Archive | January, 2013

Getting Tested: The Results of My First HIV Exam

Few things make me nervous. Job interviews, cute boys, boa constrictors—I can face them just fine. But when I took my first HIV test at the last FF meetup, I definitely felt my tummy tumbling over. And this ended up being a very good thing.

I’ve been sexually active for a decade now, and have had an above average number of sexual partners. And yes, I hate to admit that some of those encounters were without protection, because I was a stupid, stupid, stupid kid who should have known better. And in all ten of these years, I had never gotten tested for HIV. So, despite the fact that my partners were relatively clean-living people (e.g. no back-alley blood transfusions for cash, at least I don’t think), and have not announced any life-threatening ailments on their Timelines, I was most definitely not in the clear. There was that chance, however small. It takes just one, as they say.

Fortunately, we were under the care of some awesome people from Take the Test Project, a group that administers HIV testing and counseling for free to whoever requests for them. Not only were they learned, patient, open, and unbiased during their pre- and post-test counseling, but they were also very efficient on the whole; I knew the results of my blood test in less than thirty minutes.

But that period of waiting, however short, spooked me. It made me think about how I should have been more careful, and how I should apply what I’ve learned and be far more cautious from that point on. I was also nervous because if I turned out to be HIV-positive, then it was highly likely that my boyfriend of nearly five years could be positive as well, since we stopped using condoms after I went on the Pill. I knew that a positive result, all in all, would change my life, and maybe my boyfriend’s, significantly.

Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that being HIV-positive is nothing to be ashamed about. I was nervous, yes, but none of that had to do with a prospective shame. Yes, being HIV-positive would be challenging. Yes, it would affect what kind of activities you could or couldn’t do. Yes, it would make meeting new partners* trickier, since it would entail being extra candid and cautious when it came to matters of sex. But being ashamed of myself was not one of the problems.

I was nervous because HIV was a virus. Having it does not make me a bad person; having it does not warrant anyone to look down on me, much less shun me for anything. But it is a dangerous thing, and if not treated immediately and properly, could lead to AIDS and a much earlier death. In certain respects, it’s kind of like having diabetes. Getting diagnosed with diabetes means drastic lifestyle changes—cutting out sugar, being generally more careful with what you consume, taking daily insulin shots, etc. I would be very nervous if I had to wait for news of whether I was diabetic or not, too. Either condition would change my life, and as a person aiming to live a fairly simple existence—with just enough thrills here and there to sate me—this would be a little hard to swallow.

My test turned out non-reactive, which meant that I did not have the markers for HIV. There was a very miniscule chance that I could still be positive, especially if I were recently infected, but on the whole, I was safe. It was the best news. But the last thing that announcement did was encourage me to move on like all of this never happened. It did the exact opposite. It made me even more adamant that everyone, regardless of who they are and how they live, should take the test as well. Not only will taking it lessen this ridiculous stigma around the virus, but it will do a whole world of good to those who do turn out positive, so they can plan out their lives accordingly, preventing them from getting sicker or spreading the virus to others. Feeling nervous prior to test results is nothing compared to finding out accidentally and far, far too late.

However wild or tame your lifestyle may be, taking the HIV test is simply the right thing to do. Negative or positive, the results will help you, your loved ones, and the population as a whole to look the virus in the eye and live a better life for it.

Want to take the test? Just get in touch with the Take the Test Project through their site, or through these numbers:

0917-58-HIV RT (448 78)

0999-88-HIV RT (448 78)

0932-88-HIV RT (448 78)

*Which I won’t do because I lab you very, very much, babby!!!

Posted in Advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Personal, Society4 Comments

Against Empire: The Celdran Revolt

Celdran’s political protest challenges the hegemony of the Catholic Church, while his case tests the independence of the judiciary from the Church

Article 133: Legacy of Colonialism

In her review of Carolyn Brewer’s Holy Confrontation: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, Barbara Watson Andaya tells us of how Spanish friars aggressively sought to replace the spiritual role of elderly women in the lives of our ancestors. During that time, women were the spiritual leaders.  Summarizing Brewer’s findings, Andaya tells us that “humiliation became a primary weapon [of Catholic friars], as young boys were recruited to locate sacred items and then urinate on them or perform other acts of desecration.” Our indigenous spiritual rituals and beliefs were replaced with “Christian rituals and symbols.” Our indigenous priestesses were called “bruja (female witch),” which we then “localized into bruha.”

If this happened today, we might say that under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code our indigenous priestesses would have a cause for action against the Catholic Church. After all, what the Catholic Church did to our ancestors was not only “notoriously offensive;” it was arrogant, violent, cruel, and inhuman. They deprived our ancestors of their own beliefs. They oppressed and dehumanized our ancestors because they are of a different civilization. They did this because they were so convinced that they had a mission to civilize the world; and for our Spanish colonizers, civilized and human meant Christian and European. The rest are savages, barbaric, non-human.  Article 133 wasn’t intended to protect our ancestor’s indigenous religions. The revised penal code is largely derived from the penal code of our Spanish colonizers. Since during that time Church and State were not separate entities, Article 133 was probably not meant to protect all religions but a legal tool to secure the hegemony of the religion of our colonial masters, who believed that Christianity is the only one true religion.

