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Meet a Freethinker: Ian Carandang

Meet a Freethinker: Ian Carandang

IAN 1No 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 Ian Carandang. Ian is the genius behind Sebastian’s Artisanal Ice Cream. He is arguably the foremost artisan ice cream maker in the Philippines, who also just happens to be an advocate for LGBT equality and a freethinker.

You can find his fan page here: https://www.facebook.com/Sebastians.Ice.Cream

1) How would you define a freethinker?

A critical thinker who does not let himself be defined by dogma.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I consider myself spiritual. I believe there is much we do not know about the Universe. I believe that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. And it’s nice to imagine that we are all connected. Einstein himself said “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”

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?

I don’t really go around doing that, brandishing some sort of Freethinker ‘card’. I just consider myself a Critical thinker and act from there.

4) Aside from reason & science, are there other advocacies you promote?

LGBT Rights. Being gay myself, it’s a very important and personal issue to me, obviously, and I try to do what I can in my own small ways. For example for this year’s Pride March, Sebastian’s will have a booth there, and I will be selling Pride Pops, Paletas in the colors of the Rainbow Pride and Bear Pride flags.

IAN 5

I chose Paletas (Artisanal Mexican Ice Pops) because I made a rainbow flag Ice Cream before — successfully, I might add — but the problem with that format was that it looked great only in the tub, but as soon as you scooped it, all those colors were lost and you just got a messy multicolored sphere. With Paletas, you can keep the Rainbow flags as visible all the way up until you finish them, and you can celebrate your Pride in a refreshing way.

Both Pride Pops will be available at the Manila Pride March Bazaar in Remedios Circle this weekend on December 6.

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Meet a Freethinker: Dustin Celestino

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 Dustin Celestino. He’s the current content editor of the Filipino Freethinkers website. He is a gradute of Philosophy and teaches writing, literature and research at Asia Pacific College. He was once hailed as the “Number One Authority on Anti-RH Arguments,” by mistake. He’s written over 40 articles for the Filipino Freethinkers and you can find them all here (http://filipinofreethinkers.org/author/dustin_celestino/).

Dustin IMage1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is a skeptic, first and foremost. He is a person whose knowledge about the world is based on the most reliable evidence he could find. He tries his best to be objective, and is suspicious of tradition, authority, and hearsay. He’s the type of person who would spend hours researching, looking for evidence, and would spend even more hours looking for counter-evidence, before he reluctantly makes a “truth” claim. In addition to that, I think a freethinker is a perspectivist who is aware that contradicting “truths” are constantly competing for validation and verification, and that there are agendas that influence the promotion of these “truths.”

He is someone who can understand, and even acknowledge, the merits of beliefs and ideas that contradict his own. I think a freethinker is also a person who is “free” from his own ego; a person that would be happy to be corrected, if the correction made by a rival would bring him closer to the truth that he is seeking.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an atheist. I live my life with the assumption that there is no God. I acknowledge the cultural reality of the idea of god, but reject its literal reality. I mean, God is real in the same way that abstract ideas like honor and beauty are real. These ideas do not have a physical reality, but they do have influence over the behavior, beliefs and emotions of people. However, these ideas do not have an objective, concrete, or measurable reality, in the same way that objects in the real world do. Until I encounter non-anecdotal evidence that proves otherwise, I will maintain disbelief in the existence of God.

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?

I don’t usually tell people that I’m a freethinker. I sometimes introduce myself as a member of the Filipino Freethinkers, but I’m often apprehensive about calling myself a freethinker, mostly because I am not entirely sure if I’m behaving or thinking rationally enough to be considered one. I have a tendency to romanticize my existence. I behave irrationally at times. I have a quick temper. I take unnecessary risks. I make bad decisions.

I can provide a litany of resources about why a person shouldn’t drink beer, or why it’s unethical to eat meat, or why a person my age should save more money; I often know what is, scientifically, the right thing to do, but I still end up not doing it.

Sometimes I would rather win an argument than find out what the truth is, when I’m arguing with a person I’m annoyed with. I’m not sure if I’m quite freethinker-like. I’m honestly more comfortable with the term “atheist.” However, I still base my knowledge about the world on evidence, and evaluate information free from the influence of tradition and dogma. So, I guess, that makes me a freethinker, sort-of.

I guess the most interesting response I got after mentioning I was a freethinker was: “Don’t you have to be, like, smart to be a freethinker?”

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

Well, the community taught me to be humble. I was kind-of a smart ass and a know-it-all before and I didn’t take criticism well. My interactions with freethinkers allowed me to learn humility in that I sometimes found myself staring at lengthy essays about why whatever I said was wrong. The Filipino Freethinkers website also provided me a venue where I could write my ideas, and people could swear and curse at me, sometimes by the thousands. But, honestly, what I’m thankful for most is the friendship and camaraderie.

Although there are a few freethinkers who are quite arrogant and hypercritical, I still think that, for the most part, the freethinking community is populated by tolerant & ethical people who are united by their collective passion for humanism.

5) As the content editor of FF, what is your biggest challenge?

I’m finding it difficult to solicit material from progressive religious people. I’ve been wanting to feature articles from progressive faithfuls about how they integrate their faith with the scientific facts they encounter. I think that there is a way to be faithful without denying scientific facts.

I was hoping that through the works of contributors with faith, people who continue to deny science would be inspired to integrate science with their faith as well. I believe that the negative consequences of religion that are often criticized by many of our contributors can be avoided by offering more perspectives on faith.

I’m looking for contributors who believe in both science and God. So, if you know anyone, or if you’re one yourself, let us know.

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Meet a Freethinker: Sass Rogando Sasot

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 Sass Rogando Sasot. Currently based in the Hague, Netherlands, Sass is one of the founders of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), the pioneer transgender rights and advocacy organization in the Philippines; a student at the international honours college of Leiden University, finishing a Combined Honours Degree in World Politics and Global Justice minor in International Development; and one of the recipients of the 2013 ECHO Awards, given annually to excellent migrant students in academic and higher professional education in the Netherlands.

photo1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who takes freedom and thinking seriously. By seriously, I mean three things. First, being aware of not only the possibilities but, more importantly, the limitation of our own freedom and thinking, i.e a profound level of self-reflexivity.  Second, basing belief and action on that awareness, i.e using our freedom and thinking in a responsible and accountable manner. And third, understanding that thinking is a process, it is a conversation that never stops. This implies having the humility to accept that what you have thought is not something you generate yourself alone. Thought is a product of an endless conversation that preceded you, and it will continue to persist even when you’re gone. Kenneth Burke put this point more beautifully:

“Imagine that you enter parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly  what it is about. In fact, the discussion has begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone on before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally’s assistance. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My political conviction is very eclectic. I draw on insights from different thinkers. However, at this point of my thinking process, my political conviction is highly influenced by realist political philosophers, specially Raymond Geuss, Judith Shklar, Chantal Mouffe, and Bernard Williams. I even appreciate insights of philosophers of conservatism, specially that of John Kekes.

