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Interview with Latin American Humanist Patricia Pereira on Brazil and Humanism


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/07/21

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was there any family background in secularism and humanism?

Patricia Pereira: Not really. My family is mostly Catholic, albeit not exactly super Catholic. But, as far as I know, I am the only atheist and humanist.

Jacobsen: Brazil is a hugely religious country. One in which the general culture is filled with faith-based thinking and proclamations, and representation, from the bottom, the normal believer, to the top of authority, Jair Bolsonaro, in the country. How did Brazil become so religious?

Pereira: Brazil was discovered, so to speak, by the Portuguese. There were Indigenous people already living here, but, unfortunately, those communities were mostly killed off. We had a lot of immigrants from Africa come in to be enslaved. The result was a big melting pot of different religions, with influence from Africa and Europe. Lately, there has been a big evangelical movement, and it has increased.

Jacobsen: Why is Roman Catholicism the main faith of the nation now?

Pereira: It is mostly because we were deeply colonized and influenced by the Portuguese, so they brought their customs and religion along. It is worth noting, however, that Catholicism is decreasing in recent years, in terms of overall numbers. It is still the main religion, but I would say the evangelical movement has been increasing dramatically.

Jacobsen: How does this religious language, iconography, and social attitudinal set influence political life in Brazil?

Pereira: Religion has a big part in our political life. Our constitution guarantees separation from church and state, but, in practical terms, this hasn’t been the case. We see crosses and religious ornaments in public spaces, references to god and religion in political speeches, and prayer present in the public arena. An openly atheist political candidate is something that is unheard of, for example. Religiosity is still intrinsically linked to morality and ethics, in the public’s eye.

Jacobsen: As a humanist, what are some of the issues faced in the light of the aforementioned representation and domination of Christian religion in Brazil?

Pereira: There are numerous challenges: atheists and humanists still suffer significant prejudice, since anyone who will openly divulge they are non-religious are often seen as immoral and unethical. We are also currently facing numerous setbacks in the public arena: religion and religious interests have a strong voice in politics, which means they often shape our public policies. Ideas such as banning abortion in all forms, teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution in schools, losing minorities’ rights, and promoting antiscientific ideas.

Jacobsen: What are some of the positives of the Christian religion in Brazil?

Pereira: There is a very strong sense of community and belonging in Christianity, which means people form deep and significant bonds with each other. It is also a great source of optimism and hope, particularly in difficult times and situations. Because of that, Brazilians turn to religion for comfort and hope, and this usually translates into happier people. Other than that, a lot of religious organizations are responsible for charitable and altruistic actions, helping those in need.

Jacobsen: Why is religion repressive and bad for women in Brazil? What forms does this take?

Pereira: This is a tricky one. Brazil has some conflicting ideas: Brazilians are very sexually driven and open, with parties like Carnival portraying women in very revealing clothes and confidently displaying their sexuality. Despite that, there is a lot of judgment when it comes to a woman’s sexuality: women are taught to “say no even if you mean yes” and are often judged by the way they dress and portray themselves. The religious idea that the “man is the head of the house” can parlay into larger and smaller salaries for women and high levels of domestic violence. Sexual assault is also rampant and often seen as acceptable behaviour for women that “do not respect themselves”.

Jacobsen: Why is religion repressive and bad for men in Brazil? What forms does this take?

Pereira: The same idea that represses women can repress men. The idea that there are strict gender roles that cannot be bendable or changed tends to put a lot of pressure on people to stick by these rules, even if they themselves are different. This means, in the case of many men, that they cannot show emotion, be caretakers or even engage in careers or behaviours that are considered “unmanly”, like earning less money than your spouse or even taking part in a different sport or activity.

Jacobsen: How would a liberalization of religion and an increase in critical thinking, scientific literacy, and gender egalitarianism improve the lives of ordinary and well-to-do Brazilians?

Pereira: An increase in critical thinking, in my view, would free people from these preconceived ideas of determined roles and expectations. It would allow people to live freely in a way that better suits them, and not an idea of what they should be. Religion sets up a series of rules that limits our choices and ways of living. We can leave that box and live in other ways that suit us better, not having to follow a set of predetermined rules, that can often imprison us in lives we would otherwise not choose to live.

Jacobsen: What makes freethinking, humanism, and secularism appeal to you? How does this compare with the Catholic religion?

Pereira: Humanism is based on reason and is rooted in reality. Ideas can be debated and argued, and people can change their minds. We are always in constant evolution, researching and looking for ways to improve our lives. Humanism always appealed to me because it made, finally, feel free, releasing me of the guilt I usually felt when I followed a religion and behaved differently from what was expected of me. The idea that I give meaning to my life the way I want to, without having to adhere to arbitrary rules in order to guarantee a good spot in the afterlife, was extremely freeing and satisfying.

Jacobsen: Now, Humanism and non-religious worldviews have had a tough run, in terms of penetrating Central America and South America. One, why?

Pereira: I think it is rooted in the idea that it is considered immoral and unethical. This, of course, is largely linked to a lack of quality education in the region.

Jacobsen: Two, what are the ways out of the quagmire of stagnation or slow growth of Humanism and non-religious worldviews in Central America and South America?

Pereira: I think the first step is to “come out of the closet”. Let people know we are as humanists and tell them what we believe in. The next logical step to me to organize ourselves. Freethinkers tend to be opposed to structured organizations, as we don’t want to be seen as just a “different kind of religion”. But I think we need to start seeing ourselves as a movement, as we have certain beliefs and interests. In order to defend our interests — and ourselves- we work better as a united front. If we want to promote change and alter the way things have been done, we need to stick together. Much like ants, we can be little and weak when scattered apart, but together we can form a strong force.

Jacobsen: Any recommended authors, books, or speakers?

Pereira: I am a big fan of all of our basic humanist writers: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris. In terms of Brazil, there are speakers that have been very active in terms of promoting critical thinking: Pirula and Atila Lamarino have YouTube channels with a large following. If you speak Portuguese, I would urge you to check them out.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the interview today?

Pereira: I’d just like to thank you for the opportunity and for working towards promoting Humanism and secularism. We need more active people in our community, so I immensely appreciate the work you do.

Jacobsen: Patricia, thanks so much for the opportunity.

Pereira: Thank you!!


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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