Asking Atheists to Pray

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There is a comic book, or some such, out there, which tells the story of people choosing to contract a sexually transmitted infection that turns them hot. Quite literally too. This designer brand of STI made all who contracted it unnaturally beautiful; burning fat, chiselling jaws, and clearing skin, but also giving them an almost constant fever. Naturally, the vanity in humanity is soul deep so despite the danger inherent in contracting permanent fevers, most people decided that the good looks were worth the risk. Of course, that was until something or another happened and the hot people started dying in droves. I remember reading this synopsis and thinking to myself that it sounded like something a ruling government would come up with to deal with overpopulation. I also remember wishing I could be part of that kind of government.

My point? I am not patriotic.

In fact, I am the least patriotic person I’ve ever met but megalomania aside, I can’t find any reason to be proud of a place and nationality I didn’t do anything to earn. I find it difficult to stomach such notions. Therefore whenever people speak of patriotism as a virtue, I shut my beautiful mouth. That’s quite a feat I can tell you, for often enough, the only reason people ever told me to become a pastor was because I almost never shut up. After all, look at how long I am taking to get to the point. Conversations on love of god and country cure that in an instant, however. It would seem that on top of my countrymen illogically loving this nation – one which almost constantly beats them down, mind you – they love a vague higher dimensional being and put all their faith in him. Her? Perhaps ‘It’? Maybe a ‘Them…’ No matter, let’s just say a god, if you will and that’s something else I don’t understand.

Recently, I was involved in a conversation about one of the institutions I used to work in. The administration had been pretty obvious about their effort in pushing out a doctor who was one of the hardest workers I’d ever come across. In response to my confusion on the matter, whispers in the dark informed me that it was religion based. That they pushed out this hardworking man because he was Baptist and not Anglican, yet the missionary hospital was strictly Church of Uganda based and they were proud of that. It was just a theory, of course, but the odd thing is that it didn’t seem that farfetched.

I don’t know if it’s just Mbarara but religious people everywhere I turn surround me. Now I am not a dick of an atheist… Or at the very least I try not to be but people do not make it easy. Often enough, should someone find out that I am an atheist, they give me looks so hostile, I feel like responding with: “hey, I am not immoral. I mean, I have Christian friends,” as if Christianity is the marker of a good person.

Give me a minute here to laugh at that very idea.

Okay, perhaps I need several minutes.

Alright, I am back. I feel this way because I am in a deeply religious society which believes that birth control is the devil’s food for women – no, seriously – and that yoga is some ancient witchy-woo that allows demons into our lives. Also, they pray before and after every business meeting and once even, a nurse asked me which religion I was before she even knew my name. It’s the world I live in and I don’t mind it, honestly. Not so long as they leave me to my pagan, tattooed, sleeping-in-on-Sundays ways. But they don’t.

I was in a rather humiliating scenario today where after a meeting concluded, the chair asked me to say the closing prayer. I paused and stared at him. My mind could not fathom the fact that after these people had known for a year that I am an atheist, one of them would still ask me to engage in their inane rituals. Usually, while people are gearing up to speak some strange words out – some which could be incantations – hoping a higher being would listen to them, I get lost in my thoughts. In that moment, I was actually thinking about Lex Luthor and how I only started reading Superman comics – a hero I originally detested by the way – because of him. I was thinking that I loved his potential and he wasn’t wrong about humanity becoming garbage and failing to evolve because of modern science – natural selection would have wiped some of us out in weeks and really, what a mercy that would have been – and superheroes. I liked his moral ambiguity; he’s a likeable character, really.

Then the chair asked me to pray.

I really couldn’t get quite past that but as the minutes wore one and the chair remained pokerfaced, I smiled ruefully. It’s interesting how many times I laugh in moments when I am upset. Funnily enough, I can never talk about suicide without giggling all the way through it and I am sure many psychiatrists would love to get hold of me for that one, but I digress. I responded the way any sane person would in that situation and told him that I was taking a pass. That no, I didn’t in fact want to pray. A few giggles filled the room after I’d said that and I just stared down my supervisor, wondering what on Earth he was thinking. Then he mouthed a “please” and I stifled an eye roll – because I am not 16 anymore – and just said the words I had crammed as a child.

Now this is where my irritation gets tricky because I suppressed any razing of buildings and screaming in fury until I could talk to one of my more down to earth classmates just to ask him what the fuck that was about. I finally got the chance to and regretted it almost immediately because in seconds – seconds, people – we were discussing why I don’t believe in a higher being. But people are curious, there’s nothing wrong with him asking why and besides, you should have a good reason for not believing in a god, I can hear some whiny voice say. To that I’ll say that actually, this was like the fourth time we were having this conversation and no, I actually don’t have to justify myself to anyone. Really, I’m a fantasy-loving, painting, writing, fat atheist doctor who just wants to be alone so she’s less of a dick. What part of that is too hard for people to understand?

Apparently, every part, I have learned. It’s still hard for me to understand what the motivation of asking me to pray in a room filled with Christians who knew I didn’t share their belief, was. I am pretty certain I didn’t imagine those self-satisfied smirks on their faces after they said amen, as if to ask why I was resisting in the first place. There’s a vile satisfaction in finally forcing a resisting someone to your ways, I can get that, and well, some of the most vile people I ever came across were religious anyway. *coughpentecostalscough*

Imagine for a second, however, if the situations reversed and a bunch of atheists asked the one Christian in their midst to admit there was no god and Jesus didn’t exist, before they could close their meeting. Or if Satanists asked a Christian to hail their lord Lucifer, before they could end a business meeting. It’d be uncomfortable at the very least. Heck, it’s one of those situations Christians so proudly stand up straight for, saying that they could never deny their lord. Like those four almost literally super-hot teenagers in the bible who didn’t burn, they’d relish the chance. When I do it however, I am an amoral and godless infidel who should be forced to bend to their ways. They clearly don’t understand what a precious gift they have in me: an atheist who would much rather mind her own business. Why on Earth would anyone squander that?

Written by Denise Kavuma

I AM DENISE!!! nuff said!

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