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A Conversation with Guy P. Harrison

A Conversation with Guy P. Harrison

This week, for Conversations for a Cause, we talk with Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God. We discuss skepticism, critical thinking, and his latest book, Think: Why You Should Question Everything.

You may also download the episode file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast 27: MMFF and Fired for Trying Out Atheism

FF Podcast 27: MMFF and Fired for Trying Out Atheism

We return for our first podcast of 2014! This week, we talk about the Metro Manila Film Fest and the quality of its films (or lack thereof). Then we talk about Ryan Bell, the pastor/professor who was fired for “trying out” atheism.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Entertainment, Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, Video0 Comments

Pope Francis: Well Said, But Not Well Done

pope-francis-and-doveDuring his papal address last year at the St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis made the call for peace a main point, noting that it was a common ground for believers and non-believers alike.

“I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace,” he said. “Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.”

It’s a grand gesture from a pope who has become increasingly popular among Catholic moderates and non-Catholics alike, thanks to what looks like a reconcilliatory stance on formerly hot-button issues, such as homosexuality.

But as a new year begins and we’re bracing ourselves for what 2014 may throw our way, I’m wondering just how sincere the Pope was in his call for peace.

To start, I will establish what I believe.

I believe that part of any meaningful, lasting peace needs to be founded on the principle of equality. That the gauge of how well a community functions should be reflected in how it treats its marginalized and less fortunate. For us, a nation that’s survived three separate occupations from three foreign powers, this is a no-brainer.

It’s an idea that should be even clearer for the Roman Catholic Church, which continually reiterates its position as a bastion of peace and morality worldwide. Getting into specifics, I think that a truly peaceful society will make an effort to eliminate, or at least minimize instances of structural violence. Structural violence, as compared to blatant forms of violence such as murder or rape, is any inequality that is institutionalized.

For instance, a government that bans gay marriage or makes gay sex illegal is practicing structural violence. Segregating people and denying them health care due to their skin color, gender or race are also glaring examples of structural violence. Even blasphemy laws can be considered a form of structural violence, since they grant unfair privileges to religious speech.

And it is from this standpoint that I find myself questioning just how sincere the Church’s call for peace is, given how they figured in these incidents in 2013:

1. During the GOP’s US government shutdown last November 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were among the groups pushing for the shutdown. The US bishops had been hoping to use this incident as political leverage to grant them exemptions from the contraceptive coverage included in the Affordable Care Act.

The resulting shutdown most directly affected the poor, which is especially ironic given that Francis’ latest speeches have been to renew the fight against poverty.

2. When the UN passed a resolution opposing violence against women, the Vatican, along with Russia, China, and Iran protested a section of the resolution that condemned violence committed in the name of religion, local customs, and culture.

3. Hospitals owned by the RCC are turning away women suffering from miscarriages, because the RCC’s moral guidelines forbid them from providing proper medical treatment or even advice if it has anything to do with birth control.

4. The Pope excommunicated Fr. Greg Reynolds, on the grounds that he talked about the ordination of women priests. Reynolds is also a known supporter of gay marriage, another issue that the church is currently opposed to.

5. Pope Francis himself has personally noted that the matter of ordaining women into the priesthood was not a matter for discussion.

6. Pope Francis had also encouraged Malta Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to speak out against gay adoptions, after the country introduced a bill that would allow same-sex civil unions, and children to be adopted by gay parents.

7. The Vatican recently refused to provide a United Nations panel with full information regarding its (the Vatican) clerical sex abuse cases worldwide. The Vatican also stiffened penalties against whistle-blowers.

Given these recent events, I would like to ask: Is the Vatican in the right to talk about peace when it is blatantly clear that it is partly responsible, if not complicit, in perpetuating the sort of violence most decent folks would prefer to eliminate from society? From Francis’ Urbi et Orbi address:

“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces,” Francis said. “It is not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment.”

Well said, Francis. Now please practice what you preach.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Secularism0 Comments

Why I No Longer Root For Pope “Bergoglio” Francis

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

If you have been following the recent online activity in my social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter), I’m sure you have seen me root for Pope “Bergoglio” Francis. I would share and retweet news of his activities, when compared to that of his predecessors, give us a breath of fresh air and hope for a more inclusive and forward looking Roman Catholic Church. I publicly announce my support and admiration for him. I would even jokingly say that I would head his fans’ club.

This is a big deal for me because I am an atheist… A very outspoken one and very critical of religious bigotry, intolerance, misogyny, and the protection of pedophile priests. Some may even say I have been critical to the point being on a permanent “attack mode” when talking about religion especially the Roman Catholic Church. (Probably because it is the predominant religion in my country and has great influence and impact over the government and the society that I belong to.)

