The Atheist Minority in Uganda

I hate the opening line, but the rest of the article is a nice profile of the atheists in Uganda, a country where only a small percentage of people don’t believe in a god.

Some people think religion is a force for good?

Here’s evidence to the contrary:

Miracle-healer televangelists are all too readily embraced as saviors, Onen [a former Christian] complains, and prayer is often invoked as a substitute for taking action to fix everything from the capital’s glaring potholes to HIV infection. First Lady Janet Museveni attributes the country’s tribal tensions to a curse from God, whereas many critics suggest they may have more to do with government-employment preferences.

God has also been invoked in support of the draconian anti-gay bill that could impose life imprisonment for homosexual acts and make it illegal to house a gay person.

Susan Muyama, editor of Pentecostal magazine the Rock, counters Onen’s grim view by arguing that Christianity plays an empowering role in Uganda. “Uganda has seen war, community trauma and civil strife. Religion offers the peace and reassurance that everything is O.K. — that an all-loving God is going to have your back.”

And how much of that “war, community trauma and civil strife” is caused by religion? Muyama doesn’t answer that.

(Thanks to Rational Ugandan for the link)

  • Narvi

    At the very least, he said “As the old saying goes”. It’s a step in the right direction; it’s just a saying, at least he’s not claiming it’s true.

  • muggle

    “Uganda has seen war, community trauma and civil strife. Religion offers the peace and reassurance that everything is O.K. — that an all-loving God is going to have your back.”

    Um, he really doesn’t appear to — given that you have all that. Either he doesn’t have your back anymore than any other imaginary friend or he’s horribly inept at it.

    Maybe if you’d at least be open to education re AIDS instead of locking up the gays.

  • Robert W.

    I have quite a bit of personal knowledge about Uganda. My family founded and supports an orphanage that includes a school and a clinic. We lead missionary and medical trips there several times a year. It is through Grace International Children’s Foundation.

    The main problem with Uganda is political strife caused by years of dictatorships following Britain’s departure. That along with the Aids epidemic that has decimated a generation and left almost 2 million orphans in the country.

    Numerous Christian organizations are working in Uganda to provide relief, health care and education. These people come, like we did because they believe that it is our Christian calling to help widows and orphans. So to say that God hasn’t helped these wonderful people is simply not correct.

    Despite their conditions the people are unbelievably happy, kind, giving and resourceful. Their faith plays a huge part in that. They see God’s blessings everyday.

  • http://cramandballwell.com Jerry Ballwell

    This Uganda stuff is really a massive problem. They pursued the death penalty for homosexuals last year, and thankfully the outcry from across the world helped stop it.

    We posted briefly about how a local newspaper printed the names of the “top 100″ gays and lesbians in Uganda on our blog a couple of times, including this informative video we found.

  • Richard P.

    Robert, I call that bullshit.

    to say that God hasn’t helped these wonderful people is simply not correct.

    It was people, their efforts, their actions. You can be damn sure nothing would have happened if not for the people. So, give your sky fairy credit if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact it’s people, not god who make things happen. If it was god there would be manna and books appearing in the desert, not people.

    You say god sent the people I believe it was empathy and caring, you know those human emotions we have. To bad you have to devalue the contributions people make to creating a better world. The world would be much better if we gave credit where credit is due. This is called escapism for a god that does nothing.

    Where is the manna from your god for the desperately hungry? Or does your god only provide for desert living goat herders? Oh wait, I mean desert living goat herders that are missing their foreskin?

  • http://cramandballwell.com Jerry Ballwell

    “For god so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son…” and as the story goes, the only way into heaven is through Christ, right? So god loves the entire world so much that he sent his son to this one tiny place in the middle east, and then relied on two thousand years of network marketing to spread his word to the four corners of the earth? Seriously? He loved us so much that whomever doesn’t believe in him (whether or not they’ve heard about him) will perish into eternal damnation? And then finally, when the word of Christ reaches Uganda 1800 years after Christ’s death, his word is used to establish a hateful, fear-reliant government that persecutes people for being who they are.

  • Richard P.

    Jerry,
    I think you missed the part when he dropped in on the Indians of North America. Joseph told us all about it.

