The Angry Atheist 

During one of the many arguments I have had on religion with my Christian friends, Christian looked me squarely in the eyes and with deep concern on his face asked me, “Why are you so angry?” And I replied, “But I am not angry. Isn’t it obvious? There is no way two of each animal species could fit in a boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high and survive for a whole year with only eight zoo keepers. There is no historical evidence that the Israelites were ever enslaved in Egypt and Jesus was not born of a virgin!”

I was watching one of my best atheist YouTubers when he pointed out this accusation as one of the most common against atheists. That we are angry and that is why we attack religion. That something bad has to have happened to us to make us so bitter. To which he also responded that no, we are not doing this out of anger. We are simply pointing out the facts and sometimes the facts are bitter.

But what if I was angry? Does that weaken my arguments against religion? Couldn’t I be honest and angry at the same time on matters of religion. Picture this, a teenage girl, daughter to a bishop is forced by her parents to have an abortion to protect her father’s reputation and it scars her for life. Is she allowed to be angry? A woman is sexually, verbally and physically abused by her reverend husband but the church won’t so much as look into the matter because it will cause too much unrest in the church. Can she be angry? A woman loses her husband in a suicide bomb attack. Can she pee on the bomber’s ashes?

I won’t deny it anymore, I am angry, and I am allowed to be, but I can see past my anger. I can still see the weakness of your arguments for the wonderful qualities of God. I can consider the plausibility of some of your good arguments and yet still not be convinced. And I am not simply making this stuff up only to discredit an otherwise good and rational belief system just because it did not work for me.

How about you Christian, why are you not angry? Is it because nothing bad ever happened to you? How could you possibly see beyond your perfect world and come to consider the genius in my arguments? Do you now notice the hypocrisy in asking me why I am so angry. And I know your world is not perfect. I know you struggle like me to get by, you’ve probably had it worse than me and yet you still find comfort in religious beliefs and maintain your faith in God which honestly I envy sometimes but don’t assume that just because I can’t learn the same things you did from adversity I am somehow disqualified from engaging in constructive discourse.

This is the point I am trying to put across, stop apologising for being angry because you have good reason for feeling that way. Only remember to be impartial in your judgement; and you are capable of that. Because you can’t be angry at a person that doesn’t exist, that’s just irrational. That way you will only become wiser with every exchange you engage in because you refine your argument with whatever new knowledge you gather from your opponents.

Which leads me to the second accusation, that we are only angry at God because deep down we know that he exists. True, many atheists are willing to consider the possibility that there are deities. It’s not always and is in fact rare that someone will say they are 100% sure there is no God. But ultimately, we are not angry at God, we are angry at the ways in which he has been presented to us, in the way we have interacted with him/her/them in religion. Say the tooth fairy didn’t leave me any money under the pillow when I left them my tooth. I would be pissed even if the tooth fairy had nothing to do with it. But if I discovered that there is in fact no such thing as a tooth fairy, I’d want to tell all my friends to take a chill pill the next time they didn’t find any money from them. It is just that their parents forgot to put the money there while they were asleep.

The idea of God isn’t always so glossy or harmless as it is often portrayed in religion. By denying the harm it has caused us and that that harm makes us so angry we are no more honest than those that do just that but decide to stay religious. Now take what you want from your life experiences but I reserve the right to be angry. 

 

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A good atheist 

If you have been following the news in Uganda lately, you know that we are fighting a big battle over the constitutional age limit to who can stand for presidency. And despite my greatest wish to not be concerned, I am concerned; because I am a Ugandan. And this affects me so I haven’t been watching the news or reading the papers. It’s not just a reflection on how concerned I am or on how medical school stacks up against constitutional matters but rather on my lack of hope in our leaders, fellow Ugandans.

I mean that we’d waste so much time and money deliberating on something that seems rather straight forward really baffles me. That a few individuals would send our country to the dogs, and for what? So that their children can attend European universities and have vacations in Dubai! It baffles me really that anyone could be that simple, or bad! I mean if the facts are clearly laid out before you and you still choose the bad over the good then you must be a bad person, right? So I will not spend what little brain I have left after an excruciating day in the hospital on trying to understand the technicalities under which our country will finally be sold to the highest bidder when even the commonest of us all knows that senility comes to us all. So why do we have a retirement age for other jobs any way? Does a president’s biology suddenly change when he/she becomes the president or do you think this is one of those countries where all the head of state has to do is smile and wave. This is really bad and these are really bad people who are pushing for this amendment.

