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 Ryan James Amparo. Ryan is the outgoing president of our chapter in University of the Philippines Los Baños. He is a B.S. Chemical Engineering student. He is also a freelance writer, business owner and violinist.
1) How would you define a freethinker?
A freethinker is someone who bases his beliefs and decisions purely on evidence. He doesn’t have to be necessarily an atheist as most people would assume or argue. This is because freethinking is a process, not a conclusion. Faithful (no pun intended) adherence to the rules of logic is what prevents freethinking into becoming free-style thinking, which most people seem to take for granted.
2) What belief system do you subscribe to?
I am an agnostic atheist, and I have been for almost two years now. I have never been religious in my life, and I have never had a religious experience. It’s interesting that, being born into an evangelical Christian family, I’ve noticed that it’s actually the converts who tend to be most religious and fanatical. I think this religious conversion that I’ve never experienced is the reason for my lukewarm attitude toward church.
It’s worth noting though that even though I have been Christian for majority of my life, I have believed in the separation of church and state as long as I can remember. I also never got to believe in ghosts or anything mystical. My father is programmer and we had fairly speedy internet connection at home even when it was still expensive back in the late 90s and early 2000s. He also bought me a lot of educational material, like encyclopedias and books, as a child. I think this early exposure to information is the reason why I became acquainted to secularism and rational thinking earlier than most people.
I became oriented to freethinking when I started reading the works of Ayn Rand about three years ago. I knew she was an atheist, but that never had significance to the then-Christian me. I became an agnostic atheist when I came to watch a documentary by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. I was instantly convinced that there was no god after watching it.
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?
I had this classmate once who approached me just after I introduced myself in class and told them that I was a member of FF-UPLB. She told me she used to think FF was like an artists’ collective, and that freethinkers were just another word for an eccentric.
4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?
The freethinking community helped me in the communities help best: it made me feel not alone. I used to think that there were only a handful of nonbelievers in the university. Indeed, believing in something unpopular is an alienating experience. FF gave me that sense of community.
5) What was the biggest challenge FF UPLB has experienced so far, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for me then was finding enough members. According to university rules, we needed at least 15 people to create an organization. This was during the time that I thought that, aside from my co-founders, I was the only secularist in the university. Of course later on, I came to be surprised that there were so many of us.
Currently, the biggest challenge that we face is removing stigma. While the university is fairly more tolerant than the Philippines in general, FF-UPLB still has the image of the stereotypical angry atheist in campus. A lot of people inside the university still think that the group is anti-Christ, which explains really why promotional posters of the group always get vandalized.
6) What are the common issues that freethinking students face?
I think this is with regards to coming out to their friends and family. A lot of nonbelievers in the group are still closeted out of fear of reprimanding from their loved ones. I think FF helps here in part because it fills the gap created by this fear or disconnect with a community composed of friendly, like-minded people.
7) Do you think your chapter could become what it is today if your school were run by Catholic priests?
Yes, I think so. Accreditation and recruitment will be hard, but if the demographics is still the same, why not? After all, I don’t think it’s the supposedly secular environment in the university that precipitated the chapter’s growth. UPLB is far from secular. Teachers and students are evangelizing in class, and prayers to the Christian god are given during every event, among other breaches of secularism. Really, the influence of churches in student affairs can be strongly felt.