An atheist teacher in rural Colombia was threatened after his philosophy classes got his students asking questions the Catholic church did not have answers for.
Miguel Trujillo trained in philosophy at the University San Buenaventura de Bogota before starting to teach at the Simon Bolivar de Garzon, in Huila, in June 2015.
Since his arrival, he has been under attack from parents, teachers and the Catholic church.
He taught his students philosophy of religion, ethics, epistemology and logic, and soon students were going home with big questions: What is God? Does God exist?
“The parents did not have satisfactory answers to solve their children’s unknowns and that’s when the problem started”
Trujillo told newspaper La Nacion that although he is an atheist he respects the religion of his students and their parents, and was not trying to meddle: “More than an atheist, I am a philosopher.”
The parents were dismayed as their children no longer wanted to go to mass and started having doubts about the Catholic Church.
As parents began to complain, Trujillo “told them that the father should be prepared for a child that is beginning to have questions and opening their mind.”
The town began to see him as someone who had come to disrupt their Catholic faith, to turn their children away from the light.
From the church pulpit, the priest Jorge Quintero incited ill-will against Trujillo.
“The parents of the family have to be shepherds, and and their children are the lambs that God has entrusted them with, and they should realize that they are feeding those lambs, and it they receive tainted food, it hurts them, it injures them, it shames them, and they must take care.”
Priest Jorge Quintero
Many signed a petition asking for changes to the philosophy curriculum, and things reached a head when Trujillo began to be verbally assaulted in the street.
“One tries to educate their children in the Christian faith, to shape them, but you have got them thinking it’s nonsense. I don’t know why they let a son of a bitch like you work in a school,” said one incensed parent.
Trujillo kept walking to the school but the man followed, verbally attacking him and threatening to hit him.
Eventually Trujillo left his classroom and went to the police station to file a complaint.
He resisted attempts to change the secular curriculum, but found little support at the school.
“I cannot abandon my professional ethics and ignore certain topics because the Catholic atmosphere of the school does not allow them. As a philosopher, I cannot silence reason.”
Rumors were circulating that he would not give classes unless students took off their crucifixes, and that he asked them to burn their bibles. It was turning into a witch hunt.
“If from the pulpit they are inciting people towards violence, there’s nothing left to do. We will close the page and return to the Middle Ages.”
Trying to defuse the situation, Trujillo met with Quintero and the Bishop of the Diocese of Garzon. They cleared up some misunderstandings, but it remains an uneasy peace.
Quintero felt reassured that the teacher would take more care over his material, “without having to influence, insist upon or transmit thoughts contrary to Catholicism.”
In a conservative place where the Catholic church has a cradle-to-grave hold on the lives and minds of the people, independent, critical thought does not appear to be welcomed.
Colombia is a secular nation according to its constitution, but in practice, away from the big cities, religion is pervasive.