Rising atheism among Genocide survivors

  • By Irene Nayebare
  • March 03, 2013
Eric Bright is one of the many atheists in Rwanda. The New Times / T. Kisambira.

His loving grandparents – who were proud to spent most of their lives within the walls of Kibeho Parish – were burned alive while they knelt in front of the altar hailing the Virgin Mary, but this time for their survival.

“I renounced Christianity to become atheist when, after the Genocide, I learned about what happened to them,” says Jacques Musoni, 32, a married man living in Nyamirambo. “I couldn’t possibly bear in mind how priests unleashed killers to exterminate their flocks. It was unimaginably incomprehensible. But also, I was wondering where that so-called omnipresent, omnipotent God was.”

For him, there was no way he could keep on praying for a God who seemed to be dead. He said God has never done anything for him. He always asked himself why that God chose to let people be killed in front of him like that. If it’s his decision, he argues, then that’s how he must be defined.

“He doesn’t exist. I decided to not waste time any longer. And if he exists, I don’t see any difference between him and genocidaires,” he says sternly. “He’s a God who ruthlessly murdered innocent babies, a God who proudly committed terrible massacres in the history of mankind.” 

It’s possible that you might have merely read Exodus 12:29-30 without having had a second thought of what happened in Egypt at that time. If you close your eyes and visualize the catastrophic events, then you’ll understand what Musoni meant by equating God to the genocidaires.

Here’s the verse: At midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle...and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead

To understand the verse well, this is what really happened: There was a funeral in every home in Egypt. Women were crying and every family was forced to bury its own dead because friends were also burying their innocent little ones. If you don’t understand it yet, think of what this tragedy would do if that large scale infanticide was committed in Rwanda – starting from your own family.  

“Who did that? It’s that man that people call their loving and merciful God. All these children were innocent, and most of the people of Egypt were also innocent,” says Thierry Dusange, a young atheist man who, after finding himself at crossroads, had initially converted to Islam after being disappointed by “Christianity’s role during the Genocide”.

“I read what happened in Ntarama, Bugesera. Killers were smashing babies on the walls in the house of God. Why couldn’t that omnipotent God cut off the hands of those genocidaires to rescue the babies who were innocently smiling at the killers? Why? I wouldn’t be surprised when someone reputed to kill infants chose to close his arms.”

Like him, many other people converted to Islam en masse after the Genocide. He renounced it during the American invasion in Afghanistan. He said that he was tired of being indoctrinated. They were always asked to pray for the souls of brothers and sisters who lost lives when fighting the enemy in Iraq and Palestine.

“I kept on wondering whether those Iraqis and Palestinians prayed for us when the Genocide was happening at our doorsteps. I can’t generalize, but I think they – like most of the world – didn’t care. Maybe they were busy watching the World Cup (USA).”

It also turns the pages of history where colonizers came to Africa with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

“If it was for the love and word of God, they shouldn’t have called us names like hommes singes (umushenzi), or monkey men, and ultimately sold us to slavery in America,” said Dusange. “Why do people keep on believing in this nonsense? If you hate colonization, you should also hate religion. They are the same and one wouldn’t be possible without the other.” 

They both argue that there’s something hidden in religions but people don’t see that. According to them, if you free yourself from religion’s dogma, the world’s abundances open doors for you.

So, what is atheism? “It’s is not a religion. Becoming an atheist is more of a journey than a choice. It is a gradual quest for answers about life and the universe as a whole,” said Kamugisha Ndahiro, a successful businessman. “Curiosity is paramount, and the need to escape all the dogma we were taught back in school.” 

Having a conversation with an atheist makes you realise how little you know about your own religion. 

“You do not need religion to know what is wrong and what is right,” says Ndahiro. “In fact, what religious people do practice is not morality. I consider a moral action as that which is free from promises like a heaven or fear of hell.” 

According to some atheists, people are using religion as an excuse after failing to find solutions to their problems. For instance, you should have seen many genocidaires asking for forgiveness saying they were tempted by the devil. 

“If we believe that, then we have intentionally made our powerful minds weak,” says Musoni. “That’s what atheism is all about: Using our minds to the utmost to benefit from the fruits of the world.”


how many atheists might be out there in Rwanda in the fear of being seen as non believers? I went to king Faisal to fill a medical form and it actually had a "religion" like it is mandatory to have one.

13:11:08 Sunday 03rd, March 2013 Kigali - kamugisha Ndahiro

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Great comment!

09:25:19 Thursday 07th, March 2013 Core - Lore to kamugisha Ndahiro

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For most people, religion and it's rituals and promises of a better tomorrow are nothing but a sort of escapism from the harshness of today's life. But so also can atheism, when it is nothing other than a reactive reflex against one's unhappy experience with organised religions.

