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Why I Am an Atheist – Fábio Jardim

I’m an atheist because I want to live my life honestly, not only in deed but in thought.

I used to be an enthusiastic catholic boy. The notion of an ordered universe, with a clear cause and effect for both good and bad things, was immensely appealing. Ironically, it was catholic school that stomped that belief out of me. First in showing how the actually engaging, intelligent teachers got frustrated and stonewalled by the older, conservative dogmatists, and eventually how even the best of them could only offer non-answers or cruel ignorance when confronted with any meaningful question. Children actually have a good bullshit detector, and mine was always reading off the scale, all the time.

My father actually helped, and not by accident. Like me, he was a catholic school student growing up; since they get colossal tax breaks, they actually offered decent education, comparable to the expensive private schools, for a very affordable price. So when my dad was confronted with the choice of putting me in a lousy school or try to give me a better shot even if it came with religious strings attached…he decided that since he survived it without too many scars, so could I.

He was right, but not for the reasons he thought. My father came out of catholic school a faint deist, perhaps, with a somewhat comical distrust of clergy. He doesn’t think much about it. I found the library and became an early history buff. I learned about Phoenicians and ancient greek and romans, and all the gods they believed in, with as much fervor as any christian or muslim of our times, and about as much proof. Even the funny gauls in the Asterix comics had a roster of deities as believable as the Christ being used to officiate marriages, fight sin and give us our morals.

Becoming a teenager, I kept waiting for the excuses and dogma to make sense, as if it was my failure to trust them that caused any confusion. But it only got worse. Seeing priests and religious people passing both judgment and comfort in the name of something so tenuous felt increasingly uncomfortable, then repulsive. It’s odd how you don’t really feel how omnipresent religious presence (and pressure)in society is until you start to doubt, and it was a disquieting time, to say the least.

It wasn’t until I leafed through Carl Sagan’s A Demon-Haunted World in high school that I finally saw I wasn’t alone. Ironically, I heard about it from a friend who had thoroughly misread the book and thought it was a vindication for superstition and pseudo-science (“He says there are demons in the world! And he tells of how he could remotely see the war in Europe from the USA as a kid!”). It wasn’t an overt defense of atheism, and that made it even better. It showed me that there were other people in the world saying “They don’t really know. All the mystics and priests and holy books do not have the automatic claim to truth and respect they try to claim”, and it was educated, respectable people saying so.

And so I stopped even pretending to believe. If I do anything praiseworthy or noble to and for others, I want it to be due to my empathy and commitment, not to earn points with some vague, unearthly being, nor to advertise my piety to my religious tribe or convert others. And if I ever do anyone harm, the responsibility is also mine. There doesn’t need to be anything more attached to that premise. It works fine without theistic add-ons and glitter.

Brazil used to be overwhelming Catholic, but now evangelical Protestantism is putting a large dent into that and in turn making the Catholic church more obstinate in its pursuits. It’s not a good shift for the non-religious here. Popular television anchors say on the air here that all the criminals in prison are atheists and only get more fame out of the deal. I’d never say atheists and agnostics here have it worse than anywhere else; not even close. But it’s still seen as synonymous with evil and immorality, and it’s going to stay that way for a good bit yet. I’ve lost girlfriends when I told them of my lack of faith. But I don’t believe in hiding it. There’s a lot of comfort and not a small amount of pride in knowing that whatever friends, ideas and respect you have, you came by it being honest to yourself.

Fábio Jardim
Brazil

Comments

  1. rodriguez says

    Popular television anchors say on the air here that all the criminals in prison are atheists and only get more fame out of the deal. This is depressingly familiar to me from US television and government officials too. Fábio did you ever think about Candomble when you were thinking about this stuff?

  2. saguhh00 says

    I’m from Brazil as well and the growing influence of the pentecostal churches gives me shivers sometimes. Now almost every video on youtube in portuguese about evolution or the big bang has religious zealots complaining about them. The slander and hatred of these churches, specially that of Silas Malafaia, makes me afraid there will be a wave of satanist paranoia in Brazil very soon, just like there was one in the US during the eighties, as Carl Sagan described in The Demon-Haunted World. The creationists are already moving in to try to stop evolution from being taught. Our government is really too cowardly to fight the new wave of jesus freaks.
    Yesterday I saw a video called Todo Ateu é Filho do Diabo (All Atheists are the Devil’s children) on the sidebar of a video by Doctor Drauzio Varella.
    It is starting to bother me more than ever before.

    People need to learn this:

    Satan = boogeyman for adults.
    God = Santa for adults.

  3. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    “I’ve lost girlfriends when I told them of my lack of faith. ”

    Imagine how much worse it is for female atheists in a highly religious (and sexist) culture.

    Are there dating websites for Brazilian atheists, or even Brazilian dating sites that permit users to select “atheist” as a self-descriptor? The Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos might know of some.

  4. rodriguez says

    I think I heard somewhere some rumor where some people in Brazil got freaked by the usb symbol that faces up, because it looks like the devil’s trident or horns or something. Did that really happen?

  5. says

    Fábio, it sounds like a tough row to hoe. I hope that atheists there are making their own videos in rebuttal–one can use Extranormal to provide the figures and type in the words–if there’s a Brazillian Portuguese version. Otherwise, perhaps slide shows? And blogging and letters to the editor. Good luck! I admire your courage in speaking out in a theistic society.

