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False Balance: A Rebuttal to “Middle Ground”

I often facepalm hard whenever I see news outlets try to present “balanced views” on their programs. Usually they pit expert and scientific opinion (by giving them 5 minutes) vs the views of the Average Joe (and giving them the rest of the program), and then ask the viewers to “decide for themselves”, as if all opinions are of equal merit.

Unfair as it may sound, not all opinions are equal. When you want to build a house, do you ask a random guy on the street, or do you ask an architect? How about when you’re sick? Or need to have a contract checked? Do you ask the experts or do you ask random people?

It’s called “False Balance”. It may sound good and egalitarian, but giving airtime to those who have very little understanding about a specific subject is a great disservice to the rest of us. Not all views and opinions are valid, and some are more valid than others.

When Fox News (surprise!) gives moon landing hoaxers or anti-vaccination nutjobs a platform to spread their inanity, it gives them false credibility as an equal and valid opinion. When Larry King gives UFO conspiracy theorists airtime, the general public will likely perceive that both sides have equal merit.

I’m sorry to say, Andy, that when I read “Middle Ground”, I saw False Balance written all over it. Inadvertently or not, you used False Balance as a crutch to support theistic views while appearing to be “neutral”. The fact is, your views fall squarely into the Theist side.

I’d like to take a few minutes to point out where I disagree.

But if atheism is defined as “ the rejection of belief in the existence of deities“, I don’t think I’m quite there yet. So far, the atheism that I have seen is first and foremost, a rejection of the Christian deity (or the Christian definition of god as portrayed in the Bible). So far also, most of the atheists that I know who are actively espousing their non-belief come from some sort of Christian background. I do not know of any prominent atheist who started out as a muslim, a jew, a hindu, or a druid.

Atheism, in the broadest sense, is simply “a lack of belief in deities”. It’s not necessarily a “rejection” of belief in deities. Newborn babies are technically atheists, because they are incapable of forming a belief in deities. They can’t reject what they can’t even conceive of yet. There’s a simple question you can ask to determine if someone is an atheist. Just ask them: “Do you believe in the existence of a supernatural deity?”. If one cannot answer “Yes”, then one is an atheist.

Andy, I find it quite disingenuous of you to lump us all as just “Atheists” as if that word alone is enough to describe us all. You can only glean one thing when a person says that he/she is an atheist: That the person does not believe in deities. That’s it. Atheism says nothing about my personal beliefs, wants, hopes, and dreams. It says nothing about my attitudes towards other people. It says nothing about my views about myself and the world we live in.

Most atheists (not all mind you!) are skeptics, humanists, naturalists, secularists or a combination of them. It is from this point of view that I am responding to this article of yours.

My friend, the biggest reason most atheists you know come from a Christian background is because you live in a country that is predominantly Christian. The second reason is probably because you haven’t done much research on atheists and atheism. Maybe that’s why you’ve never heard of Salman Rushdie, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sanal Edamaruku. (Atheist Jews are a dime a dozen, if you care to do the research)

Because of this, most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity. Once that is done, this disbelief in god is expanded in a less hostile fashion to other religions (Islam is probably next in line in terms of getting atheist flak).

“Less hostile fashion”? How so? I am just as critical of Islam as I am of Christianity or any other religion that wishes to force itself upon all of us. It’s just that we almost never hear about non-Christian fundies here in our country.

However, just because an atheist has written off the existence of the Christian god does not automatically mean that there is no god of any sort. What is “god” after all, but just a word people use to represent and define some unknown higher power? People have tried to define this god by using words such as creator, source, omniscient and omnipotent. They have tried to characterize this god by attributes such as loving, kind, just, merciful, and so on. But these are just words,

I agree with much of what you say here…

and I believe in the possibility of a being that exists beyond these words.

…but I’d have to ask for proof here. Just because it’s “possible” doesn’t mean we should entertain it, much less assume it to be real, especially when facts and evidence point the other way. It’s much more possible that a ten meter asteroid would suddenly crash on your head right now, but will you bet on it? Will you hide in a bunker for the rest of your life just because it’s “possible”?

There is a lovely zen saying that goes, “When the sage points to the moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” The words and concepts we have for god are just parts of the finger pointing to something possibly out there, possibly greater than ourselves.

Lovely quote Andy, but we have proof that the moon exists. We have no proof that gods exist. Your analogy fails in this regard.

I cannot explain it other than saying that there is a feeling, an inner sense of something more profound than words can express.

Then what is the difference between your inner sense and the inner sense that tells Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc that THEIR religion is real? What makes your inner sense more valid than theirs? Because that is EXACTLY the same thing they will tell you about THEIR beliefs. It’s EXACTLY what they will use to say why YOU’RE wrong, and THEY’RE right.

You see, that is the reason why we atheists do not believe in gods. There is no evidence other than anecdotes. And the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.

When Christians and atheists fight over doctrines and belief systems, it is like watching them fight over the pointing finger. It is briefly amusing and I won’t deny deriving a bit of satisfaction seeing my former belief questioned. However, this can’t go on forever. If we keep fighting over the finger, we will never get to see the moon.