But guess what, they’re not all atheists. In fact, I’d be pleased to find out that any one of them is a vocal atheist because it would mean that finally people can judge a person’s character beyond their faith. Granted, it would be a poor judgement but at least they dared consider an atheist for public office. I mean if you want to lose an election fast, just call BS on all religions by declaring that you are an atheist. Because that’s how most people will take it, that by not agreeing with them on matters of faith you are actively opposing those that do.

This is the point I am trying to make, we can be good. Yes, we can be good without religion. And though I struggle to find a person who is completely unadulterated with religion that is good, I think there are many that have left religion and remained good, like myself. And then there is Elon Musk! He is a good man, isn’t he? He obviously isn’t a saint but at least he tries to save the planet and gives to the needy.

Let me share with you a little secret. Most times we want to teach morals, we instinctively know what the right thing is then we seek justification for it so as to lend more weight to it. But we knew all along that killing was bad and that we shouldn’t rape our neighbours or that we should not say mean things to others. We know these things somehow even though I am not entirely sure why.

You’d probably say that most of us have had a little religious morals taught to us here and there growing up which is why we are such civil adults and I couldn’t disagree with you entirely on that. But then I wouldn’t agree with you even a little bit if you said that that is the only reason why there’s any morals in this world. I mean a lot of good we’ve done has had nothing to do with religious teaching. In fact, religious teaching is directly opposed to many of such good. For example, we don’t stone to death girls that are found not to be virgins on their wedding night. Somehow we figured out that it is more loving to pardon them and encourage them on a path of righteousness instead.

Again, I don’t intend to make this about me arguing for atheism over theism but I just have to make a point some times. Rather, this is about helping us find peace knowing that we can be good after we’ve deserted religion. And by religion in all my articles I mean any such claim that there is a God and/or gods and that we know how to respond to that God and/or gods. Atheism is any thing other than that. Be it the classic atheist, or the agnostic, or “I don’t care” group. Even if you believe there is a 90% chance that there is a God but do nothing to respond to him/her, I’ll just go ahead and call you atheist. 

So if you are an atheist, this is my message to you today, you can be good. In fact you are just as good and just as bad as every one else who has the sense to acknowledge the facts before them. That it is wrong sacrifice a whole country for one’s personal gain.

Featured image: Elon Musk from here 

A case for female doctors

Let me warn you first that for some of you, this is going to be a really boring post because in most places I think the case for female doctors has already been made. However, there are still a few scenarios that make me cringe which is why I still went ahead to post this boring article!

One time a passenger passed out on a plane. A young black lady doctor offered to help immediately but was dismissed by a flight attendant because she (the attendant) didn’t believe that she (the young black lady doctor) was a real doctor. After she’d stated her credentials and much other unrelated information (mark you this is an emergency), an older white male came up also claiming to be a doctor and so she (the young black lady doctor) was finally passed over for this older white man that had just showed up and hadn’t been subjected to the “required” due diligence before he could attend to the passenger.

One time during a ward round, we were led by a female attending and a female resident. Besides us was a patient, and he tugged onto the resident’s coat calling, nurse. She jeered at him and went on her way. Another time a similar incident occurred to another female resident, she wasn’t amused either but went on to explain to us that it was rather disrespectful to put her with her five years training and more as a doctor at the same level as a nurse. And I agreed with her, but I’d like to add a bit to her argument.

Where I come from, all nurses were female and all doctors were male. Consequently, male nurses are called doctors and female doctors are called nurses. Male nurses wear white coats and female nurses wear nurses’ uniforms. In fact, nurses’ uniforms are too awkward for male nurses to wear that everyone else just sympathises with them and lets them wear the white coats.

Medicine is hierarchical and conservative. I guess that is how we maintain order in the hospital. It is imperative that you know a person’s title and address them as such or accord them responsibility likewise. It completely upsets the order of things and compromises patients’ lives when roles and responsibilities are not well outlined. Which is why I agree with the female doctors that will not have anyone refer to them as nurses.