My religious belief is informed by the idea that there is a force greater than ourselves, but that doesn’t mean believing in a God. It means coming to terms with our own insignificance, i.e. the overcoming of the self. And if there’s any book that can sum up my religious beliefs, it’s Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.

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?

I didn’t “come out” as a freethinker to anyone. If there is one, I would probably find it a very, very strange thing to do. For me, one starts being a freethinker by adapting one of the greatest thinking tools: critical thinking. Critical thinking is a very laborious thing to do. The most interesting reaction I got is the same reaction we get from those who don’t challenge their own thinking (i.e. not used to self-reflexivity): They shut us off with “This is my opinion, respect it.”

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

It made me more deeply aware that pluralism is, as what Hannah Arendt would say, the inescapable fact of the human condition.

5) As a founding member of STRAP, what do you think is the biggest challenge that transgender persons face today? How can it be addressed?

The challenges transgender persons face today exist in a vicious circle. Each point in that circle feeds on each other, giving this cycle a momentum that is very difficult to counteract. One crucial point in that circle is the internalized transprejudice of transgender people themselves. Transprejudice is a set of practices and beliefs whose underlying assumption is that transgender people are not human beings, therefore they don’t deserve the treatment reserved only for human beings. The danger starts when transgender people start acting on that assumption by engaging in reckless, irresponsible, and self-defeating behaviour. I have struggled with this myself – and it is still hunting me.

How can it be addressed? There are institutional and personal ways of addressing it. The primary institutional means of addressing it is through the most basic institution, the family, where transprejudice begins. Every child, no matter who they are, should be treated as a human being. Treating someone as a human being is respecting their own uniqueness and accepting the manifestation of that uniqueness. Then, the next important institution is our schools and universities – they should endeavour to support the flourishing of everyone’s uniqueness.

As for the personal way, transgender people should start being aware of how they have internalized the prejudice and bigotry against them. When one becomes aware, one can be able to arrest the damaging effects of internalized transprejudice. We transgender people cannot stand up and claim our rights, or even love wholeheartedly, without first reclaiming ourselves from prejudice and bigotry.   This is a difficult and long process, but it needs to be done so one can fully live.

6. What’s the most memorable country you’ve been to, and why?

Denmark – it’s where I first met my partner. It was a very romantic and serendipitous moment.

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Meet a Freethinker: Marcelle Fabie

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 Marcelle Fabie. Marcelle is the head writer for the 8List, part of the Rowdy Empire on WAVE 89.1, a host, magician, mentalist, and comedian.

Behind the Mic1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who questions before accepting: someone who is guided by reason rather than dogma when it comes to believing or not believing in something.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

That’s hard to answer, in all honesty. There are days I wake up feeling I’m an atheist, or days I feel like I’m a hardline Catholic. Other days, I feel like a deist. Even calling myself “agnostic” in the face of that realization doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is I’m pretty bad with labels.

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?

“Huh. But why are you celibate and straight-edge?” Because obviously, being a freethinker means being a hedonist, right?

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

It has opened my mind to other points of view that wildly differ from mine, especially when it comes to ethics. For example, if I never heard Red Tani describe his reasons for being pescetarian, I would still probably roll my eyes at the very concept of veganism to this very day.

 

5) How did you become a magician/mentalist? Did it influence you as a freethinker somehow?

I was Grade 3 when I gained an interest in magic beyond single tricks, and ironically, it was a nun, Sister Angie, who taught me most of my first routines. It was an on and off hobby for most of my life, until 2006, when in an effort to perform a killer show for a surprise party for one of my then best friends, I seriously took up magic.

At some point, I noticed I was pouring in thousands of bucks into the endeavour already, so I just started announcing at large that I can be hired for magic shows. While learning the ropes that way, I developed an affinity for mentalism, and even took up a few psychology units just to get the right feel for the act.

So no, I don’t have powers, much less have I sold my soul to the devil to do what I do. If I had the smallest notion that doing so would be possible, though, I’d have done it to really make sure my standup comedy act or radio career really takes off from this point on.

As for freethinking, in studying secrets of magic and the way mentalism achieves its results, I’ve become wary of people who claim they have powers, yet are using the exact same methods I use. Hence, the Mindmaster article I wrote for you guys.

I come from the Penn and Teller school of thought when it comes to magic and mentalism. Both being freethinkers as well, they influenced not only my style but even my mentality as a performer. Of course, the traditional magicians frown upon exposure of magic wholesale, but my opinion of exposure is a bit more nuanced by that, having been tempered by Penn and Teller.

 

6) What is your favourite list on the 8List website so far?

Aside from the lists I wrote poking fun at Youtube music videos, I’ll have to go with 8 Mind-Blowing Instances of Pinoy Outrage (Aside from Dan Brown).

I think it’s no secret that my writing style for the 8List has been heavily influenced by Cracked. That being said, this list would have almost fit right in with Cracked, and I’m pretty happy about that.

As the kicker, the list’s comments also contained instances of my pet peeve: people asking me why there are only 8 items on the list. In a site called the 8List. This almost directly gave birth to one of my lists that was so controversial that it was taken down from the 8List: 8 Mind-Blowingly Stupid Comments I See on List Sites.

Yes, I’m fond of the word “mind-blowing.” Why do you ask?

 

7) The 8List piece on atheism was pretty successful. What’s the most important thing you learned from publishing it?

I would have to say that I learned people tend to see an “agenda” when they see something on their favourite website that they don’t like. Write a single pro-LGBT list, a pro-RH list, and a list that explains what atheists are, and the 8List suddenly has a “liberal agenda.” That’s funny, because nobody’s stopping anyone from writing a list that is anti-LGBT, or anti-RH, or anti-atheist, so long as it’s not bigoted or sexist.

Oh, right.

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Meet a Freethinker: Ana P. Santos

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 Ana P. Santos. Ana is a freelance journalist who focuses on women’s sexual health rights. She is the fabulous femme behind Sex and Sensibilities, and the Rappler column Dash of SAS

 

ANA P SANTOS1) How would you define a freethinker?

