It hadn’t been a particularly satisfying weekend and suffice it to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the Monday. I do my best to steer clear of clichés and stereotypes but Mondays at the hospital can be brutal, with more than 20 patients showing up for theatre at a go. These patients are often seen in the hot, sweltering afternoons, with badly cooked matooke churning about in our stomachs and nurses who run off to hide so we don’t ask them to help us translate what the patients are saying in the local languages. I really wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the day.
Well you can imagine my surprise then when halfway through the morning ward round, one of my fellow residents asked me what Acts 1:7-8 says. Without thinking about it, I respond that it’s The Great Commission. I know this from my days back in the church and it had been ingrained in me. I decided to joke a little about how I knew these verses and he didn’t, yet he was the Christian.
I should not have made that quip; I should not have.
An hour of yelling at each other later (which involved me being told – with a certain level of smugness – that I had read the bible but clearly hadn’t understood it so that’s why I have all these questions and contradictions), I was beyond frustrated and quickly entering my killing mode. I took a second to wonder how it was that I’d discarded so quickly, my belief that I shouldn’t weigh in on matters which don’t affect me personally. The nurse we’d forced to stay around and interpret for us was plastered against the wall, staring at me with widened eyes as if I was the devil himself and I found myself laughing at the ludicrousness of it all.
However, I’ll start from the beginning.
Hi, my name is Denise Kavuma and I am agnostic, quickly moving onto being an atheist. Like many of my writer compatriots who were raised in the church but moved away for one reason or another, I too am finally writing about this journey. I was raised as a Christian and I suppose I delved into the bible as much as I did at a young age, because it told fantastical tales that were anything but ordinary. See, at the time, I was attending one of those schools that banned any form of storybooks on the compounds. You know the ones; the kind that have children up at 4 a.m. making them take freezing cold showers, and refusing to encourage any form of self-expression, even if it is as minor as a different kind of handwriting. Oh yeah, those ones!
Imagine then what a child, as thirsty for good writing and storytelling as I was, would do when presented with a bible; delve deeply into that shit, of course! Therefore, I read the bible like a novel when I was 8 years old and of course that made me the most knowledgeable about it in Sunday School, and so began decade’s worth of brainwashing. Granted, I loved every minute of it at the beginning and quickly grew into a dickish Christian; boy was I a dick. I honestly don’t blame my high school “friends” for not keeping in touch – that, and I am also really quite forgetful when it comes to people’s faces and names – because I could have been the spokesperson for indignant, none-of-my-business-but-I’ll-make-it-mine-anyway, aggressive Christianity.
Oh, I thumped that bible like it was a juicy ass and I was getting some tonight! Jesus, I could bring Christ into each sentence and I wasn’t even swearing (which was a damn pity, if you asked me). I believed so much of what the church fed us that when I started struggling with depression as a teenager, I couldn’t even fathom the fact that it was what it was simply because only the devil ever brought that shit on and I wasn’t down like that with Lucifer.
It was a toxic time.
I am not here to tell you why or even how I started walking away from the church but I can confirm that it wasn’t easy nor did it happen in one day. The earliest time I ever remember questioning whether the church really had my best interests at heart was when I was convinced by a (less radical though equally passionate) Christian friend to go for some females-only conference in some popular church. I had nothing to do that afternoon, plus she was dining me after the whole debacle and I never turn down free food. The only part of that conference I remember to this date is that someone had thought it was a good idea to get about five married pastors in the church to sit on stools and begin to tell an auditorium filled with women, what they must do to be good wives.
Now even at that time, I was an outspoken, no nonsense individual – that, mixed with radical Christianity; just imagine! – but I was still Christian. Even then, to me, the idea of getting males to tell women how they could be better women, seemed shaky at best. Then this exchange took place:
PASTOR WITH INTERESTING IDEALS ON WOMEN: Now let’s talk about the independent woman. She has her job, has her own house; no children, has a Rav 4, and doesn’t want a man in her life, nor does she think she needs one. Is this woman blessed by God?
ALMOST ENTIRE AUDITORIUM FILLED WITH WOMEN: Noooooo!
ME: The fuck did I just hear?!
Well, back then I wasn’t exactly the type of person to swear, so I just pulled out my Nokia N71 (bambi, I miss my ka-phone) and started texting people – because WhatsApp was just beginning to spread back then and I loved having my little society of texters.
I went right back to church that Sunday but something about that conference had unsettled me and made me angrier than I’d ever been when it came to the way most parts of the bible spoke about women. Granted it wasn’t much anger because I hadn’t been that angry to start with and I was mostly bewildered at that stage, but for me, my independence was something no person could ever mess with and that most certainly included this god I worshipped back then.
8 years and hundreds of unanswered questions later, I was a certified agnostic. The church didn’t miss me and most of my Pentecostal friends were absolute jerks so I shed and moved on. I don’t bash the church, religion, or faith anymore because I was there and honestly, I think that people need some hope, some reason to believe that after everything is said and done, there is a more powerful being who’s got your back. We need a hope to create the foundation that we wake up in the morning for a reason and there’s a plan at the end of the day. That someone is watching out for us.
I don’t believe in that any more than I believe that I’ll one day sprout wings and fly (but then again, perhaps…).
That doesn’t make me any more logical or more intelligent than those people who subscribe to a faith or religion. I simply find less distress here, in this open field with no fences, than I did when I was a Christian. I am alright with the idea that I when I die, I will cease to exist completely (and truth be told, I am almost desperate for that time) and it feels almost freeing. I don’t have to hold my tongue anymore every time I want to point out that I actually think abortion ought to be legalised and I can afford to not be guilt-tripped whenever I state that I don’t want children – never, ever, ever!! – because I just don’t give a shit what the bible says about children, they’re not fucking gifts! (See what I did there? No one is church would).
Then there’s the peace to drink what I want, whenever I want… ah, the peace.
I’m still attached to the Christian god in ways I hadn’t thought of before though. Like when I excel in something relatively difficult to do, I’ll say a short reflex thank-you-prayer to a god I don’t believe in anymore simply because deep down, I still believe I cannot do anything good on my own. It’s a roller-coaster journey for me and quite jarring, I’ll admit. That being said, I still cannot blame religious people for sticking to what they hope in because after all, I left religion and look at me, depressed and shit.
I should not have made that joke; I should not have.