Again, this presupposes that there IS actually a god of some sort. I suppose you feel a bit smug and superior watching us “fight over doctrines and belief systems”, but we atheists/agnostics don’t fight over doctrine and dogma. We fight against it.

For the atheists, ask yourselves whether it is possible to have a being higher than yourself. This being does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have. If you think about the universe and what we yet don’t know about it, you’d have to at least consider the possibility of such a being, else you would be as close-minded as the fundamentalist you so despise.

You’re working under the assumption that all atheists ” believe there is no god”. The truth is, the vast majority of us only “disbelieve in gods”. Even the so-called militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens allow for the small possibility that there might be a god. We realize we don’t know everything, unlike many devout believers.

And what do you mean by “being higher than ourselves”? In terms of what? Technology? Physical or mental capability? I think it is likely that aliens exist somewhere in the universe (and no, I don’t believe they’ve visited us already). Maybe they have greater technology, or greater mental and physical abilities, but they’d still be governed by the laws of nature. Also remember, we call ourselves A-THEISTS,not A-ALIENISTS. If you broaden your definition of “god” so much that you include mortal beings from other star systems, then you have rendered the term “god” meaningless.

As for your suggestion that we open our minds to the possibility that there might be a god, we’ve already done that. Give us solid proof of your god, and we’ll believe. However, worshiping him/her/it is another matter and I assure you, a far more difficult one to get us to do.

I believe in a middle ground, a place of mutual respect, where acceptance triumphs over bigotry, and where love triumphs over fear. After all, if we humans don’t get our act together, who will do it for us?

And so we go back to my original point. What you’re espousing is False Balance. In the Science vs Religion debate, one is supported by facts, reason, and evidence, and the other is backed by dogma, faith, and ideology. There is NO BALANCE there.

No my friend, yours is not the middle ground. Yours is the ground that enables the theist to make ridiculous claims without fear of backlash because it gives religious opinion equal weight vs scientific fact. Yours is the ground that enables extremists to commit horrible acts because it minimizes the efforts made by saner heads to expose extremism for what it is. Yours is the ground that enables Creationists to scream “teach the controversy“, “teach both sides”, and “evolution is just a theory” and actually be taken seriously. Yours is the ground that is smugly amused and snickers equally at both the side that brought us modern technology, medicine, and the Green Revolution and the side that upholds bigotry, fear, and blind obedience.

No, the middle ground isn’t yours. The middle ground is atheism/agnosticism/secularism. You are free to believe whatever you want so long as you do not force it upon everyone else. The only reason we are vocal and sometimes angry is because religion repeatedly tries to force itself upon our daily lives, when we just want to be left alone. If religion did not impinge upon our freedoms, you wouldn’t hear from us about it at all.

And no, the enemy of Theism isn’t Atheism. The enemy of Theism is Theism itself. What greater enemy does a religion have than other competing religions? Nothing incites a mob better than telling them that “Our God wants them destroyed”.

Besides, since when has religion ever fought for “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”? Slavery, misogyny, bigotry, infanticide, genocide and all the other evils of the world are espoused in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is being used today to block the Reproductive Health Bill in our country (and the Quran used to justify misogyny in Islamic countries) the same way it was used back then in the United States to try to keep slavery legal.

In the words of UK Labour MP Jamie Reed:

Seven years as an MP. Still waiting for a Christian to send me a letter on child poverty. Plenty on homosexuality and abortion.

So go on, be amused as we atheists/agnostics/secularists fight against dogma and ideology, but if you really want “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”, I invite you to check out Humanism (not necessarily atheism) as a position, instead of your imaginary Middle Ground.

Posted in Personal, Religion, ScienceComments (81)

Church Morality vs. Secular Morality: A Matter of Premise

Morality is such a divisive issue. In simple terms, morality is “the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.” The divisiveness lies not in whether an act is in accord with certain standards of right and wrong, but on which standard should the rightness or wrongness of an act be judged.

In society, Church morality and secular morality often come into conflict with each other because their standards, and especially their underlying premises which dictate these standards, are as different as night and day. As such, their moral conflict is essentially a matter of premise, as follows:


With such opposing premises, it is of no great surprise that the Church blames secularism for destroying the morals of society, while secularists accuse the Church of trying to impose a misogynistic and bigoted moral system straight out of the Middle Ages.

For instance, on the issue of birth control, the Church asserts that it is God’s will that the unitive aspect of sex cannot be isolated, through man’s initiative, from its procreative purpose, meaning sex should not be done only for the sake of pleasure and bonding while avoiding the responsibility that comes with bearing children. And on the issue of gay marriage, the Church insists that God designed marriage to be the exclusive union between a man and a woman.

Secularism, on the other hand, operating on the premise that no one really knows the will of God – assuming he exists – has no objection towards contraceptive sex as long as the state laws on marriage, rape, and abortion are not violated. As for gay marriage, secularism has no opposition to its legalization as long as it is between two consenting adults.