  • Steve

    Given all the shit that’s going in Uganda and the very high level of religiosity, I expected some kind of horror story. But it’s nice that everyone got along so well there and different groups discuss their beliefs in a civil manner. I doubt that can be generalized though. Telling your neighbors in a village that you are an atheist probably isn’t wise.

  • http://cramandballwell.com Jerry Ballwell

    Richard,
    Sorry about that, I guess I didn’t convey the attitude that obviously we’re the exception over here in America. “For god so loved a small part of the middle east and North America that he sent his only begotten son…”

  • Erp

    I should point out that the Bill to execute gays (second offense) and imprison those who support them is still being discussed in the Ugandan parliament; it is not dead. In addition recent newspapers have been outing alleged gays (names and pictures) and calling for them to be dealt with (one at least explicitly called for hanging them). The prime movers behind all of this have been devout Christians. In fact you are hard put to find Ugandan Christians willing to speak out against the bigotry (Bishop Christopher Senyonjo [or former bishop since the Anglican Church in Uganda stripped him of his privileges for his support of gays] and Canon Gideon Byamugisha are two rare exceptions).

    Many senior Christians also oppose the distribution of condoms (Gideon Byamugisha is again a major exception on this but then he is HIV positive and lost his first wife to AIDS).

    BTW the ‘secret gay Ugandan blogger’ recently interviewed by CNN is also a non-theist (fairly easy to gather from his blog).

  • rach3l

    Atheism is a minority belief in every country, not just Uganda.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#North_America (9%)

    Thankfully we aren’t prosecuted (or stoned) for atheism in America. But to refer to Uganda as “a country where only a small percentage of people don’t believe in a god” is disingenuous. Every country qualifies as a country where only a small percentage of people don’t believe in a god.

  • Steve

    In fact that whole anti-gay stuff has been instigated and supported all the way by American evangelicals. Chief among them Rick Warren.

  • Sean

    In fact that whole anti-gay stuff has been instigated and supported all the way by American evangelicals. Chief among them Rick Warren.

    I don’t know how many of Martin Ssempa’s views come from Warren, but his popularity? Oh yes, very much so. And there was Lou Engle, and “gay nazi” writer Scott Lively, and a host of ex-gay promoters quoting Paul Cameron. Not to mention the Catholic Church.

    Of course there is also some witchcraft-related woo, due in part to the exchange of Pentecostal support and ideas with the US. At least Uganda has been spared from Helen Ukpabio (as far as I know).

    And religious missions are a mixed bag. I have family who have just returned from mission work in South Africa. They have been part of an abstinence-only approach to HIV that claims (surprise, surprise) claims that condoms increase AIDS risk. They are some of the nicest people who have spread the kind of information that has lead to millions of deaths.

  • AxeGrrl

    Robert W wrote:

    Numerous Christian organizations are working in Uganda to provide relief, health care and education. These people come, like we did because they believe that it is our Christian calling to help widows and orphans.

    Robert, when there are other Christians there doing ‘work’ that is dehumanizing and encourages hate (work that may ultimately threaten the safety and the LIVES of some) can you see why those of us who are non-religious look at Christians and Christianity as NOT being necessarily ‘helpful’ or loving?

    Read the following article. They’re Christians too ~ and they’re negating all of the good work that other Christians do.

    Americans’ role seen in Uganda anti-gay push

    I have a question for you Robert: do you support the ‘work’ of the Christians mentioned in the above article?

  • Robert W.

    Richard,

    Of course it is people who do the work and spend the money to help those in Uganda. We are the hands and feet of Christ. But those people are motivated by their faith and are called there by God. You can’t call their motivations bullshit because you don’t know them and simply because you don’t believe in God.

    If you talk to those that go and do missionary work in Uganda they will tell you that it is God that makes it possible, that provides the resources and the motivation.

    Axegirl,

    Why is that those who are supportive of Gay rights discount all the good works Christians do? So when a Christian mission group goes and builds a home and provides food for a widow suffering from Aids with eight kids and whose husband committed suicide, that is negated because a couple of other Christians went out and preached against homosexuality.