I think a freethinker is someone who chooses to live by their own rules and belief system rather than be constrained by a structure–religion or otherwise–manufactured by someone else. A freethinker is critical and questioning; a freethinker is unafraid of standing apart as an individual and standing up for what he/she believes in. I love the way that last phrase is said in Tagalog: may paninindigan. It has so much more feeling in it. There are just some words that like curse words, are better said in one’s mother tongue. : )

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My own. And I would best describe that as a cocktail of different principles and beliefs that I picked up from various philosophies, life experiences, books, cultures, and interactions. It’s unconventional at best, I admit, but I reached a point where I’m unapologetic about my beliefs so it kind of evens things out.

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

I believe in showing not telling. I’ve never really had to tell someone I was a freethinker. I think they figured it out after reading what I write or Tweet about. Being part of a freethinking community is so very liberating. There’s really no other way to say it. I remember in my high school English class, we were asked to prepare a persuasive speech. So while my other classmates wanted to talk about the post-cold war era, and the US bases (yes, I am totally dating myself), I wanted to talk about pre-marital sex. I thought then, as I do now, that sex is but natural in the context of a committed relationship between two consenting adults. When it was my turn to present the topic of my speech to my teacher, I told her point blank, “My topic is pre-marital sex. I’m not against it.” She was so shocked and asked me, “You’re kidding, right?”

The other girls in line snickered in a “told-you-so” kind of way…and I cowered. I softened my stance to no to pre-marital sex, but ended my speech with, “It’s only you who can make that decision.”

I got deductions for the last phrase because my teacher said I was fence-sitting when the paper called for a definitive stance. I always kind of look at that memory and feel a tinge of regret–especially in light of what I do know in terms of sexual health advocacy. I have no excuse except that I was 14 and probably the lone freethinker in a school that prized conformity more than critical thinking.

5) What are the most common questions you get with regards to sex?

The usual: How big do I have to be to please my girlfriend/wife? from the boys and from the girls, it’s how not to get pregnant. I also get off-beat questions like: Is it true that the penis can get stuck in the vagina during intercourse, and a question posted on Twitter: Can I get pregnant from oral sex? That question spawned a witty retort from my friend, Alvin Dakis, another freethinker, who said, “Sabihin mo, hindi sya mabubuntis pero mabubusog sya!” In a column called “The Problem With Virginity”, the girl was asking about oral sex; she was avoiding penetrative sex because she wanted to preserve her virginity and wanted me to assure her that she would not get pregnant via oral sex or if he boyfriend just slid his penis outside her vagina but never put it inside. I told her neither I, nor science, could give her that assurance.

As you can see from the questions, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding not just sex — but biology, even.

6) What have been the greatest obstacles to freethinking in your life as a parent?

I can’t really think of any, honestly. Oh, maybe how my daughter would perceive it. Would she expect me to be normal like the other moms? Or would she think I was being too radical? All the hypotheticals. I’d like to think that I’ve managed to negate some of that by showing her that I respect her views and she should thus, respect mine. During one dinner conversation, we were discussing the RH Bill and I found her echoing some of my points. I asked her if that was really what she thought and assured her that it was okay for her to have an opinion different from mine. What is important is she has her own opinion!

7) Why do you think it’s important to be sex positive? 

I have my own definition of being sex positive: it’s acknowledging each person’s divine right to give love, show love, and make love. It is a mistake to separate our sexuality from our humanity. Sex positive is just the opposite of how we’ re treating and talking about sex now–as dirty, as taboo and restricted to married people. A lot of our problems in population and development and even gender stem from the sex negativity. Isn’t the very definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? So if things are not working under the current status quo, then we should try something different like sex positivism.

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Meet a Freethinker: Nancy Siy

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 Nancy Siy. Nancy is a full-time (and currently the only) Jivamukti Yoga teacher in Manila. The job is part-DJ, part-masseuse, part-preacher, part-stand-up comedian, part PE teacher, and part-therapist, which makes it all the more interesting. To take these classes that are dubbed “the wild child of yoga”, visit www.manilajiva.com for schedules and details.

 

1081175_10152080842499638_860837329_n1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who uses his or her own discernment, experience, logic, and set of values to live the life he or she chooses. The operative word is choice. A freethinker chooses the life that he or she lives. He or she was not pressured or brainwashed or tricked into it. A freethinker is ready to change his or her position when new information or experiences arise.

 

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am spiritual but not religious. By that, I mean that I believe our experience of this human life has to transcend our own ego, selfish desires, and fleeting sensual pleasures in order to be meaningful. Our lives are all entwined by matter, by consciousness, by our choices. There is more to life than the cycle of making money and spending it. Spirituality means that I take action to make this world a better place. Spirituality means that I am aware of how much power I have in creating this world we live in. Spirituality means that I believe we are all in this together.

 

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?

When I said I do not prescribe to any religion, I was asked “Where do you get your morals?” And I said “How can you question my morals? I’m vegan. My morals tell me it is wrong to kill.”

 

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

I did not grow up with a religion to begin with, so it was never a big deal to me. I didn’t have to “come out”. My freethinking friends and I discuss issues that are not very popular, like the morality of the choices we make – what we eat, being childless by choice, adoption (human or animal), etc.

 

5) What made you decide to be a vegan?

When it hit me that I was part of the problem, that my actions are causing so much fear and suffering which are completely unnecessary, I felt that I can no longer participate in this system of oppression, and that made me vegan.

 

6) What do you think is the connection between veganism and freethinking?

In a society where consuming animals is normal, one has to be a freethinker to veer away from tradition and norms and grasp the concept of speciesism. Just as religion is imposed on young children, so is the idea that animals are inferior. Just as non-conformity to a religious society can put pressure on an atheist, so can veganism alienate one from “normal people”.

 

7) Why do you think people who are otherwise rational and compassionate still not vegan?

Veganism is not just about what one chooses to eat or wear or support. Veganism is a paradigm shift not only of how we view animals but also of how we view ourselves (our power, our choices, our priorities). There are people who may understand the ethical arguments completely, who feel awful when they watch animals being slaughtered, but they do not make the behavioral change because they have not yet made the connection of just how powerful they are. The ego swings the inferior-superior pendulum. “It’s only me, one person, I can’t make a difference anyway” fall into the inferior while “I cannot be inconvenienced to think about others” fall into the superior side of this ego swing. To become vegan, one has to get over oneself, one’s ego, and see that this is “not about me”. It’s not just about logic. It’s about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about being able to empathize.

 

8) What is Jivamukti Yoga?

