just felt I had to get away from the church as it was taking all my time. Even as young as I was back then, I knew it was not right for me to be spending all my time on church activities.

It gave myself time to concentrate on forming childhood friendships. A particular childhood friend that stands out in my memory is Roy. Roy was from a comfortable family, who could afford to travel outside the country for holidays from time to time, Also, Roy was a British-born citizen, unlike me, a Nigerian. We spent a lot of time playing Nintendo at Roy’s house with other children. Roy’s mother was a very kind hearted woman, and she cared for all of Roy’s friends.

Roy’s mother was like a second mother to me much later, after I had lost my mother. In addition to playing Nintendo, there was occasional football amongst us. Those were happy years.

Roy’s family later returned to the United Kingdom. I felt the absence and departure of Roy to the United Kingdom more than I have ever missed anyone in my life. I and Roy understood each other, he was like a brother from another mother. Roy’s vacuum was nearly filled by another friend called Wole. Wole introduced me to going to late night weekend parties, where I made more friends. These late night weekend parties with Wole ended, when I had to go and live with my eldest sister.

In living with my eldest sister, I had to join her church. A Pentecostal church in Nigeria named ‘Deeper Christian Life Ministry’. This church had a very strict interpretation of the Bible, as women were not allowed to wear make-up, and the watching of Television was not encouraged as they claimed it led to immorality. I was then compelled to be a member of the church for quite some time, until I gained admission into the university.

University life brought with it the air of freedom. I could not find the branch of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry on campus, so I had to join another church fellowship named “Word of Life’ (if my memory serves me right ). The fellowship had a drama unit, which I happily participated in.

Things took an unexpected turn, when I met Olivia. My dad is fond of saying “Love is an intoxicating wine that induces one to die for another”- Shakespeare. I loved Olivia with all my heart, I did everything within my power to please her and she made me miserable. I dated Olivia throughout my days in the university, she was the only lady I had eyes for. The truth about Olivia revealed itself, though I wished it would have done so earlier, as I was about graduating from the university. I caught Olivia cheating on me, and she broke my heart. After all those years, it occurred to me, that I had being living in a “fool’s paradise”. I started to question love.

I joined another church, a Pentecostal church in Nigeria called “Redeemed Christian Church of God”, hoping my broken heart would be cured by the church, and I would find happiness again. But something strange happened, that made me feel that I might belong to the wrong denomination. There was a weekend church program on Saturday that the Church was organizing. I was there early at the church that day to help out with the preparations hours before the program would start. I left some hours prior to the program to prepare at home. I am not someone, who sleeps in the afternoon, but when I got home, I said to myself that I should relax a bit. Can you imagine that I slept off? By the time I woke up, I quickly went to the church program, only to meet them saying the closing prayers of the program. This disturbed me.
I was so eager to participate in the program, only to get to the program when it was about to end. Eventually, I left the church and for some time I was “churchless”, but I still watched Christian programs on TV. I was still looking for a place of worship and I eventually came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I searched for their branch around where I was living and found one. They were quite happy to receive me. I attended Sunday worship and also their weekly service. They had a convention, which I happily joined. This time I felt that I was finally home, a church I loved, so I thought. I noticed in Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they had their own translation of the bible.

This was at first strange and new to me. I was told by people, that Jehovah’s

Witnesses are a sect. But what busted the bubble for me was a friend of mine called Paul, who I had a discussion with about religion during that period. Paul opened my eyes about Jehovah’s Witnesses. He made me to realize though, that I have been ignorant about the fact that the bible composition of books originally came about as a result of Emperor Constantine, and that what Jehovah’s Witnesses were doing in their “New World Translation” of the Bible was wrong. In addition to what Paul told me, I did some internet investigation on my own about Jehovah’s Witnesses and found out that it had splinter groups. I also found out, that people had left the group, because they didn’t believe in the church and its doctrine anymore. Knowing all these weakened my resolve, because at the time of getting to now all this, I had reached the stage of becoming an unbaptized publisher with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had gone out with them to preach the Kingdom news to people and I even had a student I was putting through the Jehovah’s Witness Magazine (eventually when I left Jehovah’s Witness, I told this student of mine to make up his own mind, whether or not he still wanted to be a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses).
But what nailed the coffin for me as a Jehovah’s Witnesses was during a drama performed during weekly service. While trying to act and play along in the drama, I found that I was unable to do so. I later discovered, that the reason as to why I was unable act was, that my heart was no longer with Jehovah’s Witness. Hence, I should stop pretending and trying to play along. I left Jehovah’s Witnesses and remained “churchless” for another period of time, searching for the “ideal place to worship”.

