It’s tough being a Latino atheist. What with religion, especially Catholicism and superstition, being such an intrinsic component of Latino culture, turning your back on the Almighty and lucky trinkets is tantamount to abandoning the community altogether.
And Latinos are a highly superstitious group. We believe in virgens and Jesus on the Cross and God in heaven and La Llorona and La Lechuza and El Chupacabra. We tell stories of ghosts and guardian angels and devils and, most recently, gnomes. We pray to crucifixes and images of saints and streaks on a window that look like the Virgin Mary. You get the picture.
As a Latino atheist, I especially reel in mild embarrassment every November 2nd, a day celebrated as Día de los Muertos, “Day of the Dead.” In much of Mesoamerica, relatives of the deceased decorate graves and altars with flowers, favorite foods and drinks, and personal items, all in an attempt to attract the souls of dead relatives and comfort them.
The holiday and its features are nearly 3,000 years old, originating with the pre-Colombian peoples who kept the skulls and bones of ancestors and paraded with them after the harvest. That we still celebrate a holiday and maintain the myths of Stone Age societies should make every Latino blush a bit on November 2.
Nonetheless, the autumn months have always symbolized death in cultures around the world. In fact, much of Día de los Muertos mirrors the ancient Celtic observances from which modern-day Halloween derives.
Yet, even though I’m an atheist, I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely love Halloween. It might be my favorite holiday of the year, simply because I enjoy the fall and Halloween inaugurates the holiday season. Of course, I don’t believe that Halloween marks a special night when the spirits of the dead are allowed to walk the earth, which is the basis for the holiday. And I’d venture to say that most Americans don’t believe in that stuff either — though I may be wrong on that, unfortunately.
So I see no wrong in Latinos celebrating Día de los Muertos in the same way most Americans celebrate Halloween, as a day in which we dress up as something scary (or sexy) and generally have a good time. But I utterly reject any notion that Día de los Muertos is a day when the living can commune with dead relatives.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when someone feels the need to put this out there, but there is no evidence for spirits or an afterlife, and there is nothing to suggest that there might be a soul or a heaven. None.
Sure, it’s comforting to think that this isn’t it all there is, that we’re not on this earth for a few short decades and then, finito, it’s all over. It would be great if we could talk to loved ones whom we’ve lost and continue doing things that make them happy. But, of course, we simply can’t believe any of those things — well, we can, but we shouldn’t.
Faith in something that there’s no evidence for is dangerous, because once you’re able to believe something imaginary, you’ve readied yourself to believe anything.
If one thing’s true about we humans, it’s that we’re born with the ability to think critically — after all, we are Homo sapien, quite literally, “thinking man.” And with all the troubles facing Latinos today, as a community and as human beings in general, we’ll need to utilize all the brain power we can muster.
Hopefully, 100 years from now, Día de los Muertos will be celebrated just as Halloween is today — I can already see the sexy skeleton costumes Latinas will wear.
Till then, don’t expect any text messages from beyond the grave — and it’s not because heaven has terrible cell service.