Initially, I had a lot of misgivings against Bergoglio when I heard that he was elected to the seat of St. Peter. Reading about his past, I learned that he supported a dictatorship and had given very misogynistic and homophobic statements.

Then he became Francis. Pope Francis. The first Jesuit pope that started to shake up and “clean up” the Roman curia and the whole of Christendom! He made very controversial statements about being more open to the gay community and even, gasp, saying that we atheists can be good too! He spoke against capitalism and of Catholics being “obsessed” with gay marriage, abortion, and contraception.

He shocked the world with his simplicity. He lived in simpler home compared to the “castle” that he could have lived in. He became the people’s pope and reached out to the masses. He snuck out to feed the homeless at night. He allowed a child to hug him as he preached. He kissed a severely disfigured man. These are but a few of the good things he did that earned him brownie points to become Time’s 2013 Person of the Year.

Many in the online atheist community, including some of those in the Filipino Freethinkers and the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS), were naturally skeptical and still unforgivingly critical of Pope Francis. They said it’s all talk without the walk. They said it’s all a public relations spin. They belittled his efforts and said he has done nothing about the things that really matter. I somewhat agree with them. Being exposed to public relations, I know a lot of the news were PR stunts. I agree that the more important issues have not been addressed by him.

But I chose to stay positive and hopeful. I still supported and believed in him. I held back my tongue (fingers, to be more precise) and chose not to focus on what he lacked but on the good that he has done.

Then, BOOM! I read yesterday about him excommunicating an Australian priest for openly supporting women empowerment in the church and “married” gay couples in unofficial ceremonies during gay rights demonstrations. It’s actually old news that came out last September but it skipped my radar.

The forward walk I was patiently waiting for him to do was actually a run in the complete opposite direction of his talk. I would understand if he defrocked the priest, but to excommunicate?! That’s supposedly the harshest punishment for the most grievous of sins. The priest is banished and cannot receive his god’s grace. If I’m not mistaken, if the priest dies before the excommunication is reversed, it’s tantamount to being condemned to eternal hellfire. (Not that I believe in any of that.)

This made me ask, has any priest been excommunicated for sodomizing young boys? Apparently not. They are actually STILL being protected under Pope Francis’ leadership. He did talk of investigating and punishing those sick bastards. But all this is happening INTERNALLY. Erring priests are removed in “damage-control” efforts but we have never heard of the church cooperating in investigations of secular authority nor have we heard of any priest getting jail time. In fact, they are actually still witholding information and paying off victims. (If you do not understand the magnitude of this problem, I suggest you watch the documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa.”)

So Francis EXCOMMUNICATED a priest for actually walking the talk while failing to do anything substantial on the issue of rampant sex abuses of his clergy. Talk about priorities!

I can go on with a list of other reasons why not to root for Pope Francis any longer, but I think this one act of hypocrisy is more than enough. (Since I am also trying to be more mindful and focus in the things I love and less on the things I hate.)

I still hope for positive change but I am not as confident in Pope Francis. I believe in the goodness of my family, friends, the rest of the decent people in the Roman Catholic Community, those of other faiths, and of those without any religious affiliations or beliefs. We as people can end most of the ills in our society if we promote goodness and denounce the bad.

Posted in Religion, Society2 Comments

John W. Loftus, Author of The Outside Test for Faith – Freethinker Interview

This week, we interview John W. Loftus, atheist author, former student of William Lane Craig, and ex-apologist. We talk with him about indoctrination and debunking Christian apologetics.

You may also download the episode file here.

loftus

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

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Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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How a Freethinker Survived a Spiritual Retreat

DSC_0140One of the benefits of studying law in a Jesuit university is the opportunity to attend the mandatory spiritual retreat.

At first I felt very awkward, expecting to be forced to share in front of the whole class how I experienced God’s presence during my meditation, and having to either make something up or tell them outright that my skeptical mind requires empirical evidence before making any conclusions. I did not want to lie about my beliefs (or non-belief), but I did not want to rock the boat either especially since I saw how sincere and non-dogmatic the facilitators were. So I decided to ride it out.

The first activity was the Lectio Divina (prayer of a listening heart) where we were to choose from a list of three passages from the Bible and two from the Qur’an (since some of my classmates were Muslims), read it three times, identify a word or phrase that struck us personally, and try to make an application of it in our lives. After a fifteen-minute meditation we were to choose a partner to whom we would share our reflections. Sharing to the entire class afterwards was optional.

I chose 1 Kings 19:10-13 where God allegedly appeared to Elijah, but decided to read the entire Chapter 19, which includes the verses 15-18:

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

I told my partner that I am skeptical about the Bible as the word of God, briefly explaining the concept of hearsay and how God is so clear in the Bible but seemingly absent in the world. I pointed out that the above passage literally talks of the Lord commanding Elijah to anoint kings to kill the worshipers of Baal, and those who escape one king will be killed by another, and those who escape that king will be killed by a prophet. Today, that would be tantamount to ordering the deaths of all the native tribes who worship pagan gods. Good thing my partner, who was a Protestant Christian, actually seemed to appreciate the logic of what I said.

