As a Hispanic atheist I think a lot about how to normalize skepticism among Hispanics. This blog post is just going to be me attempting to organize my thoughts on this subject. As an obvious disclaimer: this is all from my own experience. Keep that in mind because even though I was raised in Central, South, and North America, my experiences and opinions are limited.
Hispanic And Latin-American People Are Probably More Pragmatic And Rational Than You Think:
In my experience Hispanics and Latin-Americans are more pragmatic than we are often depicted as being by English-speaking media. As an example of this from my childhood and the childhoods of some of my friends is that we were raised to be weary of overly religious people. Being religious in Latin-America in my experience was a bit challenging because there was a such thing as “too religious”. The way I thought of it was that if you went on mission trips you were generally “too religious”, or if you were part of a Mormon church or other “extremely” religious group that was being “too religious”. I actually experienced this myself because for a portion of my life I didn’t believe evolution happened (I attended a private Christian school which made me believe evolution was not something that had occurred as a student in 6th and 7th grade) and during this portion of my life I moved to Honduras. In Honduras I revealed this to a Honduran friend who consequently made fun of me and said that I was overly religious (I had informed him that it was because of my religious beliefs that I didn’t believe in evolution) and that I didn’t understand evolution. He was right. The school I had attended taught me an inaccurate version of evolution that would later take years for me to unlearn.
I think this is a really important point to make. If you are a Catholic or a non-denominational Christian who is Latin-American I would bet that you’ve heard people warn you not to be overly religious. Latin-American communities that are not run by “overly religious” people don’t value “overly religious” people. I was the most religious person in my home growing up. My background as a student in a Christian school made me value my Christianity over all else and it made me adore my faith. To the point that my opinions were not unlike that of Young Earth Creationists on certain topics. My parents were at times frustrated by my religious views because my religious views differed from their moderate Catholic views. I was the “overly religious” person in my own home.
It’s important that we understand that at least some Hispanics and Latin-Americans who are believers are more pragmatic and rational than we might think. This is a vital first step towards overcoming both our own internal biases about Hispanics and Latin-Americans and towards learning a key method through which we can begin to create conversations about skepticism among Hispanic and Latin-American families.
The Importance Of Publicity:
Many Hispanic parents do not know what they’d do if any of their children came out as atheists. And more importantly many Hispanic atheists parents have never seen atheists in a positive light. They don’t have awareness of atheists helping the homeless, foundation beyond belief, and humanists without borders. They are in many cases neutral towards atheists or have a bit of hostility towards nonbelievers which has been culturally seeped into them by religion. Just because some people are more pragmatic than we are led to believe doesn’t mean that they are neutral towards non-believers. We need to understand that for as long as we don’t spread messages that normalize disbelief and atheism people who believe probably won’t do it for us. This sounds simple but it’s forgotten really easily. If we are surrounded by or are related to people who don’t understand atheism or don’t have a positive image of it and we want to normalize it (and if you are like me you probably do) we have to spend time and energy advertising positive works done by skeptics and nonbelievers.
We need to be old-fashioned in our approach to normalizing skepticism and disbelief among Hispanics. We need to participate in the efforts of the groups that I mentioned. We need to broadcast those efforts and grant them publicity by using our own platforms to spread the messages of these groups. Many of my friends who are believers see positive examples of skepticism and disbelief because of my efforts to share work done by these groups. I spend time talking about and writing about skepticism in a positive light and because of that there are Hispanic and non-Hispanic believers who have a more positive opinion of skepticism because of my work. This is a basic idea but it’s not one that’s talked about enough when it comes to reaching out to people who are not traditionally considered skeptics or potential skeptics.
Good Old Fashioned Hard Work:
One of my objectives as a Hispanic secular activist is to normalize skepticism among Hispanic families. I plan to do this by creating opportunities to talk with Hispanic believers for the purpose of educating them about skepticism and atheism from the perspective of an atheist, and by conversing with skeptics who aren’t Hispanic but want to learn about Hispanic skeptics.
Another aspect of good old fashioned hard work comes from an understanding that some Hispanic believers believe in part because of a prudential understanding of theology. Many churches provide objective benefits for their congregations and communities and I know of more than a few believers who attend church in part because of those benefits. Until secular nonprofits provide the same amount of benefits as churches do and have the same number of people benefiting from them I doubt churches will begin to disappear but by working hard to help out secular nonprofits we can begin to normalize disbelief and nonbelievers doing good work in the eyes of believers. That will eventually go a long way towards normalizing disbelief and demonstrating that nonbelievers are just as moral as believers. Which will help believers who are parents to atheists accept the skepticism of their children and not treat them in a dehumanizing way.
Evaluating Hispanic Secular Leaders And Activists:
One of the most important things that can be done immediately is to evaluate Hispanic and Latin-American secular leaders and activists within the secular community. This can be done by working with existing prominent secular leaders who are Hispanic (examples that come to mind are David Tamayo and Eva Quinones of HAFree and Humanistas Seculares De Puerto Rico), and by pushing other Hispanic secular voices to the forefront (some examples of this that come to mind are people like Alex of Atheist Jesus, Alyssa of Alyssa and Ania ‘Spain You A Thing, a few of the administrators of Godless, and of course myself).
If the secular community within the United States ever wants to seriously make a concentrated effort to normalize skepticism among Hispanic families a critical step they’ll need to take is to acknowledge the Hispanic skeptics that already exist and to listen to us. I suspect that this will happen soon, probably in the next few years. More than a few of us feel frustrated with our overall lack of acknowledgement from the greater secular community, including myself. But the existence of blogs like Alyssa and Ania ‘Spain You A Thing, De Avanzada, The Latinone, and more feel me with determination. I know that things are changing and that sooner or later we’ll receive more acknowledgement than we’ve gotten so far. That being said it’s important that non-Hispanic skeptics realize that some of us are actively angry that we don’t get acknowledged. In my case when I see a conference about skepticism that doesn’t invite skeptics of color I get genuinely annoyed. I get annoyed when skeptical conferences that invite skeptics from all over the country don’t invite Hispanic skeptics but I get openly angry at conferences that do not invite any skeptics of color. I’ll be getting specific about this tomorrow so if you want to hear talk about that don’t worry you will soon.
The easiest way to evaluate a Hispanic secular activist or leader is to loan them a platform of yours and allow them to share their opinions. A really easy place to do this is in conferences. It’s also a natural way to do it. So the fact that it doesn’t happen more often is something that frustrates me. But you’ll hear me talk about this at length tomorrow. So I hope that’s exciting.
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