The New Times (Kigali)

3 March 2013

Rwanda: Rising Atheism Among Genocide Survivors

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."

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