Separation of Church and Judiciary

Celdran’s simple act of protest challenges that hegemony. He deliciously used Rizal’s critique of that hegemony: Damaso. Some say that Celdran is just seeking attention.  If we are going to reduce Celdran’s action as mere attention seeking, then what is stopping us from doing the same to all acts of revolt against the Catholic Church that happened all throughout history in all nations that have been colonized by this religion? Others say that there is a “civilized” way of protesting against the Catholic Church. This view needs to be interrogated by an analysis of hegemony.

In The Conservation of “Race,” Kwame Anthony Appiah informs us that “hegemony sets the framework. It defines the dominant system of concepts, the ‘common sense,’ in terms of which social and political reality will be lived.” The “civilized” way of protesting against the hegemon is determined by the hegemon itself, who became the hegemon precisely because of having such authority to determine the norm.  So the civilized way of protesting against the Catholic Church is determined by the Catholic Church. The acceptable way of objecting to the Catholic Church is determined by the Catholic Church. If the Catholic Church says there is no acceptable way of objecting to it, then every form of objection to them will be considered  “notoriously offensive.” This danger is actually reflected in the 2013 ruling against Celdran that quoted the 1939 Supreme Court ruling on the Baes Case.

The 1939 Supreme Court ruled that, “whether or not the act complained of is offensive to the religious feelings of the Catholics, is a question of fact which must be judged only according to the feelings of the Catholics and not those of other faithful ones.” In his dissenting opinion, to which Justice Imperial concurred, Justice Laurel objected to that circular argument:

I express this opinion that offense to religious feelings should not be made to depend upon to the more ore less broad or narrow conception of any given particular religion, but should be gauged having in view the nature of the acts committed and after scrutiny of all the facts and circumstance which should be viewed through the mirror of an unbiased judicial criterion. Otherwise, the gravity or leniency of the offense would hinge on the subjective characterization of the act from the point of view of a given religious denomination or sect, and in such a case, the application of the law would be partial, and arbitrary, withal, dangerous…

Given that the Philippines is 80% Catholic, judges would most probably be Catholics. Whether or not we can get an “unbiased judicial criterion” to determine whether an action is notoriously offensive to the Catholic Church is a question of how courageous our Catholic judges are in ruling against the feelings of their fellow Catholics. Can Catholic judges say that they are not experiencing undue pressure in ruling in favour of their religious group?  This now leads us to the greater significance of the Celdran Case: If the RH Bill tested the independence of the executive and legislative branch against the Church, the Celdran Case is testing the independence of the judiciary against the Church.  Since the passage of the RH Bill into law, we are witnessing what the formal separation of Church and State means in substantive terms. Hence, there are two trials here: a legal one, which involves Celdran; and a political one, which involves the judiciary who must convince us that they are independent of the Church.

To conclude, Celdran’s political protest is a challenge to the hegemony of the Catholic Church, a legacy of Spanish imperialist ambitions. Depending on our attitude towards our colonial masters, we may view Celdran’s political action either as an insult to our masters or as a rightful defiance against our colonizers.  On the other hand, Celdran’s case tests the independence of the judiciary, who must convince us that it can come up with an unbiased judicial discretion that will determine whether or not Celdran’s action is notoriously offensive to Catholics.

Decolonizing the Philippines is an ongoing process. The separation of Church and all branches of government is a continuous struggle. Celdran’s revolt is part of that process and an embodiment of that struggle. Celdran’s action is a legitimate political protest against the oldest living imperial power in the world.

 

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Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Society1 Comment

Article 133: Special Rights Not Equal Rights

The verdict is out and the courts have sentenced Carlos Celdran to a maximum of 1 year, one month, and 11 days in prison for having “offended religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. There is, however, some misunderstanding among those following the case regarding what the crime truly was. As will be clear, Article 133 privileges those with faith above those who have none, giving them special rights. And with these special rights, the faithful enjoy protection with no equal in secular society.

Apologists for Celdran’s imprisonment invariably open their arguments by saying that they are not opponents of free speech. Should Celdran have chosen a different venue, say Mendiola, he would not have been arrested. True enough, I regularly criticize the powerful Roman Catholic Church and have suffered little for it. In this country, I can make all the jokes about silly Catholic doctrines from the comfort of my home without fear of imprisonment. Article 133 specifically stipulates that the offense to religious feelings must be done inside a place of worship or during a religious ceremony.

What Celdran did was not polite, to say the least. But it did send a message, and nobody was hurt, molested, or tortured. There was no fear of clear and present danger with his placard. And nobody shielded him from the police. People like me who sit behind laptops cannot even dream of getting the reach of Celdran’s protest. And because Celdran was very effective, he was seen as a threat. The powers that be in the Church can take the tiny bloggers ranting online. After all, the old men running the Church don’t even use the Internet. They allow the nation this small freedom to appease those who think free speech is about posting half-baked Facebook commentaries. But, no. People didn’t die for the right to idle chatter. Free speech is about saying things that piss people off. Free speech is about saying things where people will hear what you say and be pissed off.

