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Puerto Rico: “Ateorizar” Takes Atheism Online

After discovering that there were virtually no podcasts in Spanish on atheism, Puerto Rican blogger Manolo Matos stepped in to fill the void and created Ateorizar [es], a blog and podcast in which he and other atheists discuss what they perceive as the shortcomings of religion.

At the time of this writing the blog has received almost 150,000 visits, while the podcast, hosted in iVoox, is ranked #41 in its category and #637 out of over 25,600 podcasts.

Manolo kindly agreed to discuss his project with Global Voices.

Global Voices (GV): What is Ateorizar's history and mission?

Manolo Matos (MM): In 2010 I started getting interested in atheism and church and state separation activism and I realized there weren’t any podcasts about atheism in Spanish. There are podcasts, blogs, TV and radio shows for the English speaking community, but I only found one podcast from Spain recorded by the International Federation of Atheists that was not being recorded since 2008. I found a lack of information about atheism, agnosticism, skepticism and related issues and decided to talk to some Twitter friends to see if they were interested in producing the podcast. The name was an idea @Ana_k_ona gave me. It joins the words “ateo” (atheist) and “teorizar” (theorize). We began the podcast with the first episode airing on October 10, 2010 because we thought it would be funny to make a joke on the pseudoscience of numerology (10-10-10).

My personal purpose with the podcast is to vent, because I am living in the middle of the Bible Belt in Kentucky and I really get upset with the role of religion here and how, as Christopher Hitchens once said: “it poisons everything.” But the mission of the podcast is broader than my personal purpose. What we try to do every week is educate people about the separation of church and state, inform about issues around the world related to abuses and terrorism related to religious practices, and to make people aware of the silly things people say or do because of their religious beliefs. We just uploaded the last episode of our second season and we will start our third season next October.

Logo for the Ateorizar podcast.

Logo for the Ateorizar podcast.

GV: What has the Internet offered to your project?

MM: Our project could not exist without the Internet. We have a global audience on our blog and also our podcast. Our podcast is downloaded mostly in Europe, North, Central, and South America, but it has been downloaded in unexpected places like Uzbekistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Our blog is mostly about news. Without the Internet we wouldn’t have a global community of listeners and we wouldn’t be able to find out what’s going on in the world as fast as we do today.

GV: What digital social networks do you use?

MM: We try to cover all our bases when it comes to social networks. Ateorizar has a twitter account (@Ateorizar) [es] where we publish, not only our blog and podcasts updates, but also other news, videos, pictures and action alerts. On Facebook we have a fan page [es] and a Facebook group [es] where our listeners can interact with us and each other in real time. We are members of Networked Blogs, iVoox, iTunes and we have a daily newspaper [es] at paper.li.

GV: Some of the prominent members of the New Atheism movement denounce religion as dangerous and advocate for a proselytizing, militant atheism to counteract it. Where does Ateorizar stand on that?

MM: Ateorizar tries not to proselytize to our listeners. We believe in the freedom of religion and will fight to protect it. For example, we agree with the Supreme Court decision granting Jehovah’s Witnesses the right to access public residential areas in Puerto Rico. We are not against religion per se. We recognize the harm of religious beliefs, mythical thinking and the lack of separation between church and state, but our mission is not to abolish it. We believe the world would be a better place without religion, but we believe everybody is entitled to their beliefs, no matter how far they are from reality. What we do not accept is the encroaching of religion in other aspects of our society. We reject the laws that are based on religion alone.

We believe that circumcision of minors is unacceptable, we believe that the LGBT community should have the same right as everyone else to get married, we believe in the separation of church and state, we believe minors should be protected from faith healing practices and the lack of proper medical care and we believe minors should not be denied a blood transfusion just because the parents decided to believe in ancient bronze age mythology. We also believe that not allowing religiously owned private companies deny their employees of birth control has nothing to do with religious liberty. Not being able to abuse your power has nothing to do with liberty. Everybody’s liberty ends when that liberty restricts someone else’s freedom.

GV: In Puerto Rico 85% of the population is Catholic and the rest mainly protestant. Atheism presents a direct challenge to these belief systems. Do you think that atheist bloggers in Puerto Rico face a tougher than usual challenge in terms of hostility? If so, how do you tackle this problem?