The second activity was the Ignatian contemplation. Here, we again had to choose among certain passages from the Bible or the Qur’an, and we were to imagine being physically present in the scene that was described in the passage. We were to pay attention to the setting and other details in the story, the characters, the dialogue. We were to take note of how we were feeling, and if we were drawn to speak with anyone including Jesus, and what we would say.

I picked Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calmed the storm while he and his disciples were on board a small fishing boat. After the meditation we formed groups of four. When it came my time to share, I told my groupmates what I would say to Jesus: Lord, it’s very convenient that you are here with us tonight to save us from this storm. But you know Lord, two thousand years from now in a country called the Philippines, a passenger ship named MV Princess of the Stars carrying hundreds will sail into a storm. I’m sure many will pray to you, and in your name command the wind and the waves to be still. But you will not be there as you are with us here, and the ship will capsize, and most of the passengers will end up dead or missing. And you know Lord, within a decade and in the same country, typhoons will claim lives, even as people who heard about how you calmed today’s storm will probably try to command those typhoons to stop in your name.

Luckily, I was the last in our group to share, and the facilitator said that time was up, so my groupmates didn’t have a chance to react to what I said, which was obviously very much different from what most of them shared, that is, how law school was like a storm.

Then came the third and last activity, the Examen, in which we were to look back and review our entire day, examine our feelings particularly the “consolations and desolations,” and try to figure out what caused our ups and downs. The facilitator explained that while it was an opportunity to see how God was present in our lives, the activity actually had a secular application in meditation.

Afterwards our class of about thirty was divided into three groups, each joined by a facilitator. I took advantage of that secular part mentioned earlier. When it was my turn to speak, I explained how I appreciated the meditation and decided to do it everyday, because by contemplating on my ups and downs and especially on what caused them, I could see more clearly how I should live every day, make the right choices, prioritize what’s important, and in effect live my life more efficiently.

And that’s how this freethinker survived the retreat. Even if it was supposed to be a religious or spiritual activity, it did have a nice secular application, not to mention the opportunity to share my skeptical views with my classmates. While I would choose any FF meetup over it, I actually enjoyed the retreat, and the experience was nonetheless enlightening.

* * * * *
Image by Jong Atmosfera

Posted in Personal, Religion4 Comments

Edwina Rogers of Secular Coalition for America – Freethinker Interview

Edwina Rogers of Secular Coalition for America – Freethinker Interview

We talk with Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, and discuss her experiences as a freethinker working with conservative political figures.

You may also download the episode file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast 26: Feminism

FF Podcast 26: Feminism

This week, we talk about feminism with special guests Profs. Guy Claudio, director of the UP Center for Women’s Studies and Leloy Claudio, Ateneo de Manila assistant professor. We joined them to celebrate the UP CWS 25th anniversary.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Gender Rights, Media, Podcast, Politics, Religion, Society, Video0 Comments

Freethinker Interview: Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist

Freethinker Interview: Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist

This week in our series of Conversations for a Cause, we interview Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist. We talk to him about the stereotypes atheists have to deal with and living life as an atheist.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Follow our next interviews with freethinkers by subscribing to our YouTube channel. Leave a comment here or on our channel. Send us some questions we can ask during future interviews.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast 025: Do Believers Give More to Charity?

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 9.33.14 AM

This week we talk about believers giving more to charity than atheists. Then, we discuss what encourages charity and altruism.

 

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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A Conversation with Peter Boghossian on his book: A Manual for Creating Atheists

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief  and rehabilitation efforts.

Peter-Boghossian
 

In this episode, Red Tani interviews Peter Boghossian about his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. They talk about Street Epistemology, Peter’s suggested method for performing interventions on people infected with the faith virus, and the practical and ethical differences between proselytizing with faith and disabusing people of their faith.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Posted in Media, Philosophy, Podcast, Religion, Video0 Comments

Freddie Aguilar and Special Rights for Muslims

Freddie Aguilar and Special Rights for Muslims

The matter of 60-year-old musician Freddie Aguilar’s marriage to his 16-year-old girlfriend has courted a firestorm of both defenders and critics. Indeed, the knee-jerk reaction to an intimate relationship with such an age gap would often be disgust. Granted, such initial feelings are seldom rational, given their strong emotional motivation. What Aguilar defenders seem to miss, however, is that there is much more cause for concern here than just the private relationship of a public figure. Exempting themselves from secular Philippine law, Aguilar has decided to convert to Islam, despite describing himself as a “born-again Catholic,” to marry his underage girlfriend.

