Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Church Where God Does Not Exist

Extract from A Life Half Lived, sharing my visit to Ntarama Church in 1998.

At Ntarama church, about 45 km south of Kigali, from April to May 1994, killers brutally massacred an estimated 5000 ethnic Tutsis. The compound is no bigger than a convenience store, yet body after body was piled in. To this day the government of Rwanda has left around 3500 rotting bodies in place as a reminder. My team insisted that we visit this small church so that I could begin to learn what genocide really means.

Genocide is a misused word today, and its misuse degrades the force and revolution of the crime. Having been in the former Yugoslavia, I knew the horrors of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, but they are not the same as genocide. Genocide is a tool used to forcibly move a population. Ethnic cleansing is killing a few of an ethnic group to encourage the others to move to areas where the perpetrators of the crime wish them to live. Ethnic cleansing is like saying, ‘You can’t live here – but you can live way over there, and we will kill as many of you as we need to in order to convince the rest to leave’. It’s a despicable crime, but genocide is worse. Genocide is defined as killing with the intent to destroy an ethnic group. In other words it is like saying, ‘You, and everyone like you, cannot live here, cannot live there, indeed cannot live anywhere. We are going to find you, everyone like you, and kill all of you. No exceptions.’

The first thing that struck me about Ntarama was my guilt about being a voyeur. Yet this guilt was outweighed by the urge to see, learn, accept and to lament. The second thing was the smell. The smell of love and death are so close. The church had a musk-like odour of rotting flesh and death. The smell of death, being very musky, is so close to that sweet smell of love and sex, except it burns your nostrils with an acrid after-smell that never – and I mean never – leaves you. The third thing was the eye sockets in the head of a baby. Not the entire body, just the head. The baby’s head balanced on the pile of bones, staring lifelessly at me, accusing me endlessly: “Why did you let this happen to me?”

It was then that I realised God failed the ‘logical test’. Theologians tell us that God, from whichever monotheist religion, is an all-powerful and benevolent being. But if God were all-powerful, and let this happen, then he is not benevolent. If he is benevolent and this happened, then he is not all-powerful. While a theologian may then say “God in his wisdom gave man free will”, my response is quite simply this: no one gave that baby any free will or choice, and there is no benevolence in what happened to that small child.

Walking into Ntarama church is confronting. It is the place that haunts my soul and where I moved from agnostic to atheist with a positive disbelief in God.

Within our being we know what is right and wrong. We do not need the existence of a great outside power to direct us, or to tell us what happened in Rwanda was wrong. To me, the mere existence of life is enough of a reason for a life, and the desire to do good is enough of a purposeful life for me not to need God. There were times in my life that I did not believe this, but any doubts about the non-existence of God were expunged inside that church in Rwanda.

While Dallaire said; “I know God exists as in Rwanda I came face to face with the Devil”, I take a different view. The Devil may exist locked inside all of us, but God does not exist.


More from 'A Life Half Lived" by New Holland Press here.