Editors’ note: Today’s post is authored by Emelyne Museaux. I met Emelyne through an atheist group in Facebook. In my opinion, she is a brilliant young woman and an expressive writer. I was so impressed with her that I asked her to submit a post. Emelyne brings a unique perspective on the issues of faith and culture to my blog, and I hope that you will enjoy reading her piece just as much as I did.
The Faith of My People
When I was a little girl, I was a Catholic. Nearly everyone around me was a Catholic, with the exception of my favorite uncle, Fritz, who had been a Seventh-Day Adventist since he was a child. It never entered my mind that God was not a person, someone just as real as the people around me. I could not see, hear, touch, or directly talk to God, but he was real; everyone said he was and everyone prayed to him and went to church to be close to him. Everyone said God was real, even though, unlike my family, he never seemed to want to visit, so I believed in him. And because my family loved him, I loved him. A lot. As a child, in Haiti, I was a bona-fide Jesus-freak who could recite the Ten Commandments and the rosary on command . I truly believed that Jesus loved me and watched all of my actions. This is actually the reason why I never believed in Santa Clause; he seemed to be a rip-off of Jesus. Besides, we didn’t have a chimney in Haiti or in Miami, Florida, where my family emigrated when I was six years old.
In Haitian culture, belief in a higher power is a given, just as much as race or gender, it just IS. Nearly all Haitians belong to some denomination of Christianity, usually Catholicism, or otherwise practice voodoo (dark magic), sometimes both. But the Haitian that does not believe in the supernatural is an oddity the one who does not believe in God and rejects religion is seen as simultaneously rejecting the Haitian culture and even being ashamed of their nationality. A Haitian atheist is viewed by other Haitians as denying their heritage, their family, and turning their back on God. The idea that I do not believe is lost on nearly all of my relatives. They take my atheism to simply mean that I do believe in God, I just choose to no longer worship, like a rebellious child. More so than most groups of theists, Haitian Christians fail the most in grasping why I do not believe in something written in an ancient, much revised and re-edited book. Once upon a time, neither could I.
As I said, there was a time when I believed thoroughly. Some things bothered me about Catholicism, like women not being able to join the priesthood, but I thought that my God was completely loving and peaceful and that all the world’s ills were a direct result of not obeying him and the sin unleashed by the Devil. I carried this belief with very few doubts for the first 22 years of my life with no problem and no doubt that religion was necessary for the good of humanity.
Growing up in the United States, I’d managed to interact and make friends with people of various cultures and beliefs and a few of those friends were not only non Christian, but also nonbelievers. The first atheist I ever met was a boy in my AP English class in my junior year of high school. He was incredibly intelligent, fair, mostly unbiased and a very honest person. That kid, Rodrigo, became one of my best friends and still is to this day. But as a Catholic, I did what many Christians do, which is to perform psychological acrobatics and rationalize aspects of my religion that bothered me. For example, according to the Bible, nonbelievers like Rodrigo as well as my agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim friends would be going to hell. As far as I was concerned they were all good people, regardless of belief or lack thereof, would go to heaven and all bad people would go to hell. I am a very creative person, and that coupled with my religious belief led to the invention and constant utilization of various loopholes and Christian apologetics in order to rationalize my faith and fit it into a world that required logical thinking.
Unlike most Catholics, I did not receive communion and confirmation as a child. Devout as I was, decided to do so as an adult and took the 9 month long RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) course offered at my church, the end result being a confirmation ceremony. The class was taught by one of my church deacons and his wife, two individuals whom I have great respect for and who were incredibly kind and giving of their time to teach the course with no pay. The class, unlike the one taught to children, went into much greater detail about the history of Christianity, the Catholic Church and the Catechism. During those 9 months, I only found more things about Christianity that bothered me, but I happily took confirmation when it was all over.
About 4 years later, when doubts and unanswered questions overtook me, I took it upon myself to do some unbiased research about my faith. The results, along with a private, thorough, cover to cover reading of the Bible, led me away from Christianity. I was immediately agnostic and a few months and more research into other religions later, I was a confirmed atheist.
I’d always felt a bit apart from others in my culture because I came here at such a young age, was so Americanized, and was much more outspoken than many Haitian elders feel is appropriate for a child and later for a woman. But declaring myself to be an atheist drove that last nail into the coffin. With all Christians but with Haitians especially, I constantly feel myself judged in every area of my life, from my work, to my attire, to my marriage to my political opinions from the standpoint of my “abandonment of God.” All actions and occurrences in my life, both past and present, are seen as having been the driving force of my “rebellion” and responsible for why I am “angry at God”, no matter how many times I try to calmly explain that I no longer believe that a God exists and why. It took some time and reflection of both my culture and my own mindset when I was a theist but I finally know why this is: Haitians are a people that glorify tradition, no matter how unfavorable or irrational a tradition may be and theists often view rejection of religion as a personal rejection and, because they don’t understand or don’t want to know why one may not believe in a god. They see not believing as an individual merely acting out of anger.
Becoming an atheist has opened the scope of my observation of the human condition and refined my reflection of my believers believe what they do. Atheism has also forced me to open my eyes to just how much harm religious belief and the Abrahamic faiths in particular are causing the world. In the more religions countries in the world, almost all of which are exclusively Catholic or Muslim, two faiths which teach us that suffering is how God tests us and that it can bring one closer to God. Considering this and the blind faith exhibited by most Haitians only led to overwhelming anger at religion and pity for my homeland. My atheism has caused me to view my people as suffering from a brand of Stockholm Syndrome where they regard their religion as a savior when it has done nothing to aide in the educational and economic problems of Haiti and view those who break away from it as traitors. I don’t know if this will change in my lifetime and I am well aware of what a multi-minority I have become, as a black, female, atheist immigrant in the United States, but I am past apologizing for who I am and for what I can no longer bring myself to believe.