An Interview with Humanistas Guatemala

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the big issues for humanists in Guatemala?

Humanistas Guatemala: Wow, where to begin? There are so many issues, ranging from intolerance towards any type of diversity or anything that resembles a departure from the status quo, to overt religious extremism that seeks to impose “Christian values” everywhere. Many people who are open about their lack of belief in God, are often shunned and told that they cannot be ethical or moral, and as a result many choose to lie about their convictions. Religious leaders and public officials do not respect the principle of separation of Church and State, and are often attempting to pass discriminatory laws based on the Bible and “Christian values.” Just in the last two years, members of Congress tried to force Bible lessons into every private and public school in the country, to forbid evidence based sex-ed, to make every single instance of abortion a criminal offence, and to make sure that the LGBT community is never granted equal rights. There’s lots of work to be done.

Jacobsen: How do you reach out to the general public? How can people reach Humanistas Guatemala?

Humanistas Guatemala: Our work is mainly done through social media, but we also host events throughout the year where people can attend and know that we exist. We’ve had two year-round book clubs in the largest bookstore in the city and we will host a third one in 2018. We recently started a new series of events with the support of IHEU under the ‘Cafe Humaniste’ banner, but with our own local touch called ‘ideas & chelas’ (ideas & beers). People interested in our work and joining us can do so through our website, on our sign-up form: http://www.humanistasguatemala.org/sumate

Also, we are in the middle of a large-scale media campaign using social networks and billboards placed around Guatemala City that has allowed us to reach thousands and thousands of people. This has caused quite a stir with fundamentalist and conservative groups, even though our message is not directed at criticizing organized religion, but to inform atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and open-minded believers that can identify with secular humanist values that they are not alone. (“You don’t need a god or a religion to be a good person. If you know this, you are not alone.”)

Jacobsen: In terms of the social and educational initiatives, what are you pursuing now?

Humanistas Guatemala: Our work is done around 4 main areas: promoting secular humanism as an alternative to religion, promoting scientific knowledge and critical thinking as a way of knowing what is true about the world, defending the separation of Church and State, and defending sexual and reproductive rights — especially, the rights of the LGBT community and women who are often bullied and discriminated against because of fundamentalist religion.

Jacobsen: What have been some honest failures and real successes in the domain of outreach and education to the public about humanism, and the formal irreligious?

Humanistas Guatemala: Criticizing religion and presenting secular alternatives like humanism in a country that is deeply religious is very hard. One is often met with outright hostility and all sorts of accusations that prevent the arguments from getting through. Nobody wants to hear that they’ve spent their lives believing a very big lie, and that’s what many prominent atheist individuals and organizations have been telling people for a long time. When we started out, we took our cues from them and preached to the choir for a few years. We realized this, and stopped focusing on the negative aspects of religion and started talking about the positive elements that secular humanism has to offer. People are much more receptive this way.

Jacobsen: Who are the prominent humanists in Guatemala that deserve more international exposure?

Humanistas Guatemala: Even though we know many of them, atheism, freethinking and humanism are only starting to gain ground here in Guatemala and being openly secular is still a taboo. Many people choose to stay in the closet to avoid problems, but we are starting to change that. That’s one of the aims of our billboard and social media campaign. Hopefully I can give you some names the next time we talk.

Jacobsen: What are the general demographics of Humanistas Guatemala?

Humanistas Guatemala: Our board and our staff, as well as most of our members are young men and women between the ages of 20 and 35.

Jacobsen: What are some of the fun social activities that the organization hosts for Guatemalan humanists?

Humanistas Guatemala: In the past we’ve hosted book clubs, and several events with invited speakers on important subjects such as science, philosophy, art, and the relationship between religion and societal ills such as sexism, homophobia and the obstruction of sexual education. We plan to continue with this, under the ‘ideas & chelas’ concept that we mentioned above, and many more that we will be revealing in the near future.

Jacobsen: What are your hopes for the global humanist movement in the coming years, even decades?

Humanistas Guatemala: We would love to see humanism continue to grow and reach more and more people all over the globe, and to have an impact in the way people think and take important decisions that affect all of us. In a world where global warming is a huge issue, and where people are still being discriminated against because of their race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and religious affiliation, the humanist approach of empathy and critical thinking is more important than ever.

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

Image Credit: Humanistas Guatemala.

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