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Atheism Reduces Maternal Mortality in Nigeria
Leo Igwe   Apr 7, 2016   Brighter Brains  

If you are one of those who think that atheism is of no benefit to Africa and Africans, that disbelieving in god has no social value or significance for this people then you may rethink your position after reading this.

You may be aware that the government of Cross River State in Southern Nigeria is waging a fierce campaign against the practice of ‘church birth’ and this practice highlights the dangers of theism particularly when it is applied to maternal health issues. You may ask : What is church birth? Church birth is a practice where pregnant women go to churches or faith clinics, instead of hospitals, to deliver their babies. A BBC report on one of such churches, The Land of Promise Church, which is located near the city of Calabar has made international headlines.

Since the 90s, some African Initiated Churches have, in their quest for relevance and extra income, established child delivery facilities that are often operated by ‘traditional birth attendants’. These churches lure their members who are pregnant to use their faith clinics instead of going to the maternity clinics where they are likely to pay more for the process of delivery. These pregnant women, who are mainly from poor families, are forced to patronize these clinics at least to reduce the costs of childbirth and at same time to demonstrate their faith in god, in their ‘church god’. The women register in these faith clinics and are made to fast and pray. They are made to believe that it is only GOD, not any human being who would make them deliver successfully. Particularly they are told that ‘Dr Jesus’ is in charge of the process.

At this Land of Promise Church, pregnant women congregate. They fast and pray to god to help them deliver safely. The operator of the faith clinic made it clear that her work was god-ordained:

“This is the work that God gave me to do. From my youth, I helped my mother to deliver babies. God has been helping me, and God will not allow anything dangerous or evil to happen.”


Is that really the case? Don’t ‘evil’ things’ happen in these places? She stressed that the way to guarantee safe delivery was through prayer:

“I pray with the mothers and my followers can testify about my skills… Every pregnant woman that has come to me has delivered safely and gone home with their children.” She further stated:’‘As a child of God, you do not stay idle, you have to be closer to God. So that as a pregnant woman, when it comes to the time of delivery, everything will be easy for you.”


Are things always easy for the women? Of course, not.

Sadly there have been reports of women who developed complications in the course of delivery at these clinics. Sometimes they were taken to the hospital but died before they could receive proper treatment. Reports of such incidents have not stopped pregnant mothers from going to these faith clinics because they hold this belief that it would not be their portion. But what happens at the end of the day? It ends up being the portion of some of them and these woman die in the course of the delivery or after delivery due to one complication or the other.

Fortunately, the wife of the state governor, Dr Linda Ayade is leading a campaign to stop the practice of ‘church birth’ in the region and she deserves commendation for that. She is going from community to community to persuade ‘expectant mothers’ from going to deliver at these faith clinics. But the main question is: Will this campaign against ‘church birth’ succeed? This practice has been going on for decades. Will the campaign really persuade pregnant women from going to these faith clinics due the high cost of maternal health care in the state? Is there any initiative to support these women financially and to subsidize antenatal and post natal care?

The governor’s wife has been educating women by sharing experiences of women who had died due to this practice and making them understand the risks involved in this undertaking. Is she saying that these women are not aware of the risks involved? After all why are the women praying and fasting in the first place? Is it not because they know that they might die in the process?

For me, there is some crucial information that is missing in this campaign. Expectant mothers need to be told that there is no God and should stop wasting their time praying and fasting. In fact they should be told that fasting puts their health more in danger; it denies their bodies the nutrients they need and increase the risk of maternal mortality.

Surely, telling pregnant women in villages and towns across the state that there is no god will come as a shock. There is no doubt about it, but it will do immense good to the campaign. First of all, it would put the health risks they are taking into proper perspective. If expectants mother realize that there is no god to save them if they develop complications in the course of church birth, it may cause them to rethink going to faith clinics. Getting the operators of the clinics to discard the mistaken notion that there is some God helping them in their work would make these charlatans understand the enormity of the mischief and crime that they are committing. I am aware that in a ‘deeply religious’ god believing and christian dominated southern Nigeria, this atheistic pill will surely be a bitter one to swallow. However it can prove to be an important empowering and liberating measure that will help reduce and eventually root out maternal mortality in Nigeria.

Leo Igwe, as a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has bravely worked for human rights in West Africa. He is presently enrolled in a three year research programme on “Witchcraft accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.


Chocolate reduces elephant mortality in Ireland.

Yes, when atheist propaganda becomes spam, mental spam filter are triggered and people stop listening.

Actually, the net result of too much and too aggressive militant atheist propaganda is pushing people to religion. Just like too much and too aggressive political correctness results in more votes for Trump.

Related thoughts:

It’s indeed quite laughable to imagine that telling expectant mothers that God doesn’t exist will convince them to go to hospitals to give birth. A more likely outcome is that they will give you an earful.

Atheism is not the answer, I am increasingly convinced of that. One can be atheist, without imagining that one can somehow stop people being religious and that will somehow solve all the worlds ills.