In the end whether one is a theist or an atheist, religious or agnostic, the most important thing is the human values that guide the way we interact with other human beings and other living creatures with whom we share a crowded universe.

And in my experience, no religion, race, or culture has a monopoly on goodness or evil. If you must, judge each and everyone as an individual, not as a member of any given tribe, class, religion or nation.

But above all eschew all dogma; it obstructs your power of clear thinking.

14:26:58 Sunday 03rd, March 2013 - Mwene Kalinda

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Religion- especially catholisism- is the single most important cause of human suffering and misery in history. If you want enlightenment read Christopher Hitchens book "god is Not Great"! You are in church making all silly body signs hoping that the mysterious boogeyman creature in the sky will have mercy on you! I really feel pity for the wretched masses who trek every weekend to churches and mosques. Proud to be agnostic/atheist.

15:31:23 Sunday 03rd, March 2013 Kiyovu - Gatera

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I find it hypocritical for the so called church to claim they are the champions of the poor, yet own trillions of US dollars in property, liquidity and assets. How about perfoming a little Robin Hood gesture and give some to the poor you've robbed since you established yourself two thousand years ago?

20:33:46 Sunday 03rd, March 2013 Nyamirambo - Gasigwa

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So where is your proof that atheism is rising amoungst genocide survivors.

Firstly you are talkingn about the Catholic church and not Christians, secondly Atheism IS a religion and the reason that the teligion option is on a medical form is not because you have to have one it is because yhe hospital are trying to respect your religion if you have one.

Also you are picking bits out of the bible and using them to slate God. Do you even read the rest of it. You know the bit which is called the new testament about where Jesus laid his life down for you?

Atheism is a growing disease, it is for people who are angry and can't explain anything but want to blame it on God. If you really look then you will find that you probably chose not to talk to God about it first.

08:04:19 Monday 04th, March 2013 Kigali - Simon Ross

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“You strike me as someone who has read absolutely none of the arguments against your case.” Christopher Hitchens.

12:24:51 Thursday 07th, March 2013 London - Grumpy to Simon Ross

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"Firstly you are talkingn about the Catholic church and not Christians,"Umm Catholics are Christian. "secondly Atheism IS a religion"No it isn't. Atheism is a non-belief in the supernatural. "Also you are picking bits out of the bible and using them to slate God.

Do you even read the rest of it."Have you read it yourself? The old testament is a horrid story of a vain and jealous deity. It is full twisted and evil justifications of murder, genocide, rape, stealing, and lying.

Please don't say you only follow the new testament of Jesus and then hang onto the ten commandments because then you cherry pick the old testament."You know the bit which is called the new testament about where Jesus laid his life down for you?"He didn't as he never died - you know resurrected.

Besides as he was god he knew that he was going to comeback so he never really died for anyone."Atheism is a growing disease, it is for people who are angry and can't explain anything but want to blame it on God.

"Actually science explains most things and is still finding new answers all the time. Theism is for people who can't explain anything and just give up with the lazy cop out of 'god did it'.

15:39:02 Thursday 07th, March 2013 Singapore - Evan to Simon Ross

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It is sad that you call Atheism a religion. We do not have practices of worship or follow the same doctrine. Actually, the only thing all Atheists have in common is the fact that they say, there is no evidence for a God.

Actually, I might be reading the bible more than you. I grew up in a devoted Christian family. But most of all, I read how the bible was written or who wrote is before I read it. It is growing, call it a disease... And if you look closely, the most peaceful and happiest countries are the less religious and with the highest number of Atheists.

09:56:45 Sunday 31st, August 2014 Kigali - Kamugisha James Ndahiro to Simon Ross

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I had been doing health education and management work in Rwanda for a bit over 3 years, working as a "missionay", when the genocide broke out. Four days later we got out, and spent the next week in a neighboring country.

I learned a lot there, and the first chapter of my book "actually THIING vs. just BELIEVING" is drawn directly from Rwanda. I haven't worked for a church since leaving there, and no longer set foot in one.

The critical challenges of our times call for problem-solving type thinking... and that means respect for verifiable evidence, and an honest willingness to change our mind, possibly our most cherished belief, if that's what called for. I'm going to try to contact Irene Nayebare.

Any of you can get a preliminary look at my book at

10:02:48 Wednesday 06th, March 2013 Oregon - Doug Matheson

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I have a feeling I would have done the same and thought the same way..this was totally heartbreaking. But my prayer is that God reveals himself to this guy and he gets to know God's loving nature.

15:15:55 Wednesday 13th, March 2013 Nyarutarama - Stella Tush

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