A case for profanity

As I leave religion, I am faced with the challenge of defining my values independent of it. No longer is it enough to say that one should be honest because God says so. Rather, I need to make the case for honesty versus dishonesty withstanding the ninth commandment. As you can imagine, it makes for a messy value system that is dynamic, practical and progressive. However, as the title may suggest, I won’t be discussing the ethics of honesty today. No, today we shall consider a matter much less noble and vulgar. It concerns that all too familiar word, the F word or in full, FUCK.

I hope it’s not too late to warn you now that I will not censor the F word wherever it need be said in this post. So if you can’t stand it, I bid thee farewell. And on I go, first with a story.

It was in the night after a social gathering with my more proper friends at the time, and I was driving. Now Ugandan drivers are not known for their patience or reverence for traffic laws, so driving especially on a busy night is a nightmare. I was cursing all the way briefly forgetting my more sensitive companions for the journey. Actually, I didn’t notice it one bit that I could be offensive. Not until I was left alone in the car with one friend that brought it to my attention.

Now I have always been a bit of a potty mouth, using the F word in moderation but using it nonetheless. So I was dumbfounded at the gravity with which my friend considered the matter. In my defense, I pointed out that I didn’t think much of these words but apologized for having been insensitive to my friends. But he wouldn’t have it! He wanted me to recognize the fault with using these words at all. Quoting verse after verse in the bible that prohibited such language. Well, not being one to challenge scripture then, I acknowledged my sin and promised to work on it. But I wasn’t severely impressed still which is why I don’t think I ever committed to keeping that promise anyway; and here’s why.

There’s no alternative. Few words can convey the emotions that go with statements like “what the fuck” or “fuck you” or “you are so fucked up” or “you are so full of shit” if any. And the word “fuck” is so effective and precise in communicating the intensity of what we are actually feeling at that point or the seriousness of the issues we are faced with. Like Tony Robbins said in an interview with Oprah on Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations, and I am paraphrasing, that we tend to use softeners to make light of serious issues in our lives. Words like fuck have the ability to jolt us back into reality and to a place where we can better recognize the shit in our lives for what it actually is. And so we are better at dealing with these issues because we called a spade a spade and not a big spoon.

But what do you do when 90 percent of the people around you are conservative and would at least cringe every time you said fuck? I get you. Recently I came out to my sister and I watched her jaw drop almost literally. Then she gave me a book about Jesus because apparently, I hadn’t encountered the real Jesus before I left. Which by the way was really loving of her so I am not bringing it up here in scorn. But it shows what I am up against as I advocate for profanity in everyday speech.

To resolve or rather ignore this tension, I borrow the wisdom of Gary Vaynerchuk a (quote and quote) “motivational” speaker and social media guru among other things. In an interview with ‘business insider’, he advises those with ambitions to be successful to define their target audience. I am paraphrasing again here but, you can’t please everyone, he says. There are people that can’t listen to me because I curse a lot and that is fine, there are plenty other motivational speakers and pundits that are more agreeable. So I suggest that you also be a bit arrogant and say, “If you can’t take it, you don’t have to. I am fine in the company of those that can have that kind of shit around them.”

Notice that I am not advocating for using the F word to hurt others, like to abuse, shame or belittle them. I am certainly not advocating for more Trump-like comments like “shithole countries.” Quite the opposite; I am advocating for the use of the F word to inspire positive change within you and others you wish to exalt. Rather than saying to your friend who is drunk a lot that he drinks “a bit too much” and should “consider cutting back,” let him know how fucked up he is and how fucked up his kids are going to be for having a fuckin’ drunkard for a dad. He is a no good piss of shit as a drunkard. Period.

Featured image: a quote by Gary Vaynerchuk from pexels

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Ignorance is bliss

As many of my closest friends would attest, I am quite easy to please. I could say that I felt accomplished in life after cleaning my room. That a glass of water I just had is the sweetest water I’ve ever taken. And that my mom’s chicken is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. Obviously, I am also a perennial offender of English grammar rules. However, it goes to show that I am often pleased beyond my ability to communicate that pleasure to other people.

