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FF Podcast 49: I’m an Atheist Pero Respeto Naman, Guys

FF Podcast 49: I’m an Atheist Pero Respeto Naman, Guys

This week, we talk about the Pennsylvania kid who is facing two years in prison for simulating oral sex with a Jesus statue.

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 Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, Video1 Comment

Atheists and Satanists; Bedfellows?

This post was inspired by a question directed to me by a fellow faculty member. She asked me whether or not atheism was similar to satanism. Well, the obvious answer should have been, “No, they’re different.” However, it’s not as simple as that, really. For one, there are a number of similarities between the atheist and the satanist, beginning with the prejudice both individuals have to deal with on a daily basis.


Here are some of them:

1. Both atheists and Satanists are accused of sexual deviance

An atheist’s sexuality is often judged as deviant simply because atheists are often sex-positive and LGBT-friendly, having no religiously-motivated biases against homosexuality or sex, in general.

Similarly, Satanists are often accused of being sex-crazed, devil-worshippers who commit unspeakable sex crimes on unsuspecting strangers.

That’s false.

In fact, it clearly states in the Satanic Bible, written by Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan that:

“Satanism encourages any form of sexual expression you may desire, so long as it hurts no one else. If all parties involved are mature adults who willingly take full responsibility for their actions and voluntarily engage in a given form of sexual expression – even if it is generally considered taboo – then there is no reason for them to repress their sexual inclinations.”

Furthermore, the fifth rule of “The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth”  is, “Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.” In other words, a person is not supposed to make sexual advances until provided consent. In Satanism, there is a huge emphasis on consent from a partner.

What’s strange is that it’s often the accusers of these transgressions that often commit them. It’s not the Satanists or the Atheists that encourage the violation of female autonomy, it’s the Bible.

These are verses from the Bible that legitimize rape, if the women were acquired through conquest:

“In the cities that god delivers into thine hands you must kill all the males with “the edge of the sword …. But the women … shalt thou take unto yourself.” — Deuteronomy 20:13-14

“If you see a pretty woman among the captives and would like her for a wife, then just bring her home and go in unto her. Later, if you decide you don’t like her, you can “let her go.” — Deuteronomy 21:11-14

In this verse, it is stated that a victim of rape should be killed if no one heard her scream:

“If a betrothed virgin is raped in the city and doesn’t cry out loud enough, then “the men of the city shall stone her to death.” — Deuteronomy 22:23-24

Atheists and satanists do have something in common, with regard to women. Neither of them considers the Bible as a guide for how women should be treated.


2. Both Atheists and Satanists are often accused of sacrificing children in weird rituals.

Another common misconception about both atheists and satanists is that they harm children. However, in “The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth“, the Satanist equivalent of the Ten Commandments, the ninth rule is, “Do not harm children.”

Once again it’s not atheistic or satanistic beliefs that encourage that attitude; it’s the Bible.

These verses encourage the beating of a child with a rod:

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” — Proverbs 23:13-14

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” — Hebrews 12:11

It’s not Satanists and atheists who sacrifice kids as part of a ritual to appease their god, either:

In Genesis 22:2 there was Abraham who was told by God to kill his own son: “And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”

And, of course, in Judges 11:29-40 there’s Jephthah who promised God that, “I will give to the LORD the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Unfortunately, after his victory, his only daughter ran out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. So, he kept his promise to God and burned her.


3. Both atheists and Satanists are accused of hating God.

This will sound strange, but most Satanists don’t actually believe in God or Satan. There is a thing such as theistic Satanism, but even these people do not worship the Satan of Christian mythology. For many Satanists, Satan is a symbolic adaptation. “Satan” comes from ancient Hebrew and means “opposer.” The contemporary Satanist is someone who opposes the ideas and commandments of the Judeo-Christian religion because they see them as evil. Yes, both the atheist and the satanist have this in common, “neither of them hate God.” They don’t even acknowledge his existence.