If a moral system is based on the premises of the Church, it is easily justifiable to ban contraception and gay marriages since both are condemned by God, and the pleasures as well as the sacrifices of this life are nothing compared to the potential happiness and suffering in the next. But as the blogger Philosophy Bro once tweeted, “‘Because God said so’ isn’t a bad excuse if He really said so – proving that is the hard part.”

Since it is clear to the secularist that this life is the only life we really know exists, welfare and happiness in this life should take precedence over any imaginable but unverifiable condition after death – especially since we have absolutely no idea how to secure an advantage in the next life, if there is one. What’s wrong with passionate sex without the possibility of pregnancy if both partners are enjoying it and hurting no one, not even a fetus or a zygote? What’s so objectionable about two people of the same gender falling in love with each other and wanting nothing more than to publicly proclaim such love and enjoy the legal rights and benefits of a state-sanctioned union?

These intimacy and relationship issues appear to go beyond the appreciation of the Church hierarchy, who in turn seem intent on imposing a great deal of self-denial on others not only by preaching against hedonistic sex but by actually blocking laws that help poor couples enjoy sex without having more children than they can feed. As Bertrand Russell said, “Religions, which condemn the pleasures of sense, drive men to seek the pleasures of power. Throughout history power has been the vice of the ascetic.” Indeed, what can one expect from powerful men whose own institutional tradition bound them to become lifelong virgins?

Posted in Religion, SocietyComments (70)

What If the Rapture Happened and Nobody Noticed?

The Rapture is an event in Christian eschatology (theology regarding the end of the world and the final judgment) wherein the faithful of Jesus Christ will be “caught up” in the clouds “to meet with the Lord in the air.” Popular depictions of the rapture often include Christians floating up in the sky, leaving behind all the heretics and heathens to suffer on Earth during an era of torment called “the Tribulation” as described in the book of Revelation (or, as I like to call it, some guy named John’s really bad acid trip). This leads up to the end of the world. There are many variations of the doctrine and it would be tedious and uninteresting to dwell on the variants. I should note here though that the Rapture is not officially espoused in any recognizable form by the Roman Catholic Church, Christianity’s largest sect. It is particularly identified with the Evangelical Christian movement as they are often the most vocal about the coming end times. Many mainstream Christian denominations (including Catholicism), however, look forward to the obliteration of the world and human civilization in some form.

This past Saturday, May 21, 2011, was the latest in a long line of failed predictions for the Rapture. You may have seen buses and banners all over the country set up by a certain calling on everyone to repent and believe in Jesus because the end times are finally here, 2000 years after Jesus promised to come before some of those present with him would die. On that day, Christians were supposed to disappear from the face of the Earth. If you were on a plane piloted by a Christian, you’d have been out of luck.

It’s Monday now and no one seems to have noticed any mysterious disappearances involving people shooting up into the sky. Seems like the Rapture was a bust.

But what if it did happen?

What if we are now living in the Tribulation as foretold by Tim LaHaye’s million-dollar Left Behind franchise of books and movies?

How could this be, you ask, if your pious Christian neighbors are still here?

Well, what if all the Christians who were raptured were only those who lived alone and nobody noticed their disappearance? Sounds absurd? Well, yeah, but you can’t disprove it. Welcome to religion.

But, say that it did happen last Saturday. Say that now we’re all just stuck on this blue rock hurtling through space at a hundred thousand kilometers per hour, without a God to cry out to and left to fend for ourselves. Now, we’re all just earthlings.

It’s an unsettling notion. Our first instincts upon realization of this fact will tell us to collapse into a ball and wait patiently for our certain death in this lonely and cold universe. Good news, though; our second instinct will shake the first one off.

Have you ever tried to spend the entire day lying in bed? Not sleeping or thinking, just lying still and doing nothing. This perfectly simple task begins to become increasingly impossible to perform as the day progresses. That’s our second instinct kicking in. Even for helpless humans, inactivity is unappealing.

So, we eventually curl out of our post-apocalyptic fetal position and wake inside a new world. We notice that it looks exactly like before, except that we are missing the consolation of a savior who will fix things in the end. No matter. We go on living.

With the assurance that, now, God is on nobody’s side, we are forced to become more humble and more aware of our limitations. We are compelled to judge things with the understanding that we are, in essence, sentient meat and different from other animals only in intellect and range of awareness. Since everyone has clearly been wrong on the question of God save for the few who have been raptured unnoticed, no knowledge is infallible or sacred. Everything can be challenged without risk of ostracism or violence.

With the true Christians now with their maker, no type of human being is more favored by God than another. The deeds of us left here are the only metric by which we can consider each other, not the unquestioned assent to some esoteric tradition handed down by our parents.

But without God watching us, all actions become uncomfortably trivial in the grand scheme of the cosmos. We are the only species we know that has awareness of its own inevitable death. Though we believed that our corporeal deaths were temporary and could be healed eventually by our Creator, we no longer have that. Our mortality suddenly becomes very real, without the prospect of eternal paradise. We are now but a fledgling group of apes: one species out of millions on one planet among ten million billion. No longer chosen by God. No longer having dominion. No longer special or given divine right.

