Homeless children in Uganda near the proposed atheist orphanage site. Photo: Hank Pellissier
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.
The project began when Pellissier visited Uganda earlier this year and formed a friendship with KHPS director, Bwambale M Robert. Robert, an Ugandan, was orphaned when he was five years old. He worked his way through high school as a barber, and then went on to study Biology in college. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Orphans of Rwenzori - A Humanist Perspective.
"There's a very real need for orphanages in Uganda," Robert wrote me in an email. "We have 3.5 million orphans, 9 percent of the population. Children are parentless due to AIDS, civil war, violence, accidents, and abandonment. Up to 70 percent of orphans become criminals as adults. Among girls, 60 percent end up in prostitution, where the HIV/AIDS rate is 37 percent."
Education, Robert says, is limited. "
Orphans who attend BiZoHa will get a shot at education, and be able to attend the Kasese Humanist Primary School, which Robert founded in 2011. Many graduates of KHPS advance to secondary schools and even universities, like Robert did.
"That's why we need a declared atheist orphanage. We want to teach the kids there about science, secularism, and what it means to be an atheist. We also need to stand up for the values we believe in."
Murphy hits the heart of the issue. In the US, religious iconography is rampant—God is in our money, our politics, and, yes, our schools, even the public ones, where students pledge allegiance to a nation "under God."
"That's why we need a declared atheist orphanage,"
I tend to agree with Pellissier, and I've gently argued before for an open public discussion on how much religious indoctrination should be allowed to be taught to young, developing minds. In a world where religious child soldiers carry AK-47s, Christian kids bully their gay peers, faith inspires infant genital mutilation, and teenage Jihadists become suicide bombers, I believe we must take more care to protect the young of the world and their sponge-like brains.
However, even as the Transhumanist Party's openly atheist 2016 US Presidential candidate, I still believe that if adults wish to pursue fundamental religious ideas, they should have the right to do so—so long as they don't harm others. I also think, even in an atheist orphanage, it's okay to share some religious ideas along side atheist perspectives, so long as there is a overriding emphasis on reason.
"The question of believing in God and religion should be a choice, and not something programmed into us," Murphy said.
Pellissier, who considers himself open to spirituality, says that orphans who are religious will be welcomed into the orphanage. But the education, culture, and emphasis will be on an atheist and secular experience.
Regardless of what kids end up believing when they become adults, the BiZoHa Orphanage will provide its street kids with an unprecedented opportunity. The orphanage's hope and goal—similar to Robert's experience—is that more opportunities will spring up for these orphans as they make their way through life with a sound education and upbringing that focuses on reason.
The atheist orphanage will carry the motto: “With Science, We Can Progress.”