Jivamukti Yoga is a yoga practice that teaches unity, oneness, and the connection with all beings. In a Jivamukti Yoga class, it is emphasized that although we use our bodies to come into contortionist-like positions, we do it because we use our body as a prop to get to know ourselves better. We can observe our reactions, our tendencies, our thoughts, our patterns. We become the silent witness. Our movements become a meditation in which we see ourselves. Jivamukti Yoga teaches nonviolence/compassion as the most important practice of yoga. Other elements included are devotion/transcending the ego, meditation/observation, sound/music/vibrations, and the intellectual study of yogic texts. There is a focus of the month every month, and the breadth of topic is broad, from Tat Twam Asi (You are That/God) to Sacred Geometr,y to sex, to aparigraha (non-greediness), to overcoming negative emotions, etc. Jivamukti Yoga, more than any other yoga style I have tried, is a communication platform to raise consciousness. Jivamukti Yoga teachers boldly talk about issues like veganism, environmentalism, and social activism. We draw inspiration from enlightened people (like the Buddha) and peace makers (like Martin Luther King) alike. I would sometimes read excerpts from literary works, sometimes play audio clips by Alan Watts or Neil deGrasse Tyson, or play songs by the Beatles or Bob Marley, or songs written about  heroes of peace like Gandhi.

 

9) How have you pointed your skeptic rational mind at the concept of chakras, and how do you reconcile this skepticism with the spirituality involved in yoga?

Yoga does not contradict science. The terminologies are different, but the concepts are the same. Yoga uses words like “prana” which is basically energy or “chakra” or energy centers. For example, the “manipura chakra” or power center is energetically located in the solar plexus, which deals with the pancreas and liver. The concept of this power center can be “translated” in layman’s terms as the center that deals with what we consume (what we eat) – the digestive system. These seemingly esoteric concepts are very practical if you dig deep into it.

Yoga is actually very practical, because it is a system that asks us to dig deep into the root causes – causes of our suffering, patterns, beliefs etc. I am spiritual not because I am not skeptical. I am spiritual precisely because I am skeptical of what is unreal. It is unreal to think that human beings are the center of the universe. It is unreal to think that reality only exists within our very limited perceptions of time, space, and dimension. The way I see it, scientists explain while yogis experience. Movies like “What the Bleep Do We Know” explore very yogic concepts. When Neil deGrasse Tyson said that our atoms are made up of the particles of stars – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen – that is what yogic teachings refer to when they say we are all connected and that “the universe is in us”.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post are of a personal nature, and do not speak for the Filipino Freethinkers as an organization.

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Meet a Freethinker: Marisse Galera

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 Marisse Galera. Marisse has been a skeptic since she was nine. She is currently taking up AB Psychology and AB Development Studies in Ateneo de Manila University. She’s also a bipolar and an ambivert.

 

559470_494119647274104_2061695098_n1) How would you define a freethinker?

I believe that freethinking has more to do with how a person has arrived to his belief or lack thereof. It is the capacity to employ genuine critical thinking and introspection. I think some people only label themselves as atheists or non-believers simply because they think it’s cool and they’ll automatically gain the “freethinker” label. Some even go as far as labeling anything religion-related as bad; as though the epitome of stupidity is having a religion. Not for me, though. I think a freethinker is someone who is ready to be proven wrong by the empirically provable evidence which may be available. The word “free” indicates that we are not chained by any single definite school of thought or belief.

 

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an agnostic deist. While I believe that there may be some form of a higher being that exists in the universe, I believe that such a higher being need not be as powerful as some religions claim. I think that such a being should still be bound by the limitations and laws of science and nature. I am agnostic because I think that religious and metaphysical claims are unknowable.

 

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?

Well, my mom found out at roughly the same time that I was bipolar and a non-believer/freethinker. She told me that the reason I was bipolar and that I experienced depressive episodes was that I did not believe in God or did not have Christ in my life.

 

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

I’ve never been out of a Catholic school. Ever. I guess the only breath of fresh air I ever experienced was going to Ateneo (which, albeit Catholic, is highly liberal) and belonging to a freethinking community. Having to go to a dogmatic Catholic school meant that my “controversial” and “heretical” ideas were usually shot down with verses from the bible, or claims to seniority, instead of empirical data and logical argumentation.

FF is a kind of community where I can openly express thoughts without fear of being judged. Likewise, other people’s openness in expressing their ideas gives me other ideas to complement my own, enriching my mind.

 

5) Why did you choose to double major in Psychology and Development Studies? What are your goals for after graduation?

I chose to double major in Psychology and Development Studies because I think that, generally, most Social Sciences like Economics, Sociology, and even Development Studies view people merely as pegs in the machine we call society, and give very little premium to the contributions of the individual psyche to the collective. Nonetheless, I still really want to study the society and how it works, which is why I chose Development Studies. I also want to study how I can try to generate change in communities, which is exactly what DS does.

Truthfully speaking, my heart is with DS more than it is with Psych, I just believe that DS in itself is incomplete because, while it studies the collective, it does not study the welfare and impact of the individual nor does it tap into collective consciousness in a psychological sense.

After graduation, I would like to work for a year with an NGO or company that works with communities, and try to employ a psychological facet in community impact assessment for projects. I’d like to do research. After that, I would try to look for a scholarship in Europe and take Masters in Development Studies or Social Psychology.

 

6) What is it like being a freethinker in a theology class that you’re required to take? Do you question your theology profs when they become dogmatic?

For one, I’ve only had one Theology class in Ateneo so far, and, honestly speaking, it is one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had. No kidding. It is far from dogmatic. In fact, it is one of the classes where I had been forced to think most critically and evaluate Christianity as I knew it–as my old Catholic school taught it to me. My Introduction to Catholic Theology class made me see the beauty of Christianity and even, at times, made me consider going back to Catholicism. As for questioning my professors, in general, I think the thing with Ateneo is that professors welcome questions–especially ones that required critical thought.

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Meet a Freethinker: Bhavan Karnani

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 Bhavan Karnani. Bhavan is an Indian-Filipino with an adventurous streak. 

388178_10150596892046718_1132500027_n1) How would you define a freethinker;

A freethinker is someone who uses logic and reason to dictate his or her beliefs. Tradition, authority and personal biases are left out of the equation. It may be impossible to be perfectly unbiased but at the very least, there should be an attempt to eliminate it.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to;

I’m an atheist. I stopped believing in god and Hindu mythology late in high school or maybe early college, I don’t remember exactly when. I continued to believe that Hindu philosophy was probably correct although I never really decided which specific branch of Hindu philosophy I believed in. (It is possible to be an atheist Hindu because there are Hindu philosophies that reject the idea of a creator god). Eventually I realized I was being a hypocrite by rejecting the idea of god due to lack of evidence but refusing to reject concepts like karma, reincarnation and the idea that consciousness is the only absolute reality. These concepts are common to most, if not all branches of Hindu philosophy and I didn’t have evidence for them either so I dropped these beliefs as well.

