Kenya, Rants

I Believe in Trees

Something that comes up a lot in Kenya is the fact that I’m not a Christian. They’re mildly shocked until they dig deeper and find out I’m not a Jew, Hindu, or Muslim either. Now, completely flabbergasted, they desperately want to know, “Well then what do you believe in?” Lately I just say, “I believe in trees.” It’s funny, light hearted, and everyone loves trees, right?

Humor’s really the only way to go when debating with religious folk. Even with really awesome, sound arguments, convincing someone who is already convinced otherwise is nearly impossible! It’s not that I haven’t tried… for the record, here are a few tactics which don’t work:

  • Quote nasty verses from scripture
  • List commonly accepted facts that contradict scripture
  • List ridiculous things the founders of particular religions said or did
  • Attempt to appeal to common sense

… so don’t waste your time!

I’m sorry to say that, in general (not just in Kenya), people would rather believe that Adam lived to the absurd age of 930 years, that a monkey flew from India to Sri Lanka and burned it down, that Xenu flew billions of people to Earth in a space ship, that Armageddon has a date that can be predicted, or that a gang of men raping your virgin daughter is better than homosexual sodomy. Ironically, I’ve found that educated Kenyans do frown upon the belief in and practice of witch craft in rural Kenya… go figure!

I’ve come to realize that people are like read-only programmable logic devices—they come into this world ready to accept whatever programming you give them. After that, no amount of evidence to the contrary can convince them otherwise! At least with trees we have a laugh and then I’m on my way… or not.

Hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks.
Hierarchy of biological classification’s eight major taxonomic ranks.

You see, trees are a great segue into another topic of discussion: the tree of life! Basically, things in this world are either alive or they’re not. Furthermore, living things have DNA. Here’s where it gets interesting: all living things (plants, animals, fungi, etc) are made up of different combinations of the same four nucleotide base molecules (Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine). Assuming you’re not something like a rock or a drop of water, you’re made of a big, long string of ATCGTGTCATATAGAC! In turn, those letters make up genes…

After that sneaky, impromptu biology lesson I’m free to say completely ridiculous things like, “You see that tree over there? He’s my long-lost brother.” Now, not only have I lightened the mood again with my hilarious antics, I’ve created a whole new understanding of the phrase “tree hugger.”

When it’s all written out it kinda starts to sound like a some sort of conspiracy, meticulously planned and carefully executed. The truth is that “trees” are just the most simple way to summarize all the things I want to talk about, but don’t have the time or patience to anymore. It’s so easy to be passionate about a universe that is big, beautiful and mysterious, but trying to explain that to someone who just ends up giving God all the credit is really a bummer.

Flying Spaghetti Monster
Flying Spaghetti Monster

In the end, I don’t know how we all got here (or why we’re here), but I think that drawing bits and pieces from history, politics, science, common sense, etc, gives you an understanding of the world that is much greater than anything religion could ever give you (paraphrasing Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot, 1994).

Otherwise, I guess I could always claim I’m a Pastafarian.

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