According to the Satanic Bible:

“ALL religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man. He has created an entire system of gods with nothing more than his carnal brain. Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls ‘God’.”

But there are many atheists who do oppose religion. Some of them are even very vocal about it. Richard Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion.” Christopher Hitchens wrote “God is not Great.” So, technically, when an atheist opposes the Judeo-Christian religion, he is being Satanistic, as in, being an “opposser.”

Furthermore, many atheists are also skeptics. Skepticism is another quality that both Satanists and Atheists have in common.

According to the Satanic Bible:

“The Roman god, Lucifer, was the bearer of light, the spirit of the air, the personification of enlightenment. […] It has been said “the truth will make men free”. The truth alone has never set anyone free. It is only DOUBT which will bring mental emancipation. Without the wonderful element of doubt, the doorway through which truth passes would be tightly shut, impervious to the most strenuous poundings of a thousand Lucifers.”

I have sometimes been called a Satanists by people who can’t tell the difference between atheism and Satanism. However, I don’t consider it an offense. As far as I can tell, Satanism, at least the atheistic LaVeyan incarnation of it, is not so bad. In all honesty, I would rather be mistaken for a LaVeyan Satanist than a fundamentalist Christian.


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Posted in Religion, Society4 Comments

Cheering for Equality

I don’t understand the Filipino sense of national pride. The Filipino sense of national pride is hard to distinguish from geographical bias, or outright racism. Filipino pride, to me, is similar to being proud of being born in a territory one did not choose to be born in. In other words, it’s like being proud of an accident.

Filipino pride, as it is commonly expressed, is like watching a male human being with a complete set of fingers being proud of being male, human, and having a complete set of fingers. Personally, I have these qualities too, but I don’t think I should take pride in any of these qualities because I was born with them. I am grateful about these qualities, but there was no effort on my part done to result in having these qualities. In other words, I didn’t work to be human, or male, or to have a complete set of fingers. I was simply born that way.

What I’m saying is, as Filipinos, we should not be proud, by default, for being Filipino. What I believe people should take pride in is having qualities that come as a consequence of effort. Being disciplined,for example, is an attribute that a person should take pride in because discipline is a product of self-control; a consequence of effort. Being kind, I think, is another quality that one can be proud of. Any person who decides to be kind is worthy of praise in my book.

If there’s anything Filipinos should be proud of, it should be something that is achieved through a collective effort. For example, I do not think Filipinos should take pride in Pacquiao becoming champion, because most Filipinos didn’t really help him train. They contributed very little to Pacquiao’s achievement.

However, Filipinos could take pride in the fact that the Philippines ranks among the most gay-friendly in the world. On the survey called, “The Global Divide on Homosexuality,” 73% of adult Filipinos believe that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

This is something Filipinos can take pride in, because being considered gay-friendly, as a nation, takes a collective effort, a collective decision to be tolerant.

Just recently, the University of the Philippines expressed a similar, LGBT-friendly message as part of their performance in the recent 2014 UAAP Cheerdance Competition. Since the theme of the performance was gender equality (#pantaypantay), the UP Pep Squad had their female pep squad members lift their male counterparts. As they were performing, the same group initiated the passing of a rainbow flag, a LGBT symbol, to further highlight their advocacy for equality.


As a long-time student of UP (8 years and counting, for various reasons [don’t judge me]) I felt very happy that the UP Pep Squad members did that. I was happy because they promoted an advocacy that I was also promoting.

I felt a sense of kinship with them; like we were comrades and colleagues, fighting for a common good. I felt a sense of pride; I wanted to think that maybe I contributed somehow to the UP community that fostered this environment of tolerance that encouraged the UP Pep Squad to highlight gender equality in their performance. But the pride of the Pep Squad does not and should not extend to me, by default, just because I go to the same school as they do.

I didn’t help them train. I didn’t risk my life being thrown10 feet into the air. I wasn’t part of the group that made a collective decision to take advantage of a national platform to bring consciousness to an advocacy that they collectively supported. They deserve to be proud of what they did.

