Freethought alive and well in Central America by Dan Barker

By Dan Barker

Central America has been battered by religion for centuries. Today, the evangelical invasion is challenging the Catholic Church in numbers and power. Even though Honduras and Guatemala are officially secular, their governments are entangled with religion.

But there is hope!

On Nov. 8, I flew to Tegucigalpa to participate in a number of events at the invitation of a vibrant new group of freethinkers, Librepensamiento Honduras (Honduras Freethought). As soon as I got off the plane, I was taken to the national Radio Globo for a lengthy live interview about atheism and secularism, and to promote our public events the next day. I was then interviewed by the famous Johnny Lagos, editor and publisher of El Libertador. Because of his work to expose corruption in government, Lagos was a target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

The next day, I appeared on two popular national morning television shows, for more than 30 minutes each, and recorded another national TV show on the right-wing SITV (which has been compared to Fox News), hosted by the famous “Chano,” which aired later in the week. They were all interested in my preacher-to-atheist story, and in the fact that there are active nonbelievers in the country.

I also spoke to a group of about 100 enthusiastic atheists, humanists and feminists at the Hotel Excelsior, and later to a similar-sized group, accompanied by a local comedy troupe.

On Nov. 10, before sightseeing in mountain towns outside of Tegucigalpa, I was invited to debate Carlos Portillo, a Christian pastor who is the former minister of religion for the Honduran government, on national CHTV, hosted by the well-known Armando Villanueva. That show (see lasted about 90 minutes. I pointed out that the biblical God is bloodthirsty and then asked, “Is genocide good?” Portillo responded that genocide is parcialmente bueno — partially good.

I was extremely impressed with the efforts, connections and successes of the young professional freethinkers working for a secular government in Honduras.

The following day, I flew to Guatemala City to participate in a conference put on by the Guatemalan Humanists. The event took place in a chapel in a former Jesuit seminary that has been converted by the Spanish government into a cultural arts center in the city of Antigua, the former colonial capital. Political scientist Carlos Mendoza and psychologist Natalia Marsicovetere joined me as we discussed “The politics of religion.” (See the event at

The churches wield enormous power in Central America. They can marshal the vote, and the government knows it. When Portillo asked me on the air why the church, which is trusted by the people, should not try to clean up political corruption, I responded that you can’t cure one corruption with another corruption. The best hope for the world is a completely secular government.

Freedom From Religion Foundation