Filipino Freethinkers is a regular attendee of the Philippine LGBT Pride March that happens every December. While not an LGBT organization, FF supports the recognition of LGBTs as equal human beings. During this march, there are also regular Christian fundamentalist protesters. They shout at marchers and hold signs around the parade, saying that homosexuality is wrong. This has caused great offense to attendees, who come out to the parade to celebrate their identity, only to be shouted down in the one place they publicly proclaim their pride.

Because the parade grounds are not religious grounds, because the march is not a religious ceremony, the LGBT Pride marchers must take such offenses in stride, often making their own jokes to make light of the clearly stressful situation. LGBTs experience oppression and violence every day and choose one day of the year and one place to celebrate. They are a true minority deserving of protection. However, because they do not have politicians in their pocket and because they are decent human beings, they do not have special rights under the law to protect them from religious free speech.

It is quite ironic that those who see LGBT equality as affording “special rights” are exactly the people who have special rights under the law. While LGBTs only ask for their recognition as equal citizens, anti-Celdran apologists enjoy a unique class of speech that the non-religious cannot have. Had Celdran done the same kind of picketing the fundamentalists did but during a religious parade, he would still have been charged under Article 133. LGBTs cannot have Christian fundamentalist protesters arrested regardless of the degree of anguish they feel, which is certainly more than the attendees of the Manila Cathedral ecumenical event where Celdran protested. Witnesses even said at the trial that they had no idea what “DAMASO” meant until after the fact and that they thought Celdran was part of the activity. If they found Celdran disruptive, all they had to do was escort him out of the building. At most, they could have filed a case against him for trespassing. After all, the tax-free Manila Cathedral is private property of the Archdiocese of Manila. But, no, the CBCP flexed their muscles and showed the Philippines who was in charge. You can tweet all your criticisms, but don’t you dare make us hear them. Or else.

People have the right to peaceably assemble. People have the right to freedom of and from religion. What we ought not have a right to is unequal speech. Article 133 says that some kinds of speech are more equal than others. Article 133 is clearly archaic. It is a law that belongs to the time when the Catholic Church could do more than send people to prison. It is a law that has no place in a modern society that encourages the free exchange of ideas.

Only people who believe that their faith cannot stand on its own merit need Article 133.

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Religion, Secularism9 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup, Feb 3 (Sunday), 2:30 PM, Holy Trinity Church

Location: Holy Trinity Church, McKinley Road (Google map)
Date: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

 

Talk by Beth Angsioco
Divorce and Other Women’s Rights Issues

Discussion topics
– Carlos Celdran updates and next actions
– Are you friends with your ex? (And other separation stories)
– Enrile Issue and Cybercrime updates
– Raunchy topic of the week: Angry sex? Make up/ break up sex? Sex with your ex?

 

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

FF’s Lab Letters Issue #1

 

Welcome to the very first issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science news micro-post!

While the Philippine justice system is busy placating the feelings of the offended Catholic clergy and trying to stifle free speech, here’s what the rest of the world’s scientists living in the 21st century have been up to:

 

Tang was just the beginning

The NASA Space Food Systems Laboratory’s Advanced Food Technology Project has posted a series of pictures detailing the various things astronauts eat while in space:

http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/27/3922806/nasa-space-food-photos

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/slsd/about/divisions/hefd/project/advanced-foods.html

 

Psychology gets in on the gigil phenomenon…

…scientifically dubbed “cute aggression,” with an experiment involving bubble wrap:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2013/01/26/psychology-why-you-want-to-squeeze-cute-things

 

165-million-year-old blood-biting tyrant swimmer identified

The partial skeleton, said to be related to crocodiles and similar to dolphins, has been sitting in a Glasgow museum since 1919:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21220499

 

Wow! Almost as much as a floppy disk!

UK scientists convert Shakespeare’s sonnets and other data totalling 739 kilobytes into DNA strands:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/?p=42546

 

Scotty would be proud

UK and Czech scientists are working on a ‘tractor beam’ that can ferry small molecules across a small distance, hopefully scalable to bigger objects:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-21187598

 

Once you pop

Finally, here’s how popcorn happens:

http://i.imgur.com/AFhpo.gif

 

What information would YOU want to be stored in DNA? Tell us in the comments!

See you next week for another awesome issue of FF’s Lab Letters!

 

Image c/o D. Bogdanov/University of Edinburgh

Posted in Science0 Comments

What Offends My Religious Feelings

With Carlos Celdran having been convicted and sentenced to jail time for the crime of ‘offending religious feelings’, reactions online have ranged from triumphalist anti-RH diatribes to sympathy to outrage to concern over the curtailing of freedom of speech. There also seems to have been a resurrection, so to speak, of the old discussion back when he first walked into that mass with the Damaso sign in support of separation of church and state. Did he have a right to do so? Isn’t he just getting what he deserves? Sure, maybe he doesn’t deserve jail time, but as a Christian I’m still offended, and shouldn’t that count for something?