I don’t.

I didn’t take the risks that they did. I didn’t voice out my support for the LGBT community as loud as they have. In a simple cheer dance performance, the UP Pep Squad was able to force a nation confront the issue of gender equality. That’s quite an achievement, I think. If anything, I should be humbled by that effort.

All I can say is that I’m grateful and happy that I’m part of the academic community whose image these people represented in the best way I can imagine. Congratulations to the UP Pep Squad!


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Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Religion, Society3 Comments

Why Catholics Need to Acknowledge Evolution

Catholicism is strange. That has always been my attitude towards it. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that I was made to get up at 3:00 a.m. to sing the Passion of Christ. I also thought it was strange that I was encouraged to kiss the bleeding knee of a Jesus sculpture after so many people already did. I thought there was something unhealthy about that.

One can say that I belong to a Catholic family. Although our beliefs vary, my family and I have always been culturally Catholic. I’m sure a lot of Filipinos are as well. And because Catholicism, as a culture, is ingrained in many Filipino families, few take the time to examine or study what Catholicism is about. Many assume that Catholicism is simply whatever their parents believed.

I have long accepted the idea that conservative Christians will not accept evolution, but I was definitely surprised to learn that many Filipino Catholics reject evolution too. In classes where I sometimes breached the topic of evolution, I would often ask Catholic students how many of them acknowledged evolution as a fact, and it’s always in the minority. My own Catholic family does not acknowledge evolution.

This is strange because, as far as I knew, the Roman Catholic Church has been claiming that there is no conflict between evolution and the faith, as early as 1950.

pope 2

Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged that evolution is not just a guess or a hypothesis. In 1996, he told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”

Pope John Paul II’s descendent Pope Benedict XVI shared a similar belief. Pope Benedict mentioned that the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution was absurd. In a speech in 2007, he said:

“Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.”

In the article, “Does the New Pope believe in evolution?” George Dvorsky reminds Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church has recognized Darwinian evolution for the past 60 years. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church openly rejects both Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican’s very own chief astronomer, Rev. George Coyne argued that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes.

If it’s not clear yet what I’m implying here, let me clarify: the Roman Catholic Church WANTS Catholics to acknowledge evolution and incorporate it into their faith.

The only requirement the Vatican gave with regard to a Catholic’s acceptance of evolution is to acknowledge that the process is guided by God. This belief is called Theistic Evolution. It’s basically the same as Darwinian Evolution, except that in the theistic version, God is involved.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, is quoted to have said, “As long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.”

I think a lot of Filipino Catholics remain confused about the Vatican’s official position on evolution, or even how they’re supposed to react to the Vatican. Either way, if you’re Catholic, acknowledging evolution as fact would make your beliefs more similar to the Pope’s, than rejecting it.

Posted in Religion, Science2 Comments

It’s Okay for Christians to Believe in Evolution

evolution-cartoon-11One of the most commonly acknowledged conflicts between men of faith and men of science is the fact of evolution. For many people with faith, scientific evidence for evolution is in direct conflict with the word of God, the Bible. Science, in their opinion, challenges biblical authority. Science, to them, is  threat to their faith. This has led a lot of believers to be skeptical of science, as a whole.

Skepticism, of course, is a healthy attitude, in general. However, it would be a little absurd to be skeptical of science, since skepticism is essential to science. If an individual is being skeptical of science, he is occupies an absurd space, mostly because he’s basically being skeptical of skepticism. Skeptics yield to science, because the scientific process is an extremely thorough form of skepticism.

In any case, people of faith often dismiss the theory of evolution as being “just a theory,” meaning they dismiss it as something similar to a “guess.” But there is a difference between how the word “theory” is used by scientist and how “theory” is used in common language. The question scientists ask when they devising a theory is not,  “Did evolution happen?” but rather “How did evolution happen?”