    So when a group of Christians from Houston spend several hundred thousand dollars of their own money to build an orphanage, school and clinic to house 130 orphans, that is negated because some other Christians preach about the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage?

    So when three Catholic nuns start and run the only orphanage in the Eastern part of Uganda that can house children with Aids under the age of five, that is negated because the Catholic church has a position against homosexuality? (I’m not defending the Catholic church or its problem with pedophile priests )

    So when Christian medical doctors at their own expense fly to Uganda and set up make shift hospitals, perform surgeries, see patients, pass out medicine, give away mosquito nets and fix contaminated wells, that is negated because some Christians are vocal about their opposition to homosexuality?

    No I don’t see how that is rational or even justified. What I do see is the attempt by those who support Gay rights to frame the issue of Christianity as being all good or all bad based upon its position on homosexuality. That is simply wrong.

    If the gay community wants to go out and build orphanages God love them. There are millions of orphans in Uganda that need taken care of.

    As for the article, I do support the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman at least in the eyes of the church. I’m not taking a position on what the state should do. But I would never support preaching hate, nor would I support the bill that is pending in Uganda. I can see however, based upon what I know about the country and its culture why this backlash is happening.

  • Erp

    Actually it is when Christians (or others) refuse to fight the hatred of those they are working with and supporting that there are problems, voluntary silence in the face of evil. Warren Throctmorton is an example of one evangelical Christian who has been working hard to bring pressure on those Christians who are supporting those who hate in Uganda (I disagree with his religious views but I must praise the stance he is taking on this issue). It has been a long slow slog for him.

    As for why the ‘backlash’, gays are a small, stigmatized minority so attacking them is a useful rallying cry for those seeking power and more PC than using some small tribal group (or Jews or Muslims). It then also makes a useful label to attack straight opponents because it can be difficult to disprove.

  • Sean

    Why is that those who are supportive of Gay rights discount all the good works Christians do?

    Why is it that people who are complaining about generalizations about Christians, often make equally sweeping generalizations about supporters of gay rights? Why is it that we are expected to believe that Christians who do bad things are just a few bad eggs, but that Christians who do good things do so because God made them do so? I think saying that Christian charities do good things merely because they are Christian smells like post hoc ergo propter hoc. Can you tell how many of those people would be willing to do similar things if they weren’t Christian? Would some people be even more willing to help if they weren’t Christian and didn’t have that thought in the back of their minds, that God will just sort everything out one day? I don’t think there’s a ready way to find out.

    But of course, there are atheist doctors flying to other countries too, and atheists engaging in disaster relief (and agnostics and apatheists and members of other religions and deist/pantheists…). What I believe most people here think is that you can lose the dangerous or bigoted Christian beliefs without sacrificing the charity (which churches hardly have a monopoly on).

    And after all, we simply think that Christianity is not true. If it’s not true, surely we should try to find a way to get along without it? Bigotry is not really the reason most of us are atheists, but it does provide strong motivation to consider fundamentalism a bad source of morality, even dangerous. It’s not “You’re wrong because you’re hurting people.” It’s “You’re wrong, and we can’t turn a blind eye to that if you’re hurting people.”

    By the way, why is it that when you mention homophobia, so many apologists try to change the subject? I hate to generalize, but it’s almost always the exact same deflections. “We don’t hate gays and we’re such nice people overall. Look at all the other good things we do.” This faux empathy rarely leads to significant action on the subject. It’s little consolation to be told “I don’t hate you” from someone who seems to be giving a CYA speech, doesn’t show any sign of taking the issue seriously (in fact, doesn’t show any sign of even acknowledging the magnitude of the problem), and appears much more comfortable around homophobes than gay people.

    I mean, being openly gay is a death sentence in many parts of the world, and it seems to be that way in Uganda now too (whether or not the bill passes; people are being lynched of course). Doesn’t that deserve a bit more than “Oh, but look at this other thing I’d rather talk about”? Wouldn’t it be nice if prominent voices of Christianity such as Rick Warren, instead of having to be badgered into denouncing anti-gay violence as a CYA move, actually started, on their own initiative, to try to pull some strings to fight the “kill the gays” bill and other such nonsense?

