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Categorized | Meet a Freethinker

Meet a Freethinker: Mike Aquino

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 Mike Aquino: ad agency burnout, freelance writer, striving to be a good husband and dad. He’s a big believer in the magic of the universe (“magic” being figurative, not literal), and hopes his kid gets to see the world that way someday. He is’s Southeast Asia Travel guide, and his work often appears in Yahoo! too. Portfolio here; profile here.

How would you define a freethinker?

I’m absolutely down with the basic Wikipedia definition of a freethinker: I’m someone who believes that “opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason and empiricism and not authority, tradition, or other dogmas”. I firmly believe that many of our country’s problems stem from de-kahon thinking: taking clerics, government functionaries, and “respectable” elders at their word, and acting upon them as if their beliefs were consistent with the truth.

At the same time, I don’t believe that there are no limits on the things we can believe or do: I’m a big believer in testing your beliefs against reality. Is there a study to back it up? Has it been proven to work in other communities? Any case studies in history we can check out? I might believe that we live in an uncaring universe with no God to watch over us, but I’d gladly chuck that if the evidence says otherwise.

I might say two books most shaped my outlook on freethought. The first is Richard Feynman’s autobiography, where his advice on designing experiments applies pretty handily to my approach to testing the world and our beliefs about it: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” The second is Steven Pinker’s the Blank Slate, which shows how utopian beliefs about society can collide with reality, producing quite disastrous results.

What belief system do you subscribe to?

I’m at the stage where the word “atheist” feels too strong, although that’s literally what I am. Would it be dishonest to disavow a word that has far too much emotional baggage? I usually say I’m a secular humanist. I’m really not that hung up about whether God exists or not (though I’m pretty much convinced he doesn’t, and if anybody tells me otherwise, the burden of proof is on them). I’m more concerned about how my beliefs shape the person I am – not just emotionally and intellectually, but morally too.

Maybe it’s the dad in me speaking. As my wife and I raise our daughter, I personally do not have religion to fall back on, and that’s perfectly OK; I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I’m very interested in how we can impart a moral sense to our daughter even if we don’t resort to the usual clichés of “you won’t go to heaven” and “Jesus is watching”.

Any parent who says they have a moral teaching system down pat is either deluded or lying. Being a dad, and being a successful one without resorting to religion, is still a work in progress. At this point, I want my daughter to know it’s far more important to be kind than to be right. The rest will probably fall into place after much trial and error.

Thanks to the Internet, I have the blogs of other freethinking parents to fall back on: I personally prefer Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief blog and Wendy Thomas Russell’s Relax, It’s Just God blog.

Would you send your child to a Catholic school?

That is something we’re avoiding as much as we can. Thank goodness I haven’t had to compromise on my child’s education, as we’re now sending her to a progressive, secular school in the Scout area in Quezon City.

I think Filipino parents have a lot of hang-ups about sending their kids to a school that is not run by a Catholic order. Of course, we were raised to believe that the best education only came from schools run by the Jesuits, Assumption Sisters, etc. (I was educated completely in the Ateneo system myself.) But plenty of secular schools in the Philippines are now giving the religious orders fair competition.

My daughter learns plenty about science, math, and love of country, without the wasteful baggage of learning about religion. In my opinion, teaching theology to kids is a huge waste of time; something I’m glad to say I’m not paying for.

Is your wife a freethinker? If not, how do you reach a compromise (esp. regarding your child’s religion)?

Also a work in progress; I’m not interested in “converting” anybody to my point of view. Respecting my wife’s privacy, I’ll only say she is a believer; we are in agreement on how to raise our daughter and what her long-term educational trajectory should be. This agreement might not be possible if, say, my spouse were Opus Dei or similarly brainwa- I mean devout.

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

My friend asked that, since I was an atheist, if I felt it was now morally acceptable to be unfaithful to my wife. You know, as atheists don’t have any moral guardrails and all? I thought about it a moment, then I ripped his eyes from his head. (I’m kidding. I think.)

Freethought-wise, where is the most interesting place you’ve traveled to?

Southeast Asia (my area of coverage) isn’t particularly interesting so far as freethought is concerned, except that the status quo across the rest of the region makes me feel lucky we have the rights we enjoy in our country.

No law penalizes my apostasy from Roman Catholicism. No laws in the Philippines tell me what religion I ought to belong to on account of my skin color. No law impedes my freedom to criticize the Catholic church and the bishops, and that one law that got Carlos Celdran stands a good chance of being repealed. No law will send me to jail for saying I’m an atheist. No law requires I send my child to a religious school. I am free to say “no” to religion without having to jump through any legal hoops to do so.

It’s not a perfect situation (again: see Carlos Celdran, also see Mideo Cruz), but you ought to give props to Philippine society: we have an amazing degree of religious freedom in our country relative to other places in Southeast Asia, and I am determined to keep it that way.

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

When I make my secular, nonbelieving, skeptical, materialistic views public, I don’t feel like I’m a lone nut anymore. It’s no longer crazy to say that the Catholic Church has too much power, or that it’s perfectly OK to live free of religion; being part of Filipino Freethinkers puts me in common cause with a surprisingly large group of people who feel the same way.

Yes, even other parents who face the same challenge raising kids the way we’d like in a super-religious society. The joke used to be that parents automatically found religion after their kids were born; groups like Filipino Freethinkers- Parents prove that that may not necessarily be the case.

I’m also more optimistic now: groups like Filipino Freethinkers may just help move the Overton window in the Philippines away from sheeplike religiosity to a more enlightened, secular way of thinking. A more rational, scientific, secular Philippines… that’s the kind of country I hope my daughter comes of age in.