Take for example my smartphone. Many of us would say they like their smartphones. Maybe for their beauty, or their utility, or the status they bring us. They are not only desirable but also indispensable. A friend of mine confessed to me once that he couldn’t spend a night without his phone. One would say that he is addicted to it but addiction aside, we actually depend a lot on our phones these days. They are our alarm clocks, watches, calendars, libraries, newspapers, cameras, torches, radios, and more, and yet they are still our phones. But could you say that you love your smartphone? Is love an appropriate word to express your feelings towards your smartphone? Yet it is what I would say of mine. That I am so pleased with its utility that I have developed a profound affection towards it. Even if I will sooner trade it for a better one, I will also love that one until an even better one comes along.

One thing, however, doesn’t follow my love for my phone. See, if you love a girl, you want to know everything you can about her. Like what makes her laugh; what makes her cry; her dreams; her past; her phone number; where she lives… some would call it stalking but I call it caring. Quite opposite to the way I love girls, I know very little about my phone. More specifically, I don’t know how it works. I guess I could learn all of that but I am largely not interested in it. Maybe because there is no direct payoff. Like I don’t need to know how it works to use it for what I need. That, however, is not the case for my girlfriend so I tend to pay closer attention to her or I will be left with my hand for the night.

But what if knowing more about my phone makes me like it less? What if I discover that my hypothetical girlfriend is actually a shoplifter? I would definitely like her less. Now, what if I had a hunch that I was sleeping with a shoplifter? Would I want to confirm that suspicion or would I ignore it for fear of losing what bliss I derived from dating her? I posit by analogy that I may turn a blind eye to my girlfriend’s shoplifting to avert the guilt that comes from sleeping with a shoplifter. 

I watched a TED talk once where a Congolese man was talking about the mineral that smartphones and many other electronics are made of, tantalum. A rather small portion of it is mined in DRC. Its trade there is such that when you learn of it, you start to question the ethical justifications for buying a smartphone without ensuring that it is made of conflict-free tantalum. Anyway, we have come to accept with outstanding indifference the ethical dilemmas of breeding animals and using single-use plastic that I don’t see why we’d all of a sudden be bothered by conflict tantalum. Of course, my position here is only satirical because I also appreciate the difficulty of imposing our ethics in all our dealings with other people. My point though is that if there is still a moral bone left in you, the knowledge that your smartphone may be key in sustaining a civil war in Africa should at least make you cringe.

I have sat in the judgement seat and have judged the morality of God. That is the Christian God and any other gods for whom similar attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience can be ascribed. It is an extremely proud position to take by Christian standards but extremely important towards making my point. I have judged and found him to be guilty of partiality, genocide, negligence, and basically, everything that is wrong with the world. But whenever I point out his sins to a Christian, the response is more often than not a humble acknowledgement of ignorance on their part and an equally or even greater resolve not to examine the case further. 

Say I pointed out that it was wrong for the Israelites to forcefully and murderously occupy the land of Canaan simply because God had promised it to them. They’d say “I could not possibly understand the mind of God. For his ways are infinitely above mine.” And while this may sound like a position of humility to some, to me it is a stark example of immorality. For you have chosen to lounge in the shed of ignorance while muffling out the screams of your brothers and sisters being devoured by reality outside your house. What would it take for you to acknowledge the harm that your worldview has caused your fellow men and the planet at large? A careful examination of its impact on well-being perhaps? 

Now I feel the need to remind you that this blog is not about arguing for the case of irreligiosity or atheism, even though I feel strongly that we all do well with a healthy dose of scepticism. Also, feel free to knock me off my high horse every now and then. But ignorance is bliss, and I have come to appreciate that what bliss I had while Christian was largely a product of ignorance. Not to say that all Christians are ignorant but that I was an ignorant Christian (and now an ignorant sceptic). And it continuously evades me how very knowledgeable, very smart Christians have also looked into the case against God and still exonerated him of all wrongdoing.

