FFRF awarded Ana-Margarita $200 for her essay.
I come from a Third World country in the Western world, which means we look up to the United States of America. We dream about being you when we grow up. In my country, Colombia, we are celebrating our new Constitution’s 20th anniversary.
It was huge for us that just 20 years ago the state and the Catholic Church split up, at least on paper. The young people achieved it. They organized themselves to promote the new order and they made it. They won that battle against the traditional power, at least on paper. The truth is that paper can deal with anything, but real changes have to take place inside us, inside the people.
We should see these acts of words and declaration as a divorce. Sometimes, a divorce is just a piece of paper because the spouses still love each other. That is what happens in our countries: We have a paper that says the state has separated from religion, but the people are still very religious. Most of the time, they even use their creeds to get votes.
In the last election in Colombia, there was a presidential candidate who was an agnostic, which his opponents and the churches repeatedly used against him. Everyone has the right to their faith, even a president, but they should keep their faith as part of their private life. I respect symbols and rituals, but I also think that the person who is a symbol of a secular state should wear their crucifix or Star of David under their clothes.
On the 20th anniversary of the Colombian Constitution, all the speeches thanked the Catholic god for all the progress in implementing the Great Law, even when this Great Law says we are a secular state now. It has been two decades, and still in all the government buildings there is a Catholic symbol to welcome you. I admit they are sometimes beautiful pieces of art, and as such we should admire and enjoy them. But most of the time, they are just reminders of what we are no longer, or at least of what we are not supposed to be.
A law was passed in 2006 which allows women to have an abortion in three instances: rape, to save the mother’s life or if the fetus has a serious malformation. A city mayor tried to open a clinic to help women in these situations. But the Catholic Church has stopped the clinic from operating for two years.
I think we all should write a Personal Constitution to guide our lives. I am a good citizen. I pay taxes, I respect the law, I vote, and I help my community. I do not believe in heaven or hell. I do not believe someone “up there” is watching my every move. I am a good person not because I fear punishment, but because I have natural compassion.
Compassion is what differentiates us from other species. We act justly because we believe this is the only way to live in society. We accept the law under which we live, not because we like it, but because we know we have to organize ourselves in order to get more harmony in our day-to-day lives.
In any scenario, you can separate your values from your beliefs. I urge public figures to proclaim freethought and show the values in which we live and how we live them. That way, we can prove that you do not have to believe to behave, and that you do not have to show your personal faith to be clear about who you are and be respected.
Ana-Margarita López-Ospina, 36, a native of Medellín, Colombia, is in her first year of graduate school at New York University, where she’s pursuing a degree in creative writing in Spanish with a focus on fiction writing. She has previously earned degrees in international business and literary hermeneutics.