Yet it is the exact same circumstance that makes us small and unimportant which makes our fragile human lives precious and valuable. Somehow, even without a divine guardian, humanity retains its worth in the vastness of space. With heaven no longer on the table, we discover that we only have each other now. Building a lasting society dedicated to the pursuit of happiness: that is the only way the human race can achieve the immortality it so unceasingly pursued.

Maybe God has left his children who were unable to live sufficiently propitiating, credulous, or subservient. But even without the meaning imposed by a celestial watchman, we have the freedom to make our own. We can choose that meaning to be compassion for each other instead of eager excitement for the destruction of all we have built. We can choose our life’s purpose to be made in consideration of our kinship with all life on Earth and not the bigotry and ignorance of our pre-apocalypse. This life, this planet, is all we have now. If the world has indeed ended, let’s start a better one.

Posted in Featured, ReligionComments (8)

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Once again, somebody posted something in our Facebook page that I just had to address. Darn it, am I making a habit of this?

Here’s the post:

the Religious keep trying to convince me there is a god

the Atheist keep trying to convince me there is no god

i see both sides presenting their opinions as FACTS

i dont see any difference between these factions ~_~

Basically, he’s saying that atheism and theism are equally viable, thus he has a hard time discerning which one to believe. Well let me point out where he went wrong.

Firstly, he says that “the Atheist keeps trying to convince me there is no god”. REALLY? Which atheist is specifically trying to convince you that “there is no god”? In fact, has anyone ever encountered an atheist on the street preaching “No god!”, or knocking on your door and saying “Have you heard the good news? There is no god!”. The vast majority of atheists hardly ever talk about religion. It’s just not that important to us. The only time we start talking about religion is when it tries to impose it’s own narrow worldviews upon everyone else. Otherwise, we are perfectly happy to leave theists alone.

Besides, the great majority of atheists are “weak” or “passive” atheists, meaning we are not 100% certain that there is no god, but choose to live our lives as if there is none. We are willing to believe in your god, as long as you can provide us with solid proof. Even the so called “militant” atheists like Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, and Harris allow for the tiny possibility that there might be a god. “Strong” atheists (those who assert 100% that there is no god) are few and far in between. And even these people won’t just suddenly approach you on the street to tell you there is no god.

Now, compare and contrast that to theists, who feel the need to proselytize and spread their religion, whether other people want it or not. These people are absolutely certain that their god, and ONLY their god, exists. Which brings us to the next point of contention: FACTS.

He says that “both sides present their opinions as facts”. I’m sorry but when we point out that the bible says that the Earth is flat, that the Sun goes around the Earth, that Pi=3, that the bat is a bird, that the mustard seed is the smallest seed there is, and that rain is caused by God opening the floodgates of heaven, buddy that is not opinion. That is FACT, and you can read it for yourself in the Bible.

When we point out that the Theory of Evolution is supported by multiple lines of evidence from across diverse fields of science, that is FACT, not an opinion. Again, you can check out countless scientific papers ,and do your own experiments if you wish to do so, for that is the beauty of science.

Again, compare and contrast that to the theists, who claim inerrancy of their holy scriptures, on the basis that “Because God said so”. Now that, my friend, is OPINION. And when your religion has no evidence to support it other than… drum roll… PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, that, my friend, is the epitome of OPINION.

Besides, it’s not like facts and evidence are held in high regard by the devout theists. How many times have we heard them declare that “even if their god were proven to be false, they’ll still have faith in their religion.”. Facts and evidence just doesn’t matter. For many of them, it’s all about FAITH.

Now if after this, you still can’t tell the difference between someone arriving at atheism because of skepticism and science, and someone arriving at theism because of personal experience, then there’s really not much else I can tell you.

And frankly, I don’t really care much which way you want to go. It’s your life, and it’s your decision. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to live your life. And in my opinion (hehe) the world would be a much better place if everyone just let other people live their lives, and not try to control or dictate how others should live, so long as they do no harm.

Posted in Others, Religion, SocietyComments (10)

For what more?

For what more?

From science, my spirit’s wonderment;

From philosophy, my life’s meaning;

From reason, my truth;

From my own spirit, my very purpose;

From my humanity, my morality;

From the ones I love, my comfort;

From my children, my hope;

For what more do I need religion?

Posted in Philosophy, Poetry, ReligionComments (9)

Can you scare a Skeptic into believing?

One of the tactics proselytizers use to try to convert nonbelievers is the appeal to fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it turns out there really is a god and you’ve lived your life on the assumption that there isn’t? They invoke Pascal’s Wager in an attempt to scare people into believing. And this reminds me of my favorite skeptic Michael Shermer’s delightful appearance on Mr. Deity.

In that episode, Shermer has died and it turned out there was a god after all being referred to as Mr. Deity. Denied entry at the Pearly Gates, Shermer pleads his case before Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: The bottom line is you didn’t believe in the boy here (referring to Jesus).

Michael Shermer: Well, look, you gave me this brain to think critically. I read the Gospel stories…what about all those inconsistencies? They’re inconsistent about where he was born, who was there when he died…you know, come on.

