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 Garrick Bercero. Garrick is the Affiliations Director of Filipino Freethinkers, Inc. He coordinates with the various chapters of FF in universities and regional locales. He is a trained molecular biologist and, like Science Advocacy Director Pecier Decierdo, works at The Mind Museum.
Reading mainstream media reports on FF and listening to people like Eric Manalang, you can see that many people have the misconception that freethinking is “free [space] thinking.” They think freethinkers freely accept any kind of thought.
A freethinker is simply a person who rejects authority, tradition, and faith as sources of knowledge about the world. A freethinker uses reason and evidence to justify their beliefs. Freethinkers started during the Enlightenment and they were mostly deists, when the apparent design of the world couldn’t be explained. That is, until scientists like Darwin came along with ideas that showed how the world could come about without intent or purpose.
What belief system do you subscribe to?
I am an atheist. I was a Catholic for still most of my life (a fact I hope to change). I believe, that is to say I think it is uncertain, but highly probable, that there is no God—not the Judeo-Christian god or the philosopher’s gods. I am an atheist just like most people are atheists. I reject the Brahma that Muslims reject. I reject the Mithra that Taoists reject. I reject the Zeus that wishy-washy non-denominational Christians reject. I simply go one step further.
I am a philosophical naturalist. I reject the idea that there are things outside of nature. At the very least, nobody is in the position to say that the supernatural exists to any degree because there is little reason and absolutely no evidence for such a statement.
You’re an atheist and have no religion, but you write a lot about religion. Why is that?
People criticize FF a lot for being anti-Catholic. Why don’t we criticize other religions? Well, we do, when we criticize supernaturalist belief in general. But if we mostly criticize the Catholic Church, it’s simply because they are the dominant religious force in the country. There are almost no public policies where their concerns, when raised, are not given utmost importance. They are given unique attention by the government. It is only appropriate, then, that they be given unique attention by critics.
We’ve also been accused of picking on the Catholic Church. This is almost hilarious, if it weren’t so popular a view. The Catholic Church is in a position of power, which they use against the rights of women, LGBTs, and non-Catholics. Certainly, other religions must share similar, or even worse, views about civil rights. The key difference is that they are not in power; the Catholic Church is.
Apart from the political impact of the Catholic Church, I write against religion because I believe it is harmful. Every day, people use religion to justify oppressing people, like homosexuals and rape victims, who go against their questionable code of ethics.
What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?
I find that most people are ignorant of the “freethinker” concept so I rarely ever get reactions from it. People seem to be more aware of the “Filipino Freethinker” idea. And when they ask about it, they generally think of it as an activist organization.
Certainly, FF is a participant in the public discourse for change. That entails some involvement in protests and the political machinery. But, more than that, FF is a community for people marginalized by the religious majority.
In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?
As a former Christian, I know what I’m missing out on. Christianity provides fellowship and social support. I think that’s what people fear the most from leaving the Church. I think that’s why despite all the abuses, the hatefulness, and the backwardness, people stay with the religions of their birth even if they don’t really believe in the creed they murmur every Sunday.
FF replaces at least the fellowship aspect of religion. Meetups let me hang out with friends who share many common goals—common goals we often take to the streets for. That opportunity to try to change society and fight against opponents of progress and liberty, if you will forgive the saccharine idealism, is what makes me proud of being a part of this organization.
You say you used to be Christian; tell us about that part of your life. What made you change your mind?
I grew up in a Catholic household, like most Filipinos. I was baptized without my consent, like most Filipinos. Catholicism was just something I did because I knew nothing else. I prayed for torrential rains and a Nintendo 64. I blamed people’s sinfulness for their (and my own) misfortune. I never really thought about the metaphysical consequences of such beliefs.
That changed in high school when I met a fervent Evangelical community in the ironically state-run Philippine Science High School. I was amazed at their zealousness. I envied them. I stayed Catholic, but I started thinking about the bigger questions: if I really believe the Christian God exists, I must radically change how I live my life. I shouldn’t be like most Christians who don’t even think about what it means to hold consecrated bread and wine. (It literally means that God appears on Earth in the chemical forms of starch and ethanol.) I heavily highlighted my copies of the Douay-Rheims Bible and Leo Trese’s The Faith Explained. I even debated Evangelical friends about the merits of Catholicism.
This also eventually answers the question, “what changed my mind?” The further I went into the religion, the further I questioned believing any of it. During most of this period, I had Bible study with Evangelicals. We had a minister talk to us about their home in the UK, which they had rented out while his family stayed in the Philippines evangelizing. He told us about their trouble kicking out this single mother who had rented their place. She was a sinner and they couldn’t possibly condone sheltering one such as her if she was unrepentant.
I couldn’t accept this rationalization of what was clearly immoral to me. It was immoral to me, though, outside of the moral framework that had been taught to me by the Catholic Church. It was immoral by my own lights, by my own understanding. From there, I started rejecting Christianity, though I believed in a god well into my college years until I learned about metabolic pathways and genetics.
As Affiliations Director of FF, what is your biggest challenge?
As Affiliations Director, I coordinate the activities of FF regional and university chapters. The hardest part of this task comes from managing university chapters. Schools obviously have a high turnover rate that regional chapters do not have. Because of this, it is exceedingly difficult to maintain momentum from year to year as students graduate.
Why should students form school chapters? Of what benefit is it to them?
Religious indoctrination is particularly strong for school-aged children and young adults. There’s simply no alternative presented. FF’s university chapters aim to rectify this problem. We want to provide a forum for students who just can’t buy into religion. We want to provide a community for students to voice out their dissent with the religious establishment and for them to support each other. FF aims to foster a society that thinks critically and thinks using evidence and reason. Intellect matures in schools and we want to make sure that the young members of our intellectual community are aware that there are others out there who also see that the emperor that is religious faith wears no clothes. Freethinkers are a much needed voice of reason in often demagogue-dominated universities.