    I don’t hold out much hope for that. Usually, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” really means “Hate the sin, turn a blind eye to anything bad that happens to the sinners because I don’t want to support them.”

    Of course, those people who don’t think that homosexuality is a sin are somewhat better about this (I think they are even less intellectually honest, but at least they are less dangerous and more sympathetic). But the people who seem so loudly proud of Christianity rarely fall into that category.

    So when three Catholic nuns start and run the only orphanage in the Eastern part of Uganda that can house children with Aids under the age of five, that is negated because the Catholic church has a position against homosexuality?

    Maybe not, but given that far fewer people would have AIDS in the first place if the Vatican and other Christian organizations did not oppose condom use and openly spread lies about condoms’ efficacy, I’m hardly going to give the Catholic Church as a whole a pat on the back over it.

    If I held up some nice Muslims as examples, would they make you feel any better about the way Muslim theocracy treats women? Would a Scientologist-created orphanage make you feel all warm and fuzzy about that cult?

  • Robert W.

    Sean,

    I would never support the preaching of hate, against gays or any other group in society. That is not supported by Jesus’ teaching or practice. And I do agree that Christians should speak out against those that preach hate.

    With that said however, it is a Christian principle that homosexual practice is a sin, just like a list of other sins.

    In essence what the gay community is asking Christians to do is accept this sin and make it okay because they want it that way. It could be viewed the same as a group of people who were asking the church to accept adultery as not being a sin because they engage in it. That probably would not happen. But that lack of acceptance of that behavior is a far cry from hating the person. The two don’t always go together.

    I think saying that Christian charities do good things merely because they are Christian smells like post hoc ergo propter hoc. Can you tell how many of those people would be willing to do similar things if they weren’t Christian? Would some people be even more willing to help if they weren’t Christian and didn’t have that thought in the back of their minds, that God will just sort everything out one day? I don’t think there’s a ready way to find out.

    Ask them and they will tell you. Christians who go to Uganda do so based upon their Christian beliefs. That is where they claim their motivation comes from, as a calling from God. You don’t have to believe that of course.

    But of course, there are atheist doctors flying to other countries too, and atheists engaging in disaster relief (and agnostics and apatheists and members of other religions and deist/pantheists…). What I believe most people here think is that you can lose the dangerous or bigoted Christian beliefs without sacrificing the charity (which churches hardly have a monopoly on).

    Agreed. But to date i have yet to see an atheist orphanage in Uganda. What I have seen in numerous orphanages started by Christians and one by Muslims.

    By the way, why is it that when you mention homophobia, so many apologists try to change the subject? I hate to generalize, but it’s almost always the exact same deflections. “We don’t hate gays and we’re such nice people overall. Look at all the other good things we do.”

    I think it is because the minute you mention that you state that your belief tells you that homosexuality is a sin, you are labeled a hate filled bigot.

    Maybe not, but given that far fewer people would have AIDS in the first place if the Vatican and other Christian organizations did not oppose condom use and openly spread lies about condoms’ efficacy, I’m hardly going to give the Catholic Church as a whole a pat on the back over it.

    I don’t know what other Christian organizations prohibit condom use as a way to help prevent Aids, but I do agree with you that it is irresponsible to preach abstinence only in a community that has had millions of people die from Aids. There is literally a lost generation from this disease in Uganda and all methods of prevention should be utilized.

    If I held up some nice Muslims as examples, would they make you feel any better about the way Muslim theocracy treats women? Would a Scientologist-created orphanage make you feel all warm and fuzzy about that cult?

    I would recognize the good works they are doing and not disregard that because of other practices they have. Nor would I accept all of their practices just because of their good works.

  • walkamungus

    Robert –

    In essence what the gay community is asking Christians to do is accept this sin and make it okay because they want it that way.

    In essence, what the Christian community is asking gays to do is accept that what they do is a sin, and what makes it not okay is that Christians want it that way.

    Or otherwise put, Christians expect gays (and all the people who support them) to *facepalm* and say, “Oh, DARN! It’s a SIN! Yeah, of course you’re right! We’ll stop!” Even if said gays and supporters are not Christians themselves.

