Fifth place: High school essay contest, freethinkers of color by Karina Solano Suarez

Freethought needs more diversity

FFRF awarded Karina $500.

By Karina Solano Suarez

I extended my two small cupped hands and looked up underneath the wrinkles that belonged to an old man’s face. I received a white circle in my hands, and a pinning glance from the bishop. He quizzed me on the saint I had chosen as a part of completing another sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church: my confirmation.

Could he see it in the way I handled the body of Christ that I was a nonbeliever? Moments later, my mother quickly hurried to the building next door and dragged me with her so that I could be photographed in various positions of prayer. The day of my confirmation is easily one of the more frustrating days I have lived as a nonbeliever.

I grew up in a family that taught me to say “Gracias a Dios” (thank you, Lord) after every meal, drove through 10 minutes of traffic to sit through Mass every Sunday and attempted to instill in me the love for the religion that reiterates that inequality is fixed and that a person is either good or bad instead of being on a spectrum.

The Mexican community, for the most part, embraces Catholicism, so disagreeing means, to my community, disagreeing with my culture.

My problem is not that my community portrays me as ungrateful and damned. My problem with Catholicism is in its history, its core beliefs, the gender and social inequality, and the brutality in the introduction of the church in Mexico, to name a few.

Although the rhyming prayers were drilled in my head, the sound of manipulation by the corrupt church officials is louder. I am a nonbeliever because although the faith I grew up in is a man-made social construct, the denomination acts as if questioning it or updating the outdated and irrelevant aspects of the denomination is against God’s will. I believe that this is a scheme and that the church’s initial purpose was to justify inequality and keep people from fighting the system, which seriously needs reforming.

The freethought community lacks member diversity in large part because in many communities, breaking away from the church can be seen as betrayal rather than growth as an independent person. Because of this, I do not feel very comfortable being outspoken at most social events about my refusal to be part of the religion I was brought up in. Due to the religiosity in my community and the continued segregation in some of the neighborhoods in Chicago, I hardly ever get the chance to interact with the freethought community, which is mostly located in white neighborhoods.

In Chicago, neighborhoods of color are thought of as the bad sides of the city. After crossing a bridge, one is in another neighborhood of a different color. I do not reach a white neighborhood until I pass many, many bridges. Although this avoids the conflict of cultural assimilation, it also avoids acculturation of ethnic minorities.

Freethought and nonbelief can become more attractive and widely understood among America’s nonwhite communities if our neighborhoods stop separating each other by color.

Religion, in many ways, is the fundamental result of not questioning authority. Many of my religious friends and family even refuse to acknowledge the historical and contemporary inhumane treatment of people by their denomination. Some even try to justify it! I am all for morals and doing good, but I do not need to believe in God in order to be a good person.

Although I am mestiza (mixed descent), I do not believe in the religion violently introduced by the Spaniards when they colonized the indigenous in the name of the cross.

This makes me, and many others, an outcast with mestizos and an outcast with the predominantly white freethought community. When freethought becomes more widely accepted in communities of color, I — having never been a stranger to being a minority — will finally find my place.

Karina Solano Suarez was born in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, but grew up in the Little Village neighborhood, also referred to as the “Mexico of the Midwest,” in Chicago, where she graduated from Social Justice High School. She will major in international studies and peace, justice and conflict studies at DePaul University, while maintaining her closeness with her dog, Sunday, her love for books she borrows from her high school English teacher, and her love for authentic Mexican elements.

Freedom From Religion Foundation