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; and

I usually tell people I’m an atheist if they ask about it. I don’t remember getting any interesting responses. Oh wait, once someone asked “what if god is real and you’re going to hell?” Never mind, on second thought, it wasn’t that interesting.

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

I have learned a lot from discussions with other FF members and I’ve met a lot of awesome people from all walks of life at the meetups, many of whom are now great friends.

5) What was it like as a kid, growing up Hindu in a predominantly Catholic country?

It was alright although I did get teased a lot about the fact that I didn’t eat beef. That was annoying. Some people would try to preach to me and others made negative comments about Hinduism more out of an attempt to insult than to provide a genuine criticism of the religion. That wasn’t very nice of them. Those people were few though, most people didn’t care much that I was a Hindu.

6) You like cosplaying as Jesus Christ. What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had doing this?

I don’t have to cosplay actually, I just walk around with my hair down and people randomly comment things like “uy, si Jesus!” Once, I entered a store and the clerk went “nagulat ako pagpasok mo, sabi ko ‘si lord, dumating!'” (I was shocked when you walked in, I thought ‘the lord has come!’). A barber once jokingly protested my decision to cut my hair saying, “sayang, malapit na ang mahal na araw pwede kang ipako sa krus”. I’ve also had a few people tell me they dont believe in me, to which I always reply, that’s ok, I don’t believe in myself either.

7) Why don’t you eat mammals? Does it have to do with your growing up Hindu?

I was vegetarian for a year when I was a kid for ethical/religious reasons until my parents convinced me to start eating seafood and eventually chicken again. They thought it would help me gain weight, also it was hard to find vegetarian food in restaurants. It’s weird, because now my mom is a vegetarian. I do think that eating mammals is generally worse than eating fish as mammals have more highly developed nervous systems and consequently are more self aware, have greater emotional capacity and experience more suffering. Birds have highly developed nervous systems as well so I should probably stop eating chicken again at some point.

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Meet a Freethinker: Bede Daniel Garcia

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 Bede Daniel Garcia from the Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter. Bede has been a skeptic since secondary school. He is a registered nurse currently working at Davao Doctors Hospital. He is also a Naturalist, and a Secular Humanist

Bede Daniel Garcia1) How would you define a freethinker?

The basic gist of being a freethinker would simply mean to think outside the boundaries of dogma, religion and tradition — to not accept “truths” simply because they were handed down to us by those in authority. We are always guided by logic, evidence and sound reason.

If we are presented with situations where we are tasked to take sides or to voice our opinions, we take into account facts and evidences. We do not merely go with our gut feeling that is purely based on our biased emotions. On the contrary, we sometimes set aside our emotions to focus on cold hard evidence even though it may sometimes be against our own stand.

This is a freethinker, ever growing and changing. Science, and the world, changes and so must we and our opinions of the things that happen around us.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am a secular humanist and an avid naturalist. I subscribe to the fact that everything has its own natural and logical explanation. I focus on the things that are truly important in life and the lives of others like relationships, science, and politics, to name a few.

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?

I get the funniest reactions from people who put together religion and morality. The moment I say I’m an atheist, they would immediately think I’m evil and an antichrist. No amount of explanation can save me from the harsh and vicious verbal attacks (peculiar, because it usually comes from supposedly religious and pious people).

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

This is when I can shout out loud “At last! I’m not alone in this universe!” It’s difficult to converse with narrow minded individuals, especially if it does not agree with their belief system. I am not saying that all freethinkers are open-minded because I’ve met some that aren’t. But it’s just nice to know that I can have a conversation with a person and not feel persecuted or ostracized.

5) What are your thoughts on euthanasia?

This is a very sensitive subject. Its handling and execution depends on several reasons (prognosis, finances, etc). In my opinion, if the reasons for euthanasia are valid, then I am okay with it. But with regards to its execution on myself, here are my thoughts. I will, in the near future, prepare a written directive to remove the responsibility of “pulling the plug” from my loved ones. I plan on stating in this directive that if my prognosis is poor or my financial state cannot support my hospitalization, then I would hereby donate all working organs to those in need and my body to an educational institution for study. At least, even in death, I can still be useful.

6) What keeps you calm from stress in work?

I cannot really remove stress from work, but I can divert my focus. I sometimes spend my “alone time” helping people and enjoying the company of colleagues and friends.

7) How do you react when patients mainly thank god and the prayer warriors instead of thanking the physicians, the nurses and support staff who provided the expertise, the medicine, the bedside care, and the true and tangible solutions in a difficult time?

Since we live in a predominantly religious country, it is a given that a lot of people would first thank their supernatural deity before thanking us humans. I was once enraged by this notion. It did not make sense to give thanks to something that barely lifted a finger, and to forget those who truly helped. But as I matured, I realized that this was of least importance. Appreciation is a plus in our line of work. So I just give myself a pat on the back and learn not to hunger for recognition in my chosen vocation. I also realized that if I constantly clamored for recognition, wouldn’t I just be like the god that created humans in order for them to worship him? Isn’t that narcissistic?

8) How has freethinking helped you value life more?

When I had a gradual transition from a theist to becoming an atheist and to embracing freethinking, I initially felt lost, thinking that one day, I will be gone and only memories of me will remain. But I had to look at the brighter side of things. I have come to accept that my body is vulnerable to a lot of factors, that time is indeed limited. This has become a catalyst which has pushed me to accomplish things I did not think I could or would do: running a half marathon, completing a triathlon, exercising, and building friendships, relationships, and the like. Life is temporary, so live life.

9) How would you react to comments pertaining to their belief when consoling family members of a patient who just died?

Death of a family member is never easy. It is but human nature to call upon someone in troubled times. As a freethinker, I gather support from loved ones. I hang on to the notion that there are people around me who can help me and that is sufficient for me. For the religious, it is automatic for them to cry in pain to their deity. I, for one, am not militant regarding my atheism. I respect their practices so long as they respect mine. If a family member has just died and a relative cries to their god, then I will respect that. I will, however, remind them that I’m here to help them cope if they wish to talk to someone. Respect begets respect.

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Meet a Freethinker: Jaimee Baliton

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 Jaimee Baliton. Jaimee is currently taking an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education, and she hopes to shift to Community Development before this year ends. Aside from being chapter president for FF-UP Diliman, she is also active in a few other organizations on campus.

2013-05-18 18.24.59 11) How would you define a freethinker?