Mr. Deity: Well maybe you were supposed to learn to walk by faith. Ever think of that, genius? Huh?

Michael Shermer: Uhm, well, sir, you remember, you created us in your image and you don’t walk by faith, do you? You walk by sound knowledge, and science is based on sound knowledge so I was trying to be more, you know, deity-like.

Mr. Deity: Yeah, but-

Michael Shermer: Plus if I said I really believed and I didn’t, you being all knowing would know that I’m lying and lying is a sin, right?

Now let’s take a look at the following definitions of believe:

1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?

2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

3. To expect or suppose; think: I believe they will arrive shortly.

Based on the above, it appears that belief doesn’t imply a conscious choice but rather something people arrive at as a result of some other mental process. To some people the mental process can be as simple as memorizing what an authority figure says while others use a more elaborate method of counter checking for fallacy.

While skeptics like Michael Shermer choose to scrutinize truth claims with no less than the scientific method, can the all-knowing, all-reasonable God blame them for arriving at a position of non-belief even though they did not actively choose non-belief itself? I suggest you watch the video so you’ll have an idea what to do in case you died and came face to face with God, and he isn’t happy.

Posted in ReligionComments (4)

What it Means to be a Nonbeliever

Credit: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO)

There are reasons why some people would rather call themselves skeptics or freethinkers instead of atheists, and one is to avoid the not uncommon misconception that atheism automatically means the positive claim that there is no god. While I thought this issue had already been resolved a long time ago considering the multitude of articles and videos posted online explaining that it isn’t necessarily the case, it seems that it hasn’t been explained often enough. People continue not only to assert that that is the only definition of atheism but even to imply that the New Atheists are deliberately trying to redefine the word to suit their purposes when their true position is just play-safe agnosticism.

To settle the issue, let’s look at the definition of atheist in the 1979 edition of The Grolier International Dictionary, of which I happen to have a copy:

atheist – one who denies the existence of God.

The operative word here is denies. Using the same dictionary, let’s see what that word really means:


1. to declare untrue; assert the contrary of; contradict.

2. to refuse to believe; reject.

3. to refuse to recognize or acknowledge; disavow; disown.

If we add “the existence of God” to each of the above definitions, the first one seems to be the most presumed by theists while the atheists usually mean the second and third – that they do not take this particular claim as truth, that they simply do not believe.

And what does it mean to not believe? If a friend told me that last night he dated and slept with a famous actress, say, Angel Locsin or Christine Reyes – or both – but he didn’t even have a scandal video on his phone, I would simply say that I don’t believe him. However, I wouldn’t accuse him of lying because I wasn’t with him or either girl last night and I didn’t have 24-hour surveillance on any of them. No, I could not be certain that he’s not telling the truth. But I just wouldn’t believe him because his story is too incredible that I would provisionally conclude that he did not sleep with either actress – until I see some evidence that he really did. Then and only then would I reassess and perhaps even reformulate my conclusion. Heck, I might even worship him for banging those goddesses.

Going back to the God question, in The Agora, a Facebook group created by our very own John Paraiso, I saw this very amusing comment:

The universality of belief in the existence of God makes the burden of proof to rest upon those who deny the existence of God.

Wow. They demand proof against something that has not been proven in the first place. “Universality of belief” does not necessarily mean that such belief had undergone and passed through skeptical scrutiny.

But sometimes the problem lies with some atheists who, in their passion to express their new-found freedom from religion, go a bit too far not only by saying something inflammatory but by indirectly making assertions that they would have to defend, like this one:













The poster is indirectly saying that Jesus, Allah and Yahweh are imaginary, hence, they do not exist. That is a positive statement that supposedly carries the burden of proof. However, when asked to prove such statement, some atheists would simply say that it is the theist’s job to prove that his particular god exists. That is wrong. A comment posted in Friendly Atheist says it best:

If you say, “There is no god”, you are making a claim that you can’t defend. It is a point of dogma.

If you say, “I haven’t seen enough evidence to believe in god”, you are making a defensible claim. You’ve left open the possibility that new evidence could change your position.

The first one clearly refers to the strong atheist, but the second refers to atheists in general and includes agnostics and skeptics. Unfortunately, to many people the word atheist is associated more closely with the “there is no god” position than with healthy skepticism, no thanks to the overeagerness of some atheists (and no thanks as well to those who say that agnostics are atheists without balls).

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics. The first two are defined by their positions on a certain truth claim; the third focuses more on the method of arriving at either position. All three are the same in one sense: They do not believe.

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The Christian Freethinker

I mentioned in one of my comments that a “Christian freethinker” is an oxymoron, or loosely a “contradiction in terms”. I realize I should not have made such sweeping statement that might antagonize some liberal or progressive Christians. I am sorry.

Wikipedia defines freethought as “a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any dogma.” A freethinker is therefore someone who practices freethought.