What that means is that there is evidence for evolution. Evolution is a fact. The only thing that scientists are doing is guessing how evolution happens. To provide more clarity on the situation, I should point out that there is also a theory of gravitation. However, developing a theory as to why gravitation happens does not discount the reality that gravity is a fact.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to deny facts, such as evolution, to keep to your faith.

In the article, “God vs. Science,” Dean Nelson tells the story of John Polkinghorne.

Polkinghorne is a famous physicist from Cambridge University, who achieved renown for his work in explaining the existence the world’s smallest known particles – quarks and gluons. He has been awarded membership in Britain’s Royal Society, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. But one day, Polkinghorne invited some colleagues into his office for a meeting to tell them, “I am leaving the university to enter the Anglican priesthood. I will be enrolling in seminary next year.”

Polkinghorne admits that a religious scientist is confusing for some people. For many people, including some of his colleagues, confessing that you are a religious scientist is similar to telling someone that you’re a vegetarian butcher.

However, Polkinghorne argues, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to him, both are necessary to our understanding of the world.

In the article he was quoted to have said:

“Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.”

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Polkinghorne completely embraces religious mythology.

In the article, “No Need for Christians to Fear Science,” Dean Nelson discusses Polkinghorne’s initial encounter with the religious community.

As a student in Cambridge, Polkinghorne had a brief encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity. He joined the Christian Union, because he was a believer, and enjoyed fellowship within a community of believers. However, it was not an entirely positive experience, because it felt narrow minded, guilt-inducing, and fearful of other points of view.

According to Dean:

“There was a certain bleakness that seemed to be expected of the faithful, which cast something of a shadow,” he told me. “They thought that their certainty was reality, but they were mistaken.”

Polkinghorne, unlike many conservative Christians, fully embraces evolution. In fact, from his perspective, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the process. Porkinghorne says, “The world is ever-evolving, still being created, and is much more complex than that. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Genesis is poetry, not history.”

The author, Dean Nelson, reveals his own confession:

“In the time I spent with him and in reading his books, I never felt like he was challenging my core beliefs in a loving God who has created a beautiful world. In fact, he challenged me to think bigger, not smaller.”

One does not have to be unscientific to be spiritual. Faith and science, as exhibited by one of the greatest priests/scientists who ever lived, can co-exist. It just takes a little tolerance, a little imagination, and a little faith. To a faithful man, scientific discovery is just another means by which God reveals himself.


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Posted in Religion, Science1 Comment

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

Conversations for a Cause: Michael Shermer

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.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Secularism0 Comments

A Conversation with Michael Shermer

A Conversation with Michael Shermer

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.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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

Believers and the “Myth” of the Angry Atheist

One of the most criticized aspects of an atheist is the tone he selects to convey what he believes. He sounds so angry, doesn’t he? That’s because he is. It’s not a myth. A lot of atheists are angry. For a long time, I was angry too. And throughout that anger, it never felt wrong to be angry. I felt that my anger was righteous. I also felt that it was important that this anger was conveyed.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that matters of belief are emotional issues. The same goes for non-belief. The atheist believes what he believes because of certain experiences that he encountered. For many atheists, the journey from belief to disbelief has been a painful one. It has not been an easy transition. Religion has been kind to some people, but it has not been kind to everyone. For some people, religion has been cruel.


I have some anger too, but recently I have been trying my best to communicate with a neutral tone. I have begun to consider the purpose of my writing and have decided that there’s no point to writing for an atheistic audience. Many of them already agree with me. However, my confrontational tone has been alienating not just religious folk I have never met, but many of my personal friends as well.

If I write with anger, all I would accomplish is either amplify the anger that many atheists already feel or offend many theists. I think my job, as a writer and educator, is to provide information and to encourage the peaceful discussion and evaluation of contradictory ideas.

However, if I do encounter an angry atheist, I will not tell him to stop being angry either. Anger is not a pleasant feeling. Many atheists who choose to feel something as unpleasant as anger have legitimate reasons to make such a choice.