MM: Atheism is not really a challenge to any religious belief. The problem is that religious beliefs are not based in reality and, therefore, when presented with the truth, believers feel threatened. That has nothing to do with atheism itself, but with the unsubstantiated claims and lack of scientific basis. Having said that, we believe bloggers are a community that some areas of society would like to silence, whether it is the religious groups silencing atheist bloggers or political candidates silencing political commentary bloggers.

In Puerto Rico we have the advantage that we have separation of church and state. It is actually clearer in our constitution than in the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution Establishes in the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” In the Puerto Rico Constitution, section 3 reads: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. There shall be complete separation of church and state.” I believe this makes it easier to fight the encroachment of religion in government discourse and activities.

GV: Are there other blogs or writers in the Puerto Rican blogosphere advocating atheism, agnosticism and secularism that do you recommend?

MM: At this moment we are unaware of other blogs or podcast about atheism, agnosticism, secularism or skepticism in Puerto Rico. Interestingly, after we started the podcast, many podcasters have started producing podcasts about these subjects in Spanish. Some of our favorite podcasts are: Alerta Religión, Pienso, Luego Dudo, Scientia Futura, Masa Crítica and El Rincón del Irreverente. You can find the links to these podcasts and also blogs by visiting our additional resources page.

GV: What do you think is the state of atheism in Puerto Rico? What do you think is its future?

MM: I believe with the government of Luis Fortuño, there has been more push against the separation of church and state, and therefore more activism from the atheist community. Luis Fortuño just signed a law recently to create a position in every government agency to be the contact between the agency and religious groups [es]. On the other hand, there have been initiatives like “Dios le debe a Hacienda” (God owes the public treasury) that is against public funds and tax breaks for religious organizations:

I am an optimist, and despite all the efforts made by religious groups to encroach into our lives, I believe we are moving to atheism, or at least to secularism. In places like the United States atheists are the fastest growing community. In Latin America it has grown for the last 30 years and in Puerto Rico too. The more we learn about the universe, the less space there is for unsubstantiated supernatural claims.

  • Faith Lessorta

    Congratulations on the new podcast, we cannot have too many of them.  Be aware that there is already another Spanish podcast for atheists and freethinkers called Hispanic American Freethinkers Podcast and can be located here: http://www.hafree.org/index.php/podcast

  • CaribbeanNonBeliever

    Just to provide some info. for Puerto Ricans living outside the Island, YES, there are several atheist/agnostic groups advocating for the separation of church and state and educating about atheism and secular humanism. The main two are the “Movimiento Ateista de PR”, a social group where ideas are exchanged and support provided for people leaving religion (especially when facing social and family rejection). The other is HUSE (Humanistas Seculares de PR), which is a registered non-profit organization dedicated to promote Secular Humanism, educate, advocate, and denounce constitutional violations, among other things.

  • CaribbeanNonBeliever

    and, BTW, constitutional violations regarding the separation of church and state in the Island are TERRIBLE, even with our constitution being so clear, to the point the legislature places a nativity scene EVERY year in front of the constitution. The sculptural pieces were about $15K… and taxpayers paid for it! It is a common and widespread practice in government agencies to pray every morning through building speakers so that everyone hears, the Department of Family Affairs hires churches and ministries to “help” them (at a cost of millions of dollars), the governor’s Faith Based Organizations office gives away many more millions for churches to proselytize while other non-profit organizations lack funding for real social work, pastors have been appointed judges so they hold these things as constitutional and even decide cases on questionable moral grounds because of their christian beliefs. For instance, last year a pastor in the PR Supreme Court decided a woman that was beaten by her lover had no protection under the PR Domestic Violence Act because she was an adulterer. In the Dept. of Education a very questionable pastor (who had to resign from a position at the executive faith-based office because of questionable management) has huge contracts as an “advisor”, public schools celebrate lent with christian plays, concerts and special activities and prayers… atheist government employees are discriminated against and humiliated… the legislature has transferred public property to certain churches for $1 (yes, $1), many municipalities use public funds to pay for christian concerts, seminars and workshops… politicians appear in religious gatherings and activities in their official character as government employees promoting alliances between church and state… there is a LOT of work to do here in PR…

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