On the other hand, a Christian, in the broadest sense, is one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. By this definition, Christianity seems to be incompatible with freethought because the former relies on the “divinely-inspired” authority of religious doctrines to learn about the supposed teachings of Jesus while the latter repudiates such doctrines due to hearsay and circular reasoning, hence my use of the term ‘oxymoron’ to describe “Christian freethinker”.

But upon deeper reflection, I am beginning to believe that there are actually many Christian freethinkers (note the lack of quotes this time) out there. In fact, I used to be one. But it has a lot to do with the timing. Freethought holds that beliefs should be based on reason instead of authority, but most Christians had already acquired their sacred beliefs long before they were capable of rational thought, and so while they would now think critically when presented with new issues or claims, I guess they simply didn’t get the chance to evaluate the quality of the cognitive process by which they originally formed their religious beliefs way back in childhood.

In my personal experience, it was relatively late in life when I encountered cogent arguments against the tenets of my faith. For a long time I merely skirted the Problem of Evil, taking comfort in the belief that God has a purpose for everything, a grand plan that is just beyond our human understanding. My faith was even strengthened after reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time because it somehow seemed to imply the necessity of a Creator, offering “scientific support” for my belief. (I felt uneasy at the part where Hawking suggested how the four-dimensional space-time could be finite but with no boundaries – like the two-dimensional surface of the earth – so the universe could have no beginning nor end but simply be, negating the need for a creator. I was later relieved when he said that such wave-function scenario could only happen in imaginary time, and in real time in which we exist, there will always be boundaries.)

At this point, was I what you would call a freethinker? A lot of people would probably say no because I wasn’t a critical thinker. According to The Critical Thinking Community, critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” And based on that definition, I surely was not a critical thinker.

But critical thinking is not the same as freethinking. While freethought values science, reason and logic, critical thinking is more concerned with how scientific is the evidence, how rational is the argument, and how logical is the conclusion:

It is believed by some philosophers (notably A.C. Grayling) that a good rationale must be independent of emotions, personal feelings or any kind of instincts. Any process of evaluation or analysis, that may be called rational, is expected to be highly objective, logical and “mechanical”. If these minimum requirements are not satisfied i.e. if a person has been, even slightly, influenced by personal emotions, feelings, instincts or culturally specific, moral codes and norms, then the analysis may be termed irrational, due to the injection of subjective bias.

It is quite evident from modern cognitive science and neuroscience, studying the role of emotion in mental function (including topics ranging from flashes of scientific insight to making future plans), that no human has ever satisfied this criterion, except perhaps a person with no effective feelings, for example an individual with a massively damaged Amygdala.

Freethought is the general process; critical thinking is the quality control. As such, I personally believe that it is actually possible for a Christian to be a freethinker as long as he honestly tries to be rational, regardless of the quality of his rationality.

But once he is presented with a compelling argument against the basis of his faith, he will have to choose between Christianity and freethought. He will either have to remain blind and stubborn – or start reexamining his beliefs. And in my case, it was this image that changed everything:

Once I realized that this “Word of God” is actually just hearsay and might as well be stories concocted by fallible humans with their own personal interests in mind, it was almost immediately that I stopped considering myself a Christian.

To the Christian freethinkers (again, note the lack of quotes), I know it isn’t easy to question one’s faith especially if one believes that questioning will jeopardize one’s immortal soul. But ask yourselves, who are you questioning -God, or just the self-proclaimed human messengers? Once you realize it’s the latter, I bet you wouldn’t think twice about applying critical thinking to every belief you hold sacred. And then you could honestly say that you are, as you always have been, a freethinker, regardless of your beliefs.

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A Former Christian’s Letter to an Old Friend

Dear CB,

I regret not being able to see you when you last came home to visit. It’s been almost a decade since you left the country and we had somehow lost touch, and surely I could have spared a few minutes – a few hours, even – to meet with an old friend.

But the reason I didn’t see you had nothing to do with time. I did not come to see you because I figured the topic of Faith would most likely be brought about in our conversation, and I didn’t want to lie to you even as I didn’t want to tell you that I no longer have it.

I remember several years ago there was this Q & A being circulated via email. One of the questions was, “What is most important to you?” As I had expected, you answered “Jesus.” Back then I still considered myself a very spiritual albeit not a very religious person, but I wrote down “Truth.”

I realize I’ve been a truth seeker ever since my childhood days. I remember feeling uncomfortable in Sunday school when the teacher told us that Jesus chose the dumb people for his disciples because the bright ones had too many questions. Whether that was biblically accurate or not is beside the point; she was implying that one should simply follow and not think. But I realized that no matter how I tried, I simply could not not think. And there I was struck by the irony of why our God-given intelligence would be the very thing to hinder us from getting closer to Him. I could not understand why the same God who gave us reason would prohibit us from using it.

Still, I managed to stay on the path and maintain a personal relationship with the Lord throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. You might have noticed, however, that I was the liberal type of Christian who always tried to find a rationale for our beliefs instead of just taking them by blind faith.

One of the things I tried to ponder was the presence of evil and pain in a world supposedly created and cared for by the loving and powerful God. I even opened that up to you and you were able to conveniently answer it with the explanation that we are not omniscient, hence, we cannot fathom God’s purpose in His infinite wisdom.

