Red Tani’s guesting on Bottomline with Boy Abunda was the first time in my memory that atheism was covered in the Philippine mainstream media. Atheists in the Philippines are considered a minority, and although there are no surveys conducted as to how many atheists there are in the Philippines, we surely are growing. There are presently around 5000 atheists scattered across various groups on social media. The actual number could be higher as most of them in social media are from the younger generations.
Numbers aside, Filipino atheists, being a minority, are still a misunderstood group of people. We usually suffer discrimination and prejudice, assumed to be anti-Christ, immoral, or worse. But atheists as a demographic are also like any group where there is diversity. We also have different mindsets and ways of thinking. There are even positive and negative atheists. On issues like euthanasia or divorce, we also have differing ideas.
Being an atheist is a choice; unlike religion, you are not recruited into atheism. You can’t become an atheist by being baptized or converted. Being an ex-Christian, I discovered atheism by myself; I did not even know that the word “atheist” existed to convey my nonbelief until later. But what lead me to atheism may be comparable to other atheists. Like Red, I was very pious before, studying the bible, going to church every Sunday, while at the same time learning other fields of study like philosophy, sociology, and science. I became an atheist rather gradually. There was no “Aha!” moment. But being a skeptic really influenced my change to nonbelief. I also suffered discord with my relatives and friends, even losing some along the way. Since I didn’t believe in god and treated the bible just like any other book, some questioned the basis of my morality. To quote Michael Martin in the article on Atheism from Microsoft Encarta 2006:
“Over time, several misunderstandings of atheism have arisen: that atheists are immoral, that morality cannot be justified without belief in God, and that life has no purpose without belief in God. Yet there is no evidence that atheists are any less moral than believers. Many systems of morality have been developed that do not presuppose the existence of a supernatural being. Moreover, the purpose of human life may be based on secular goals, such as the betterment of humankind.”
As a social person, I also looked for other like-minded individuals. Even during the reign of Friendster in social media, I was already a member of internet forums, but being a seafarer, I only recently attended one of the meetups of my chosen group: which was very different from my past experiences attending religious masses. Although I consider an hour-long mass boring, meetups, which can last for hours, are very enjoyable. In fact we run out of time during most meetups, so we continue our discussions into post-meetups which can last up to late at night. We also have Wii parties, protest actions, etc., which I can say are truly fun. And being freethinkers, attendance is always voluntary.
What makes me proud as an atheist is that we are mostly the opposite of what is assumed of us. We are mostly fun-loving and law-abiding citizens. We abhor violence and corruption. And we also have the diversity and plurality of any group. The airing of that Bottomline episode, I hope, will usher an era where atheists are accepted and misconceptions corrected. As one call center’s slogan says: “The future is friendly”.
Photo c/o Frank III Manuel