The short answer is no, under international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory, the shared possible offense to us Christians does not count for anything, nor should it. While there is currently some debate ongoing, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its General Comment No. 34, Article 19 clearly laid out that freedom of speech is incompatible with blasphemy laws like the one Carlos was convicted of violating. In this, the UN has essentially enshrined being able to commit blasphemy as a human right.

The reason for this is admittedly somewhat counter-intuitive, but there are documented historical examples of how badly laws banning blasphemy backfired in India that I’ve included in the links section below. I think it is summed up nicely by US President Obama in a speech explaining why he didn’t ban a video that offended Muslims (it should be noted that our constitution enshrines the same right to free speech he is talking about here):

“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.

Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views — even views that we disagree with.

We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”

One argument I often hear religious people throw at advocates of free speech in an attempt to get at the non religious sensibilities said advocates presumably hold, is ‘how would you feel if someone insulted your father or your mother?’

As an Episcopalean myself, I don’t even need to make that hypothetical leap. I can ask myself directly, how would I feel if Carlos Celdran walked into my church and held up that sign?

I’d want to know why. Though I might be annoyed at the interruption, I would genuinely be curious as to what this obvious act of protest was trying to get at. I’d say that the interruption of a single mass might be worth it, if it was to be made aware of something vitally wrong with the institution I literally put my faith in. I have been blessed in having been born and baptized into a loving and supportive church whose stance on social issues are in line with mine (pro-RH, pro-LGBT, pro-secularism), and which holds a tradition of relatively democratic involvement by the laity in church affairs. With the exception of the actions of some rogue, roundly publicy decried elements in Africa, I took the effort to research and make sure that it is not engaged in any activities I have a problem with. If it was, both as a member of the congregation and as a serving member of the church vestry council, I would want to know about it and work with the rest of the congregation, our parish priest and if need be the diocesan assembly and our presiding bishop to see what could be done to rectify it.

And that is what confuses me most about people who assert that they’re offended by Carlos Celdran’s action. If I found out that my bishops were bullying politicians to kill legislation that would save mother’s lives -and- reduce abortions, I wouldn’t want to attend a mass with those bishops in it anyway. Where is their offense and outrage over the lies being spread about how condoms supposedly don’t work, leading to more AIDS cases? Where is their offense and outrage at the ivory smuggling, or the bribes they took to keep quiet through all the corruption perpetrated by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Why do they keep giving money to an organization that not only can’t seem to stop raping nuns and children, but keeps spending that money to cover it up?

What really offends my religious feelings are people who go out, declare themselves holy, and then spread hate and fear and lies and pain in the name of God and Christ. I am deeply offended at how the words and deeds of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are giving us Christians a bad name, and that is why I actively and openly fight them. I live in hope that someday more Catholics, like Carlos used to be before they banned him from San Agustin, may rise up to do the same.

source links

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/GC34.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/austin-dacey/un-blasphemy-laws_b_1915920.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/26/president-obama-to-united-nations-we-do-not-ban-blasphemy/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/10/us-usa-catholic-abuse-idUSBRE8391HF20120410

http://opinion.inquirer.net/9239/’that-she-may-dance-again

http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/01/us/pennsylvania-priest-abuse-trial/index.html

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Personal, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Society82 Comments

Carlos Celdran Declared Guilty of “Offending Religious Feelings”

 

On September 30, 2010, Manila tour guide Carlos Celdran was charged for Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, or “offending religious feelings,” when he displayed the now-infamous Damaso placard to the crowd at the Manila Cathedral.

Two years later, after many efforts from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) to shirk and delay the hearings, the Manila court has declared Celdran guilty of the said charge.

Below is the complete written decision:

 

 

You may also access the document here.

Posted in Advocacy, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism, Society6 Comments

Meet a Freethinker: Keisi Cascon

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Keisi Cascon, a 23-year-old LGBT rights advocate, a humanist, and an aspiring vegan who became a part of the Filipino Freethinkers in 2011. Keisi enjoys singing and walking–sometimes together! Take THAT, Eponine!

How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is a person who does not hold that an idea or belief is right without analyzing the reason or evidence for it, and is willing to change his/her mind when an idea or belief he/she subscribes to is proven wrong.

What belief system do you subscribe to?

Like most Filipinos, I am of a Catholic background. I was baptized a Catholic, and went to Catholic schools all my life. But while I had identified as a Catholic–it’s what I used to write down on forms and stuff because that’s what my parents taught me to do–my religiosity went only as far as attending the required masses in school.

I was not the religious type at all. I took communion when I felt like it, doing so just for the heck of it, without believing that the host was literally the body of Christ. I didn’t like the idea of confessing my “sins” to a priest, and I opted out of confirmation. I would say I was an agnostic theist or an apatheist. So, it was very easy for me to abandon religion.