However, what is it to you that a patient in their ignorance addresses you inappropriately? Do you all of a sudden cease to be what you are? – a doctor? It’s not like when the patient called the female resident a nurse, the medical students were all of a sudden disillusioned and left the ward round because they had discovered that they were not getting proper guidance. Does it really matter that a person not professionally involved in health care gets the titles wrong?

I think it does matter which is why I started off with the story of one female doctor who was passed on for a male doctor in an emergency. But then again she was black and young so the question remains whether the attendant was racist or sexist or just didn’t trust young doctors. But I thought I’d lend it to my article anyway because like Tamika Cross (the young, black lady doctor) put it, “Whether this was race, age, (or) gender discrimination, it’s not right.”

If you pass on brilliant female doctors for male ones, you compromise health care as a whole because there are already few doctors yet you have a good number of them working at excess capacity simply because they don’t fit your backward stereotypes of what a doctor is like. And it’s not like you have to shut the doors of medical schools on women or deny them promotions in the work place but every explicit and implicit way in which you favour men over women in medicine. Maybe all you did was disrespect a female head of department in front of all her juniors because she is a woman and after all what can she do about it and thereby compromised the running of a whole department in the hospital because workers lack proper leadership. So yes, female doctors should stand up for their right to be addressed appropriately for the good of the entire healthcare system.

What I disagree with though is the reaction of the resident to the patient that called her a nurse. He might have meant no disrespect and was genuinely ignorant of her proper designation yet her reaction did not help solve this problem but only left him confused and probably compromised his health. I think we should all, male and female take it upon ourselves to calmly educate people on the shift in the paradigm of employment in the hospital. Female doctors should be addressed as doctors and male nurses as nurses.

Featured image: The cast of Grey’s anatomy

Consider Religion

Many times when I sit down at my computer to write a blog post, it’s because I felt a nudge and sometimes even a compulsion to offer my opinion on something that I care about. Now since for the better part of the past year and a half I have been consumed with thoughts on religion, I have found it hard to resist writing about it. Unfortunately, many such posts I write never get posted and here is why.

I was raised religious, most of my family is religious and even some are clergy. I have experienced first hand the merits of religion and for this reason, have developed a profound respect for it. I don’t think I would have made it through my teens doing as I willed let alone make it to medical school without the discipline that I acquired in a religious context. Could I have made it another way? – probably. But that is how it happened and so I am grateful for that.

And it is not just me that has a lot to be thankful for from religion. A lot of goodwill I have seen came from religious people. The many schools and hospitals that were built by missionaries in my country, the scholarships for the underprivileged, the children’s homes and so much more good may not have been possible without religious people. But ultimately it was not all good, which is why I left. I mean I did not leave religion for all its merits but rather it’s demerits.

There is both good and bad in religion. The good may outweigh the bad or vise-versus depending what perspective you take. However, I fear that by overly pointing out the bad: the inconsistencies, fallacies, and evils in our faiths, we risk trivializing the capacity of these faiths to cause us to be good: patient, kind, selfless, humble, long-suffering, forgiving, just… (Read 1 Corinthians 13). At the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong to do so – to talk and write about the bad in religion even if one decided to only do that. I was helped a lot by good people that led me here by way of logical argument, mockery and outright dissing of religion for which I am also very grateful even though such may not be for me, at least not presently.

But there remains a caution to me and all skeptics or atheists or irreligious or “Nones”, consider religion and how we are to move on without it. It may be possible to be good without faith but that would require of us to consider all schools of knowledge that have existed and still exist including religion(s) and cherry picking for the bits that foster harmony and growth. And this requires of us to be more diligent, more studious and more open minded because now we are masters of our own fate in a broader sense. We don’t shy away from questioning our beliefs and having them questioned, we don’t get to blame anyone but ourselves and sheer bad luck for our misfortunes; we bear the responsibility of the world on our shoulders with no hand from the divine.

Featured image: Group photo at the opening of the new Mengo Hospital, Uganda in 1902 after its destruction by lightning. The hospital was established by Sir Albert Ruskin Cook in 1897 who was a medical missionary under the Church Missionary Society. Photo from here

Where do babies come from?