Freethinkers do not have to be academically intelligent, but must have enough command of logic, common sense, and the scientific method to accept, verify, or defend an idea or concept. I believe that anyone can be a freethinker; these tools aren’t so hard to find.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I identify as an agnostic theist. I believe if that there is a higher power, I am not capable of knowing if it exists since that and I are not on parallel dimensions.

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?

During that time when media hype on the RH Law was high: “Filipino Freethinkers? Yung pro-RH? Kilala mo ba si Kenneth Keng? Ang gwapo niya!”

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

Before being in a freethinking community, people always agreed to everything I said. Now, I like that everything I think is under scrutiny. It keeps everyone on their toes, it makes everyone more critical and more responsible about what they say, feel and do. And, as I’ve said, freethinkers aren’t necessarily academic all the time. Meeting various people has exposed me to different facets of the world in an engaging manner.

5) How come we haven’t seen you on the online forums?

I know FF started out as an online community, but I’m fine with lurking. I know I’m missing out on a lot but, as I’ve noticed, everything has a bigger tendency to be misunderstood online than upfront. I prefer the value of face-to-face interaction since it’s not just words that communicate to other people.

6) How would you describe the current freethinkerly climate over in UP Diliman?

Over at UP Diliman, people think that they practice freethought because they’re seemingly locked up in academia, but in fact there’s always something that hinders them that they don’t realize because it’s so ingrained. What, with “activists” bashing instead of trying to understand each other, more baccalaureate masses than interfaith ceremonies, religious people taking charge of one UP fair night trying to go all holy using blaring speakers. They’re all caught up in those that when we mention that there’s an FF chapter on campus, they’re surprised. FFUPD is one of the few untainted groups since we never really aligned ourselves to student organizations, but rather to specific causes that FF advocates.

On a good note though, UPD is more-LGBTQIA aware, sensitive and open now, thanks to various offices on campus. I’ve noticed though that there is no established LGBT community on campus yet. One org has promoted awareness, yes, but their community is limited only to themselves. Also, there’s this new LGBT organization, and I worry that having two LGBT organizations will be more divisive than cohesive, especially since these two have started to manifest their political leanings and are siding themselves with clashing political parties.

7) What’s the greatest challenge facing any FF university chapter?

Membership, definitely. In UP Diliman alone, the organization recognition process requires a minimum number of members, and unlike area-based chapters like Main or Metro Manila South who have fairly stable memberships, members eventually have to graduate. Freshmen are also becoming more cautious about joining organizations, and while that isn’t so bad, some common misconceptions (like FF being purely atheist) lessen our chances for more members.

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Meet a Freethinker: Jon-Jon Rufino

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 Jon-Jon Rufino. Jon-Jon works in real estate development and live-aboard scuba diving. He is a proud single dad of twins, and has been participating in Filipino Freethinker activities since the Gay Pride March of 2010. He is on an unfortunate hiatus from his past lives as a triathlete and yoga instructor.

559912_10151305662455840_348572754_n1.How would you define a freethinker?

Freethinkers are always willing to ask what if, and compare the assumptions made to the evidence that surrounds them. Religious people can be freethinkers when they hold in their minds the possibility that they are wrong about their beliefs and that someone else is closer to the truth. Freethinkers change their mind and alter their assumptions when there is strong evidence against their current beliefs. Freethinkers are always asking questions, and they pay particular attention to inconsistencies.

2. What belief system do you subscribe to?

I’d like to say I’m an empirical agnostic ethical humanist, but since a couple of friends and I recently created a Pastafarian baptism ceremony, I must pledge allegiance to the Noodly One. I’ll respect your sky god, if you respect my carbonara, okay? Or if not, that’s cool too, but then all criticism is fair.

In the above mentioned ceremony, we hold that by anointing my children with sacred truffle oil, the Flying Spaghetti Monster creates an impervious shield around the souls of my children that prevents anyone else from attaching indelible marks or erratic or guilt laden theologies. These kids will have to form their own theory of everything . We also had the guide parents read a passage from any source to my kids and allow them to make unique bonds. And the ceremony was conducted by Gandalf and a witch, Manila’s most famous pirate witch.

But to clarify, I don’t know if anything happens after we die, and that’s okay. We have a great opportunity now with this one life.

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?

I don’t go around telling people I’m a freethinker. It is a description of a system of thought, not an end or belief system in itself. I am happy to talk about what I believe when asked, but it rather rarely comes up these days, as there is the dangerous assumption here in the Philippines that we are all Catholics. Still, coming out of the closet as a gay man is in many ways easier than leaving the religion you are born into, but I’d argue just as necessary, especially when that religion treats people like you so badly. If I followed the dictates of my religion, I’d either be a priest or a numerary (traditional shelter for people not interested in heterosexual sex) or by now, I’d be estranged from some woman I was forced to marry. And I certainly wouldn’t have these wonderful kids that were created through a technology my former religion bans. I might have kids that hate me because their mother would have convinced them that I abandoned her. Or not.

But to answer your specific question, I’m usually warned about going to hell, or told that is the danger of thinking too much. To be fair though, the church creates no euphemisms when it refers to its faithful as the flock, and its leaders as shepherds. Do shepherds tend to their sheep out of pure love, or because they make their living out of it? And what eventually happens to lambs and sheep? Are they allowed to graze in the pastures until old age like story book retired racing horses when their wool is no longer of good quality or they can no longer reproduce? I think not.

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

The foremost benefit when you questions society’s norms is that you can chart your own path in life. Why can’t I create and raise two kids on my own? I have resources, which I must clarify includes the invaluable support of my immediate and larger family, to do so in a non-traditional way.

It’s also allowed me to question society’s pressures to find a partner. I would love to be doing all this with someone special, and indeed I tried for the better part of three years recently. But I am very comfortable knowing that doing it all while single will not diminish my joy in the family, though finding the right partner might magnify it.
I’m also eager to address the normal inconsistencies and double standards that crop up between one’s own life and what we expect from our children, especially with sex. The bi-monthly meet ups of the Filipino Freethinkers have forced this with their inclusion of one raunchy topic per session.

And lastly, it has been fantastic becoming part of a community of people (not at all like-minded, as we embrace all sorts of political, social and religious ideologies) who are unafraid to seek new answers to the old questions of life, many of whom are happy to sacrifice their time defending the rights of minorities when they see them oppressed by organized religion. The Filipino Freethinkers have about the proportion of gay members as the general population, but they show up with as much enthusiasm and as many numbers for LGBT events as they do for women’s equality and reproductive health issues.

And as friends, when these people are invited to climb a mountain, or dive into the middle of the sea, instead of asking why, they ask why not and then get their feet muddy or wet.

