Is religion losing ground to atheism?

Religion came about as a result of man’s belief in a higher power responsible for the productivity and fertility of men, animals and land. With religion came promises, rewards for the believers and consequences for the deviants. Over the years, men and women have grouped themselves in various religions constituting over 700 religions, all of them claiming to lead to a higher power.As the religious groupings grow and take in more members, a particularly unapologetic brand of humanity stands out - atheists. They refuse to be part of any religious group and do not believe in the existence of God. Atheism boasts of a basis in science, logic, and reason. Though Rwanda is a fanatically religious country, religion is slowly losing ground with the emergence of atheism.
Most Atheists are so because they have failed to find the answers they are looking for in religion. Net photo
Most Atheists are so because they have failed to find the answers they are looking for in religion. Net photo

Religion came about as a result of man’s belief in a higher power responsible for the productivity and fertility of men, animals and land. With religion came promises, rewards for the believers and consequences for the deviants. Over the years, men and women have grouped themselves in various religions constituting over 700 religions, all of them claiming to lead to a higher power.

As the religious groupings grow and take in more members, a particularly unapologetic brand of humanity stands out - atheists. They refuse to be part of any religious group and do not believe in the existence of God. Atheism boasts of a basis in science, logic, and reason. Though Rwanda is a fanatically religious country, religion is slowly losing ground with the emergence of atheism.

Martin Rwirangira, a 31-year-old civil engineer, doesn’t believe in the existence of a Supreme Being. His lack of belief in God does not stem from ordinary rebellion but rather from a quest to understand religion and spirituality better. “I have read as much as I could on various religions in pursuit of the truth on God, in the end I end up at the same point, where I am supposed to have blind faith. Religion lacks intellectual sustainability and only encourages people to speak to an imaginary friend.”

Rwangira says he grew up in a Catholic family. He even attended a primary school run by nuns. “But as I grew up, I had questions that my religion couldn’t answer; neither could Islam, the more I read the more questions I had. At some point I was advised not to be too inquisitive on matters relating to God because it is considered wrong.”

As he was gathering religious literature, Rwangira slowly began a new way of life, one that did not rely on faith.

The civil engineer says that religion’s base on faith causes people to leave a lot to chance and not achieve their potential.

“Religion is based on faith rather than actions, it keeps people passive waiting for an imaginary friend to answer their prayers. Religion also fails to address social injustices and other evils in the society. At times religious leaders are the ones promoting injustices like male chauvinism. They take money from people and live lavish lifestyles and promise their followers riches in paradise (heaven). Very few religious leaders can lecture on morality,” Rwangira says.

Rwangira says he is neither a Satanist nor does he believe in the devils existence.  “At times people label us (atheists) devil worshipers. Some people treat us coldly which I don’t really mind. I believe you can be moral and virtuous without being a Christian or Muslim as long as your heart is in the right place, look at people like Bill Gates or Richard Brandson,” Rwangira quips.

Atheists have for long tried to find acceptance in the community as Rwanda is a religious country. This has caused most of them to keep their doubts on religion to themselves for fear of stigma.

Like most atheists, he stays away from religious festivals and events like weddings and funerals because he doesn’t see the significance in them and also out of respect for those who believe in them.

Eric Bright, a local web developer, is another non-believer who parted ways with God during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. “I no longer believe in the so called supreme being because he has never done anything for me,” he says. “I don’t know why people can’t see the relationship between religion and colonisation, but by thinking twice, I hope the eyes of many will be open to see this conspiracy.”

He says it was nonsense to keep on praying to God who seems to be unresponsive or dead. His grandparents were burned alive in the church where they grew up serving God, but the same God is the one who turned a deaf ear when they asked him for survival.

“This happened to all the victims during the Genocide. I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t pray to God for protection before being killed.”

Bright says that what happened in Rwanda is nothing other than fundamentally sticking to a certain sect, colour, race, religion or anything else that separates people. But if you are able to bridge all that, you’ll find out that we are all human beings regardless of our backgrounds.

“I like to refer to myself as a humanist rather than an atheist. If you’re a humanist, it means that you don’t belong to a certain sect. Humanists take and respect every individual according to how they are. We don’t discriminate one to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, gay, lesbian and different other categories. When it comes to religion, that’s when you’ll see man losing his liberty. Religious people want to dictate to you to be like them - which is impossible. Religion is the main direct and indirect cause of all miseries that we see in the world today.”

“I was born a Catholic but started changing religions at the age of 15. I became an Adventist, Born Again Christian, and later Muslim. In my quest to find the truth, I’ve come to realise that I was wasting my time praying for a deity who doesn’t exist. I was fooling myself thinking that he’ll one day come to my rescue. There are also some things that people don’t see. The more we have religious people in Rwanda the more the country stunts to reach prosperity. I’m happy to have escaped this dogma,” says Bright.

Atheists have for long tried to find acceptance in the community as Rwanda is a religious country. This has caused most of them to keep their doubts on religion to themselves for fear of stigma.