That explanation kept me going for a few more years, but the Problem of Evil had been an eternal bug up my theistic ass. I lived with cognitive dissonance as I struggled to rationalize gratuitous – unnecessary, unwarranted, and unjustified – suffering as part of God’s divine plan. And I do not mean only human suffering; even before our species walked the earth (and long before Adam and Eve supposedly committed Original Sin), countless animals had already suffered and died, some more excruciatingly than the others, like the caterpillar whose body was being leisurely eaten alive from the inside by a growing wasp larva that would soon emerge from the caterpillar’s empty shell as an adult wasp ready to mate and lay an egg on another unlucky caterpillar, and the cycle continues as the egg hatches into a larva that digs into the caterpillar’s flesh. Now unless there is a Caterpillar Heaven where all their sufferings will be recompensed, it just didn’t make sense to me to suppose that there was actually a loving Creator.

We were both lucky to be born to middle-class families in a civilized society, so gratitude comes naturally to us for all of “God’s blessings, goodness, and mercy.” But we had no idea what it would be like to live in Afghanistan, North Korea, or Africa. Gratuitous suffering exists elsewhere, and we were not constantly aware of them as we focused on our “blessings” like passing an exam when there were children who never had a decent meal or access to medical care. Our pastors have come up with sophisticated theodicies like man’s “free will” and divine punishment, but when I reminded myself that this was supposed to be a loving and all-powerful God we were talking about, I realized that the apologists were running out of excuses for God’s indifference and/or incompetence.

And so I clung back to the assurance that God has a “grand design” which is just beyond our finite minds’ ken. But then I wondered, how do we know that God indeed has a beautiful plan for His most beloved creation? Unfortunately, I only had the Bible to tell me so, the Holy Book we revered as the true Word of God. However, the Bible contains many major contradictions and divinely commissioned atrocities that I either had to skip those verses or suspend my reason in order to continue believing its divine origin. But my biggest problem with the Bible was its lack of authenticity considering its stories were accounts of humans passed from generation to generation without the use of a printing press, and that it was only the Bible that proclaimed itself as the “Word of God.”

When I realized this, every belief I held sacred suddenly became fair game – including my belief in the divinity of Jesus. It also dawned on me how absurd is the notion of God’s ultimate “sacrifice” for the salvation of mankind: God created man imperfectly so God now plans to punish man severely and eternally because of the fatal imperfection that God caused in the first place, but because of God’s “love” for man, God bore an only Son, who was actually God Himself, to be offered as a sacrifice – to Himself – in order to satisfy God’s craving for blood and so that man does not have to suffer God’s eternal wrath as long as he believes in the Son. And even the “sacrifice” is not a sacrifice at all considering it was only about thirty years as a man and less than three days as a “dead” man that an eternal Being had to endure. That’s not even a cent to the world’s richest man, and yet Christians consider it to be the greatest gift.

Now you might shudder at my utter blasphemy and invoke Pascal’s Wager to make me reconsider believing, but all I can say is that the teachings of Christianity contradict those of the two other major religions, Judaism and Islam, and if either of them turns out to be the “true religion” then all Christians will burn in hell for believing and blasphemously proclaiming that Jesus was not just a prophet but God Himself.

And what does it mean to “believe” anyway? Is it something one can force upon himself even if every part of his rational mind screams incredulity? I don’t think so. Belief is not a personal choice; rather, it is the product of knowledge and understanding, both of which are not personal choices either.

And then I was left with the ultimate question: Where did everything come from? For quite some time after I left Christianity I considered myself a deist, believing in a Creator who simply caused the cosmos into existence but never intervened afterwards, allowing the universe to evolve according to the natural laws embodied in it. While I still do not discount the possibility of such Creator to exist or have existed, I am now equally open to possibilities that the universe – or at least the initial singularity from which it expanded – has either existed eternally in some form or another or came from nothing as an accident in nature via quantum fluctuations, negating the need for a creator. But more importantly, I highly doubt that a Being powerful enough to be able to create an entire universe would be that petty or insecure to give a damn if I believed in Him/Her/It.

While I consider myself a skeptic, I do not wish to be called an atheist mainly because of the stigma and misconceptions associated with the word, but for all practical purposes I might as well be an atheist because I no longer believe in an intervening god – loving or otherwise. While it cannot be proven without a doubt that such god does not exist, reason dictates that the Abrahamic God’s existence is very highly unlikely, and so I live my life on the assumption that this life is all there is and that the future of our world and the welfare as well as the suffering of our fellow humans – and of the ‘lower’ animals, or at least the ones we domesticate – rest mostly in our hands.

And so, CB, while you might be aghast with my revelation, I simply cannot bear to live in pretense just to avoid disappointing you. I can no longer force myself to suspend reason for the sake of my faith. As Daniel Dennet said, ‎”There is no future in a sacred myth. Why not? Because of our curiosity. Whatever we hold precious, we cannot protect it from our curiosity, because being who we are, one of the things we deem precious is the truth.”

