There are no atheists in trenches, the old saying goes, and there aren’t many more in Uganda. When it comes to poverty, disease, corruption, issues of sexuality and tribal tensions, most Ugandans believe they need God’s help. Even during the weekday lunch hour, they can be found filing into the capital’s churches, lifting their hands to the heavens and swaying in time to Christian rock bands and dapper pastors promising salvation. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 97% of Ugandans are believers, and the fact that professions of atheism are invariably met with incredulity has prompted most of Uganda’s freethinkers to keep their skepticism in the closet. But James Onen, a former Pentecostal Christian who once spoke in tongues, is not among them.
Onen, 35, had abandoned his once fervent Christian beliefs by the age of 20, after reading the Bible cover to cover and noting what he said were its logical inconsistencies. Hoping to promote reason and logic, the organization initially focused on the widespread belief — even among Uganda’s Christians — in witchcraft, but it has since taken aim at religion too. Pentecostal Christianity is a particular concern, Onen says, because it promotes the belief that “we are living in a time of spiritual warfare involving evil spirits,” which he says has reinforced the practice of witchcraft.