My message today for the heathen is that you should recognise that you subscribe to a different moral standard than that emulated in the Bible. And rather than agonising to frankly hopelessly reconcile your world-view with the Bible, you should altogether do away with it and seek a different moral compass or philosophy to guide you. Not that there is nothing morally upright in the Bible, but that the Bible can’t be to you what it is to the Christian, the ultimate blueprint of morality for all ages, places and situations.

Furthermore, you should consider what bliss you felt while still religious with a healthy dose of scepticism. For example, I remember the feeling of peace after praying, especially in the few hours after I’d prayed. Often times I may double in a few prayers when I feel desperate but that peace is gone. Not necessarily because I am a sinner and that God no longer abides in me but rather because I am more aware of the limitations of prayer. Generally speaking, nothing happens until you go out and put in the work to get what you want. And then there is a bit of luck or coincidence.

I suffered a great loss when I left the Church and often times I regretted my choices because of it. I lost friends, community, peace, joy; at least it felt like that for a while. But now I realise that I never really had friends or community because I wasn’t being truthful with them, I was never really peaceful because I didn’t trust in God and I wasn’t happy because I was overly abstinent. Now when I look back I know I am happier because I am more in tune with the reality of my condition. The truth may be ugly but at least it is the truth. And so I have no regrets. 

Featured image: People displaced by the war in Congo. Image from CNN

Then I will be happy 

“When I graduate from medical school, then I will be happy,” must be one of the shadiest beliefs a medical student can have. Medical school is challenging. Many times and that is every semester for me, feel like I am up against a wall and unless the gods lent me a hand, there is no way I am breaking through to the other side. And in these times I am comforted by the sights of such doctors that are living happily probably because they finished medical school. Even many times in conversations with classmates, one thing that comes up often is the urgency to get done with medical school so that we may join these doctors. To what end though, that we may be significantly happier than before we became doctors?

And this belief that somehow one thing may happen and completely jack up your mood entirely is not only held by medical students. “When I buy a car, then I will be happy; when I get married, then I will be happy; when I have children, then I will be happy.” I haven’t done any of the above but I think I can with confidence say that you probably won’t be happy. In fact, even if you were modest and said you would only be happier doesn’t make it any better. Why, because happiness, if it is to be sustained over any considerable length of time, does not depend on a one-time event like buying a car or becoming a doctor. No, happiness depends on the day to day ins and outs of life being more agreeable than not, that we may have more good days than not. That is how we can, for the most part, be happy. 

For example, say I won an award in 2015 for the best student paper at a scientific conference in Geneva. Am I happy today because of it? Not necessarily. How about me ten years from now practising medicine or whatever, is me ten years from now happy because they got done with medical school, probably. True, some events are life changing but that’s because the days, months and years that followed these events were significantly impacted by them. My point is that unless a one-time event like graduation means that the years that follow will be significantly and positively impacted by it, then we are not sure whether it will make you happy or even happier.  

So rather than being inspired by this trophy that is double bachelors in medicine and surgery, I propose that we look more into what that means for our lives as doctors or nurses or whatever we are looking forward to. How do we like the late nights, the emergencies, the holidays away from family, the difficult patients, awful seniors? Feeling inspired, no! Well, this is part of the package that is being a doctor. But just so that I don’t come off as all glass half empty, I’ll let you in on the perks of medicine. The healing, that alone is good enough. Knowing that you impacted a life probably forever with your awesome knowledge and skill. Saving lives both in the short and long term. But whom am I kidding, your ego will be fed to obesity, you will make some money and it might even be the coolest job one can do. But if you want all of these then know that they come with all the challenges of the profession. Question is, do you love the “good” enough to overcome the challenges associated with being a doctor? 