5. How do people react here when they find out you are a father?

Honestly, it blows their minds that I found women, an egg donor and several surrogates until we were successful, to help me create this family. Some of them have seen it on TV, others did not know that these things were possible. I’ve never encountered condemnation, which would be hard when you meet my twins. I do sometimes encounter some envy/guilt from other people, especially from women my age who seem to feel that if someone like me can have kids, it reflects very badly on them that they have not, and I try my best to point out that parenthood is but one of the many valid life paths one can take. Many people in this world are happy without children, and that’s a good thing.

6. What is your parenting style?

One of the promises that I made to my children during their Pastafarian Baptism A.K.A. Naming Ceremony is that I will do my best to explain the reasons behind everything I tell them to do. If they can come up with an alternative plan that is at least equally effective to my request, then we can go with their suggestion. I will not destroy their natural tendency to ask why; instead, I will answer it as best as I can, and when I can’t I will seek the answer of why with them.

7. Will you use only gender neutral terms for your children?

No. I have a boy and a girl and our language has pronouns for that. But if I find that my biological girl feels that she is really a boy trapped in a girl’s body, I’ll do my best to conform to his needs.

8. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen underwater?

This summer, there have been tiger shark, hammerhead, and guitarfish encounters, and in the past I’ve swam with whale sharks, a sail fish, pilot whales, and a sun fish. But nothing compares to sprinting in the bow of a slow moving boat with dolphins to my left and my right, part of the pod for several minutes until my legs and lungs gave out from pure exhaustion.

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Meet a Freethinker: Clyde Marces Mante

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 Clyde Marces Mante. Clyde is a professional graphic artist from Davao City and is responsible for the awesome meetup posters of the Davao Chapter of Filipino Freethinkers.

The Poster Boy and his posters

The Poster Boy and his posters – Photo by Anthony Montecillo

1. How would you define a freethinker?

All human beings who think clearly, fairly, rationally, objectively, independently, unswayed by any tradition, religion, myth, dogma and irrelevant emotions are basically freethinkers. Freethinkers make up their mind based on their best judgement, guided by reason, science, and logic — as opposed to “sheeple” (sheep+people), a commonly used slang for those who are gullible and predominantly fed by illusory “truth”.

2. What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an eclectic skeptic. I like to question, analyze, and test things. I exercise intellectual caution and suspended judgement. However, there are times when I tend to tame or even shut down my skeptical side for the moment and see if there is anything I can learn from something whether or not I agree with it. I try to pick up the best elements of any belief system, which makes me eclectic. My interests are wide and varied and I like it that way rather than being very narrow and specific.

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?

One evening, I was having a conversation with a friend and other FF-Davao core members via Facebook. At the same time, I was doodling some stuff for our meetup poster. I sent my draft art to my friend’s message window by mistake and he said: “Ay freethinker ka? Kaya naman pala… di nakakapagtaka na hanggang ngayon (4 years to be exact) single ka pa!”

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

Aside from having a great sense of belonging to a group that adopts reason, logic, and scientific methods in most aspects of life, I also made some dramatic changes and improvement in my self-education, standard of living, and as well as my moral attitudes.

5. How do you deal with family members who are not so open to your free-thinking ideas?

We live in a world of different customs and not everyone is going to have the same opinions as we do. However, I have my ever charming way of dealing it every time they strongly disagree. I just keep calm and…

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6. What drives you to do graphic designing? Does being a freethinker help you have better creative process?

It’s always a pleasure pursuing a longtime passion. What I lack in effective verbal communication, especially in explaining and describing things, I let loose in my art.

With the help of reason (purpose and essence of the art), logic (to arrive an appropriate and effective design) and science (the available technology), yes, being a freethinker vastly improves the creative process.

7. Does seeing all the beauty in nature around you somehow make you think that there is a Grand Designer who made it all?

I don’t appreciate the beauty of nature just by looking at it. I try to understand how it works. The complexities of science and physics make me somehow think that our universe does have a designer. But by this, I do not mean a “god figure”/deity monitoring and molding all aspects of our lives. My idea is more like the universe could be sentient and that it is its own designer.

 

Image credit: http://www.reactionface.info/sites/default/files/imagecache/Node_Page/images/1314029819767.png

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Meet a Freethinker: Ryan James Amparo

Meet a Freethinker: Ryan James Amparo

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 Ryan James Amparo. Ryan is the outgoing president of our chapter in University of the Philippines Los Baños. He is a B.S. Chemical Engineering student. He is also a freelance writer, business owner and violinist.

1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who bases his beliefs and decisions purely on evidence. He doesn’t have to be necessarily an atheist as most people would assume or argue. This is because freethinking is a process, not a conclusion. Faithful (no pun intended) adherence to the rules of logic is what prevents freethinking into becoming free-style thinking, which most people seem to take for granted.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an agnostic atheist, and I have been for almost two years now. I have never been religious in my life, and I have never had a religious experience. It’s interesting that, being born into an evangelical Christian family, I’ve noticed that it’s actually the converts who tend to be most religious and fanatical. I think this religious conversion that I’ve never experienced is the reason for my lukewarm attitude toward church.

It’s worth noting though that even though I have been Christian for majority of my life, I have believed in the separation of church and state as long as I can remember. I also never got to believe in ghosts or anything mystical. My father is programmer and we had fairly speedy internet connection at home even when it was still expensive back in the late 90s and early 2000s. He also bought me a lot of educational material, like encyclopedias and books, as a child. I think this early exposure to information is the reason why I became acquainted to secularism and rational thinking earlier than most people.

I became oriented to freethinking when I started reading the works of Ayn Rand about three years ago. I knew she was an atheist, but that never had significance to the then-Christian me. I became an agnostic atheist when I came to watch a documentary by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. I was instantly convinced that there was no god after watching it.

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?

I had this classmate once who approached me just after I introduced myself in class and told them that I was a member of FF-UPLB. She told me she used to think FF was like an artists’ collective, and that freethinkers were just another word for an eccentric.

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

The freethinking community helped me in the communities help best: it made me feel not alone. I used to think that there were only a handful of nonbelievers in the university. Indeed, believing in something unpopular is an alienating experience. FF gave me that sense of community.

5) What was the biggest challenge FF UPLB has experienced so far, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for me then was finding enough members. According to university rules, we needed at least 15 people to create an organization. This was during the time that I thought that, aside from my co-founders, I was the only secularist in the university. Of course later on, I came to be surprised that there were so many of us.

Currently, the biggest challenge that we face is removing stigma. While the university is fairly more tolerant than the Philippines in general, FF-UPLB still has the image of the stereotypical angry atheist in campus. A lot of people inside the university still think that the group is anti-Christ, which explains really why promotional posters of the group always get vandalized.

