To err is human, to blame divinity too

Religion has always been in trouble: belief in the existence of a Supreme Being on the basis, not of any tangible evidence, but on faith alone, was never going to be universally accepted.

Such a bald statement, by the way, is bound to be treated with the utmost contempt by fanatical believers.

They will insist this is sacrilege. This attitude explains why most religions have a strong undercurrent of intolerance, largely responsible for all the carnage in the world caused by religious differences.

But today, when atheists start praying, then it is safe to conclude that religion is in real, big trouble.

Religious people pray to their gods.

I heard last week of a Jew who said he had become an atheist, but prayed for everything - guidance, wisdom, good health, good life, eternal happiness, doing the right thing.

He didn't pray to any particular god, but just prayed for the whole gamut of humankind's definition of the perfect life.

In most cultures, this is exclusively the preserve of the gods or, in our case, the ancestral spirits.

They can do no wrong, for they have reached the equivalent of the Buddhist state of nirvana - defined as the beatitude attained by the "extinction of individuality and desires".

It's as difficult for a Jew as for a Christian to convert to atheism.

Yet this is a phenomenon now accepted as typical of the scepticism stalking the world as people confront, with horror, the human carnage unleashed by humankind on humankind by such wars as the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last year, I read that a book on atheism had made the venerated bestseller list of The New York Times.

More Americans than before, it would seem, are turning to atheism, largely, it is said, because of George Bush's invasion of Iraq and the method with which he accomplished the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein.

In brief, most of them don't believe this man was guided by Christianity or God.

It's quite likely a few ascribe his actions to Lucifer who, by the way, could be the figment of our fevered religious imagination.

I say "our" because, in spite if everything done to me by white people, who brought religion to these shores - according to the cynics with the Bible in one hand, and a gun in the other - I still believe in God. But I am not obsessive about it.

Also, I don't vilify men and women of the cloth who stray from the straight and narrow path of their calling.

In Zimbabwe, a Catholic such as myself, who routinely heaps verbal abuse on his own clergy, is President Robert Mugabe. Only last week he publicly called them fornicators, of abusing their vow of celibacy.

He has also publicly accused some white editors of independent newspapers of being homosexuals - and of using black reporters he said are their lovers to attack his government.

Mugabe is probably the most rabid homophobic president on the continent.

But when he campaigns for the people to hate the Catholic clergy, his aim can only be viewed as thoroughly "unchristian".

If his church still does not come to the defence of its vilified apostles, many Catholics might indeed turn to atheism. Or they could contemplate the terror of a "jihad" against the government.

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe. His column appears every Friday.