Category Archives: Atheism

Spirituality, Religion and Lies


Jommo Kenyatta, in his book, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’, has a lot to say about Gikuyu traditional religious beliefs:

 No individual may directly supplicate the Almighty…In the ordinary way of everyday life there are no organised prayers or religious ceremonies such as ‘morning and evening prayers’. So far as people and things go well and propser, it is taken for granted that God is pleased with the general behavior of the people and the welfare of the country. In this happy state there is no need for prayers. Indeed they are inadvisable, for Ngai must not needlessly be bothered. It is only when humans are in real need that they must approach him, without fear of disturbing him and incurring his wrath…Further, in our linguistic illustrations, we have: ‘Ngai ndegiagiagwo’, literally, ‘Ngai must never be pestered.’ This is a saying much used in Gikuyu. It has wide implications. In the first place it implies that even if a terrible calamity, such as the death of a child, should befall a man, his attitude must be one of resignation, for people know that Ngai gives ad has the power to take away. The man is not left hopeless- for Ngai may restore his losses- another child may be born to him.’

I bring this up because traditional beliefs are often discussed in the most simplistic terms. We all learnt in school that the Gikuyu pray facing Mount Kenya, where Ngai resides, and that the Mugumo tree is sacred and that sacrifices are made when there is a drought. It  fits well into the general narrative about Africans as backward people with quaint and/or bizarre customs and traditions, but not world views, philosophies and other aspects that make a proper culture. It is also, I suspect, the reason that cultural studies never really dig into ‘African culture’. Africans are relegated to Anthropological studies instead.

This all started because I found myself signing up for the Mavuno Church ‘Mizizi’ programme. I had heard great things about it and I was willing to take a go. The promise of wiping away your old self and transforming into the super you is deeply appealing. (Look at the number of self help books available, the cults around vegeterianism, paleo, veganism and all the rest are testament to this deep need we all have too).

So I signed up and I was willing to listen and learn.

Except that my stubborn brain could not unlearn everything it has decided about how the world works. It could not unsee all the diverse spiritual practices imprinted in India and France and Sicily.

So of course I started picking away at the logic that was being fed to us. Unfortunately it was easier than shooting fish in a barrel.

What struck me the most was the seeming shallowness of the message. For example, our instructor told us that it is important to pray always. To pray if we have had a stressful day and we need to rest. That God will work a miracle and we will get a break.

Really? The Alpha and Omega, the creator of the universe (in seven days, mind you), the dispenser of justice and mercy, he who parted the Red Sea and brought down the 7 deadly plagues to free his chosen people, will work a miracle so that you can rest after a tiring day? This is what should drive my faith?

I couldn’t.

Then I read a book (SELF HELP shoot me please) that strongly suggested that no matter one’s intellectual inclinations, something still drives us to believe in something outside of ourselves. That man needs faith, and man needs religion. Prayer is meditation and meditation helps calm the nerves. Brain waves literally change and you enter a state of hypnosis that some would call the holy spirit, others would call being in touch with the universe and others would call opening the soul to demons.

It’s not just this version of Christianity that promises you a hotline to God with every little crisis that you face that sells this message. The Secret and many other self help books work on the same principle. That if you will something, the universe will realign to meet your needs.

So you are in a full parking lot and you visualize an empty parking space near the entrance (because walking that extra 500 meters would absolutely destroy you) the universe realigns so that you can get a parking space right at the entrance.

They ignore (or downplay) the second part of visualization, which is actually you getting up and doing something. And the fact that the most accessible miracles sound very similar to random chance.

Is this really what we are becoming? Is this how we want to use the power of God/ the Universe? To get parking spaces and to rest at the end of the day? How is this different from basing your life choices on Buzzfeed personality quizzes developed by bored interns? Or from getting life advice from Cosmo?

Are we looking for God or for meaning or are we simply looking for magic? Is this why charlatans like Kanyari can get away with their madness? Is this the reason that we allow overly tanned pastors with suspiciously white teeth to flood our social media with meaningless platitudes?

I am not condemning religion. I am upset that the same cheap psychological tricks are being used to take advantage of people in need of hope and reassurance and a kind word by both the ‘religious’ and the ‘self help’ gurus out there. I am upset that instead of Mark Twain’s reminder that,

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time

All we get is  BELIEVE IT AND IT WILL BE TRUE. And if it isn’t then it’s because you don’t believe enough.

Because that is what we are looking for, really- to be better people, to lead better lives, to be inspired and to be inspired. To actually mean something. And of course, to be immortal.

They all cheapen our struggles. They make it seem like , instead of dealing with the very human fallacies we have each been gifted by our parents, we just don’t believe enough in the snake-oil that’s currently in vogue and that the answer is in believing harder. Harder and harder until it finally works.  And if it doesn’t work, guess what, believe harder.

I don’t know. But it seems to me like the Gikuyu, apart from being deeply fatalistic and very pragmatic, were onto something with their concept of God.

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why I stopped worrying about whether God exists


For a long time, I was under the illusion that Kenyans are not a particularly religious nation. This was based solely on my sketchy religious education and the fact that my family has never been particularly religious. At home, there were no religious icons gracing the walls. No hour long prayers before meals. No church group meetings lasting all afternoon. Nothing, except my mother chalking up any feeble attempts to be better Christians as a phase motivated by peer pressure. By the time I was 12 years old, my family had almost completely given up any pretenses of going to church or further developing our spirituality.