  • Robert W.

    walkamungus,

    Or otherwise put, Christians expect gays (and all the people who support them) to *facepalm* and say, “Oh, DARN! It’s a SIN! Yeah, of course you’re right! We’ll stop!” Even if said gays and supporters are not Christians themselves.

    In the eyes of the vast majority of the Christian faith it is a sin. You don’t have to stop. You are free to live your life. Just don’t demand that the Christian community accept it and call us bigots when we don’t.

    Why aren’t we free to say, no thank you, my religion doesn’t allow you to get married in our church without being called hateful?

  • Erp

    We will certainly call people, Christian or not, dangerous if they insist on the state enacting or enforcing laws against homosexuals and their supporters or encourage violence against them. This is what is happening in Uganda.

    Note people are as free to consider homosexuals as greater sinners than themselves (even if they don’t advocate violence) as we are free to consider them bigots for doing so. They are also free to consider us bigots for considering them bigots. Freedom of speech allows this. BTW as a conservative Christian you might find the recent Internet Monk article of interest (the writer is an evangelical Christian not liberal).

    BTW Uganda has several schools run by humanists.

  • Steve

    Why aren’t we free to say, no thank you, my religion doesn’t allow you to get married in our church without being called hateful?

    You are free to say that. What makes you hateful bigots is passing laws that prohibit civil marriage and take away other rights from gay people. Just keep your anti-gay beliefs in your church and out of politics and society as large. That’s all people are asking.

  • walkamungus

    Robert –

    Actually, I don’t particularly mind if churches do or don’t permit gays to get married there. As a denomination or as an individual congregation, a church can decide what it will permit within its own organization. (America was settled by European religious dissenters, after all.) If you want to say that gay people or Asian people or blue-eyed people or blue-eyed Asian gays can’t get married in your church, that’s okay with me.

    Where I have a very big problem is when a religious organization decides that it wants to export parts of its belief system into the secular society. In the U.S., marriage is at its core a *legal* commitment, not a religious one, all those fancy church weddings notwithstanding. If your church decides that you won’t allow gays to get married there, fine, but don’t then interfere with the right of persons *outside your church* to get legally married.

    But the point of many of the comments is that in Uganda, people have been and are being killed because of their homosexuality. Is that OK, because they’re sinners anyway?

  • Robert W.

    Walkamongus,

    But the point of many of the comments is that in Uganda, people have been and are being killed because of their homosexuality. Is that OK, because they’re sinners anyway?

    Of course not.

  • Kayla

    Killing gays, as the law proposes to do in Uganda, should be considered unChristian. American evangelists with connections to Ugandan evangelists should be at the forefront of condemning this law and making sure that it is never enacted.

    Yes, I agree with Robert W. that Christians have done a lot of good in the third world, but they can do more by using their considerable influence positively to make sure that human rights are respected — including those of homosexuals.

    Why did Ugandan politicians feel that they could get away with such a stupid law anyways?

  • Erp

    They probably thought so for several reasons:

    1. A group of early Christian martyrs in Uganda were apparently young men executed for refusing to accede to their king’s sexual demands so homosexual rape has a big role in the Christian history of the country (and a great deal of confusion between consensual same sex relations and non-consensual).

    2. They think they have some international support with some justification (see Scott Lively)

    3. Uganda may have large oil deposits and so may not need foreign aid (or at least those in power won’t).

    What makes it particularly strange is that though Uganda still has a death penalty it hasn’t carried any executions out since 2003 (military) or 1999 (civilian).

    Note that the death penalty could well be dropped and the bill still pass with new draconian laws for people who support gays (draconian laws already exist against homosexual acts though the bill could reiterate them).

  • martin bukama

    actually one of those few ugandan who do not believe in the so-called  God…the situation here in education institutions(such as the universty I’m in) is worse…prayer is everywhere people have to pray even before tutorial session!!
    BUT ONE VERY INTERESTING BIT IS THAT MANY PEOPLE HAVE NEVE
    R HEARD OF THE PROSPECT THAT NON BELIEVERS DO EXIST!


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