Brenda Uwineza, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and a self proclaimed atheist prefers not to disclose her stand to most of her family members or associates. “I wouldn’t want them all over me trying to intercede for me or pray for me. I know very many atheists in the country, but most of them remain in the closet because Rwanda is a conservative country and they wouldn’t want to bring shame to their families,” she says. 

She believes the world would be a better place without religion. “If we wrote off religion, the world would be more equal and we wouldn’t have to prioritise men over women. We also would have lesser conflict amongst nations and people would live free of fear of hell or condemnation in the afterlife,” Uwineza says.

She adds, “People are beginning to think hard and see the flaws of religion. They are beginning to see the moral and spiritual dictatorship that comes with religion. They are beginning to understand that religion’s purpose to control people thrives from their fear.”

Uwineza says that she doesn’t walk out during family prayers because she considers it disrespectful to her parents. “Being an atheist doesn’t mean that I should disrespect those who believe in religion, it would be wrong for me to disrespect them. Some people imagine atheists to be evil people or people with no morals or discipline. Most atheists I know are more morally upright than those who preach religion.”

Teta Mushikiwabo, a staunch Christian and a  mother of two, says that massive consumption of knowledge has increasingly caused people to give up on religion. “The more knowledge people gain through books and research, the more they question their religious beliefs. At some point they explain so many things through science in a way that religion cannot,” Mushikiwabo says.

Mushikiwabo adds that millennials (also known as Generation Y or the youth) are most vulnerable to atheism as they live at a time when facts and rationality are the basis of arguments. “Religion asks us to believe in what we cannot prove; it is very hard convincing knowledgeable people to do that. 

Atheism, therefore, could be gaining ground because of intellectual progress of knowledge seekers and lack of solid facts from the religious side to counter it.

Pastor Richard Gasana of Christian Life Assembly agrees with Rwangira on one thing, that some religious leaders do not play their role as role models well, hence causing young people to lose faith in religion. “At times men of God fail to be proper role models to the young people, it makes it difficult for young believers to hold on to their faith. How can you lecture them on religion and morals when you are practicing the opposite?” the Pastor asks.

The pastor adds that we all have the freedom to choose what path to take and people cannot be forced to tow a particular line, “It is up to individuals to choose what path to take.”

Mwizerwa James, who claims to be spiritual  but does not subscribe to a specific religion, says that more and more people are attracted to atheism as it’s arguments are based on facts with proof and reason. He has his doubts about religion but does not doubt the existence of a higher power. “In church people are advised not to question the existence of God, they are even afraid to do it.”

Mwizerwa also says that people are attracted to atheism as they see successful atheists. “When most young people see outstanding people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, they no longer see the need for religion in their lives. In religion’s place comes hard work and dedication to what they are doing. Most of these people are philanthropists and virtuous, they appeal to people in search of a spiritual way,” he says.

Not everybody is convinced that there is an increase in the number of atheists. Gospel artist Gloria Uwamohoro, also known as Gogo, says that a majority of Rwandans are still God fearing. “I think people can see the wonders of the Maker and do not necessarily need to see Him in person to be sure that He exists. Even those who claim to believe in science know that there are things that science cannot explain.”

Peterson, an economist and a former atheist, accuses atheists of not being open-minded enough. He says he became a believer when not even science could explain some occurrences in life. “For long I argued that God did not exist, but at some point I turned around. Atheists consider themselves too intelligent, that is why they look for proof for almost everything. I think science and God are related but science is too young to understand.”

Discussions of religion are typically about the existence of God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; belief in God is very important to the religious commitment of a believer. A 21st century philosopher John Gray has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He pointed out that in most religious traditions; belief is of little or no importance. “Rather practice — a way of life — is what counts. What we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.” Instead of debates on atheism, how about we focus on how we live instead?

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Religious leaders speak out

Pastor Maurice Rukimbira of The Anglican Church, Kigali Diocese does not lose sleep worrying that religion is loosing ground to atheism. He argues that not even the events of 1994 genocide have moved believers’ faith, if anything, they increased belief in God. “Majority of Rwandans are believers; either as Muslims or as Christians. There are very few atheists around if any. People see the works of God everyday; his love and his mercy.  The Kinyarwanda culture also maintains that there is a Supreme Being who is the Giver of life. It goes to show that even in the traditional society, Rwandans believed in a Supreme Being”, Pastor Rukimbira says.

Sheikh Mugisha Yusuf the Muslim Representative in Gasabo District says the number of atheists doesn’t scare him as much as the number of people in religion for reasons other than spirituality. “It worries me that most people are joining various religions for reasons other than spirituality, some people are in pursuit of fame or money,” Sheikh Mugisha points out.

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What do you think?

Agatha Tumusiime

I think all those that don’t believe in God are foolish, because it is pretty obvious where we came from don’t you think? All of this we see around us did not come from thin air.

Tobias Regema

I don’t care whether people call me a pagan or not but for a person to become successful I don’t think it’s because of some mysterious supreme being.  I suppose hard work pays well.

Gideon Twizeye

Okay I don’t argue about these religious matters but I’m so confused that’s why I can’t pick a side. There are so many religions, some are still coming up!

 

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