“We don’t eat babies.”
I’ve been hearing this a lot since I joined the Filipino Freethinkers last May. And it’s true—the Philippines’s largest and most active group of atheists, agnostics, humanists, liberalists, deists, liberal theists, and whatever other -ists there are that think reason, science, and secularism totally pwns authority, tradition and dogma, has yet to partake of sweet infant flesh. We’re nice people. We donate blood and hold Wii parties. But of course, in a country that considers widespread Catholicism as a PR hook, convincing some people that we’re not a cult and, on the contrary, are purveyors of logic and individuality can seem hard.
Fortunately, attending just one of our bi-weekly meet-ups is enough to quell most qualms. When my boyfriend and I first went, starved as we were of fellow godless folk, we did have some doubts about these men and women huddled in a circle at Starbucks Shangri-La, listening so earnestly to each other, looking like an initial herding of pyramid schemers or a prayer meet with better clothes. But the moment we approached, they didn’t make a big scene, didn’t pat us on the back, tell us we’d come to the right place or any of that lovey dovey crap. We newcomers did have to share our beliefs or lack thereof and how we got to that point, but that was as cult-y as it got, and you have to admit it was necessary.
The rest of the meet-up—and all meet-ups since—was spent in discourse. Topics are very varied: the ethics of having sex with friends, being a grammar Nazi, nationalism, genetic engineering, starting steps for virgin vegans, etc. And as we are a motley crew—a mix of college students, game developers, photographers, ex-evangelists, doctors, family men, businessmen, thespians, government employees, journalists, call center agents, professors and bums, each of whom harbor unique sets of principles—things can get rowdy. If shameless intellectual masturbation is your deal, then each Freethinker meet-up is the circle-jerk of your dreams. We don’t talk about pushing nuns into traffic or setting mosques on fire. We’re nerds, for the most part, and as harmless as they come.
Nonetheless, as we are all beneath the same freethought umbrella, we do have shared concerns, such as the passing of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, and are prone to act on them. This is where the Freethinkers leapt from being just a bunch of people I liked hanging out with, to the first opportunity I’ve ever had to stand up for something and not feel like I was shitting myself. I was never one for causes; I was the type who would rather blog about her period than the latest crummy thing in the news. But since joining the Freethinkers, I finally felt like I had a damn good reason to speak up about dire issues, which I didn’t use to have since neither god nor nation got me off.
I now commence with the inevitable reference to Carlos Celdran’s Sacrilege Spectacular. I was bedridden with fever the day some Freethinkers and members of like-minded groups trooped over to the CBCP and Carlos’s cell with their placards. As bad as I felt for not being there with them, I was also stoked about what was happening. Here was a tangible moment of conflict, and I was finally raring to support the side I was on instead of thinking that there was no point in getting riled up when there was Season 2 of Party Down to deal with. I didn’t give a fuck if others thought I was just some Carlos crony, promoting Damaso shirts on FaceBook because that’s what the cool kids were doing. I don’t blame them; I was obviously apathetic a few months back, so people who had known me longer would have had to do a double-take.
But the fact is that I learned a lot from my Freethinker friends about being a more vocal individual. These were people who had definite opinions, had the confidence to air them, and were principled enough to listen to others’ thoughts and support or counter those views civilly and within reason. In case anyone was wondering, that’s a good thing. And I wanted to be part of a good thing.
So, despite any hype or hot air that may have pervaded the RH brouhaha, it was apparent to me that the Freethinkers were being the real deal, and that I had every reason to be a more active person. We all wanted that RH bill passed because it made sense, and would bring about positive change. We don’t tolerate bullshit, and believe nobody else should.
I joined the Freethinkers about a month after I realized I was an atheist. (Side note: Nobody decides to take up atheism, much less try it out. Atheism is something you arrive at through rational inquiry; it occurs to you that there is no legitimate proof that higher beings exist. Simply put, you just don’t believe in the existence of a god or gods. That’s it.) I had never been a “spiritual” person, much less a religious one. I went through the motions—all girls’ Catholic school, paralyzing fear of rebultos, being a (restless, whiny) bead in a living rosary—and found no sense in them, or in any form of spirituality for that matter, growing older with no dependency on prayer or gratitude to a higher being. But I didn’t really bother labeling myself a non-believer. I just didn’t care then, up until I decided to read up about atheism—intrigued as I was because of my non-believing boyfriend—and realized that I had no problem whatsoever with what the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens were saying, and that the stuff I’ve read in defense of god and religion just didn’t cut it. I went through similar thought processes and made similar observations as atheist authors, but it was just that I was too apathetic to make any conclusions in the past. So there. That’s when I realized that—BAM—yup, there is no god, and I’m an atheist, yeehaw. Such certainty made me feel awesome, and I wasn’t even craving for an epiphany.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in search of a support group. I certainly didn’t join the Freethinkers to feel better about being an atheist—it was definitely the opposite of being a burden—or to get further assurance that god is as real as my Worldwide, Genre-Spanning Literary Success. I didn’t need anyone else to be an atheist. Nonetheless, I became very curious as to what other atheists living in the Philippines were like, and what they were doing about the fact that most everyone around them had at least some fleck of faith when they didn’t. So when I joined the Freethinkers, not only were these curiosities sated, but I learned far more than I ever expected to.
As I’ve mentioned, not all Freethinkers are atheists. Absolutely anyone can be a Freethinker, as long as they understand that every single thing is liable to be questioned or scrutinized, as long as whatever sacred cows they’ve tended in the past have already been slaughtered into scrumptious patties. Freethinking is not about giving the finger to faith. It is about using reason and science to get to your own conclusions about anything. Since meeting the Freethinkers, I learned that my atheism was just a stepping stone towards a far more significant personal belief: that thinking before speaking (or doing, or anything) would do all of us a big, fat load of good.
In the past, writing about religion and gods this directly would have made me incredibly nervous. In fact, this essay is my first time to put into print a sentence as controversial or potentially infuriating as There is no god without muffling it with disclaimers. But I’m cool with it. I thought before I wrote, and know for a fact that I can defend my views neatly and objectively.
If you’ve ever been made to take up Theology in college and had to explain the holy trinity with a straight face for finals, I bet you’d know how much better I’ve been feeling now. And if you don’t, it sure wouldn’t hurt to think about it.
A Very Happy 2nd Anniversary, Filipino Freethinkers! I’m stoked to be part of such a warm, passionate, and blindingly attractive group of people.