It was around that time when I found the Grail Message through a late night radio channel on Sunday around 10pm. The program aired on radio was called “Truth of Life”, a program about the Grail Message, where the Grail Message is read and Q&A were entertained by the listeners and answered by one of the adherents of the Grail Message. I listened to this program for a couple of weeks, before I decided to visit a Grail center to enquire more. I was told, that I had to read the 3 volumes of the Grail Message entirely. I brought and read the 3 volumes of the Grail Message on my own without anyone assisting me to understand it. After having read the 3 volumes, I went back to the Grail center, where I was interviewed and asked some questions about the Grail Message in order to see if I understood what I have read. Upon having satisfactorily answered the questions, I became eligible for sealing to the Grail Message.

SEALING is, when one accepts to live his or her life according to ‘the light’. In addition to being sealed, a Grail Cross is given to the new adherent upon his or her request as an outward symbol of their conviction to the Message.

I must say here, that my days as an adherent of the Grail Message written by Abd-ruShin were happy ones, I even spent some time on the Grail Message settlement called ‘Grail Land’.

The problem was, that I am an intellectual person, and the Grail Message’s teachings encourage the use of intuition over the intellect. In view of this, I had to return my Grail cross back to the Grail movement through my Grail center, that would keep it safe for my future return, If I wished.

I then found myself “churchless” and “denomination-less” again. Most Sundays, when everyone went to church, I would be at home, either watching TV or sleeping.

I got to know about Eckankar through a television program. I loved their music and enjoyed the program. I thought to myself: “let me give this a try”. So I visited an Eck Center, attended their weekly meetings on Fridays, and I then applied for membership and was accepted. If you are looking for a place, where the people will go out of their way to show you love, it is Eckankar.

But the problem with Eckankar that I later started to struggle with, was their singing of the word “HU”, plus it started to dawn on me, that this could be a man made religion, as I examined Eckankar deeply.

I did not renounce my membership of Eckankar, but I did want to try out something else and something new, like “Amorc”, Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis a.k.a the Rosicrucian Order. But before I could do this, I went to browse one night and I discovered Atheism. I browsed all night. First I found out, that Jesus was an Essene, then later that Jesus did not exist, and then atheism was presented to me, all through my browsing on the internet.

Atheism answered my questions about religion and why I was usually sleeping in Church years ago: the message of the Catholic Mass was not appealing to my sense of reasoning, and my restlessness to stay in one church was because the churches’ messages were ot not reasonable.

Love is real, as I have discovered through my wife and son.


CHAPTER TWO

The day, or should I say the night, I became an atheist was the saddest and happiest day in my life. It was a day of mixed emotions. In as much as I am now liberated from religion, it was sad for me to know, that the god I spent my life believing in and searching for, is non-existent. Back then I felt that God was love, and I wanted to be like God, as the Bible admonishes. I paraphrase, "be perfect like your father in heaven” .I even bought a copy of the Quran that I read it in my search for god. In doing so, I felt that perhaps there were truths in the Quran that were not contained in the Bible.

The only thing I learnt from this exercise was a deeper veneration for ‘God is great’, ‘Allahu Akbar’. During my childhood I would pray whenever I needed something and it would be answered. Now that I think of it, it was all a lie in my head. There was no god answering my prayers, it was all just wishful thinking.

Another thought that came to my mind was, that if god does not exist, why did I not come to this realization earlier? Am I a dummy? Why was this important truth hidden from me? The thought of all the wasted years, things I could have done differently, if I had known that god didn't exist, all came to my mind. Up until the time I had gone to the cyber café to browse during that memorable night, I had never heard of the word ‘atheism’ or ‘atheist’ in my life. Or was it the case of me being the village idiot to not have known of the existence of atheism before? Anyway, it took years for me to meet atheists like myself. The country I am living in, Lagos/Nigeria is a very religious country. In Nigeria, you are either a Christian or a muslim. There are muslim mosques and Christian churches in almost every street in Nigeria. To show you, how religious Nigerians are: the book “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie is banned in Nigeria. Books that criticize religion are not sold in the book shops. Finding an atheist book in Nigeria to buy and read is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The first person to know that I'm an atheist was my sister. My dad found it difficult to understand me, and he regarded me as a "problem child ".