But if you really believe that God is the Truth, please pray that He will reveal Himself to me in an unmistakable manner and prove me wrong before it’s too late. With all His power and mercy, surely He will make a way.

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I Killed My Guardian Angel – Is That OK?

“From being Lucifer, son of the morning, the lightbearer, the brilliant one, the shining one, he now became Satan, the adversary, the slanderer, the accuser, the archrebel, the archenemy, the devil, the destroyer…”
– Angels, we never walk alone, Walton John Brown-


I was born on a date when the feast of the holy guardian angel is being celebrated. My mother always believed that I was saved by an angel when I was six years old when I fell from the balcony of my grandmother’s old Spanish house. I was perfectly fine after the fall, because I landed on my father’s chicken pen, covered by fishing nets. Nevertheless, my mother insisted that I was totally unhurt because my guardian angel took hold of me – that is what they all insist.

Today, I am confronted by two forms of religious and maybe mythical consciousness. On one hand, there is the form of consciousness that understands all human beliefs through freethinking and logic. And on the other hand, there is the form of consciousness that is inverted, which irresponsibly enslaves the minds through mysticism. Certainly, the intellect has both the authority and the power to follow or resist whichever it wishes to – and I chose to follow freethinking.

This is the point where I felt the need to reorient myself towards the self. I strongly believe that an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church.

This is the point where I killed my guardian angel.

I couldn’t care less what happened billions of years ago and whether time began or not. I only care about this lifetime. Time alone is fair and just.

What difference does it make whether you believe in angels or not?

Maybe believing in it is just an opinion, like believing that Noynoy Aquino is the best next Philippine President; or a personal trust or reliance, like trusting a quack doctor; or it can mean part of faith, giving your whole heart, thus restricting the self to that belief because it requires adoration and submission.

As I observe among the faithful, possible reasons why they believe in angels are;

  • They need to – it’s like believing in angels will save them when they walk through a dark Metro Manila alley.
  • Believing makes them feel good and it’s fun.
  • They believe in Angelology or the scientific study of angels, their hierarchy, etc.
  • They believe those who tell stories about actually meeting an angel
  • They believe they met one themselves.
  • They believe it because it’s part of religion.

But I thanked my parents for teaching me to believe in angels when I was a child – like believing in Santa Claus, it gives me the feeling of wonder, fascination, curiosity and excitement. Like those stories about fairies and elves, angels still entertain me.

Do you believe in angels, or have you killed them too?


by Yodz Insigne

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I Just Want Him Safe

I call to you to keep him safe
Are you listening to me?
I want you watching him
Because I can’t
I’m just a helpless girl
Who doesn’t know a thing
About prayer
Well, I’m praying now

I call to you to keep him safe
Are you listening to me?

Do I have the right to pray
So doubtfully like this?
There’s no one else to turn to
And I’m afraid
Please make him strong enough
To be alright
Please get him through the night
While I pray in half-belief
To the one he trusts completely

Do I have the right to pray
So doubtfully like this?

Allow me to pretend
To believe and trust you
That’s the best I could attempt
To fight the haunting thoughts
Of his body on the pavement
Lifeless, breathless, cold
Imagination unfolds
And I’m trembling
I’m afraid to lose him

Please allow me to pretend
To believe and trust you

Allow me to embrace
This flicker of faith
There’s this hollow feeling
Of not knowing
And I can’t find someone else to run to
So pardon me if I call you
I mean no disrespect
I’m just a helpless girl
Who’s so afraid

So allow me to embrace
This flicker of faith

I just want him safe.

(This poem was written in September 2003, when I was struggling with being an Agnostic. Photo was taken by me on one of my trips to Japan.)

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I don’t even know you’re there
But somehow you show me that you care
Forsaken – what I ought to be
Yet without you there, you seem to comfort me

I’ve committed terrible disgrace
Can’t excuse myself with “It’s only a phase”
Forsaken – what I ought to be
Yet for countless times you seem to shelter me

I find myself in the dark
And I won’t even call your name
But for some unknown reason
You give me something to breathe on
And I realize you’re there just the same

People treat you like a king
People see you as some sort of savior
I don’t see you that way
Would you be mad
Or would that be okay?

I criticize those who praise you
Don’t even know if I believe you’re true
Forsaken – what I ought to be
I don’t call, yet you’re there for me

Don’t know if I consider you a friend
I even laugh at you every now and then
Forsaken – what I ought to be
And what exactly did you see in me?

I find myself in the dark
And I won’t even call your name
But for some unknown reason
You give me something to live on
And I realize you’re there just the same

People treat you like a king
People see you as some sort of savior
I don’t see you that way
Would you be mad
Or would that be okay?

I don’t know what I am to you
Don’t know if I even give you what is due
Why aren’t you forsaking me?
Perhaps you’re really who I believed you to be

People treat you like a king
People see you as some sort of savior
I don’t see you that way
Would you be mad
Or would that be okay?

But I know for sure that it would be okay.

(This poem – meant to be a song – was written in April 2003, when I was struggling with being an Agnostic.)

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