I now identify as an agnostic atheist and a humanist. In terms of belief, I just go with whatever makes sense. I act according to what I think is best for humanity.

What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

A friend jokingly asked: “Naniniwala ka ba sa love?” (Do you believe in love?)

In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

I have gained many friends in FF. Being part of the community gives me the opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds, personalities, interests, persuasions, etc. with whom I can openly discuss any topic, including those considered taboo in other circles.

With these people, I feel totally accepted and free to express myself without fear of discrimination or rejection. Everyone is welcome in FF, except jerks. Nobody likes jerks.

Which did you find more challenging: coming out freethinker-wise, or coming out gender-wise?

There wasn’t an occasion when I came out either as a freethinker or as queer because I never really claimed to be otherwise. Whether being out as one is more challenging than the other depends on the context, so it’s difficult to say.

You are an advocate for LGBT rights. What is the greatest obstacle you’ve faced so far during your efforts?

Apathy. Not just from straight people, but from people who are LGBT themselves.

Any particular lifestyle changes you’ve made since adopting freethought?

As a freethinker, I don’t just do what most people do. I think about the consequences of my actions, weighing them based on how they will affect me, my fellow humans, other sentient beings, and the environment.

In 2007, I started making efforts to reduce my carbon footprint–my impact on the environment. The most significant part of it is lessening my consumption of meat and other animal products, which are not easy to avoid when you’re surrounded by producers and consumers of these things.

I am currently a flexitarian–a pesce-pollotarian, to be specific–but I will become a vegan someday.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker0 Comments

Meet a Freethinker: Andy Uyboco

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Andy Uyboco, a 39-year-old businessman and blogger (zenbananas.com) in Davao City.  He became part of the Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter in 2011.

How would you define a freethinker?
A freethinker is one who is unafraid of asking questions and is quite comfortable with having a contrary opinion. He does not take others’ statements at face value unless they sound plausible or reasonable. But he is also grounded in science and reality. When actual experimentation or observation proves a statement wrong — no matter how “reasonable” it may seem — he abandons (or modifies) the idea in favor of the evidence. Where evidence is lacking, however, then reasoning and logic must be used on whatever evidence is available. One thing a freethinker never does is appeal to authority, tradition, or any holy book to support his statements.

What belief system do you subscribe to?
I am a pantheist on Mondays, an agnostic on Tuesdays, a deist on Wednesdays, an atheist on Thursdays, a zen master on Fridays, and I like to take the weekends off. I do not really know what to believe about god since he (or she) has not spoken or appeared to me, at least in a way that makes me absolutely certain that it’s not my own mind playing tricks on me. And when other people tell me about god, it is always based on this or that holy book and you can see what I think about that in the paragraph above.

This is not to say that I absolutely deny the existence of any god as there are some versions of god that I find sensible enough — such as the deist view advanced by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason or a pantheistic perspective as laid out in the Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch. However, I have come to a point in my life where these belief systems do not guide my life. They are interesting for me to think about and discuss with others, but what rules in the end is reason and common sense. If there were a creator, then it created me as a thinking being, a rational being, and it would be a great disservice if I were to throw these away and mindlessly swallow any belief system out there.

What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?
Well, someone once asked me what made me leave my former belief (Evangelical Christianity), and so I elaborated my reasons for doing so. His response was something like “Well, you know, science changes everyday but the Bible never changes,” and that just made me scratch my head.

In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?
When I started questioning, it was quite a lonely journey as almost everyone in my close circles believed as I did. The freethinking community gave me assurance that I wasn’t the only crazy one out there. At the same time, I was glad to see people with different belief systems in the community, which proved this wasn’t just another cult or religion with a charismatic leader out to convert me to his way of thinking. I was happy to be in a place where people can have different beliefs but are able to have sane and rational discussions about them.

Word has it you almost became a pastor. How did that part of your life come about?
When I was a believer, I was not your run-of-the-mill lukewarm types. I was an officer several times over in church fellowships. I was always in the choir and in special singing groups. I read Christian books extensively as I was always concerned with my “spiritual growth.” When I was in college, I attended a Youth Camp and made a decision there to “dedicate my life to the Lord in full-time ministry” which meant that you would eventually be a pastor or missionary or something to that effect. And the next several years of my life were lived in that perspective. What happened to change that is a journey of several years that would be too long to recount here. For now, let me just say that the good Lord probably had other plans for me.

As a parent, how do you incorporate freethought into your parenting style?
When I teach my kids, I tell them why they should behave a certain way. For example, “You shouldn’t hit others because they’ll get hurt. You don’t want others to hurt you, do you?” I do not say “God will become angry” or “That’s a sin.” So I try to explain in a reasonable manner why they should do certain things and why they should avoid others.

What is interesting though is that my three kids study in a Christian school and go to Sunday School, except for my eldest. But when they don’t feel like going, I don’t force them to go (well, sometimes I do it as a punishment, especially for the eldest). But generally I let them go when they want to but have no qualms about taking them to the beach on Sunday morning if we feel like it.

