“One person who attempted to examine religion from an objective, scientific perspective was Karl Marx. Marx’s analysis and critique of religion is perhaps one of the most famous and most quoted by theist and atheist alike. Unfortunately, most of those doing the quoting don’t really understand exactly what Marx meant.”—Historian M.M. Bober.
Religion can be used to make people feel better about the stress they experience due to poverty and exploitation. In Rwanda majority of the religious people are children, youth and women.
Richard Kayitare, 34, a Christian, blames this on society’s unfair circumstances.
“It is easy to manipulate the young, old and deprived. Most of them are looking for refuge, because they are vulnerable to all ills found in the society,” Kayitare said.
Religious leaders have mastered the art of telling people what they want to hear. The mantra is, ‘If you are desperate and want a solution to your problems, the only approach is to pray so that God helps you.’
However, majority of Rwandans were initiated into religion by the Catholic White Fathers when they arrived on Rwandan soil as early as 1900, at a place called Zaza in Ngoma district-Eastern Province.
The tradition of waking up early every morning at 5.30 am to go for prayers is still strong in many parts of the country.
The long streams of aged men and women, walking in clusters in the chilling cold is proof of religion’s grasp on people’s way of life. This routine for many has never been broken except in times of sickness.
Mzee Moise Ngarambe, 81, and his wife walk from their house every morning hand in hand, and go to a nearby Catholic Church for prayers.
They are residents of Rwamagana and it is fascinating to see the couple in their early 80s, struggling to walk to meet the ‘eyes’ of the father on duty, and communicate to the Almighty.
“I cannot miss the morning prayers,” Ngarambe says. “They mean a lot to me and my wife. We started praying in 1932, when we believed and it is part of our life that we enjoy.”
During these morning prayers, all sorts of characters are present—strict believers who comprise of both the sober and drunkards alike.
Claude Ntaganira, 30, a primary school teacher in Kirehe district is loyal and committed to the morning prayers. He said no amount of late night sleep can deter him from rising up early for prayers.
“I cannot miss the early morning prayers, even when I go to bed at 3.00 a.m; I have to wake up at 5.00am and prepare for prayers,” Ntaganira said.
These morning prayers have had enormous health benefits for most of the elderly.
Emmanuel Gatimbazi, 62 is a tailor by profession. He rides a bicycle for more than 20 kilometres every morning on his way to church. He said he feels younger since the distances they cover in the morning is great exercise.
“I have no problems of sickness, probably because of the exercise. I have been riding this bicycle since 1981 from Rutonde to Rwamagana for prayers every morning,” Gatimbazi said.
That religion is “opium for the masses,” is not an understatement given the kind of brain wash-indoctrination that the people of Rwanda are subjected to.
Religion and child up bringing
It is vital that there is a positive spiritual and religious factor in the lives of children. Children with a religious upbringing usually have good values and principles that support and make them strong during hard situations.
Religion is of paramount importance in parenting, it focuses on what parents can do to help produce “successful” offspring. This can be done by helping parents to be well-educated and successful, and children will more likely follow in their steps.
On the other hand, religion has the ability to destroy or spoil a child if it is wrongly used to promote other selfish values.
Religion and evil
Sometimes religion is associated with evil. An example is the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda that was orchestrated by many religious leaders who turned churches into deaths camps.
“It is a sad reality that Religion has been used to promote evil in the world, look at the Moslems wars fought in the name of a ‘Holy Jihad’ in the Middle East, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was not different from the churches that turned into deaths camps, like those of Germany’s Nazis during the holocaust,” said James Gashagazi, 55, a retired teacher in Gahini, Kayonza district, Eastern Province.
The irony about religion is that its sole purpose of combating evil has reciprocated many times. It is unfortunate that there is an irrational belief which does not provide for critical thinking.
When people are encouraged to believe in things that are unverifiable or illogical, they are led into a state where they can easily be swayed by anything evil.
This is what philosophers like Prof. G.k Njoroge and Aristotle would call “Life that is not worth living.” The belief that a human being must live an examined life is shared by many great thinkers.
Religion therefore has gone to the extent of reducing people to stupidity when they misunderstand its true purpose. In the name of religion many have killed, some have died because they refuse to take medication or get blood transfusion when sick—a scenario of mass confusion and indoctrination especially for the uneducated and illiterate poor.
Charles Ngabirwe, 36, a Head Teacher in Rwamagana said, “it is incredibly true that some people will never go to hospitals when sick, just because their faith does no allow them.”
“Imagine some body rotting to death because his pastor has said it is wrong to go for medicine. They put them in their churches and pray day and night until the naïve person dies. I am a ‘believer’ but no longer give my time to religion,” Ngabirwe said.
Faith Vs science
Many have failed to understand that there is a crisis of beliefs and have opted to the duty of believing only in evidence.
Talking about evidence people become scientific, yet faith and science seem to be constant parallels. It is thus a waste of time to compare the two; debaters have taken on the two for ages with no success at finding a common ground.
This only further explains why religion can only be based on faith and beliefs. Karl Marx therefore still remains at large with the conviction that, ‘Religion is opium for the people.’