Negative reactions to Aguilar are commonly rebuffed by pointing out the shallow and tabloid nature of the issue. This defense is only supported by the crass and insipid nature of Aguilar critics painting him as a pedophile or a “dirty old man.” Both apologists for Aguilar and his detractors completely miss the far more nefarious implications of Aguilar’s marriage.

However simplistic it may be, Philippine law requires that marriage involve persons aged 18 and above. Given this, Aguilar and his lover have chosen to enjoy the special laws and privileges given to Filipino Muslims by Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Decree 1083—the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines.

This special law so deeply controverts the Constitution’s principle of secularism that it overbearingly points out that “The provisions of this Code shall be applicable only to Muslims and nothing herein shall be construed to operate to the prejudice of a non-Muslim.” Not only that, should any conflicts (such as those regarding marriage and divorce) arise between secular law and this special law, the Code shall prevail and that secular laws should be “liberally construed” in order to accomplish the provisions of the Code. The Code establishes special Shari’a courts that are appointed to adjudicate and mete out the appropriate punishment for violations of Islamic laws, as recognized by the Code. Between a Constitution that declares that “No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights” and a law that literally requires belief in Islam, something has to give. Unsurprisingly, in the good old Republic of the Philippines, religious privilege wins out.

Among other provisions, the Code also includes the sexist decree—a belief shared by Catholic opponents of the RH Law—that it is the male in a heterosexual marriage that must exercise authority over the family: “In case of disagreement, the father’s decision shall prevail unless there is a judicial order to the contrary.”

Non-Catholics in the Philippines have long suffered under the tyrannical majority of the Catholic Church and these special rights for Muslims are, ironically, a side effect of this tyranny. While masking as benevolence, these special rights are rooted in the same xenophobic entitlement as the common patronizing expression, “mga kapatid nating Muslim (our Muslim brothers).” This saying paints Muslims automatically separate in any discussion.

Instead of fully recognizing the diversity of religious belief and non-belief, the Philippine state instead split the baby and framed much of our laws under Catholic prejudice, while creating these special exemptions for Muslims—leaving everyone else out of the social contract. This flies in the face of any expectation of justice and the belief, however naive or clichéd, that the law applies to all, or none at all.

The secularist indignation against Aguilar is only inflated by just how insincere Aguilar seems to be in his conversion. It’s bad enough for one religion to enjoy rights not afforded to all Filipinos. Here we have what appears to be the disingenuous and opportunistic exploitation of an already unjust and backward legal system.

Image Credit: Christopher Sundita

Posted in Religion, Secularism, Society2 Comments

FF Podcast 022: What is Freethinking?

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 11.20.50 AM

This week, we talk about the basics of freethinking and tackle the common misconceptions people have about both Filipino Freethinkers and freethought in general.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

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Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Philosophy, Podcast, Religion, Video0 Comments

Anti-RH Church Leaders Blame Calamities on RH

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-13Why would God let calamity hit a predominantly Catholic country? “God is not the cause of the suffering,” answers Father Bacaltos, a Tacloban parish priest. “God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature.”

Many Catholics would agree that nature, not God, is to blame for this tragedy. But for some leaders of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) law is to blame. Which leaders? Well, what a coincidence: the ones who are most vocal against RH.

Here’s Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who campaigned against “Team Patay” through tarps, reminding us that rather than Nature’s random acts, calamities like Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) are God’s reminders. He adds that when we continue to oppose God through the RH Law, we put our lives in danger:

 What happens to us — earthquakes, floods, storms — are reminders.We are reminded to never forget life… Even our life is in the hands of God so we better make it meaningful… Let us not forget him. We remove Him, for example, in this [RH] law that goes against His will. So when we oppose God, we are in danger.” [some parts translated]

And here’s Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an anti-RH voice in mainstream media since 2010, explaining why Typhoon Pablo was no coincidence:

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or it’s because the Lord is trying to tell us that if you talk about that [the then RH bill] seriously it’s like there’s a message saying that many difficulties happen to us… especially since we [the Catholic Church] don’t want the bill deliberated hurriedly and secretly so that it is passed.” [translated]

Finally, here’s Father Melvin Castro, who frequently heads anti-RH contingents during demonstrations and vigils, blaming the RH Bill for the heavy rains of “Habagat:”

Although we would not give other meaning to it, nonetheless God speaks through his creation as well. Nature tells us to respect the natural course of things.

If I researched further back in time, I’d probably find even more Church leaders who blamed calamities on God (or the people who disobey God, depending on how you look at it). And something tells me it’s only a matter of time before some distasteful CBCP leader does it again.

But there are priests, like Father Bacaltos, who are more tactful, more humble, and it’s Catholic leaders like these that I continue to respect. As Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.

***

image source: Trocaire

Posted in Religion, RH Bill7 Comments

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