If you are going to critique the belief system you subscribed to, what would you say?
One of my biggest issues with Christianity is that it is based on a book which claims to be inspired or god-breathed. Yet it is filled with so many inconsistencies, errors and contradictions that the layman cannot hope to resolve on his own. He has to read explanations from apologists and theologians, he has to read the original Greek or Hebrew text, he has to understand the historical context, and so on.

If you had good news and you wanted to share it to as wide an audience as possible, you would make it availabe to the “lowest common denominator” so to speak. In other words, it should be so simple and so accessible that even a moderately educated individual can understand it. As it is presented, however, this is the all-important message of salvation — this affects your life for ALL ETERNITY — and the best that this omniscient creator can come up with is a book which requires a lot of mind-bending, logic-twisting explanations from scholars, Ph.D.’s and whatnots (who don’t even agree with each other)?

To be fair though, I have many Christian friends and family and I still do, and I love them with all my heart. My quarrel was never with the people around me but with the doctrine itself. If there is one thing I still adhere to in Christian teaching, it is to “love one another.” That, for me, is the most sensible way to live and be happy.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker2 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Jan 19 Meetup, 2:30 PM at Green Papaya

Location: Green Papaya (41B Teodoro Gener cor Kamuning, Quezon City)
Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/Umq1O
Date: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Talk by Pepe Bawagan
– Politics and the Internet

Discussion topics
– Cybercrime Law Updates
– Children and biases: 2 million peso bounty on a child’s accidental killer [http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/01/13/13/govt-offers-p2-m-bounty-stephanie-nicoles-killer]
– Are Government Warnings Necessary?

RSVP here: https://www.facebook.com/events/398354230249954

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

Your Education Today Has Been Cancelled

Your Education Today Has Been Cancelled

It is the function of a good university to turn out an educated and informed citizenry, trained in the skills of critical thought necessary in building and growing an electoral democracy such as ours. This is why it is with gladness that I would like to invite students of the University of Santo Tomas to attend the forum whose details appear below, wherein upcoming national Senatorial candidates have been invited to a public debate on the vital issues of health, population and development.

I am particularly heartened at the courage and forward thinking of the student officers that took the initiative to organize the forum, and the school administration that must have approved it, which as we know has a history of silencing any open discussion on national reproductive health issues unless it is in line with strict Catholic Church doctrine. Now that we have an RH Law, I am glad that the UST school admin decided to lead its students by example on how to work with national government towards the greater good. It is only fitting that a school such as UST, with its prominent medical education program, should take the lead on learning the stand of potential lawmakers on health issues.

…Wait, WHAT? The school administration had it canceled? Because ProLIFE Philippines, a group that has no problem having a punchdrunk thug like Lito David running for them, complained that Risa Hontiveros, a proRH advocate would be going?

Well, God forbid we should have an open intellectual discussion in the middle of a university! My parents went to UST. They met there. They used to be proud of it. And I think the students there who fight for their right to be informed should be proud of themselves as individuals. I’m aware that as a privately run institution those in charge of it can stuff their student’s heads with whatever they want. As generally conceived, however, a school, especially a university, is supposed to be a place for the mind’s liberation, not its indoctrination. Until those in charge of UST can remember that, those university leaders have only themselves to blame for outsiders like myself thinking of their school as a shitty pseudouniversity run by petty, small minded cowards.

Invitation to #YouthVote 2013

A few months away from the national elections, the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines and the Forum for FP and Development invite you to the first of a series of forums for national and local candidates for 2013 starting with the First Senatorial Forum on Health, Population and Development, January 11, 12nn-2pm at UST College of Medicine Auditorium.

Mainstreaming youth issues, sentiments and policy recommendations for the 2013 elections, the youth leaders spearheading this movement nationwide would like to champion responsible voting, challenge traditional politics and make politics work for the youth and the Filipino people as a whole.

Confirmed guests in the forum are: Ms. Risa Hontiveros, Ms. Grace Poe Llamanzares, Mr. Richard Gordon, Ms. Jamby Madrigal and Rep. Sonny Angara. The event will also be inter-active and on live stream in Bicol University and University of the Philippines Cebu powered by SMART

Details:

Now Trending: #YOUTHVOTE2013

1st Senatorial Debates on Health, Population and Development

January 11, 2013

12:00nn – 2:00pm

College of Medicine Auditorium, University of Santo Tomas

Image from varsitarian.net

Posted in Advocacy, Personal, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism, Society2 Comments

Meet a Freethinker: Kenneth Keng

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Kenneth Keng–entrepreneur, theater actor, and FF’s RH Advocacy Director. He is an Episcopalian, and became part of the Filipino Freethinkers in 2010.  

 

1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who does his or her level best to form their personal opinions and beliefs based on reason, through critical thinking and logic, with the best evidence available. They would hold no belief or idea as being right simply because someone authoritative said so, or because it’s been held by people for x number of years.

