Meet a Freethinker: Antonio Pe Yang III

Welcome to the second entry in our Meet a Freethinker series, where we introduce prominent members of the Filipino Freethinkers, and give you an idea about their motivations and beliefs (or lack of), and other interesting tidbits of info on who they are.

This entry will be about Antonio Pe Yang III, a 29-year digital content editor who’s been with the group since 2009.

He’s also into ponies. Deal with it.

How would you define a freethinker?

In the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, when the emperor is celebrating his “new” wardrobe by marching around town, there’s a kid in the crowd who’s laughing and saying his ruler doesn’t have clothes. The kid doesn’t care that townsfolk are telling him to shut up, or that he’s drawing attention to himself. All he knows is the naked (pardon the pun) truth – that the new “clothes” are a figment of the emperor’s imagination.

Freethinkers are that kid – we are the ones who aren’t afraid to speak up when people make extraordinary (and oftentimes ridiculous) claims about our world based on their religious beliefs or superstition, but are unable to back up their assertion with any solid evidence or facts. A lot of us also happen to be huge sci-fi, comic book, RPG, video game, and ‘toon geeks, so you could say there’s an extra layer to that metaphor.

I also don’t think being a freethinker is contrary to being open-minded. The latter means being able to analyze all possible data, and weighing which ones best explain the topic in question. My problem with people who demand that I be open-minded is that they almost always do so while pushing a superstitious explanation for something, while ignoring all other options. Such as claiming a statue of the Virgin Mary is crying, when it’s just simple physics.

What belief system do you subscribe to?

I follow deism as defined by Thomas Paine. I don’t believe in a “revealed” god, as stressed by the Abrahamic religions, or a god that directly interferes in human affairs or demands worship. I see god as something abstract, a “something” that’s the sum of all of the laws of physics that keep our world working. Think of it as “The Force” or “Data Overmind,” if you’re into that sort of thing. I also believe that the best way to better understand this God is through scientific study of our surroundings.

I say “something” here as an umbrella term, since I’m not sure whether it’s “a” god or a myriad of gods (for lack of a better term).

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

Not a specific person per se, but back when I was becoming more vocal during the height of the RH Bill debates and RCC child abuse scandals, people on the net began calling me out for being a freethinker despite, according to them, me being a proud graduate of Ateneo de Manila University.

I was apparently shaming my school because I dared to criticize the Catholic Church on several matters, like its intellectual dishonesty in the RH debates, its sheltering of child rapists, and its vocal opposition to gay rights. It was funny because it’s exactly because of my upbringing in ADMU that I learned to start asking questions and to be honest with what I said – anything less would.

It was also in ADMU that I began to understand that the RCC’s decline was the result of its own history of corruption and greed, and was neglecting its obligation to uplift poor and oppressed.

When you make students sit though a semester’s worth of lectures on Nietzche, Sarte, and Liberation Theology, what do you think is going to happen?

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

When I discovered the Filipino Freethinkers, I’d had just left Catholicism because of some insanely stupid things the church had done – like excommunicating a medical team that performed an abortion to save a child’s life. The meetups helped me learn the ropes on what it meant to be a freethinker, particularly the importance of being truthful, and always, ALWAYS backing up everything with hard facts.

Being involved with the Filipino Freethinkers also gave me access to some my biggest critics – I can count on them to be the first to call me out if I say something out of line, and they’ll always present the facts proving why I’m wrong. This constant exposure to opposition has shaped me for the better, particularly my views on gender and LGBT equality, religious bias, and the importance of science in society, while giving me a drive to always learn more.

You’re very vocal online. What motivates you in engaging in online discussions?

If I had to pick a word: Rage.

I’ve become vocal because I got tired of having to put up with the sort of inanity religious conservatives here in RP think they can say with impunity, such as claiming that natural disasters are God’s punishment for whatever transgressions, or that the RH Bill is a harbinger of destruction, debauchery, and immorality (hint: It’s not).

I felt that as somebody who knew better, I had an obligation to call out the shit they were feeding everybody, partly for the satisfaction of destroying a poor argument, and partly to spread the word. Plus I seemed to write better angry.

So every time I speak up, I use direct language to drive my points home, and I prefer not to say “Fuck you, cockbreath!” or its myriad of variations until I feel I’ve categorically proven in the exchanges that the unfortunate sumbitch on the receiving end deserves to be bludgeoned with harsh language (Read: False positives). Just because I play by the rules doesn’t mean I have to play nice.

As a freethinker, do you look up to anyone as a particular role model?

Terry Pratchett. While he’s not as science-ish as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan, or as profound as Dawkins or Hitchens, through his Discworld novels, Sir Pratchett’s taught me much about how people work. His books are a hilarious but insightful take on just how complicated human society could be, and never failed to drive home topics as sensitive as gender equality (among dwarves, to boot!) and atheism (through golems!) while still playing them for laughs.

Sir Pratchett’s books also gave me a lot of pointers on how to handle god-bothering idiots and other people like them. I’ve realized that a lot of what fundies will say are already inane enough as it is, and all it takes is a nudge (or a little sarcasm) to turn them from today’s fiery rhetoric into this week’s lol-worthy meme.

Every belief system has a dark side, what is the dark side of your belief system?

Honestly, I don’t really know. I haven’t read that far into famous deists, so I’m not familiar with the darker aspects of my belief that might manifest. Thomas Paine himself was something of a troublemaker, although I’m not sure how much of what he did and said was a product of his deism, rather than Paine just being a pain in the ass.

It didn’t involve anything as ludicrous as shooting lightning from his hands or crushing somebody’s crotch with his mind, if that’s what you were hoping for, sorry.