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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

4th place — Johann Rucker: Thank you, Tio Carlos

FFRF awarded Johann $750.

By Johann Rucker

Johann Rucker

did not meet another Mexican atheist until I was 20, and he happened to be my Tio Carlos.

I spent the majority of my childhood idolizing him, as he was a bleeding-heart activist and a renowned artist in the Bay Area. My effort was spent working toward the ideal he represented to me, and I hoped to grow to be a man like he was. I always assumed, considering he was raised by my maternal grandparents, that he was a traditional Roman Catholic, like most of the population of Durango, Mexico, in the 1950s. When I finally found out he was an ardent atheist — on a trip to Sausalito during spring break — my entire perception of him was inverted; the man that I thought I had known was suddenly a complete stranger. I had never once told anyone about my nonbelief, but as soon as the confession casually left my Tio Carlos’ lips, they stumbled out of mine.

I had said it — finally! I felt incomparably free. Funnily enough, this happened as we were hiking down the mossed-over steps of an abandoned monastery. The air was still, the rain gently fell, and everything was OK.

Seeing my tio (uncle) as confident in his nonbelief as he seemed was so reaffirming, but it was also disheartening to know that Mexican atheists are seemingly few and far between. Any lapse in faith was always met by eye rolls and punishment from my family, and I never once considered it as a way of life. I was always assured that I could live my life as best as I could, but it would all be in vain if I did not believe in God. Every bad thing that happened to me was because I was not pious enough. I was never a good Catholic.

In hindsight, one of the most ardent Catholics in my early life was my father, a lifetime abuser and all-around awful individual who wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. It always seemed so wrong to me, the idea that a man could be so evil but be absolved simply by his religious beliefs. This is part of the reason why I looked up to my Tio Carlos so much, as I had no positive male role models in my life. He was the antithesis of my father, someone who rejected these antiquated notions of machismo and Catholic guilt. Tio Carlos was a good man who believed in no supernatural being, while my father was a heathen who believed in God. My father was a hypocrite and utilized Catholicism as a means to guilt his children into submission. The manner in which he weaponized faith without hesitation turned me off completely, even at an early age. I saw how disingenuous religion inherently is, and chose to opt out completely. I could be a good man without God.

I have not spoken to my father in almost a decade. I want to remain in healthy contact with the rest of my immediate family, so I keep my nonbelief to myself. I do not think they would go as far as disowning me, but I do not want to be perceived as a deviant and be ostracized. I realize how foolish this secrecy is, but I also realize how necessary it is. Whenever the subject of religion rears its head — be it at dinner, a holiday, etc. — I know to keep my head down. It is a sad reality, but it is reality. I take solace in knowing that there are other young people of color who reject religion, wherever they may be; feeling connected to them through our shared nonbelief is enough to keep me going whenever I’m feeling down. I wish I had known that sooner, as I cannot imagine how many young people struggle with their nonbelief and have nowhere to turn.

Johann, 22, is from Las Vegas and attends the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He is pursuing a degree in film studies and cultural anthropology.