Alex Gabriel, in his article, “To the Atheist Tone Police: Stop Telling Me How to Discuss My Abuse,” provides a comprehensive defense of his anger.

As a young bisexual man, Alex suffered from a lot of religion-inspired abuse. He was told that all Muslims were terrorists. He was told that he was an abomination. He was told that he would go to hell. After all he has suffered from religion, he believes that his anger is the correct response to religion. Part of his goal is to be rude to religion, and the anger that he is able to express is, for him, an achievement – a symbol of his freedom from religion.

In his article, he mentions others who have been labeled as “angry.” He mentions Shasheen Hashmat who was labeled as “angry” because she spoke openly about living with a mental disorder because of the traumas she endured from honor abuse. He mentions Sue Cox who was labeled “angry” because she revealed that her family told her that being raped by a Catholic priest was part of God’s plan.

Some “angry” atheists have had their genitals mutilated. Some have suffered sexual abuse from members of the clergy. Some have been living with shame because they were told that their “lack of holiness” was what caused a man to force himself on them. Some have been living in terror after being told that they were possessed, instead of depressed.

Some atheists are angry with religion simply because they suffered from religious abuse, and they are within their rights to express their outrage at the injustice they suffered.

Whether or not I agree with the communicative efficiency of an angry or bitter tone, I’m in no position to tell an angry atheist to “calm his tits” because I am not completely aware of his personal traumas to make a judgment about his capacity to calm down. It’s difficult to talk about abuse without anger.

And the last person who should be telling an atheist to stop being angry is the believer.

As Greta Christina writes in her article, “Atheists and Anger“:

“It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we’re going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it’s up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it’s not helpful. It’s patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it’s just going to make us angrier.”

I understand that theists will be offended by the atheists’ anger, and will make judgments about atheists based on his angry behavior. However, I also understand that atheists have legitimate reasons to be angry, not only because many of them suffered abuse, but also because these feelings of outrage are necessary for social progress.

“Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would fucking bother if they weren’t furious about something,” says Cristina.

Personally, I’m not as angry as I used to be, but I can’t promise that I will never speak with anger again. What I do want believers to understand is that when I express my anger, it’s not directed at you, believers. It’s directed at a system that has enabled this abuse. I’m not attacking your relationship with God. I’m attacking misguided manifestations of your faith that has led to human abuse.

The real battle is not between believers and atheists. The battle is between cruelty and kindness; bigotry and tolerance. I would like to think that as ethical human beings, that we’re all on the same side.


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Posted in Religion, Society2 Comments

A Catholic Apologist’s Open Letter to Atheists

I always thought that the term apologist was an oxymoron. My idea of an apology is a regretful acknowledgement of error, and offering a humble gesture to compensate for any damage that might have been caused. Apologists, on the other hand, are people who do not apologize often. They rationalize religious behavior and belief. They make excuses for outdated traditions. They make arguments in defense of contradictory religious doctrines.

When I saw the article, “An Open Letter to Atheists,” written by a Catholic apologist, this was exactly what I expected – empty rationalizations. To my surprise, that wasn’t what I found. In fact, the letter begins with:

As Catholic apologists, we want to do something that our name would suggest we do far more often:

We’d like to apologize.

By that we mean exactly what you would think; we want to say that we’re sorry. We understand that you might be suspicious right now, that you may be thinking that this is another “tactic” for drawing you in. It isn’t. In fact, having tactics is one of the things we’re sorry for.

In the letter, this particular apologist conceded that, historically, apologists didn’t know what to do with atheists or how to respond to them. They were threatened by the very notion of an individual who refused belief, worried that his lack of faith could weaken their own. They didn’t know how to deal with modern atheist rhetoric that challenged the divine purpose of human suffering.

The apologist himself admitted that he finds the notion of “defending God” with rhetoric rather unnecessary, “God can take care of himself; he doesn’t need our defense like that. Neither do we need to defend ourselves from looking foolish or from seeing what you see as clearly as you see it.”

