Like most Latinos, I grew up in the Catholic Church; and like most Latinos who grew up in the Catholic Church, I stopped attending mass as soon as my family made not attending a tolerable alternative. But, unlike most Latino Catholics, the more I learned about the world around me, the more I began to realize that the existence of a supreme being, however quaint, was probably unlikely.
The disappearance of a god who was never there sparked a crisis of morality within me. Previously, my notions of ethical and moral behavior had been solidly founded on Biblical teaching and parables. The question what would God have me do? acted as a litmus test. But beginning at age nine, a creeping doubt began to mutilate the edges of my faith, until the logical improbability of God had torn my belief away entirely. Still, I eventually found a far more ample substitute for religious morality in the study of political history and philosophy.
Now I’m a secular humanist, or what most Latinos would term an atheist – and what some others might label an agent of Satan. Calling me an atheist, however, misrepresents how people, like me, live our lives. The secular humanist doesn’t define themselves on the nonexistence of one deity or another, because such individuals don’t concern themselves with discerning something scientifically improbable and, at the very least, virtually unknowable. How secular humanists come to define their moral principles varies from person to person, but generally speaking, secularists attempt to understand human nature in order to design the best human being imaginable and emulate that person. Secularists believe that knowledge of philosophy, politics and history provides fertile soil for the cultivation of moral principles.
While secularism seems to be gaining as much traction in the Latino community as it is in society at large, secularism and atheism are still much more taboo among Latinos than they are among other groups. It’s likely due to our uniquely faith-laced culture; the Virgen de Guadelupe, for instance, is as much a cultural figure for most Mexicans as she is a religious one (We Hondurans have the Virgen de Suyapa). Faith in God and his son Jesus Christ is a part of our ethnic identity, and in that way, Latinos are not unlike Irish Catholics, who talk of Saint Patrick with as much patriotic fervor as Latinos talk about their national saints. And, perhaps as with Irish Catholics, a Latino’s religiosity and allegiance to certain icons and tenets are standardized as the true metrics of cultural purity.
It’s only mid-November, but already the war between the superstitious and the nonstitious is in full swing. Yet, in the spirit of Christmas, and on behalf of all Latino secularists, I offer a truce: if you promise to accept us as Latinos this Christmas, we promise not to say anything about the ridiculousness of a virgin birth, Jesus being born in the spring and Christmas being based on an earlier, pagan holiday. Deal?