Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The State of Atheism in Barbados

I'm really not a winter person.
As the days get shorter and much colder, I start finding myself yearning for brighter, warmer places.  I'm not a Canadian Tire Canadian.  I'm more of a Snowbird, Hollywood, FL kind of Quebecer.

This time has got my wife and I thinking again about someday moving to Barbados.  This is an annual occurrence.  Especially for my wife, Kelly, who's half Barbadian - colloquially called Bajan.  Most of her father's family are all on the island and it's only a matter of time before I get my own Barbadian passport  -  the application has been made and is being processed... slowly.

Of course, there would be the usual worries about making a move to another country.  What about a job?  Where to live?  Fortunately, that last point isn't likely to be a problem.  Kelly's dad left her mom a house on very the island in the very neighbourhood where her family is most highly concentrated.  Their educational system is also top-notch.

But the biggest question I have is: Where are the Atheists?

A recent Google search brought me back zero Meetup groups, no Facebook organizations, zilch CFI or Humanist organizations.  Nothing.  I did find a few forum posts by ex-patriots like me living on the island who were feeling very isolated and alone.  These were given the advice to seek out Unitarian Universalist churches - that's the best advice.

The last time I was there, Kelly had to attend her father's funeral at the local church.  I was given the duty of looking after my 16-month-old son - who didn't understand the solemnity of the event and was prone to make sudden highly disruptive outbursts.  This meant I spent most of the service outside, but I heard plenty from open windows.

The pastor seemed to use the service to proselytize those who were from outside the congregation.  During his sermon, he would bring up the Atheist and the Atheist Heart and the Atheist's Understanding.  He wasn't talking about me specifically, of course.  He was generalizing - but it made me wonder what the point was.  Are there lots of Atheists on the island, or is he just using the word to refer to some hypothetical bogeyman - like the devil?

The little church more than made up for itself later, when it held a weekend fish fry. Delicious!

But simply being in the island for more than a week made me realize how Christian the culture appears.  We were given a car ride into town by a local pastor who told us about his small church on the hill.  When I mentioned someday moving to Barbados, people would automatically invite me to their church.  It seemed like everyone went to church.

Now, here's something I found odd.  I was never asked by anyone about my own religion.  Nobody asked me to pray for them or with them.  Meals didn't start with a prayer - that I can recall.  Nothing was foisted upon me at all.  Perhaps this is cultural Christianity with some peaks of high religiosity.

In fact, the island is highly diverse religion-wise.  Well, so long as you're Christian of some bent.  It seems to me like although 95% of Barbadians consider themselves Christian, the actual number of practicing Christians is by no means anywhere near 100%.

But maybe I didn't see the intolerance because I was an outsider.  A white Canadian only visiting for a couple of weeks.  Would it be different if I lived there?  If I were an open Atheist would my job be in danger?  Would I be shunned by the community at large?  Harassed?  What kind of religious instruction would be administered to my child at school?  

Looking at Google, I only found scraps of information about the perception of Atheists on the island.  In Atheism: Why society needs church we have mention of some 30,000 Atheists out there.  We also have ON THE OTHER HAND: Atheism’s dilemma and The atheists will come around, which are all editorials that read like Sunday sermons against Atheism.  One bright light was With atheism, what works is good in the Barbados Advocate.

So where can I go to find some answers?  Well I did find one Barbadian Atheist!  David Ince runs the CaribAtheist blog and I've convinced him to do a guest post or two for this blog!  Hopefully he'll have a few answers for me and tell me what he's been up to lately to help bring the Caribbean Atheist community out of its closet and begin to organize into groups where people do not have to feel so alone.  We'll be hearing from David in the next couple of weeks!  Hopefully he can bring some of that bright Bajan sunshine to our bleary light-starved winter eyes! 

Editor's Note (December 5th, 2:30pm): Kelly reminded me that my son was actually 16.5 months old at the time of her father's funeral (not three). Also removed one unnecessary reference to my son.


  1. I was born and raised in the Philippines which is probably more similar to Barbados than Canada is, so that's where I'm coming from when I say this. Please spend more than just a couple of weeks on the island before you decide to move there. Don't cut all ties (quit your job, pull your kid out of school, sell your house/car, etc.) It's a completely different world and there are many things taken for granted by Americans (and I presume similarly by Canadians) that may not be available in other places. The two things that come to mind immediately are law enforcement and health care. Another thing would be standards and regulations for food and water. I implore you, for your child's sake as well as yours, that you thoroughly look into these things before making your decision.

  2. Speaking as his wife, believe me, we're not naive teenagers picking up and running to live somewhere else. We've spent more than a few weeks there in fact - don't take one sentence on a blog at face-value. Surely you're not that naive!
    We don't own a house or a car to sell, so no worries there.

    Law enforcement? My uncle is a cop. Not only that but unlike here, they don't carry guns so can't be trigger-happy all the time. The crime rate is very low. I feel much safer there than here.

    Healthcare? All members of my family, including our son, have had doctor's visits there. I received services far superior to those here in Canada. I would much rather my son be educated in the superior education system in Barbados (O levels anyone?) than here in Canada. Not only that but both are free. Yes, anyone can attend university in Barbados for free and they have the best uni in the whole Caribbean.

    Not everything is perfect there - I'm not a fan of dengue or centipedes, but it's a small price to pay to be out of the snow. Things certainly aren't perfect here.

  3. You might also want to mention my father was an atheist.....

  4. I'll add that you might want to educate yourself a bit more about the island. It's also nicknamed "Little Ireland" and the standard of living is much closer to North America or Europe than many places in the Caricom.
    (Though admittedly the nickname may have come from the many Irish who sold themselves to the British as slaves to escape the famine, but that's another story)

    With all due respect, while we've sponsored a child from the Philippines til she grew into a teenager, I guarantee you will never see a "sponsor a child" ad with a child from Barbados. Though I've never lived there, I'm still very proud of my citizenship and the tiny island with a 99% literacy rate. There aren't too many countries that can boast that.

  5. I meant no disrespect to you, your husband, or your native country. I'm going by this statement in the post: "A white Canadian only visiting for a couple of weeks." If he says "only visiting for a couple of weeks," there is no reason for me to think that he meant something entirely different. Naivete has nothing to do with it. I have known Americans who, on a whim, have decided to move to another country without truly knowing what life may be like elsewhere. I was merely trying to prevent others from an unpleasant, unforeseen surprise, especially with a young child involved.

    I'm glad you seem well-informed, but his post was a questioning one. I don't think you can fault me or anyone for thinking he may be coming from a place of not knowing, rather than knowing.

  6. Upon re-reading the post, I was afraid that was not clear enough. Yes, it turns out I've been to Barbados at least three times and my wife, of course, has family there and has been there several times more often.

  7. Thanks for commenting, Boo!

  8. Very Interesting read, Greetings from Cyprus


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