The point he’s trying to make is that a true Catholic will not bother defending his faith. He will not be afraid to admit that his beliefs are irrational. He will not be afraid to acknowledge the merits of an atheist’s arguments without his faith being threatened.

The open letter was what it said it was: an apology to atheists.

In all honestly, I liked it, and not just because it was a sincere apology to atheists. I think it makes a lot of sense. Matters of belief require faith. A Catholic can’t defend his religion with reason. He must do it with his faith.

He must be able to say, “Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that evolution is a fact, but I still have faith that my God exists. Yes, there is no scientific or historical evidence that the Bible is fact. For all I know, it could be a book full of metaphors, but I still have faith that my God exists.”

The faithful are not supposed to need evidence, because the point of faith is to believe without guarantees. Faith does not require facts, but neither does it require ignorance. You don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God. You just need to interpret the Bible in a way that would accommodate your new knowledge, like the Vatican did.

Faith is not static. The religions of today are practiced much differently from how they were practiced in the past. It undergoes its own evolution. The key is to allow one’s faith to accommodate facts, not the other way around.

I believe that a person’s personal, subjective, belief in God should not be used as a basis for matters that need facts, such as: science, health, gender, & sexuality. But I also believe that a person’s faith, if it is strong, welcomes new knowledge and evolves. I believe that the faithful should re-interpret and re-contextualize religious doctrine when they come across new information.

The conflict between atheists and the faithful is not caused by a religious person’s faith in his God, but in a religious person’s insistence on using his personal, subjective “faith” as the basis for facts. As long as we can all agree that religious doctrine should not be the basis for facts about the observable universe, I don’t think I’ll ever have to argue with another person about religion.


Here’s a confession from me, an atheist:

I don’t hate people who have faith in God. In fact, I like a lot of people who have faith in God. My mother, whom I love dearly, believes in God, the law of attraction, and other new age stuff. My girlfriend believes in the dhamma and in a non-anthropomorphic higher power. A close friend of mine is a deeply Catholic poet. Another is an Islam convert who used to teach about the Koran. I seriously don’t mind that people love and worship God.

But you know what? I should apologize too.

I have often criticized religion, in general, and blamed it as something that generally caused pain and misery. But it’s not really religion, in general, that I don’t like. What I don’t like is when a person’s faith in his or her God is used to rationalize homophobia, hypocrisy, misogyny, slut-shaming, censorship, violence, and medical malpractice.

But whether or not God exists, acts of kindness will still help people and acts of hate will still hurt people. I don’t think atheists and faithful people should be arguing about the existence or non-existence of God. I think people, in general, should simply discourage hateful behavior and encourage kindness and tolerance in everything that we do, regardless of what we believe.

Instead of insisting that knowledge and faith are mutually-exclusive, atheists, like me, should start encouraging the faithful (everyone, really) to see scientific knowledge not as a threat to their faith, but a tool they can use to assist them in their own personal spiritual journeys.

As S. N. Goenka, a pioneer of the secular meditation movement, once said:

“Rather than converting people from one organized religion to another organized religion, we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion.”

I agree. Converting people from one religion to another, or from faith to un-faith, should not be the priority. I used to think that I had to disagree with faith, in general, to achieve my secular goals. I now believe that encouraging the pursuit of knowledge would achieve a lot more in spreading good will than criticizing, or ranting about, what I perceive as ignorance.

After all, it doesn’t really matter what people believe as long as they treat each other well.


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Posted in Religion5 Comments

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

In this week’s jam-packed episode, we talk about the Philippine government, for once, respecting secularism by removing “God-loving” from the Department of Education vision statement. Then, we talk about Pro-Life Philippines President Eric Manalang and his homophobic and violent comments against Carlos Celdran. We also talk a bit about Ramon Bautista and his being declared persona non grata by the Davao City local government.