Ah, isn’t that the hardest question? I don’t mean for me. At least I know that there are usually two people involved, preferably a man and woman with a steady income and a place to live. Then a surge of hormones making them behave much like animals, genitals meet, body fluids are exchanged and for the next nine months, the woman’s body is an anatomical and physiological mess that hopefully comes to a climax when a live healthy baby pops out of her vagina. But try explaining that to a five-year-old. At the height of curiosity and an all time low of social propriety, the toddler asks the one thing their mind is least developed to grasp, from whence their baby sister or brother came.

We were told a number of things growing up. A friend of mine’s mom told him that a very bright light shines in mommy’s stomach and voilà, a baby appears. My mom told me they’d bought my sister from a shop and that she actually came in a box (face slap). And my all time favourite: that mommy and daddy hug so tight until a baby starts growing in mommy’s stomach; like that’s all they did.

Sex has always been a hard topic for my dad and I. I know he has had tonnes of it. Legend has it that when he was my age he got lucky many more times than I hope to ever get. And now that sex occupies a considerable part of my fantasy, he won’t share his secrets with me. C’mon Dad! I mean we talk about the more elegant aspects of sex like marriage. Namely whom to marry, what qualities to look out for like is she homely, does she have a head on her neck, but never about sexual compatibility.

When your toddler asks you the question, where do babies come from, you probably have one of three choices. One, to lie. This is what my mom did. By no stretch of the facts do we end up buying children from a shop. I know that now. (I actually didn’t believe her the first time. I always knew that the truth was probably too embarrassing for her to admit which is why she hesitated before telling me that)

Two, only tell half the story. Like mommy and daddy hug very hard until a baby starts growing in mommy’s stomach. Leave out the greasy details and spare your child the trauma of knowing the basic nature of human reproductive biology.

Third, go the whole mile. Lay down the facts like they are. Tell them like I said it in the opening of this article. You could never tell a lie, could you? After all, it’s wrong to lie and lying to your own flesh and blood has got to be the worst. Have only a little concern for how it affects their little minds like how they will sleep at night knowing that mommy and daddy are probably making a baby. Don’t worry they can handle it.

Of all three courses of action, which one do you reckon is the worst? The third? I think it is the third. The truth should not always be told, ask a guy that told his girlfriend that her friend is hotter than her. Or that she’s fat, and talks a lot and is nagging. All these may be true but it was probably best for you, your girlfriend and your relationship as a whole not to confess every time you cheated on her. (Just kidding, I’d never cheat on my gal) But seriously, little minds shouldn’t be introduced to matters of an adult nature like sex when they don’t have the capability to properly discern between what is good and proper and beneficial.

But before we move on from this, let me weigh in on the second worst way to go about this question. In fact, it’s not listed among the three I have offered because it happens after your child has been told from elsewhere where babies really come from. What do you do, say your child’s friends’ parents told them the whole truth and you are lucky enough to have your child share with you this new found knowledge. Do you:

A. Call your child’s friends’ parents lairs and offer an alternative truth

B. Throw in the towel and admit to them that that is in fact how it all goes down but caution them not to make babies before they can handle the responsibility. Or,

C. throw in the towel and admit to them that that is in fact how it all goes down but vilify the whole baby making business lest they indulge too soon.

C is in fact the worst way you can handle this situation especially if you don’t know when to stop. Time will come when your children have no doubts about the pleasures of sex and sex related activities and you will still have your head buried in the sand pretending like nothing is happening. And you better hope your child is getting the proper guidance because guidance they will get. Of course if your children developed a different world view than yours then I appreciate the difficulties this presents but all the same, I believe that everyone stands to lose when something so natural and so beautiful in painted black and red on the pages of porn websites or left to the devil while we take cover in church buildings.

Featured image: Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi, MP for Kyadondo East with his family

The Mundane

Today I return to the ward for my hardest course unit since I joined medical school. At this time, I have to actively remind myself of how extremely lucky I am to be in medical school; even if at a university ranked _ (I’d rather not say) in the world and in a third world country. I actually get to live my life long dream to help people! But I don’t wake up every morning thinking to my self, o how lucky I am to be going to medical school today; to learn more about how to help people. In fact, on more days than I am proud to admit, I drag myself to class, then to ward, back to ward for call or the library and back to bed. On some days I am really motivated, but there are some days I wish I was in a different place or time because I am tired, hungry and sleep deprived.