  6. thewhollynone says

    Fabio, you have great reasons for doing good and for not doing harm! I’m going to steal that paragraph and write it in my Diary of Humanist Thoughts. Happy New Year, friend!

  7. otrame says

    Satan = boogeyman for adults.
    God = Santa for adults.

    Succinct. I like it.

    _____

    Fabio, there are probably quite a few atheists in your community. For every one who is in a position to say out loud “Actually, I don’t believe that. I am an atheist,” the more accepted our lack of faith will become. For some, I know, it is not an option, for a number of reasons, up to and including possible violence, but for those of us who can, I believe, as you do, in being honest with everyone when the subject comes up.

    And I really like your phrase “I want to live my life honestly”.

  8. andyo says

    It’s nice to hear from people in South America. I do find it troubling that if/when the catholics lose power, evangelicals fill the niche.

  9. says

    Great post, Fábio. Like you, I’m also a brazilian outspoken atheist. Unlike you, I had the privilege to be exempted from any religious upbringing. Thus, I do not truly know what it is like to have to fight your way out of religion, except when some catholic friends and relatives tried to coerce me (unsuccessfully) into baptizing my daughter – no big deal, really. And I must say I am really lucky that in my 50-year life I never had any problem whatsoever with my atheism concerning love, family, friendship or work. Anyway, I believe the greatest problem with our country is the lack of education, which lays a fertile base for fundamentalism to grow. Brazil may be among the top economies of the world but in education we are one of the worst ranking countries. Things could be much worse here if not for our “laissez-faire” spirit, but that might be changing.
    Your post has inspired me to submit my own “why I am an atheist” text. Thank you!

  10. potira says

    Thanks for sharing, Fábio.

    I would like to highlight the nefarious consequences of fundagelical overtaking for non-religious people. Brazil has sported a stable majority of over 90% of self-declared catholics for long. A large chunk of that majority comprised “non-practicing” catholics, i.e. pretty much secularish cultural-catholics, which tended to be more permissive towards non-religious people.

    Recently, fundamentalist evangelical churchs have been pushing people – not only their followers, but also previously “non-practicing” catholics – towards greater religious commitment. Us-and-them logic has been kicking back in, rendering non-religious brazilians in that rough spot of incarnated evil.

    Brazilian census is held every tenth year. Despite being the second largest of nine major categories, “Non-religious” is the only one not yet subcategorized – being 1 of 142 total possible answers. Atheists, agnostic and who-knows-what-else are lumped in, making it impossible to determine trends within this group.

    Interesting enough, first-ever female Brazilian president Dilma Roussef – a former political prisioner and socialist militant, who has been attacked during the presidential campaign for being supposedly atheist (using this pic, for instance, as evidence) and pro-choice – has made pacts with the devil religious leaderships in Congress and Senate to gather political support and has since consistently dropped the ball on civil liberties issues. Certainly a disappointment to those who – like me – thought this was a chance for advancements in taboo issues.

  11. saberworksaberwork says

    If you have read previous Pharyngula posts, then you might consider superficial religiosity to be a punishment doled out in prison. Since it increases recidivism. If true, it would be an awesome mechanism, as you may read about the absolute lack of secular remorse from those on death row in Texas.

    Fábio’s testimony has a whiff of the Fortean/Possibiliaran to it. But so does Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World. What I’ve heard with respect to being in such abysses of data, is that extrapolation is not reasonable.

    Twitter: { sabertaylor1 }

  12. says

    @potira:
    Well said. I must point out that Dilma Rousseff is not our first supposedly atheist president (that title probably belongs to Fernando Henrique Cardoso) nor the first one to compromise with religious leaders for the sake of governability. Unfortunately, it is the only way to do politics here, so no surprises. Any changes must come from the bottom up, so it’s a long road ahead.

  13. says

    Thanks for the kind input. To address some questions:
    @rodrigues: Actually I did, but I felt the piece was too long as it was. Candomble, santeria and macumba (afro-brazilian religions) are -loathed- by the local evangelicals. I attended a couple of services (the local hipsters like the ‘spiritual’ feel of them, and while they can be interesting, with lots of oral storytelling and dancing, it’s…also underwhelming. I find it amusing how people here can have three religions at the same time (parcticing catholic, but reading up on budhism and also attending a candomble grove now and then).

    @darcy: Thanks a bunch. Look forward to reading your experiences. And yup, I actually worry that if out current economic boom isn’t accompanied by an upswing in education and critical thinking, we may soon be giving the Bible Belt a run for its money in the “embarrassing fundamentalism” department.

    @Markita: To be fair, there was a sizable backlash against the most proeminent of such TV hosts, Jose Datena. Mostly from rival media that would welcome any reason to toss in a few hits at a competitor. Not sure if he was helped or hurt by the incident yet, but he is doubling down on every instance when called on it.

    @otrame: Funny story actually: One of my bosses at a big financial newspaper was a stealth atheist. He would thank the Virgin Mary up and down in public speeches, meetings and whatnot, and then in secret tell me how he thought it was pathetic and he was utterly without religion, but he had a social ladder to climb. He was quite a dirtbag, and a good reminder that we faithless can be jerks just as easily as anyone.