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 Media, Podcast, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Video0 Comments

Religion and Memes: A Hundred Students Walk Out of a Lecture

A few days ago I was doing a lecture on the difference between master morality and slave morality as explained by Friedrich Nietzsche. I told my students that Nietzsche believed that many of the personal qualities Christianity considers virtuous (humility, obedience, mercy, charity) benefit only the weak and powerless. I also mentioned how Nietzsche thought that the promotion of these Christian values is a defensive measure conducted by weaklings to discourage stronger individuals from totally dominating them. While I was talking about these ideas, I knew that many of my students were Christian. If any of them were offended by these ideas and had to excuse themselves, I would not have held this behavior against them.

People, in general, should not be offended by facts that contradict their beliefs. However, some people DO get offended when they encounter information that they feel trivialize, belittle, or criticize the things that they believe. When I present data that contradicts the beliefs of people, I accept the reality that some of them might resent me for saying such things, even if they were facts (I mean, Nietzsche DID SAY all those things).

The problem with discussions that cross religion is that religion is not a rational subject, it’s an emotional one. Even if the information presented was objective & scientific, people will inevitably respond with emotion. People believe in religion because of their emotions, NOT because of reason. Obviously, if I criticize a person’s religion, he’ll respond emotionally and not rationally.

I’m not sure if this sounds condescending, but I have begun to treat people with religion with the same empathy I extend to people with depression. I don’t tell religious people that their beliefs don’t make sense, because that would be very similar to telling depressed people that their sadness doesn’t make sense. Depressed people can’t help but be sad, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their sadness. Religious people can’t help but believe, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their beliefs.

I’m not implying that religious belief is a mental disorder. What I’m saying is that telling a person that Christianity does not make any scientific sense won’t suddenly convince him to change his mind about Christianity. He knows it doesn’t make scientific sense, and he chooses to believe it anyway.

One of the challenges I commonly encounter, being a science-oriented atheist, is trying to deliver factual information without trivializing religious sentiment. I want to teach my students basic scientific facts, like evolution, but the very idea of evolution contradicts notions of creationism; natural selection contradicts intelligent design.

I often ask myself, “Should teachers and scientists walk on eggshells around matters of religion?”


Just recently, Susan Blackmore, the author of the book “The Meme Machine,” held a lecture at the Oxford Royal Academy. Her lecture was about how memes spread.

A meme is defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” An example of a meme is religion; it is system of behavior that is passed on from one individual to another (conversion, indoctrination, etc.).

Naturally, the lecture would have to tackle one of the most dominant examples of meme systems. However, when she discussed religion, people started to walk out.

In Sue Blackmore’s article, “A Hundred Walked Out of My Lecture,” she writes:

“Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.”

I wasn’t surprised that the audience walked out. In my youth, I’ve walked out of churches too when I was annoyed with the sermon. What actually surprised me was the fact that the lecturer was wondering why her audience walked out. She was disheartened by the audience’s dismissal of the facts she was presenting.

It was very obvious why they walked out, really. The audience dismissed her facts, because she dismissed their beliefs as ridiculous. She also intended to show them a slide about how their minds have a virus. In my humble opinion, she can’t trivialize someone’s views and expect them to listen to hers.

Yes, everything she said was true: these were facts – a religion IS an example of a memeplex.

However, I can’t help but wonder if there might have been a kinder way of delivering this information, especially to an audience with religion. At this point, most atheists would probably ask me, “What are you suggesting? Are you saying we should respect religious feelings?”

I’m saying that we should have realistic expectations. When we talk about facts that contradict religious teachings, we must accept that some feelings are going to be offended. When we openly criticize religion, we must accept that some of our religious friends would decide to stop being our friends. People’s feelings are more important to them than whatever it is we have to say. As soon as we offend feelings, we should accept the reality that people can stop listening to us, because we were never entitled to their attention to begin with.

I also believe that we should respect feelings, in general, whether these feelings belong to a religious person or an atheist. I believe that some religious beliefs and practices harm a lot of people. But I also have to recognize the fact that religion is important to some people.