That said, I do still see value in pushing back against nonsense, including religion-inspired nonsense. We should just be realistic about what doing so is likely to achieve.

@Peter - I think atheism, or religion, can not be “the answer” to social problems.

First, there is never one single and simple answer.

Second, atheism and religion should be personal convictions that don’t prevent well-meaning people to collaborate and DO social good, regardless of different convictions in this particular sphere.

I am a believer. Igwe is an atheist. We both want to solve real problems and improve the life of real people. I guess we could agree on workable solutions… if not prevented by artificial holy wars.

I wish to add that some arguments put forward by both atheists and believers to protect their faith are, frankly, logically and intellectually ridiculous.

Atheism certainly cannot, at least not on its own: the mere absence of a belief in God clearly cannot do much, though for some people, depending on their existing (theistic) beliefs, it could be a considerable improvement.

Can religion? Well that still depends very much on how one defines it. As Lincoln C. might put it, religion is a very powerful social technology, so a priori it would appear to be a more promising candidate. Of course, atheism and religion are not opposites. Atheism and theism are opposites. Depending on one’s definition of religion, some “religions” may even be compatible with atheism. (And of course there are also ambiguities regarding the definitions of “atheism” and “theism”.)

I have more difficulties with the idea that atheism and religion “should be personal convictions”. Atheism surely has to mean, first and foremost, an absence of a belief in God. OK, we can call that a “personal conviction” if we want, but I’m not sure what that really does. As for religion, part of the power of religion comes from its community-building potential. Over-emphasis of its “personal” nature could prevent or obscure its more potent, public manifestations. So I think we need to be cautious about that.

Whatever our “personal convictions”, at first sight it would indeed appear obvious that we should not allow them to prevent us from collaborating to do social good. But the reality is that our convictions “in this particular sphere” (and in the case of religion, how narrow is it possible to define it coherently?) can have considerable influence on what we understand “the social good” to be, and what it means to be “well-meaning”. While there is great merit in focusing on what we do agree about, and using it as a basis for collaboration, it’s also good to be aware of what divides us, and try to understand each other’s perspective, so as to reduce the risk of conflict later.

With the above in mind, I also think we need to be cautious about blaming conflict (and/or lack of collaboration) on “artificial holy wars”. This looks too much to me like blaming someone else for our own failure to listen properly and manage risks. It’s certainly the case that people with different persuasions/sensitivities can work well together until pulled apart by a wider polarization or conflict (this kind of thing occurs perhaps most tragically and horribly in a civil war), but calling them “artificial” also rather obscures the extent to which such wider conflicts are, in fact, entirely natural, and perhaps to some extent even inevitable. Again, attentive listening and sound risk management seem to be key here. And when there is a wider conflict, one may of course have good moral cause to fight for one side (as illustrated by the connotation that the word “collaboration” acquired during WW II).

It remains for me to agree whole-heartedly with your statement that some arguments put forward by both atheists and believers to protect their “faith” (well convictions anyway) are logically and intellectually ridiculous. Indeed, there is probably no commonly held position on any topic for which the same could not be said 😊

@Peter re “calling them ‘artificial’ [holy wars] obscures the extent to which such wider conflicts are, in fact, entirely natural, and perhaps to some extent even inevitable.”

That’s exactly my point. Differences on metaphysical issues that can’t be settled with a simple experiment are entirely natural and inevitable, and letting such differences prevent constructive agreement on important work to do here-and-now creates artificial barriers to collaboration that shouldn’t be there.

The color of the cat and all that.

Well no, that’s precisely the opposite of the point I was making. The point I was making is that such barriers are in fact natural, because they are a logical consequences of the “differences on metaphysical issues that can’t be settled with a simple experiment”.

The point is, religious and other “metaphysical” convictions are not just about arcane issues that have little or no relevance to practical life. If they were, not many people would bother with them. One of the reasons why people adhere to such beliefs is precisely that they inform their sense of right and wrong, of what needs to be done. So the solution cannot be just to dismiss them as “artificial barriers”, to be wished away. Rather, we need to understand why they are there, and how they can be overcome (or at least circumvented).

This is also related to the point about there being value in pushing back against “nonsense”. Has a belief that (i) seems clearly to be causing harm, and (ii) is fairly obviously founded on some misperception, or at least is not supported by credible evidence, then surely it must be, other things being equal, worth pointing that out.
That is not to dismiss Intomorrow’s point about “talking past each other”, but - well, there are ways to get people’s attention. And sometimes it is important to do so.

Peter, please answer this:

Premise: I am a believer. You are an atheist. We are both persuaded that Brexit should happen, and soon. 😉 😉


Should we collaborate to achieve Brexit, regardless of our metaphysical differences that are irrelevant in the context of Brexit?

Or should one of us (or both) stop supporting Brexit because the other is a filthy believer, or a filthy atheist?

Note that metaphysical ideas are really irrelevant to whether Brexit is good or no good, which depends on considerations of entirely different nature.

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