As more and more Latin-Americans become irreligious Latin-Americans are going to have to ask ourselves difficult questions about what religion means to us and to what degree do we want it in our lives and the lives of our leaders. At least some Puerto-Rican voters are asking themselves these sorts of questions right now.
Alexandra Lugaro is an independent gubernatorial candidate working to become the next leader of Puerto Rico. It became known last night that Alexandra according to her own words is not a believer. Does this matter? Yes, yes it does. The importance of Alexandra’s declaration is about more than this election. It’s about more than any single term. It’s about making an unpleasant (and necessary) conversation easier and more topical. Alexandra’s declaration is ensuring that Puerto-Rican nonbelievers have an opportunity to see what our believing family-members, neighbors, and friends think of us. It’s an opportunity for those of us who are secretly nonbelievers to see if our loved ones who are unaware of our disbelief truly think of nonbelievers and if we can safely tell them that we do not believe. It’s also an opportunity for people like me, who are vocal nonbelievers to see what my family thinks of other nonbelievers.
Each of the statements that I quote for this upcoming section is either an actual statement I’ve seen on Facebook from Puerto-Ricans or a translation of a statement. For every status like “No podemos entregar nuestra isla a una atea” (“we cannot give our island to an atheist”), we know that there are still backwards people who believe that a lack of belief is disqualifying, at least for public office. But for every status like that there are comments like “Algunas de las mejores personas de la historia no creían en Dios, mientra que muchos de los peores actos se han hecho en su nombre” (some of the best people in history didn’t believe in God, meanwhile many of the worst actions ever done were done in his name”) followed by hashtags like #seguimosconlugaro (“we’re still with Lugaro”). Alexandra Lugaro’s declaration matters and it won’t stop mattering once this election is over whatever the end results of this election might be.
As a Puerto-Rican atheist her declaration matters not just because of the fact that she is running for office, but because of how some of us (the “us” in this instance refers to Puerto-Ricans) have responded to her. Her declaration matters because of the treatment she has received. It matters because some voters in Puerto-Rico are going to vote against her because of her irreligion. I refuse to say that many people will do this, but I know that at least a couple of voters will refuse to support her on behalf of her irreligion (because I’ve seen their declarations on social media). Being irreligious is not a disqualifier for public office. Being irreligious shouldn’t be something that your political opponents can use against you to ensure that voters see you in a negative light.
This declaration matters because it indicates the need for Puerto-Rican irreligious groups to focus on how being irreligious isn’t negative and has nothing to do with policy positions. As a Puerto-Rican nonbeliever and blogger I am both saddened and encouraged to see Alexandra’s statements and to see the responses she has gotten so far. My hope is that this conversation about belief and nonbelief doesn’t end once this election is over. My hope is that this opportunity is seized by my fellow Puerto-Rican skeptics who are in positions of media influence to discuss separation of church and state, and to emphasize the importance of a secular state. I want families to take this opportunity to have conversations about religion and irreligion and to determine what they want in a public official. Don’t be afraid to start difficult conversations because who knows when another nonbeliever will run for office in Puerto-Rico. Be brave and see what your family thinks of a nonbeliever in office.
Alexandra As A Politician:
If you are interested in her positions feel free to check out her site. For readers who don’t know her positions and don’t know Spanish I’ll briefly mention a few of her positions.
Alexandra wants to legalize cannabis and its derivatives. She wants to boost the music, art, and cinematography industries in Puerto Rico. She wants to create an educational system which works for everyone by eliminating the administrative bureaucracy, creating a uniform formula for granting schools funding, decentralizing the current system which would assign greater academic control to the local campuses, charging local administrators with greater responsibility over the budget and administration of their schools, developing a system which continues to expect high achievements from students and provides those who are struggling with necessary resources to achieve great things academically, and to identify schools which are not achieving expectations. Once such schools are identified some of the following actions may occur: close down the schools and send them towards better schools, send new staff and administration to the schools to help them improve, or even tasking successful teachers and administrators with assisting less successful teachers and administrators to ensure that all students receive a high quality education.
A powerful statement by Alexandra about the contributions of Puerto-Ricans to the United States and how she feels about the debt crisis.
The purpose of this post isn’t to get people to vote for her. It’s about talking about how her declaration affects us in ways that aren’t going to end when the election does and it’s a chance for me to introduce her to people who might not have known about her prior to this declaration including Puerto-Ricans in the mainland who might not be perpetually aware of Puerto-Rican politics. I’m not asking for my readers to vote for her. I just want English-speaking nonbelievers to see what’s going on in Puerto-Rican social media and for us to talk about this as it relates to skepticism.
P.S.: Get out and vote. If you are voting in the P.R. election, vote for the person you feel best represents your interests. If that is Alexandra Lugaro, get out there and support her. If not you still need to get out and vote because at the end of the day that’s the support for politicians that truly matters. It’s not enough to yell that “your island” can’t be “given” to an atheist. Or to say that you support someone running for political office despite their beliefs (or lack thereof) differing from yours. You’ve got to get out there and vote.
Let me know how you feel about Lugaro, about P.R.’s race, and about the occasionally awkward intersection of politics and religion in the comments section down below!