A baby was born to a family near my house, so the family organized a naming ceremony for the baby. My dad, my sister and I were invited to this naming ceremony for the baby. The organisers of the ceremony wanted to start it with a prayer, and as the others bowed their heads to participate in the prayer, I did not bow my head. I could notice some disapproving glances at me, but I did the same thing of not participating in the closing prayers. All this happened not quite long after becoming an atheist. No one cared to know, why I was acting like the ‘devil’ at the naming ceremony, except the woman I would later marry, and who took an interest in me and wanted to know more about as to why I was acting the way I did during the prayers.

When I met my wife, she wanted to know why I didn't believe in God. We spent a lot of afternoons discussing about religion. As much as I could, I tried to explain to her what atheism is based on what I knew at that time. Unfortunately, back then I didn't have any atheist books I could give her to read, and she wasn't too familiar with the internet to find out more. Although she knew that I am an atheist, she still agreed to marry me. Because of our love for each other, our differences with regards of religion did not come in between us. I'm hopeful, that some day she will see things from my perspective. If this doesn't happen in the future, then it still changes nothing. I love her and she loves me in return. It was not easy being an atheist back then, and it still isn't easy today, because there is no support for atheists in Lagos/Nigeria. Just recently in 2017 the Atheist Society of Nigeria came into being with its first convention in the same year. If only the Atheist Society of Nigeria had come into existence earlier, it would have been much better.

If god does not exist, why did I not come to this realization earlier? Am I a dummy? While my wife would go to church on Sundays with our son, I would remain at home. My wife's church would organize programs from time to time, and she would attend such programs with our son. My wife will taunt me, saying that we atheists were not organized particularly, since I had no atheist friends at that point in time, who would come to visit me at home. At that time util date my challenge with being an atheist was further compounded by unemployment. I had been struggling with unemployment before and after I had married my wife. If you are a devoted member of some of these churches in Nigeria, they do help their members to network jobs, and since as I was not a member of any church, this worsened my case. My wife offered to speak with her pastor about my joblessness, and the pastor offered to help, but I eventually declined, because a job through the pastor would have made me to be obligated to him and to the church. Later on, I tried to get a job through a humanist, who introduced me to the Atheist Society of Nigeria, but this individual did not have the clout and the network to help me.

A man without a job is looked upon as a pariah, a societal misfit. It is even worse, when he is an atheist according to the thinking of those around. Fortunately, I have an enterprising wife and supportive brothers and sisters. Without them, my fate would have been hopeless. In Africa and according to the bible, the man is the head of the home and he is also the bread winner. Although I might be the head of the home, the bread winners of my home are my wife and my brothers and sisters. After many years of no support, I was tempted to give religion a second try, since me being an atheist in my country did not open me up for opportunities, as no one wanted anything to do with an atheist.

If there has ever been a religious group I have a lot of memories of happy times with, it was being an adherent of the Grail Message aka Cross Bearer. I had left the group, but I was still in contact with some of its members after discussing the possibility of my return. One day during the week I visited Grail Land to discuss my return. I was told to come for a discussion on Sunday, as it was thought that my returning the silver Grail cross meant that I no longer wanted to be a member. Plus, I was asked for my reason for returning the cross. I tried as much as I could to answer this questions and left to prepare for the discussion on Sunday.

On Sunday I wore a suit and headed to Grail Land for the discussion. Fortunately, the discussion went well, but I was asked to write a letter to the country leader of the Grail movement, which I did before leaving Grail Land. After that began the period of waiting for them to contact me to give me a thumbs up to return. As I write now I have not received any reply from them yet.

But what was I thinking? Abandon atheism? For the Grail Message? No. That memorable night I went to browse and found Atheism is amongst the happiest days of my life. I had allowed my frustrations get the best of me and succumbed to the temptation to return to religion.

