By Sikivu Hutchinson
The American death industry pimps heaven hard, squeals like a stuck pig about redemption, then tasks the faithful with collecting the bloody dividends. For the believer the death of an atheist or agnostic loved one is a theological crap shoot. It invariably inspires fantasy, creative license, and outright bullshit betrayal of the dearly departed’s principles. Such was the case with my friend “Miguel”, who tragically collapsed during a basketball game at his school, went into a coma, and never regained consciousness. One afternoon when I went to visit him in the hospital I stumbled right into the middle of a raging prayer circle. Heads bowed, hands joined, voices hushed, three friends and family were deep in the throes of spiritual reconnaissance over Miguel’s bed.
Thanks, but no thanks, he would have said. At a vibrant 54, Miguel was a hardcore skeptic, an agnostic-atheist who never took anything on faith and made it his business to slash sacred cows of all stripes with a wink and swagger. As an esteemed educator for nearly 25 years he ruled his classrooms like a prize fighter, inspiring all who entered to think critically about the sociopolitical conditions of communities of color, institutional racism, classism, and sexism. His lessons drew on everyone from Bob Dylan to Toni Morrison to Tupac to Shakespeare to Sandra Cisneros; using their explorations of social justice, morality, and life’s paradoxes to turn on Black and Latino students who’d had it drilled into them that they weren’t cut out to be intellectuals or scholars.
But none of this passion for freethought was captured in the marathon orgy of Catholicism that was his memorial. During the ceremony, Miguel’s ashes were paraded down the church aisle in a little urn while the pastor declared to the faithful that “our brother has been called home.” It was a spectacle that he would have certainly parodied—he, the Chicano blasphemer who once wrote (in response to one of my pieces on death and religion) that “this rips the covers off the hypocrisy and the monarchical role that religion plays in our society. It (religion) swears out its conformity and power to the downtrodden it shackles every day. Let’s examine the nexus between corporate obscenity and the hand holding of their gospel spewing brethren in the tax free halls of America. Neither pay taxes, both exploit and we the benighted beg at their altars for alms, or forgiveness, or both.”