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Atheist Spring

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

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More Important than the God Question

In The Bottomline episode aired last February 4, Red Tani agreed with Boy Abunda that no one actually wins in debates on the existence of God. And I concur because the god concept has too many facets lumped together and discussions often shift from one facet to another.

For example, in order to prove the existence of God (or at least the high probability thereof), apologists like William Lane Craig put forth logical arguments like First Cause and Fine-Tuning. Even granting that these are based on correct premises and sound reasoning, they only support the deistic concept of a generic creator that does not necessarily intervene in the affairs of the universe, while God with a capital “G” is a proper noun referring to the Judeo-Christian god who gave specific instructions on how to live our lives.

As such, I think what’s more important than the God/creator question is whether we have immortal souls, and especially if the welfare of our souls depends so much on us believing in God’s existence. Can the apologists offer evidence or even philosophical arguments for Heaven and Hell (as well as the entrance rules) that are at least as challenging to refute as the cosmological and teleological arguments?

Going back to Boy Abunda’s interview with Red Tani, I think it would have been more interesting if the discussion focused on secularism instead of atheism. As Red said, the only difference between believers and nonbelievers is their position on the God question, and this is really not a big deal because most of the day most believers act and make decisions without thinking of God, so belief (or nonbelief) does not necessarily dictate our actions, politics, or morality.

But if there is a specific god we are talking about, like the Roman Catholic god who abhors contraception, divorce, and gay marriage, then the issue is no longer about theism and atheism, but which religion or sect correctly represents God. And here the debate would degenerate into disarray because unlike the discussions on the existence of God where the contenders at least try to stick to the rules of logic in the absence of empirical evidence, different religions would simply attempt to ram their opposing “revealed” doctrines into each other’s throat.

While I do not mean to assert the logical positivist position that any unverified proposition is meaningless, being a freethinker compels me to require evidence that is more than circumstantial before accepting something as true. And such skepticism is one of the foundations of secularism, which is “a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life.

So going back to the question of souls and whether nonbelief or even doubt jeopardizes them, I think an even more important question would be, whose representation of God, assuming God exists, should we follow for the sake of our souls, assuming we have souls? And if we cannot figure that out, doesn’t this demand that we give precedence to our welfare in this life instead of denying ourselves carnal pleasures for the sake of some imaginable spiritual pleasures in the next life?

We really don’t know if there is an afterlife, and we have absolutely no idea how to secure our welfare in it – unless we seriously believe that the Bible is the true word of God (which is highly questionable given its circular claims) and that God revealed his will to certain individuals as claimed by the popes and some charismatic ministers (which is mere hearsay). All we really know about is the here and now, that there is real joy and real suffering in this world, and that we humans have the capacity to multiply this joy and reduce the suffering. Isn’t that a lot more important than trying to convince each other that there really is or isn’t a god?

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Image from Starmometer

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