It is funny, as I am writing this in a café just outside by a street corner stands what I believe to be Jehovah’s Witnesses spreading the good word. I have a hunch that in every journey to disbelief one goes through what we call the militant atheist phase. This is where you relish religious debate with followers. The justification for being so militant being the many microaggressions that you receive from believers. Microaggressions that I admit are not deliberate. Majority of the population believe in a higher power, so it is a safe assumption that the next person also believes. Thus, as a cashier a customer says thank you and you say God bless. Nothing wrong with that but if you do not believe that is a microaggression; and this has happened to me so many times. do I fight this “oppression”? As a militant atheist yes, yes you fight it. In fighting it however you realize how futile the exercise is. As they say you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink. You eventually end up letting it go. The militant atheist phase is a compulsory passage because most atheist usually start of believing and gradually the non-belief will eat away at them until they eventually give in. The first few days after are tricky, but as time goes by you realize that there is little change to your life as a result of leaving your faith and then you start to feel cheated. All the time you invested into religion and it was for naught. You make religion your enemy and start attacking it when you can and we all know how that plays out. The militant phase is the final phase of the conversion. The more you attack them the more you see your religious self in them. That is when you see that there is nothing wrong with belief. With that being said, we should fight religious fundamentalism at every turn.
I have a friend who is gay. This friend also believes in the Christian God. I have had many discussions with him on how his religion is against his lifestyle and that he going to hell if it all ends up being true. Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. He made every excuse under the sun. Including saying something like that is not what God means… really? Seems pretty clear to me. To then go into saying there are different levels of sin and that homosexuality is on the lower tier. Ok… James 2:10 – For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Then there is my favorite, that is in the old testament, Jesus changed all that. Sigh…In Matthew 5:17 – Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Eventually he will start saying things you cannot argue against like “you will never understand”, “it is a personal thing”, etc.
I have another friend, female. She admitted to not knowing much about her faith but still believes in it whole heartedly. Ok, I said to myself. Explain this I said to her: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 – If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. What about: Leviticus 15:19 – And if a woman have an issue, her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. There is also 1 Corinthians 14:34 – Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also saith the law. Again, the usual excuses ensued.
You must be surprised; how do I know all these bible verses? There is a saying in the atheist community, more people need to read the Bible because we need more atheist. All jokes aside, my knowledge of the bible is strong because well, I used to believe…boy did I believe. People are usually indoctrinated at a young age by their parents. From birth they have always believed, I think this is the reason why people hold on to their beliefs so strongly. That was not the case for me. When I was younger, we did go to church as a family but something happened along the way and we stopped going. I did not complain, I always found church boring. At 9 started going to a new school, I stayed in this school system until I graduated high school. This school was a Jesuit school so going for Mass was part of the school curriculum. 8 to 9 will be mathematics, 9 to 10 will be English, 11 to 12 would be mass, you get the gist. This is a full-on catholic mass with communion and everything. During mass I felt singled out because my peers would go for communion and I could not go because I had not gone through the required classes to be eligible to receive communion. Majority of the students were catholic so they would get up and go for communion and you would be left by yourself save for few Muslims, Jews, and Hindus scattered here and there. You stick out. Your friends ask you why do not receive communion and you feel left out. This made me ask my parents about going to church and going for my first communion. I got my wish and I started going to church again. It was weird though, it was just me, my dad, and one of my siblings. My other siblings and my mom did not go. I was not too bothered by that, I just wanted to be eligible to receive communion so that I would not feel left out at school. After my first communion something else happened and we stopped going to church again. I was not phased because I got my weekly dose of Jesus at school.
Fast forward to my teen years, we had just moved to a new neighborhood. Some of my friends from school also lived in this neighborhood and thus went to the local church. I talked to my dad and me and him started going to church together. It was nice, we bonded during that time. What I really liked about church though was the socializing with my friends afterwards. The Jesuit school I went to was an all-boys school so I did not have much interaction with girls. My hormones were raging so you could imagine the sexual frustration I was going through. When I realized my friends had other friends at this church, some of whom were girls; I came to the realization that church was a good way to meet girls. In my senior years of high school, we moved again; thus, a new church. It was business as usual though as I also had friends at this church and they knew girls there too. To make matters worse, my cousin also went to this church and he had a car! The relevance of this will be clear in a bit. My cousin was very active at church. So much so he started a youth group and was the president thereof. As his cousin I supported him and would go to the youth group meetings. These meetings happened after church; the problem now was how will I go home afterwards? This is where my cousin’s car comes into play; he would give me a ride home after the meetings. Since it was for church my mom (who is usually very strict about not being at home) was ok with me going there. I really enjoyed my time with the youth group, and met a lot of girls there. In fact, the girl I took to prom was from the youth group. Eventually I got into the whole religion thing. I started becoming more involved in the youth group, reading my bible at home, praying at home too. My school had a main chapel as well as several other smaller chapels scattered around the school. My routine was pretty set, get to school, go to main chapel and start the day with prayer and meditation. After school before my parents would come pick me up, I would spend sometime in one of the smaller chapels: again, in prayer and meditation. At home I had time dedicated to Bible study and reflection. I loved this time of solitude with just my God. If you are familiar with the Catholic church you know they have a lot of rituals for lack of a better word. One of them is called the Eucharistic Adoration. The purpose of this is to spend a committed hour in silent prayer and reflection with Jesus. Jesus would be “truly” present in the exposed Eucharist that is placed at the front for well, adoration. The school used to do this on Fridays and it was open to outsiders. I asked the head of the religious education department if I could take up some time of the adoration to lead the attendees in the rosary and I was granted permission. So I would led the rosary. For an explanation of what the rosary is please refer to https://www.rosarycenter.org/homepage-2/rosary/how-to-pray-the-rosary/.