Saving lives is hardly a daily concern of mine. This is what goes through my mind on the daily, hunger, fatigue, assignments, exams and dirty dishes that have over stayed in my room. At the end of the day, I don’t have much time left to think about strangers. Not that I don’t care for them but that the mundane things of life have clouded such thoughts.

There are times when I see a colleague do or say something that makes me wonder whether or not they actually care for the people they serve. But almost invariably the answer is that they actually do care for their patients. They cared enough to at least drag their feet to work that day even when they had better places to be and better company to keep. They care most of the time though there are times when they kind of don’t care! The mundane things of life occasionally cloud their minds enough so that they forget and say or act in ways not congruent with the commitment they made to human life.

A good health worker does well to remember that in times when they forget why it is that they joined the medical field, these times are not definitive of their overall attitude towards health care. That these moments may only prove that we are in fact humans after all. We get tired, pissed, disgusted, discouraged and bored just like everyone else. These moments remind us that like every other human, we need a break every now and then, we need someone to cut us some slack and we need a pat on the back especially when we deserve it.

Don’t let the mundane take your eyes off the prize, the best quality health care. For when we focus on the dullness of the mundane, we risk losing sight of the more exciting most important things. We actually get to save lives. I sometimes in such moments of weakness think to myself that even if all I did was save lives, I’d still be pretty awesome. It is that noble a profession and it does not come cheap. It is merely doable on average and one may excel if they can afford to pay with their lives.

You may perform a cricothyroidotomy one day with only a knife, some vodka and a pen or relieve a tension pneumothorax with a 16G cannula to the second intercoatal space midclavicular line on another day but most days will just be plain. You may counsel a mother who brings in her baby with a diaper rash and prescribe bed rest for the common cold. And yet everyday you are extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to save lives.

A twenty-four year old man

Today I make twenty-four and if I am not in my mid-twenties then no one is. It actually came to me that if I told you I was in my mid-twenties, you could easily assume I was twenty-seven. Pretty old eh? But try convincing my father of that.

One time I was talking with my father when the conversation turned into a debate about whether certain elements of our culture were not in keeping with modern lifestyles. I offered an example of the way we greet; it is laborious. There’s like three greetings in one and a lot of humming and cooing in between that I’ve never mastered up to this age. So every time I try to greet an older person in vernacular, I leave them perplexed at my ineptitude in the art.

And we’ve had many such debates, like whether one is better off going to a vocational rather than a regular school or whether there is any upside to Trump being president. And almost every time we have them, my opinion is less valid because I am young, ignorant and inexperienced. In fact, I once heard that I thought the way I did because of my youth but that I’d know better when I got older.

I am older now, I know better and I think differently than I did then. For example, when I was 17, I thought I’d like to get married early, make a home and raise kids properly. And that that had to be the greatest contribution I’d make to advance mankind. Now, I don’t care for much of that happening for me even though I appreciate the contribution that good parents like my own make towards society. But the question had always remained for me, when will I be old enough?

When was I old, wise and experienced enough to make the really important decisions pertaining my life? When did I cease to be a boy and became a man? I think it was when I started making decisions with substantially high stakes. When the decisions I made would determine which career would make me miserable for the rest of my life, whether or not I’d inadvertently assume responsibility for another human being for about the next thirty years of their life and which lifestyle disease would eventually kill me.

I am suggesting that being old enough has more to do with the magnitude of responsibilities you have than with how well you execute these responsibilities. I am more as old as I am required to be than as old as I’d like to be. Therefore, I’d think of myself a twenty-four-year-old with no prospects or plans for the future not as a boy because I am irresponsible but rather as an irresponsible man because I am a twenty-four years old with no prospects or plans for the future. As such, having the responsibility of a magnitude that is usually bestowed upon those that are old enough should afford me the license and audacity to self-determination.

That said though there is something castrating about being a man without a job and still living off of his parents. And I guess it’s only fair that since it’s their money they also get to call the shots. What I do however is that in every situation that I am allowed to decide, I take the responsibility as an adult; like I alone are to blame for the mishaps that may ensue. Now here’s a toast to old age, wisdom, and experience.

Featured image: Sandile Shezi, South Africa’s youngest self-made millionaire was only 23 years old when he caught the media’s attention in 2015. In the picture, he delivers a talk at University of Cape Town, 2016. Image by Sam Bears from here