By Max Bisaha
Accounts say approximately 10,000 Tutsis, a minority ethnic group of Rwanda, were crammed in and around the Nyamata church on April 10, 1994. They were hiding from the Interahamwe, a Hutu militia, roaming the area. These Tutsis certainly thought such a sacrosanct place was safe, and that the statue of a serene Mother Mary that looked overhead wouldn’t permit any harm. Simultaneously, a hypothetical preacher in some other country (specifically, and always, a man) declares from his pulpit the omniscience, omnipotence and all-loving nature of his God. “God is good!” he says in what seems to me to be a perverse definition of “good.” He declares it confidently and without pause. Thousands like him righteously proclaim the same thing all over the globe, and billions more agree with the sentiment. Yet, in Rwanda, God watched in seeming indifference as almost all the men, women and children in the church that day, and for 100 days all over the country, were brutally killed, raped or beaten. He works in mysterious ways, I suppose. Perhaps the people of Rwanda were being particularly sinful, and a more capricious version of God felt they deserved it, as if thinking, “That’ll teach ’em.” But maybe it is not as horrifying as we think. After all, as Mother Teresa posited in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1979, “Death is nothing, but going home to God.” That’s surely comforting, but then again, the God described above doesn’t strike me as a tender host for all eternity.
At the very least, this sort of God is not who the modern religious claim him to be. Even the Roman and Greek notions of imperfect and emotional gods seem a more plausible way to explain the world. Still, given the overwhelming lack of evidence, I choose to believe no God exists. The problem of evil in the world has been debated all the way back to Epicurus and is one of the most persuasive arguments against God and the subsequent myths that follow, such as the idea of heaven and hell. After my experience in Rwanda visiting the genocide
memorials, this argument became especially potent to me. Often, people submit that heaven and hell may not exist, but that it is beside the point to argue their truth because what matters is that these ideas give people solace and moral direction — “purpose,” one might say. So, what if religion acts like a crutch, as long as it alleviates people’s existential crises? But is that what people want — to be coddled by a lie? Humanity deserves more credit than that.
A belief in the afterlife is not only a false belief, but a belief that affects the way you make everyday decisions. It distracts from the real reasons one ought or ought not to do something, namely basic human empathy and compassion. It diverts energy from real issues. For instance, if your life is struck by some random misfortune and you believe it is because God is punishing you, you may become immersed in guilt and remorse. Instead, one should simply realize that bad things happen to good people for no real reason. Too often, humans go through life trying to rack up brownie points with the invisible white guy in the cosmos in an attempt to get into heaven. If, instead, someone lives motivated to assuage the suffering of others and to enjoy the unbelievably infinitesimal chance of occurrence that is one’s life, I more admire the former. Though I must admit they are not mutually exclusive, it often works out that way. By living in the here and now, as opposed to your postmortem future, you are bound to live a more appreciative, engaged and fulfilling life.
Max, 21, is from Rehoboth Beach, Del., and attends the College of Charleston, where he is majoring in political science. He plays rugby and is vice-president of the Outdoors Club. After college, Max is pondering a stint with the Peace Corps.