Sunday, 28 October 2012

To Believe or Not to Believe

Whether you are a believer, non-believer, spiritualist, or just confused about your own existence, you have entered strange and unfamiliar territory by clicking on this blog. To have a blog that represents a group dedicated to religious scepticism in a Caribbean context is out of the ordinary. A small number of us have personal blogs that do this, but the uniqueness in this venture is that it is the concerted effort of persons from across the Caribbean with a relatively substantial amount of support. It is the experience of non-believers everywhere to feel isolated and alone in their position and we are always happily surprised when we are able to say truthfully, “ahh! You too?” make a new friend, and as you can see, form societies.
I woke up one morning in October of 2011 to the realisation that I no longer believed what I had believed all my life. Jesus Christ was no longer Lord and his Father was not worthy of glory. The journey began with me having a religious experience when I was 15 years old that set me on a deeply religious path, progressed to me being a preacher and potential Catholic priest, to eventually losing faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity, the divinity of the Catholic Church and seeing no good reason to believe in gods. We’ve trained ourselves to interpret our lives as narratives. This, along with the fact that I have developed a love for literature, led me to write a blog series that went into detail about my journey In and Out of God.
It was some time before I adjusted my life to this realisation. I continued to go to Mass on Sundays, pray the rosary, and give retreats. All while I was the editor of the Vision¸ the youth supplement in the Catholic News in Trinidad and Tobago and working as the Social Media coordinator of their communications arm. For some 5 months I kept up the fa├žade of faith and no one - save my mother - noticed any changes in me. It was she who first asked what was going on with me and, unable to bear the burden of cognitive dissonance any more, I told her and my father everything. Over the weekend the news spread like the bubonic plague and by Monday, almost everyone knew about my first decisive step on the road to hell.
If you are above a certain age, I think it is safe for me to assume you have experienced being misunderstood and misrepresented and some of you on larger scales than others. While I tend to steer clear of generalisations, it is fair to say that sceptics (not necessarily atheists, but anyone willing to be critical of religious belief) experience the same to a greater degree. A study done in the UK to gauge the levels of trust the population gave to certain demographic groups in society revealed that atheists were the least trusted group, less trustworthy than rapists. Another similar study done in the USA to find out which groups in the population were believed to embody the ideals of the American dream the most, atheists, expectedly, came out last.
Now, if these were the results of studies done in places where secularism has had a public face for some time, one can only imagine what we would find if similar studies were done in the Caribbean. The reactions to atheism vary anywhere between the extremes of outright rejection and the less popular alternative of acceptance. Conversations around secularism and scepticism hardly ever occur in the settings necessary for it to have significant influence on the larger population. It is not a topic of discussion nor do we consider it when constructing policies. This needs to change.
The Caribbean is rich with potential in every area of life I can think of. But when I read about archaic laws being summoned to charge homosexual tourists for expressing their love; when I hear political demagogues quote Bible passages to rally a less-than-knowledgeable crowd to their unjust cause; when Haiti is vilified and blame for their economic status and tragic devastation by earth and wind is placed on the “curse” of Voodoo; I get irritated. It is my hope that this blog will “stand in the gap” on behalf of the Caribbean to bring it to the feet of Reason.
          Welcome to the Caribbean Freethinkers’ Society. Enjoy your stay and please do not refrain from entering into dialogue with us as time progresses.

Kwame Weekes, Assistant Editor

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Introducing the Caribbean Freethinkers’ Society

Welcome to the Caribbean Freethinkers’ Society, a new website and community devoted to giving a voice to the many Caribbean skeptics, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and those who may be none of the above but who still think the islands of our archipelago are generally a bit too biased towards the religious. We hope you enjoy your stay. Here, you will find articles, essays, reviews of books and films, creative writing, rants, musings, and more—all connected to the project of examining what it means to be a skeptic in a region so generally inclined to not be skeptical of religious claims.
            The idea to create a space like this, a voice for the too-often-voiceless, was born out of two main things: many of us in the Caribbean who had shed our religious beliefs felt alone and often quite seriously wondered if anyone else in our island (if not the entire archipelago) thought like we did; and those of us who tried to look online to see if any other skeptics in the West Indies existed found that virtually nothing existed online, either. For a while, anyway. If you looked harder, you would find a few blogs written by daring persons from the region, like David Ince and Seon Lewis; and if you were on Facebook, you might discover the thing that united many of the people now writing for this site, a Facebook group simply called “Caribbean Atheists.” The mere idea that such a group might exist at all surprised many of the members there, myself included; and, though the members were from a large number of different islands, including Dominica, Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad, many of us felt, for the first time, a sense of community as skeptics in the Caribbean. We had found other people like us. And, with this newfound sense of not being isolated, some of us who had kept our skepticism secret began to be more vocal.
            But some of us in that group wanted something more. We wanted to create a space online where we could get our message across to a wider audience, a space that would represent our community, a space that would say, We exist, and we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Because the idea of not being religious was so foreign to so many of the people we knew around us, be they government officials or family or friends, we wanted to prove that we exist—and, beyond that, to get our message across to as many people as we could, a message we felt was needed now more than ever. And so the Society was born—with less assistance than impediment from the Holy Spirit.
This site is not a place where anyone’s beliefs will be forced upon anyone else; it is rather a space for discussion, argument, and investigation. Here, you will find people talking about contemporary events, historical events, events in their heads and far beyond the reach of the pale blue dot that is our planet. There will be jokes; there will be scholarly studies. You’ll also find links galore, including links to projects members of the Society are involved with: podcasts (such as the Freethinking Island podcast, one of the first, if not the first, podcast devoted to Caribbean freethought), videos, interviews, and more. In short: good stuff awaits you. And there will be material from guests very often, as well; feel free to submit pieces that you would like to be featured on the site, and, if you’re lucky—I’ll say nothing about praying—you just might find your piece gracing the front page.
This is a diverse group. I’m a writer from Dominica, currently working on getting a PhD in Fiction from Florida State University, and I’ve written a few pieces on skepticism in the Caribbean that you can find linked online. The same is true for many of the other writers on here, whose excellent blogs and articles you can find linked to on here, as well. There are people in the sciences, the arts, in business; there are people who live far from the islands now and those who have rarely left the island in which they were born. Some of us were born overseas and moved to the West Indies; some of us moved out of the West Indies overseas. But, wherever we are at the moment, we are all linked by our common desire to make our views heard, to make our presence better-known in the island.
Welcome, once again, to the Caribbean Freethinkers’ Society. I think you’ll like it here. And, on the off-chance you don’t, make sure you stick around, anyway.

Jonathan Bellot, Editor