I wanted to be a surgeon at one time. I thought to myself that when I become a surgeon, I will be happy. But on close examination of what it’s like to be a surgeon, even beyond residency, it was not all that appealing; so I gave it up. Will I be happier ten years from now because I gave up on that dream? Most likely. Why? Cos my decision was not based solely on the appeal of the perks of being a surgeon but also on the daily cost of these perks.

I think we are all better off this way, loving the aftermath of our success just as much as we do the victory celebrations. Love the perks, even the challenging ones. All these are part of the package that is success. Only then will our success make us generally happier human beings. Even more, only then shall we go on to achieve greater success in our endeavours, because we generally enjoy what we do. And from my professor to you, “You will never make it in medicine if you don’t love what you do!”

One limitation of my argument here is that I have only considered happiness as a consequence of external events. However, knowing depression as I do, I know that one can feel lonely in a crowd and be numb to even pretty strong stimuli. Unfortunately though, I am no expert on happiness (as I am no expert on many things) but this is my two cents on the matter.

Featured image: Stephen Kiprotich, Ugandan athlete celebrating after winning gold in the London Olympics 2012. Image from here 

18 years later 

I was six years old at the turn of this century. And though I wasn’t old enough to catch the hysteria, I remember the mood of the adults closest to me to be calm. On the 31st of December 1999, we had supper in the evening as was our tradition and stayed up till midnight as if to usher in the new year. Nothing happened. 

Eighteen years later and Christ hasn’t returned; the earth still spins day and night and goes round the sun at least once a year. As of today, the 1st of January 2018, the predictors of the apocalypse of the year 2000 are at least eighteen years off with their calculations. Seems to me that one is better off preparing for death than the return of Jesus Christ because the former is far more likely to come first.

My family always scoffs at apocalyptic talk confident that when Jesus returned, we wouldn’t be able to see it coming. He would ambush us like a thief in the night while people were planting their fields and teenage boys fapping. It would be a day like any other day when we make plans for the future like the future was assured to come. 

Nonetheless the 31st of December is by far the hardest time of year for me as a sceptic. As I grew older, the hysteria surrounding new year’s day finally got to me. And there is this feeling of impending doom knowing that whatever god showed up, I wouldn’t be in good standing with them. So at a glance it may seem that the theist be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist has a considerable advantage over me, because at least they have one less God to fear. 

I was therefore particularly pleased when I woke this morning to find that the world was still as it was yesterday. I know we can do better, less wars, less disasters, more understanding but at least nothing of the magnitude of an apocalypse went down last night. I seem to have survived yet another new year’s day, at least in my time zone! Which further strengthens my audacity to poke at religion. And for today’s post, Pascal’s wager.

In summary, Pascal argues that we are better off believing there is a God and later finding out there isn’t than living like there is no God and then finding out there is one. Pretty neat, right? – not quite so. One rebuttal especially relevant here is “Which God?” With thousands to millions of gods floating in space, the odds that yours materialises today are statistically insignificant. So I will take my chances for as long as I am not gasping for air and my feet are firm on the ground. But while on my death bed or if the aeroplane I’m on hits turbulence, I will definitely pray. Hoping to appeal to the credulity of an omniscient God! After all, that’s what his followers are doing, isn’t it? 

I know that a thousand days are but a day to God but from where I stand, it is an awfully long time. And during this time, hope for His return runs dry. No wonder irreligiosity is rife. Yet even in the midst of reason, the shackles of fear from religion still bind us. Yes, I fear hell; who wouldn’t? I fear God, he’s not known for his kindness. So I am really counting on him being a figment of our imagination. 

Let me leave you in the hands of Sam Smith here. I am reasonably confident that he and I share at least this one belief, that everyone prays in the end.

Featured image from here 

If not for Jesus 

I have been looking forward to this. From January to December, Christmas is my favourite time of year. Especially the holiday (not 25th December!), quality time with family and friends, and guiltless binging. There is nothing quite like it. It is the ultimate holiday season. And to think that this might be the last one quite like the ones I’ve enjoyed before makes it even more important. This being the final year of medical school means that next year’s will probably be much different.