6) What are the common issues that freethinking students face?

I think this is with regards to coming out to their friends and family. A lot of nonbelievers in the group are still closeted out of fear of reprimanding from their loved ones. I think FF helps here in part because it fills the gap created by this fear or disconnect with a community composed of friendly, like-minded people.

7) Do you think your chapter could become what it is today if your school were run by Catholic priests?

Yes, I think so. Accreditation and recruitment will be hard, but if the demographics is still the same, why not? After all, I don’t think it’s the supposedly secular environment in the university that precipitated the chapter’s growth. UPLB is far from secular. Teachers and students are evangelizing in class, and prayers to the Christian god are given during every event, among other breaches of secularism. Really, the influence of churches in student affairs can be strongly felt.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker1 Comment

Meet A Freethinker: Ria Caringal

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 Ria Caringal. She studied molecular biology and biotechnology at UP Diliman and, with some buddies, got the FF university chapter there up and running in 2010. She is currently in the US helping the military fight diarrhea. In her spare time she runs Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science round-up post, and is also currently making her way through all the Bond films.

1) How would you define a freethinker?

Being a freethinker is being able to evaluate things regardless of who said it or how ‘common knowledge’ it seems to be. So, in a sense, freethinkers are folks for whom “because I said so!” isn’t enough. Especially when the ones saying that are institutions built on dogma, authority, and tradition.

I learned this the hard way. When I was a kid I would beg my dad to buy me Hershey’s chocolate bars. He said chocolates taste awful and made a sour face. And I believed him. Whole-heartedly. A freethinkerly Ria would have demanded evidence and peer review. Never again, dad. Never again.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I’m an atheist. I realized that I disagreed with a lot of the church’s teachings regarding homosexuality, contraception, divorce, sexuality, roles of women etc. and I realized that I can’t keep calling myself Catholic while also simultaneously ignoring official Catholic doctrine. That’s just… disingenuous. So I left.

After that, and after learning about other religions, it became easy to see how religion could have started as a way to explain natural events (earthquakes are caused by the gods oil-wrestling! making Maria Makiling cry results in typhoons!), and then got infused with philosophy on how to live a good life, and then myths and traditional customs piled on top of it, politics and power got involved too, and then everything got WAYYYY out of hand.

As for proofs and miracles, this clip sums it up for me:

From the movie The Messenger: The story of Joan of Arc (1999, dir. Luc Besson). Joan is imprisoned and starts questioning her motives.

No doubt that religion played an important role in the past when it came to uniting communities and preserving social order. I just think that we’ve outgrown that phase; we can be good without the threat of hellfire or the promise of heavenly riches.

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?

People aren’t generally aware of what a freethinker is (“thinking freely lulz?!”). But when I say I’m an atheist I mostly get “Oh…” and then an awkward pause in conversation. But I once got a high-five from a co-worker and fellow atheist! That was fun.

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

It is AWESOME. This is a community that I can really say are my people.

Not only do we share the same levels of geekery, we are also angry about the same shit and are actively doing something about it. Blog posts and creative demonstrations are all fun means to get public discourse going, which hopefully leads to a more fair, more vigilant, and generally better society.

The fortnightly meet-ups are great for people who may feel left out due to being irreligious. Discussions are always interesting and fun, and I’ve learned to debate and discuss more effectively from that.

Moreover, the friendships I’ve formed are simply invaluable to me, and honestly it’s great to be a part of something I believe in.

5) Please explain why there seems to be some negative perceptions against molecular biology (i.e. Greenpeace) and how can we counter that?

It’s probably because it’s such a new technology, and people aren’t generally aware of how things work (fish DNA in my tomatoes! insect DNA in my corn!). Combine that with GM companies like Monsanto and their shady business practices, movies portraying scientists as morally ambiguous god-complexed balls of ego, and a belief that ~*~natural is better~*~ and you have the paranoia of our generation (kinda like nuclear energy in the 1950s).

There’s also the ethics issues that arise when dealing with altering /creating/combining DNA, safety concerns over genetically modified food, ownership/patent disputes, and the definition of “life.”

Countering all that hubbub would involve educating people, rigorous tests to assure food safety, and also a shift in public perception of scientists.

7) What’s the difference between working in a Philippine lab, and an American lab?

Funding and scale. Support and infrastructure. There are actually staffing companies here in the US dedicated to head hunting for laboratories. Regulating bodies for animal/human subject safety in clinical trials. We regularly get high school and college interns for the summer. That just blows my mind to see science as a massively thriving industry, involving collaborators from all over the world. The US military doesn’t spend all its money on guns, it also sponsors a lot of basic research (brain injuries, insect bites, malaria, dengue).

Another huge difference is the type of work. Working in an academic lab/doing basic research in the US generally has softer deadlines, flexible timelines, and lots of collaboration within different departments. You’re free to make your own schedule, as long as you get your work done. You discuss your results with your co-workers, then do the experiment again with slightly different conditions. Rinse, repeat, keep going.

Industry is a different beast altogether. Industry means research work that is contracted out to companies specializing in specific assays. That means you’re doing the same tests over and over for different clients, with very strict deadlines. They need to know if this new face cream will give people cancer! It is result-oriented and crazy-regulated. We had a meeting where we were arguing about how to print labels for test tubes. And how to properly write the date (the 31-Mar-2013 format is least ambiguous, I highly recommend it).

8) A lot of scientists somehow manage to doublethink their way into staying religious. Have you had to deal with someone like this in your lab? If so, how did you deal with it?

I know lots of scientists that are also religious. I think, for them, doing science is a way to discover how god works/designed the universe. Or, others prefer to keep their personal beliefs separate from their work. We don’t talk religion in the workplace much anyway. As long as you don’t let it get in the way of how you set up your experiments, we’re cool.

9) Do you think the current academic culture fosters a freethinking attitude?

I would say Meh, Not Really.  Hard work and perseverance are more prized attributes in school. That’s not bad in itself, but it seems to me that we tend to view science as just another subject to pass and just another hoop to jump through to obtain a diploma. Being able to memorize and spout facts grants you the title matalino, but really we should be giving credit to those who are marunong – those who know how to think, not just what to think.

It’s like saying it’s good to be smart, but keep that shit in your classrooms! Try to get a serious discussion going, and you get called pilosopo as an insult.  People laugh about not being able to understand a concept, nakaka-nosebleed! Ka-lurkey. This attitude of anti-intellectualism needs to change.

10) What is your answer to a creationist who says, there are no transitional fossils. Where is the dino-chicken?

Dino-chicken says hi.

Hi!

More info here.

 

Posted in Meet a Freethinker6 Comments

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