In high school, there was none of the mass hysteria that apparently regularly sweeps  through girls’ schools, no bible study and no talk of getting ‘saved’. We went for mass once a week, and I played the guitar in order to avoid the crushing boredom of listening to nearly dead priests talk about love and forgiveness.

So I grew up with the attitude that no-one really takes any of this stuff seriously, least of all my age-mates.

At some point, I became curious as to why seemingly rational people could say and believe the doctrine of Christianity. How we could, in full confidence, say that anyone who is not christian will go to hell. Or discuss the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth and in the same breath discount as nonsense miracles that happened in other religions. How we could gasp at the fact that Hindus worship multiple gods, and yet find it perfectly reasonable that one day, in the near future, everyone that ever lived shall be woken up for the final judgement.

I can think of three experiences that led me to where I am today:

1. India

India is where I first became aware of how deeply ritualistic religions are, and that maybe, we don’t need to take everything at face value. I remember watching a woman perform some kind of ceremony with a cow- she fed it, gave it water, walked around it in circles and touched parts of it with her hands for blessing.

Then I somehow found myself in a Sikh temple, washing my feet before entry, walking around a huge table shaped thing, and being pushed along to kiss something at the front. I also went to a Hindu temple and waited for my friends to offer money and milk to various gods.

All these experiences were very strange for me. But the strangest thing was the amount of devotion and belief that people had in these rituals. We celebrated several ceremonies while I was there, and it seemed to me like people came to the office everyday with fresh marks on their faces from some blessing or the other.

As a christian, I knew that this was called worshiping false gods. As a human, I saw deep devotion to their religion, and the unquestioning belief that is exactly how it is meant to be.

Then it dawned on me, if I find it so ridiculous that people worship statues, how much more logical is it that there is a man in the sky who watches everything we do?

2. France

I remember that when I was in France, I could not go home to visit my family during one Christmas. I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself, and I thought that I needed a little spirituality to start off the year on a good note. So I went for Christmas mass. I have always said I am Catholic because, to be honest, it is a very low maintenance religion. Plus I really can’t stand all the noise and hysteria that other churches seem to encourage.

Maybe it is because I was suffering from some kind of culture shock, or maybe its because I was sad and lonely, but I have never felt so weirderd out in a church before. The mass was beautiful, all in French but with the same rituals that Catholics have world wide. But I looked at the priest, behind his enormous alter, as he prepared the communion and wine, and I wondered to myself, but why? Why are we recreating blood and flesh? And why is this cathedral so huge and unfriendly? Why did Europeans spend so much money and blood to build huge, elaborate churches at the expense of their people? It seemed to me like it was all just a way to tightly control people.

The priest’s message was beautiful. He asked us to love one another, to show kindness and to think of the less fortunate. To be grateful for what we have been given. It all rang true and I wanted to do that. But I couldn’t help but ask myself- why would such a simple, universal message have to be steeped in so much fantasy and incomprehensible ritual? Was I really obliged to identify myself with this stuff in order to follow the teachings?

I think this is when I began to see just how much religion relies on brainwashing to keep followers. That is the day I finally realized that I would never ever feel guilty again for not attending church, for not praying, and for not believing anything the church said.

3. Sicily

Everybody knows about Sicily because of the mafia. But something else about Sicily is that it is a deeply, deeply religious place. There are cathedrals and churches everywhere. There are shrines to Mother Mary, various catholic saints and sweet baby Jesus at nearly every corner. What’s even better is that these shrines are visited by people- who say prayers and leave candles and flowers. In Sicily, it is common to see people cross themselves every time they pass a church or shrine.

An enormous amount of religious days are observed. Processions led by priests, alter boys and a great number of citizens are common place. I even saw one where men and women were passing their babies up a huge chair to touch the statue of someone, for reasons that remain unknown to me. Speaking of which, almost every little neighborhood in Palermo has a patron saint and a festival to commemorate them.

Plus, how come they get to have so much fun, with food and fireworks and partying in the street and days off work? We have Easter and Christmas and Pentecost and that’s pretty much it.

I was baffled because I always thought that Europeans are not particularly religious. Sicily was an eye opener in that respect.

Visiting beautiful churches and cathedrals, decorated with those epic paintings of God and his angels, Mary and her family and all that stuff, I came to the conclusion that most of what we imagine about heaven, God and what it means to be christian is the fertile imagination of Italian artists. We are basically aspiring to the heaven that Italians dreamed of for themselves.

Where do I fit into that narrative? Nowhere, that’s where.

Eventually, I stopped wondering whether God exists, and I became less concerned about uncovering the truth. I found a deep respect for people who are truly religious, no matter what their religion is. I’m not worried about what will happen after I die, because we all have enough things bothering us every single day. I don’t agree with hardcore atheists, especially when they use arguments like the dumber someone is, the more likely they are to be deeply religious. Yeah….no.

I really do not see anything wrong with people who base their values and aspirations in religion. It is difficult to escape the beliefs that were drummed into us by our families and society at large. I think that religion, in any form, probably improves lives, with the exception of fundamentalists, sadists and sociopaths. Freedom from guilt, worry about the future and what exactly it is that you are here for can never be a bad thing.

And like Oprah said, you can’t make it through life if you think that everything is solely up to you.