I temporarily forgot the feeling of liberation from religion by being an atheist, thus I promised myself, that with employment or without unemployment and regardless of any other challenges, I will remain an atheist to the end. Religion has no place again in my life. The Catholic Church was responsible for the Inquisition, a lot of innocent people died, Galileo, the famous scientist, was imprisoned, thus religion wanted to influence science. Imagine, if Galileo was not under house arrest during the remaining part of his life, his scientific research would have still continued. Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to take a blood transfusion because of their beliefs, neither do they encourage inter-marriage. For instance, a Jehovah's Witness can never marry a Catholic, even though they both have Jesus as their Lord and Savior. A Jehovah's Witness marrying a muslim is inconceivable. This is what Religion causes, it is no longer about the love between two individuals, but a question of religious inclinations. There is a Jehovah's Witness I know, who lives in the same estate with me. This Jehovah's Witness member is aware that I was once a member of their church. He refuses to greet me or have anything to do with me, because I'm no longer a Jehovah's Witness. Civility and the love that Jesus preaches ought to teach him to be better, and to treat everyone with love and respect, even though they might not be Jehovah's Witnesses. I was told they only loving and keeping communication between themselves.

I almost forgot, that I also tried the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormonism. I had to seek out their church, because there was no Mormon denomination that I knew in the area I lived.

On a visit to their church during a week day, I met with their missionaries, who gave me a copy of their Book of Mormon and invited me for a church service the following Sunday. I accepted their invitation to join them in worship that Sunday. In my own opinion, I stood to be corrected. Although the service was simple, I found it regimented, unlike the other churches where I had worshipped in the past, this was a church, where you had to be an active participant and say something. During the service a lot of Mormons got up to testify during the church service of how good their "Heavenly Father”, aka God is. After that day at the church, I was visited at home by the missionaries, and my wife was invited to join me in their book of Mormon study with me. My wife told them, that she has a church she already worships. This statement from my wife did not deter them from encouraging her to still study the book of Mormon with me and them. There was an issue about baptism that got my wife fired up. According to the missionaries, if she were to join the Church of Latter Day Saints, she would have to be baptized. My wife's denomination is the Redeemed Christian Church of God. She told the missionaries, that she has already been baptized. The missionaries told my wife, that her baptism doesn't count, and that the reason why her baptism does not count, was that it was not done by the Royal Priesthood, only found in the Church of Latter Day Saints. My wife later told me, that she thought all they were saying was bullshit. A Christian church not recognizing the baptism of another Christian church, this only goes to show the level of confusion amongst the Christian churches, just the same way The Church of Latter Day Saints believes it's baptism is unique. Jehovah's Witnesses also believe that their own baptism is unique and they do not recognize baptism from other Christian churches. To be a Jehovah's witnesses, you must be baptized into their fold. I would like to say, while the other Christian churches wait for the individual to be matured in order to receive baptism, it is not so in the Catholic Church. Baptism is received mostly as a baby, or being a little child, and also when a non-Catholic is about to marry a Catholic. The religion of Eckankar does not have baptism, but initiations into levels of consciousness, that only private family members can attend.

It was lonely being an atheist. I had to browse the internet to see, if I could find others like myself and also, if possible, see if they had organized themselves into a group. I did find some atheist groups, but prominent amongst the groups that I found acceptance, friendship and a place to call home is the Atheist Republic. It is there where I met Benjamin, an atheist like myself, a dear friend, a brother from another mother. I was able to learn a lot from Benjamin. Benjamin taught me how to receive atheist podcasts. Benjamin also offered to help me get a translation job for his proposed podcast. I have also made other atheist friends on the internet. Yinka, the humanist who informed me about the proposed Atheist Society of Nigeria's first convention, is amongst my secular friend list. I am now a registered member of the Atheist Society of Nigeria. Gradually, I am growing and finding my voice in the Atheist community.


CONCLUSION

We are confronted with decisions in life. I was recently at an hospital and passed by the dead corpse of a woman. I didn’t know she was dead, it was someone, who told me that she woman was dead.

It occurred to me, how meaningless life is, and that we must make a decision to live this life. In the same hospital,there was a woman in coma. Her husband had called some pastors in order to see if they could wake her up. In my mind, I wanted to tell them that they were wasting their time, and that only the care of the doctors could make the woman wake up again from her coma.

As atheists, we only have this life, hence we should make the best of it.

There is no heaven.


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