This will also be the first Christmas since I came out as a sceptic. I thought that I’d write about that because a lot of people might expect that it presents some kind of religious struggle for me (concerning Christmas). Like one classmate of mine that asked me as I was leaving school whether I would also be celebrating Christmas. I laughed as I walked away because it was really a silly question to ask. I mean just because I am sceptic doesn’t automatically mean that I completely have no regard for a holiday as secular as Christmas! I have always celebrated Christmas and this year won’t be any different.

So I may have only recently come out but I have had doubts for quite a while. This will not be the first time I will celebrate Christmas with little regard for it’s religious significance. I have long found reasons beyond the virgin birth to be exceptionally happy around this time of year. So to think that my greatest concern this year is whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin or that he is or was the only begotten son of God is rather laughable.

Jesus is not the only reason to celebrate Christmas. In fact, if we all truly lived by that notion then Christmas would not even be as good a holiday as it is now. For example, the businesses lighting up the malls with the Christmas spirit are in it for the money; clergy folk like my father are hoping to impress a few lost souls that seem to wander into church around Christmas time; and I am in it for the holiday.

Granted, few reasons trump the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The man that would one day single handedly triumph over sin and death by atoning for all our sins past present and future. That we may enjoy eternal bliss with celestial beings in the spirit world or a really distant galaxy or another universe. But you must consider the possibility that all of this is meaningless to some people largely non Christian or irreligious. We have found reasons beyond religion to be excited about the season.

Something else came up as I was brainstorming this post. I asked a friend what he thought if in fact I thought nothing of Christmas. He answered, with rather less concern than I had expected from him, that that would in fact be okay. Another pointed out the fact that it isn’t even the day Jesus was born and so it was quite pointless to worry about what you make of it. They left me wondering why I even cared in the first place.

Now I think it matters that one cares for a thing or two that they don’t believe in. As a sceptic, there are many things I am not sold on entirely and not all of them are of religious importance. However, I care for these things for what value they hold in bringing me and others happiness. I fear that stripping life of all things nonsensical and redundant threatens to make life a chore. I think we derive a lot of pleasure from playing dumb sometimes. So if for whatever reason Christmas is not a big deal to you then that is fine for as long as you allow yourself to engage in a few dumb pleasures of life. Of course every dumb thing you choose to engage in must survive a cost benefit analysis.

Let me sign off by saying that my heart goes out to everyone that really cares for Christmas and yet is prevented from celebrating it as they’d wish. Maybe you’d rather be with family and yet you’ll be alone in a studio apartment in a different country. Maybe you don’t have enough money to buy the holiday spirit. You might have lost someone dear and that is just terrible. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that life sucks for everyone sometimes and many times for some people so what you are going through is not strange per se. All we can do is reclaim it in the moments we are allowed to forget all that hurts no matter how short lived they are. If you so happen to be tempted to smile amidst all the pain, then by all means give in. All the best!

Featured image from here 

A virgin gave birth! (repost) 

I’d like to recognise that we are nearing Christmas and that it’s about time for my annual Christmas message. But before I send out one for this year, I’d like to elucidate one point from last year’s. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin but that I have considered an alternative explanation. A much simpler much more believable explanation at that. I hope you enjoy revisiting the virgin that gave birth. 

Black Angels and White Demons (repost) 

A friend thought this to be racist, and I get why he would think that. Yes, I am about race here but not in a way as to call out the white man for oppressing the black. Rather I am calling out the black man for allowing himself be white washed. I am aware of the perks of living in a westernised culture, the liberalism, the influence of advanced science and technology but that doesn’t make us bad. And as custodians of the darker tones, it’s our duty to celebrate them. In both the arts and sciences, we should even exaggerate the achievements of our race. 

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