I was also very active in the religious groups at school. As a result, I built a good relationship with the head of the religious education department. As seniors, the school was somewhat lax when it came to attending the curriculum mandated church services. From time to time they would hold voluntary mass, majority of seniors would not go to these (mass is pretty boring) so the services would be attended by smaller groups so the powers that be would experiment more with these services. In one of these experiments: the head of the religious education department asked me if I would deliver the homily for mass. A homily is the commentary that follows a reading of scripture. This usually done by the priest but they asked me to do it. I was honored… I was also up for it! I had talked about bible verses before at the youth group so I had experience in this field. I was excited about it actually and it is one of the highlights of my high school life…my life in general for that matter. The scripture for the day was the part where Jesus walks on water and calls out Peter to do the same. Peter does this for a bit and then starts to sink. Jesus’ message being that if you have faith you can walk on water. In addition, it was also the patron feast day of the Ugandan saints. The Ugandan saints are several Ugandans who were killed by the then king because they refused to deny their faith in Jesus. My homily basically connected the scripture and the saints in the manner of getting out of your comfort zone for Christ. The boat in the scripture was Peter’s comfort zone, and when he stepped out of it, he walked on water (for a bit). For the Ugandan saints, they stepped out of their comfort zone by refusing to deny Jesus even though it meant death. But what causes people to step out of their comfort zone? Love. These individuals had so much love for Jesus that they were willing to go out of their comfort zone for him. How do you develop such a love? Just like any other relationship; talking to Jesus through prayer, reading the bible, i.e. spending time with God. It was a pretty good homily if I have to say so myself. So much so that the serving priest was quoting me for the remainder of the service; my friends who attended the service were asking me if I wanted to a priest (I like women too much take a vow of celibacy); one of the religious education teachers approached me after the service to tell me that I have such a gift when it comes to interpreting the bible and talking about it.
So, what happened? Life happened. The things I was seeing in my life and the things I was being told in the bible were just not reconciling. Beginning 2000 the government started oppressing the people. At the same time a new opposition party was on the rise (necessity is the mother of all invention after all) and there were suspicions that the opposition would actually get the win in the 2000 elections. I am not sure if you are familiar with African politics? Usually these states are governed by the political party that arose during the revolution from colonization. In our case, we got our liberation through civil war. The people who run these liberation struggles start of as good people with good intentions. When their rule is under threat their oppressive side usually comes out. What is the age-old adage? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The government controls the police, the media, the army, and the election body. In light of this threat to their power, the government started using lackeys to harass the opposition party leaders, use the police to deny the opposition their constitutional right to freedom of association, use the army and the police to squash any protests, and there have even been abductions and murder. In 2000 we prayed for the elections, that they be free and fair. They were not. God ignored us, but hey, everything happens for a reason right. Trust in God’s plan right. Then my father passed away. Again, everything happens for a reason, he is in better place and I will see him when I die. Then we had elections in 2008. The ruling party lost this election. But they control everything in the country so what did they do? They delayed the announcement of the results for 3 months. After which they announced the results: the opposition had 48% of the votes, the incumbent 42%, and the remaining 10% related to independent candidates. We have a law in the country that if after an election no candidate has a clear majority i.e. more than 50% of the votes the leading 2 candidates would go for a rerun election to ensure someone has majority of the votes. This led to a very violent election period. A lot of opposition supporters and party members were targeted. People were told that the government would know who they voted for and thus if the people did not vote for them, they will come for you. My friend’s mother was heavily involved in politics; she had to flee the country for a bit in fear for safety. The run-off election happened and surprise surprise the ruling party won with 90% of the votes. Things happened after that but at the end of the day no one was brought to justice for the oppression. I had prayed, and again I was faced with “everything happens for a reason, trust God’s plan”… argh …What was the plan here? These people are stealing from a nation and murdering its people and they are getting away with it. WTF! While people are starving in the country the president’s sons are posting videos on social media of them pouring expensive champagne (Ace of Spades) over their expensive watches in the club to show that money ain’t a thang. All this from stolen fortunes. Where is the justice.
It starts of a small thought… maybe God does not exist and if he does then he does not care about us… these thoughts eat away at you slowly. You take a step back and look at the world in its entirety. A lot of messed up stuff is happening to innocent people. Where is God in all this? I thought if you prayed with faith you will get what you ask for? Did I not have enough faith? Regardless, would God really let innocent people suffer because I do not have enough faith to pray for them? You start to think back on your life. All the moments where you told yourself God works in mysterious ways. All this takes a toll on you and eventually break. Even after that it still takes time for you to be comfortable with your non-belief. For me it took me 8 years to eventually come out to all my friends and family that I was an atheist.
Why is it so hard? It is simple, we are all afraid of the unknown. Whether it is what happens to us when we die or will I be hit by a car tomorrow? The thought that an all-powerful being who loves you and is looking out for you comforting. God will protect me from being hit by a car! When I die, I will go to heaven where I will spend an eternity with God living a happy life. In addition, people enjoy it when bad people get their just deserves. Thus, the thought that God will send the wicked to hell is comforting. At the end of the day you realize that religion is nothing more than a coping mechanism. Life is hard, and whatever gives you the strength to carry on can never be a bad thing whether you are a gay believer or a female believer. I could have also analyzed black believers because of all the things the bible says about slavery but there is no point in beating a dead horse.
I leave you with the words of Jesus: Matthew 6: 25 – 34: Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.