Juhem Navarro-Rivera is a political scientist, Secularism Scholar, blogger and author of the 2010 U.S. Latino Religious Identification survey:
What is your current identification (atheist, agnostic, etc.)?
Definitively an atheist since I do not believe in the existence of deities. As for labeling, I prefer the term “None” for a couple of reasons. First, sociologically it denotes kinship with the larger nonreligious community. Second, because atheism is not a religion if I were ever asked to answer a religion identification survey None would be the correct term.
What is your cultural/religious background (i.e. were you raised in a religious household) and when did you make the shift to your current belief system?
As a child growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1980s and 1990s I had contact with many religious denominations, all of them Christian (or fellow-travelers). My parents sent me to religious schools: an evangelical elementary school and Catholic middle and high schools. I was exposed to religion in other ways: Protestant neighbors who invited me to their churches, friends and family who became “born-again” Christians. In practice I guess I was a Catholic: I was baptized and had my first communion and confirmation ceremonies.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment in which I became an atheist, this happened gradually. My atheism isn’t the result of philosophy or science, I was never good at any of them, but I have always been suspicious of power. Priests, nuns, preachers make up their authority out of thin air. Being introduced to different types of Christians with different interpretations of what god and Jesus said and did was a great experience. These religious “leaders” convinced me that religion is just an institution dedicated to overpowering people: their wills and desires, their actions and thoughts. With their actions they showed that religion is also a very human institution.
How have atheism, freethought and/or secular humanism shaped your world view?
Secularism has shaped how I view politics and power. Religion is an excellent example of how easily corruptible human institutions are. Part of my research as a political scientist is the link between constituents and representatives and how they influence each other, but more importantly, how constituents can keep politicians in check. In a secular republic we can ask for accountability from our representatives. In a theocracy, you’re basically questioning the will of god. Needless to say, I love secular republics.
As an atheist/freethinker what are some of the main issues you’re concerned with?
As I said, the main issue I’m concerned with is holding people in power accountable. I’ve been following some of the work that the Freedom from Religion Foundation or Americans United or American Atheists do regarding the rights of nonbelievers and religious freedom. I’m also interested in making the secular vote not just a collection of people who vote alike, but an actual political movement and I’m playing with some of the Secular Coalition for America’s data from their Congressional Scorecards and posting in my blog how unsecular our representatives are and why.
How can atheism, freethought and/or secular humanism be promoted to appeal to larger numbers of Latinos?
I have always suspected that Latinos are more secular that we’re given credit for. In 2010 I coauthored U.S. Latino Religious Identification 1990-2008, a research report based on the 2008 ARIS. One of the main findings was that Latinos are an important part of the American secular boom. Religion as a cultural value is still very strong and I have met several atheist Latinos who are afraid to say so out of fear of being ostracized. The best way to bring more Latinos, at least in the short term, is to have people and groups like Latino Atheists (Chicago) and the Hispanic Americans Freethinkers (DC Metro) who are open about their atheism and can show that you can have a Latino/Hispanic identity without the need of being a believer in deities. Several people have contacted me after reading my blog, The LatiNone, because that’s how they found out there are more Latinos like them, those of us out of the closet need to be forward about it. In sum, it is the responsibility of those of us who are out to show those who aren’t that being secular and Latino is not antithetical.
What has your experience been with family and other Latino or people of color community members?
I don’t think I’ve felt much rejection. I’ve always been open, if not of my atheism (I didn’t “come out” until my early 20s) about my disdain for religious authority and religion. So coming out atheist was never much of a surprise and people whom I’ve met afterwards have to deal with it. It certainly doesn’t hurt living in a college town in one of the most secular regions in the nation.
What are some culturally specific reasons Latinas should question and/or forgo organized religion?
The main reason why Latinos should question/forgo organized religion is historical. Catholicism, and religion in general, was imposed on us. First by the Spanish conquistadores and then by American Protestant missionaries out to convert Catholic heathens. If religion is a cultural trait, as many argue, it is certainly not an organic one. Also in Latin America, Catholicism (and evangelicals in Central America) have aligned themselves with powerful oppressive interests. While it is true that some courageous priests, nuns and preachers stood up to the powers that be, they did so in opposition of their leaders. Finally, deep religiosity hasn’t improved the lives of the millions of poor people living in oppression in Latin America and the millions of Latinos treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. It’s time to give up the prayer and start acting. While many people do pray and act, they could try and skip the prayer and realize the results are similar.
Watch Juhem’s video The Secularization of U.S. Latinos