 

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

Episcopalian, currently worshipping at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Makati.

 

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

They wrapped their hands around imaginary penises, began bobbing their heads up and down, and made sucking noises.

 

4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

Perspective. I had always felt that one’s religious backgrond or lack thereof shouldn’t matter as much as simply trying to do the right thing as best as one can, but being part of the Filipino Freethinkers has concretized it for me. It can be easy when one is nominally religious to not have to think too hard about the ethics of one’s actions, and that can lead to a lot of regular church goers acting really shitty towards people. Conversely I’ve seen many in FF who don’t ascribe to religious faith constantly think and process their actions and behaviour through moral philosophy and honest discourse, and turn out to be kinder people for it.

 

5) How do you reconcile the seemingly exclusivistic Christian doctrine (salvation through Christ alone) with being a freethinker?

I admit to reconciling it on a more experiential or emotional as opposed to intellectual level. I count myself fortunate that the church that I grew up in has been a loving, open, and accepting community. While as imperfect as most anything organized by people can be, it incorporates through its vestry council system a degree of democratic self correction by the laity. Congregation members have a real voice in shaping day to day doctrine alongside our ordained priests and bishops, and this has made it supportive of many of the same advocacies that FF works with, including women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights (with the undeniable and reprehensible exception of certain branches in Africa and parts of the US). It doesn’t take the Bible literally so has no problem with evolution. It has a tradition of not forcing its doctrine onto anyone who isn’t interested in it, and I later found has a number of thinkers I admire, such as Bishop Shelby Spong.

In the case of Holy Trinity, its members and its presiding clergy are fully aware of my activities in FF and rather than censure, they have given me only encouragement. They’ve even granted FF free use of its facilities as a meetup venue on several occasions now, with our presiding rector fully aware of its many atheist and agnostic members. This support in turn has been invaluable to me through a lot of difficult times in my life when it seemed like most of the world thought me some incarnation of the devil. Going there Sunday mornings feels a lot like an FF meetup in that way.

 

6) As FF’s RH Advocacy Director, what would you consider your most memorable moment fighting for the RH Bill’s passage?

Winning was pretty memorable. I used to think the escalating actions of the anti-RH camp would be the most affecting going forward in life (progressively getting screamed at, threatened with litigation, and then hit), but none of it really compared to being there in the congressional gallery next to the guy who wrote its first draft, amidst the women who’d been taking to the streets for more than a decade, with the few politicians who really stood for it even when it wasn’t popular, when the vote finally came through. Tear-streaked faces and embraces and relief and release and vindication and humanity triumphant.

Wish I could say the other side stayed classy afterwards but the hands thrust outside the windows of the van of the BUHAY party list giving us the fuck you finger on the way out kind of means I can’t.

 

Posted in Meet a Freethinker0 Comments

How to Kill As Many Unborn As Possible

The Reproductive Health Bill is now the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. While the measure has passed all legislative hurdles, the RH Law is now facing a predictable challenge in the Supreme Court. More predictably, the challenge comes from Catholic Church associates. While the intention behind the challenge is supposedly to protect the unborn, it is clear that if the goal of Catholics is to protect as many unborn children as possible, striking down the RH Law is just about the worst thing you can possibly do.

On the first working day of the year, January 2, James and Lovely-Ann Imbong filed a petition for the Supreme Court to nullify the recently passed bill. “In behalf” of their minor children, the Imbongs also name their two offspring as petitioners. As has been pointed out, the “Imbong” name should be very familiar because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has Jo Imbong, mother of James, as its lawyer. Also, James Imbong is the first nominee of the CBCP-backed Ang Pro-Life Party-List, which claims to represent not the Church, but OFWs. Try to stop yourself from laughing; it gets better. The CBCP has come out to state that they are in no way involved with the petition against the RH Law. Melvin Castro of the CBCP said that their counsel’s relation to the petitioners was “purely incidental.”

Pro-Life Philippines: Abortion is okay sometimes

Reason and Science of Contraception

It is typical for conservative Catholics to equivocate the RH Law with abortion. On the contrary, the availability of contraception diminishes the number of abortions. The logic is simple: people who use contraception want to prevent pregnancy resulting from particular sexual encounters. They can choose to have children from later coital acts by stopping the use of contraceptives. By reducing the number of pregnancies of people who do not want to be pregnant, the number of unwanted pregnancies decreases. Since unwanted pregnancies are the targets of chemical and surgical abortion, less unwanted pregnancies means less induced abortions. After all, why would you willfully abort a wanted pregnancy? Consistent and proper use of contraceptives therefore ensures that a pregnancy that does occur is wanted and planned instead of unwanted and by chance.

But, let’s not rely on pure reason and let some empiricism enlighten us. A four-year study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis came out last year to show that when free contraceptives were provided to a community, abortions decreased. It should be noted that from their study, most women (75%) chose to have “long-acting” contraceptives such as IUDs instead of pills, which must be taken daily. They found that abortions in St. Louis, Missouri, where the study was conducted, dropped by 20%, while the rest of Missouri’s abortion rates remained steady.