I honestly don’t know how to navigate the issue of respecting feelings, being both an advocate of science and a critic of some religious beliefs and practices, but I’m working on it. I believe that there is a way to educate with empathy, all that is needed is a desire to empathize with our audience.


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Atheists Can Be Assholes

The interest for the film God is Not Dead was immediate. It had Kevin Sorbo, a man I will forever remember as Hercules (the bastard son of a god), and it’s never a bad idea to hear what the other side has to say even though…well, it’s not even though I already have a position. I’m hoping that despite a predisposition to be stupid, I’ve worked past most of my deficiencies as a fallible human being and have decided based on evidence that the Judeo-Christian god is as real as all the other gods in all other mythologies. All gods were created equal, so to speak. However, if, one day, I wander into a room filled with fairies, I’m going to change my opinion about them.


So I watched the film, eager to find out what they will do to try and change my mind. I didn’t quite expect them to be that offensive to Muslims, but I can’t say that I don’t think it’s true. I’m pretty sure being disowned is the least of your worries if you suddenly find yourself questioning Allah’s legitimacy as the one and true creator of all and everything. When a father slapped his daughter for listening to the Bible, it became clear to me that this was not about god. Like most debates, this is about religion. The film doesn’t just want to“revive” god from being “dead”, it aims to resuscitate one specific god. I admire it for that. I like close-minded bigots more than apologists. You’re not a Christian unless you believe in every word of the Bible. Faith defines you. A hint of doubt means you’re a nonbeliever to some extent.

Now, some have cried foul over the depiction of nonbelievers in the film, but let’s face it, it happens. You can’t honestly say that you’ve never (not even once) felt superior to people who need god or religion as a crutch to live. It would be great if I can actually say that I’ve never met Professor Angry Atheist (Kevin Sorbo’s character) in real life, but I have. He is very real but I don’t really give a shit. I care about the depiction of atheists as much as I care about the depiction of Christians and Muslims. Everyone in it was a caricature instead of a character, which is not surprising at all. For all I know, people perceive me as Professor Angry Atheist.

Here is a list of things that people assume of me once they find out that I’m an atheist:

I hate god

Talking about religion will make me angry

I have no morals and will do evil things because I can

I don’t say “Oh God, Oh God” when I have sex

I need saving

How can I prove that I’m not any of those? Except for number four, I’m guilty of all that and more. I do occasionally hate god as an idea. Talking about religion sometimes makes me angry. I’m probably evil by some standards. I do need saving (from poverty, mostly).

I think it’s true that atheists can be, at some point, a bunch of assholes wanking off during sessions of intellectual exhibitionism. I can’t say that anything the Christian Kid in the film said made any actual sense “scientifically” speaking, but anyone more willing to debate a point is more“scientific” in my book. Had he met a less dicky atheist, he might’ve become a heathen.

Watching that film, all I could think of was how I should try very hard not to be that guy, because I hate that guy too. Who wouldn’t? He’s the kind of guy that reads big books so he can drop big names in conversation. He throws around the word reason as a shield, but he doesn’t actually act nor think rationally. He’s an atheist, sure, but when did that become a safeguard against being a douchebag?

The fight against the predisposition to be stupid doesn’t culminate in one’s godlessness. For me, atheism was a by-product of skepticism—not a wonder drug against fits of rage, irrationality, and becoming a stereotype.


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FF Podcast 46: Depression

FF Podcast 46: Depression

This week, we talk about Robin Williams, his death, and the general public reaction to suicides.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Barker (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Barker (Conversations for a Cause)

Dan Barker - Conversations for a Cause - Filipino Freethinkers

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.

This week, we talk with Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We ask him about being a former pastor, about secularism, what he thinks about Pope Francis, and about being a secular musician.

Dan Barker’s book, Life-Driven Purpose: How An Atheist Finds Meaning, will be available on September 16, 2014.

His latest album, Adrift on a Star: Irreverent Songs By Dan Barker, is now available.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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