Being An Atheist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
It’s dangerous to be an atheist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To be fair, it’s dangerous to be a human in DRC. It’s even more dangerous to be a woman - a UN official, Margot Wallström describing DRC as ‘the rape capital of the world’.
DRC has a long history of war, violence, and corruption. In 2018 the federal election was marred with violence. In central and eastern DRC civilians were attacked by various groups. Many were killed or injured. Over 4.5 million Congolese have been displaced from their homes. 130,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
With the political issues, there is also religious violence, despite 95% of the population following some form of Christianity. Rather than bonding over their shared faith, there is divisiveness that stems from ethnic differences that are tied to various religious groups. In April 2020 across the capital, Kinshasa, and other regions, 55 people were killed by Congolese police. The people killed were members of a separatist religious group, Bundu dia Kongo. Their leader, Zacharie Badiengila, had called for his followers to chase out people who were not of Congo ethnicity. The government response was swift and deadly. Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for the group Human Rights Watch said,
“Congolese authorities had a responsibility to respond to the BDK movement’s messages that incite ethnic hatred,” he added, “However, the government response violated international standards on the use of force, causing a bloodbath.”
Although Christianity is the dominant religion, there are strong ties with traditional indigenous beliefs. About 11% of the population follow these beliefs exclusively, however, they are often intermingled with the version of Christianity that people follow. Because of this, belief in witchcraft is common throughout DRC. Once almost exclusive to rural areas, this belief has seen a rise amongst urban populations. It is understood that many of the homeless children in DRC’s major cities are on the street because they’ve been cast out of their families, denounced for being witches.
So as you can see, religion in DRC is quite extreme. Due to the conflicts between religious groups, regional clans, and political unrest, DRC is a very dangerous place to be. But what of atheism and being an atheist in DRC?
Officially it’s legal to be an atheist in DRC. Article 26 of the Congolese constitution protects religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. In practice, there are many reports of the government using intimidation and violence against religious groups, particularly the Catholic church, due to the church’s support of credible elections.
There are no known religious detainees in DRC, including for atheism or blasphemy. However, there are so few atheists, or at least admitted atheists, in DRC that statistics like these are negligible. Attacks and unrest at the religious level almost always have strong political or ethnic ties, that it’s hard to know what the main motivation for violence is. Given this, we don’t know how an atheist would be treated if they were ‘out’ and living in DRC, however, one can assume it wouldn’t be good. One expects there’d be resistance from the government, due to the imagined threat to their authority. Similarly one suspects the religious groups would have their authority equally threatened.
Less than 2% of Congolese have access to the internet so it’s hard to imagine a society of Congolese atheists online. I couldn’t find any such groups.
With the rise in belief in witchcraft, the DRC is also rife with superstition, blaming the spread of Ebola and conflict on curses. The belief that Ebola is the result of evil spirits sends sufferers to seek help from preachers and prayer rather than medical professionals and modern medicine. As a result, Ebola is killing a great number of Congolese residents. DR Congo has recorded the second-largest outbreak of the disease in world history just this past June and as of July 3rd, over 2000 DR Congo residents have died from the disease. Sadly, many of these people leave behind their children to fend for themselves.
That's where we come in. Humanist Global Charity facilitates the support of secular orphanages and schools in DR Congo and we have been raising money to support them for the month of July. In total, there are 41 kids we are looking to support. Most of these children have lost their parents to Ebola. Just imagine what providing evidence-based education to these kids will do for their community. No more superstition about Ebola being the curse of evil spirits, no more distrust of doctors and modern medicine. Reverence for and a basic understanding of science could completely eliminate Ebola outbreaks in the future.
We want so desperately to give these children the key to changing the future of their nation for the better. It costs $120 per child to send them to school for the year. Won't you help us provide a solid base in scientific understanding to these children and enable them to make the change that's needed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Please donate now. With just 9 days left in our campaign for this orphanage, we are so close to our goal!
This post was written by Donovan Badrock. Also known as Mr. Oz Atheist on Twitter, you can follow him here. This post is also the second in a series called Atheism Around the World. In the future, you can read more instalments here.