This result, however, is not enough to show that opposition to the RH Law will result in more abortions.

 

Intelligently Designed Abortion

Abortion is an unavoidable fact of pregnancy. Spontaneous abortions are more politely called “miscarriages,” but the essence is the same for either spontaneous or induced abortion—pregnancy ends and a fertilized embryo fails to develop into a child. Catholics would argue that the embryo is already a person and intentionally inducing abortion is murder. Miscarriages, then, would be accidental death. It turns out, however, that as much as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. This estimate includes the great number of pregnancies that were never even noticed because the embryos were spontaneously aborted so early. That means, for any sexual act that successfully results in a fertilized embryo (which Catholics believe are people), 50% of all of these “people” will die. If the Christian God is anti-abortion, it’s hard to imagine greater hypocrisy.

The main mechanism of contraceptives is to prevent the meeting of sperm and egg altogether, meaning no embryo is formed. The opposition of the Church against condoms should have been a dead giveaway that their concern is sex and not unborn children. Chemical contraceptives, like the pill, prevent the meeting of sperm and egg through various means, such as by slowing down the transport of the egg from the ovaries to the uterus. But, even if a drug were specifically designed to prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo (which is supposedly a person), its users would not rival the number of abortive events caused by well-meaning couples wanting to get pregnant. That’s not a strong enough statement. All the induced abortions performed in the world (over 470,000 in the Philippines according to 2000 data from the Guttmacher Institute), cannot even begin to compete with spontaneous abortions.

The Department of Health reported that there were 1,700,000 live births in 2000. If that is just 50% of all successful pregnancies, then that means there were also 1,700,000 embryos naturally aborted, or over three times the number of induced abortions in the same year. Therefore, if many pregnancies are prevented altogether through contraception, there will be less abortions. Thus, the Catholic plan of “openness” to pregnancy is tantamount to “openness” to spontaneous abortion. In contrast, a couple with no plans of ever conceiving risks no abortions. Comparatively, a couple that plans each pregnancy with contraceptives, and does not haphazardly sire dozens of kids, will not abort as many embryos as the well-meaning Catholic couple.

 

Accessories to Murder

If you want to avoid abortion altogether, the best way is not to have kids. If you want kids, you will risk having an abortion, whether or not you know about it. That is a fact we must accept as a nation. If you want to risk the least number of abortions, then you will need to plan your pregnancies and use contraception.

If you have as many kids as you want, you will abort just as many. It’s statistics. And if you want to kill as many unborn as possible, go a step further like the Imbongs and deny Filipinos the right to access to contraceptives.

The use of the Imbongs’ children in the petition, despite their being incapable to consent, is consistent with anti-RH values, since the Imbongs (and the Church) claim to represent children and the unborn in their crusade against reproductive rights. And in this crusade, they are not shy to employ the bloody imagery associated with the Catholic Church’s own medieval Crusades. About President Aquino’s signing of the RH Bill, Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles compared him to the Connecticut shooter who killed 20 schoolchildren because the RH Law would supposedly kill millions. But, we can see from the scientific evidence that it is not contraception, and not even induced abortion, that will lead to the most aborted embryos—it is the Church’s anti-contraceptive dogma. If abortion is murder, the Imbongs are accessories, and the Catholic Church is the killer.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Science3 Comments

Philippines Most Emotional Country

MANILA, Philippines—It was recently discovered that the Philippines is the world’s most emotional country. This has sparked many violent reactions from the Filipino community, most notably from those who drown themselves daily in celebrity drama on television. The following are some tweets that were collected a few hours after the findings were released to the public:

The process behind the research was reportedly very complex, involving nanobots being installed into subjects’ eyes through their pupils. These small robots measured the tear level of the subject and compiled their measurements into tiny nanoreports. These were then transmitted wirelessly using their itty bitty nanocomputers. The original procedure, which involved installing WiFi adapters directly into subjects’ brains, was scrapped in favor of this one. The stated reason was that too many subjects were exhibiting death upon installation of the new hardware, prompting the researchers to speculate that the human brain was not as compatible with computer hardware as previously thought.

The nanobots were also able to determine the exact reasons for sudden surges in emotion. The following pie chart illustrates how strongly the five most common reasons affect people:

The whole Philippine government was reportedly so enraged that it decided to have a BF (Bureau of Feels). “We will oversee all the emotions in this country and ensure that they always fall within accepted bounds,” says BF Spokesperson Lino Luha. Their proposed method of measuring public feelings is mandatory annual heart-weighing for all Filipino citizens.

According to Luha, the budget for the Bureau of Feels will be allotted as soon as the commissioner and the financial officer find it in themselves to put the past behind them and start talking to each other again. When asked exactly what past he was talking about, Luha declined to answer and instead ran out of the room, sobbing uncontrollably with his palms to his face.

Posted in Satire1 Comment

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