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Meet a Freethinker: Marisse Galera

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

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


559470_494119647274104_2061695098_n1) How would you define a freethinker?

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


2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

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


3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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An Atenean’s Reflections on the CBCP and the Catholic Church

I remember our discussion on Berdyaev in class. Nikolai Berdyaev wrote the book “The Destiny of Man,” wherein he discussed about the sin of the Pharisees. Berdyaev explained that the sin of the Pharisees was their legalistic religion. The Pharisees are concerned more about the “legal technicalities” of their religion rather than the true meaning of its teachings. I quote from a letter written by Berdyaev in reply to V. Lossk:

“But to put the Sabbath higher than man is a betrayal of the commands of Christ. Christians have often become suchlike betrayers. Everyone for whom an ortodoks teaching stands higher than man and his human fate betrays the Gospel commands. The legalism within Christianity is a distortion of Christianity, a victory of non-Christian principles. There is nothing higher than the humanness, which likewise is the Divine, the testimony of the God of love and sacrifice.”

I cannot help but see that the same is happening in present-time Philippines. Our church leaders are too obsessed with the legalistic aspects of their religion that they fail to see the true face of their faith. They are committing the very same crimes Christ condemned. In a way, the CBCP is our present-day Pharisees. They would place their “rule of law” above humanness and risk the suffering and death of many people. And they would do so clinging to their “authority,” fueled by their “lust for power”.

But why should “authority” be such a heavy crime? After all, without a central figure or institution of authority, society would simply be a mess. But an adherence to order and community is different from obeying authority. Authority is built on fear, violence and dictatorship, while harmony is built on trust, communal understanding, and cooperation. Following rules because you fear the consequences is different from following rules because you believe in, respect, and understand the spirit of the law.

Authority begets blind conformity, hypocrisy, and false allegiance. And we can only liberate ourselves from this sin through questioning. Questioning, not in the sense of attacking, destroying or throwing away our values, but as an affirmation of our values, to evaluate and reevaluate our principles so that we avoid inflicting harm on others as well as on ourselves. We question to break away from blind conformity, and to unlock the possibilities, to transcend our current situatedness.

I champion the kind of hope built on a basic, intrinsic human quality, and as a Catholic would say, “God’s design”: the ability of human questioning, to liberate us from the chains of blind faith, to bring about change and improvements to our lives, to seek new and better ways of doing things, to open ourselves to “God’s Grace,” to unlock possibilities and accept truths may they be palatable or not, to evaluate and reevaluate our values so that they may be strengthened.

Quoting from my previous essay: “I wish to espouse hope, the kind that is found in human inquiry, learning and our ability to solve problems—the kind that speaks the human language and promotes understanding and connection. My only aspiration is to be proven wrong time and time again so that new and liberating paradigms may triumph over old and oppressive ones. And hopefully through our sincere discernment, may we find true salvation.”

The Catholic Church that I once hated but have grown fond of was one that stood for freedom. The Catholic Church that the Jesuits introduced me to is one built on questioning, on sound discernment, on possibilities, on hope. The Catholic Church I know is a community that I respect, love, and one I will staunchly defend to my death, despite being an atheist.

Based on the CBCP’s attitude and behavior so far, theirs is a Catholic Church I do not know.

But despite my frustrations, anger and disappointment, I still have hope. And hope is found when you learn to trust. Trust in the human desire and ability to question. Trust in our collective wisdom, in our ability to learn from our past mistakes, and our ability to move forward. Aspire to be “proven wrong time and time again so that new and liberating paradigms may triumph over old and oppressive ones.” It is alright to be wrong.

In letting go of our ego, of our authority, of our need to be right—in emptying our cups, we invite greater things into us. And as we continue to discern, to question, to invoke change, we open ourselves to a greater future, a future that a Catholic would say “we created, through our own actions, inspired by His Grace” and may “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven.”

I invite you to read some of the works I mentioned/used in the discussion above

The Philosophical Enterprise by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J

The Destiny of Man by Nikolai Berdyaev

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