Tag Archive | "freethought"

FF Podcast 022: What is Freethinking?


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This week, we talk about the basics of freethinking and tackle the common misconceptions people have about both Filipino Freethinkers and freethought in general.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Philosophy, Podcast, Religion, VideoComments (0)

Bound by Belief: Are Catholics Obliged to Obey?


And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

– Matthew 16:19

A reader of my post on primacy of conscience had an issue with my use of the word “bound” when I implicitly concluded that Catholics are bound to obey the Church. His main objection was that together with my use of “prison” in the title, “bound” implied that the Church took away the freedom of Catholics to make up their own minds. He concluded that because a Catholic can refuse to obey the Church on certain things, he is not bound.

I’ll explain here that my usage of the term is accurate and the objection is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of obligations.

Bound by Duty

One of the synonyms of “obligated” or “obliged” is “duty bound.” Also, “bound” has several dictionary definitions, but I used (and use) the following one in bold:

bound 3 (bound)

v.

Past tense and past participle of bind.

adj.

1. Confined by bonds; tied: bound and gagged hostages.

2. Being under legal or moral obligation: bound by my promise.

The reader’s objection is probably due to his thinking that I meant “bound” in the first sense: confined and tied like gagged hostages. This is not what I meant, but I am aware of this connotation, which is an added bonus. But even without this there are several valid reasons to use “bound” instead of the alternatives.

Bound by Church Law

First, the Church itself is fond of using this term, and in the way that I meant it (obligation). Here are two examples taken from my post on primacy alone:

The Church’s Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding.

– Pope John Paul II

Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.

– Pope Benedict XVI

And don’t forget the bible verse I quoted to start this post, one of the pillars of Church authority. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common in Jewish legal lexicon:

The phrase “to bind” and “to loose” was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done… When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority – that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God.

The Catholic Church, which has “what is claimed to be the oldest continuously functioning internal legal system in Western Europe”, sees this as Jesus giving them the authority to enforce God’s laws, laws written in the Code of Canon Law.

Bound by Civil Law

To this day the term is still used not only in Church law but in civil law as well, although in a different sense. Instead of forbidding, “binding” implies obligations [emphasis mine]:

What then are legal obligations? They are legal requirements with which law’s subjects are bound to conform. An obligatory act or omission is something the law renders non-optional. Since people plainly can violate their legal obligations, “non-optional” does not mean that they are physically compelled to perform, nor even that law leaves them without any eligible alternative. On the contrary, people often calculate whether or not to perform their legal duties.

This shows us that although binding obligations are non-optional, it does not mean physical coercion or absence of alternatives is necessary. The reader’s objection to my usage of bound is based on the misunderstanding that binding necessitates removal of all alternatives. On the contrary, a person can be bound and still have alternatives.

Bound by Belief

Consider theft. A buyer is bound by legal obligation to pay the seller the right amount. This obligation is binding; it’s non-optional. This does not mean the buyer is not free to ignore the obligation. He can try to pay less, pay more, pay with something else, or not pay at all, which leads to certain sanctions. But there are sanctions precisely because there is a prior binding obligation to pay.

In the same way, Catholics are bound to believe the Church. Again, being bound does not mean the Catholic is not free to ignore the obligation: he is free to dissent. But like theft, doing so involves sanctions — heresy, exclusion from communion, etc. — precisely because there is a binding obligation.

So being bound to believe (or obey) does not necessarily mean a Catholic cannot dissent (or disobey). Catholics are free to disobey, but they are not free to disobey without consequences. It is in this sense that they are bound. Thus, my original usage of the term is valid. But so is the connotation of the word: being tied and gagged like hostages.

When hostages are physically prevented from escape, their freedom is obviously limited. But what if the hostages are not physically tied? What if the kidnapper threatens the hostage with something else (killing the hostage, killing a loved one, torture, blackmail, etc.)? The hostage may not be physically prevented from trying to escape (in the sense that he can attempt it) but the effect is just the same.

Now consider clerical child abuse. A child who is raped by a priest is not physically prevented from telling the authorities. Nor is the child’s family. But through Crimen Solicitationis, which details a Church policy to silence victims and coverup abuses, threats of excommunication and eternal damnation were used to silence the victims and their families. They were gagged into silence because they were bound to believe.

Because to many believers, eternal damnation is the worst possible fate — far worse than kidnapping or torture or death. I brought this up because the sanctions for doubting dogmatic teachings are similar to those used to silence the victims of clerical child abuse.

The problem with such sanctions when it comes to religious belief is it puts the believer’s motivation into question. Surely, it is possible that a believer obeys the Church completely out of their own volition. But when threats of eternal damnation and rewards of eternal life are at stake, can you really say that a believer is not bound to believe?

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, SocietyComments (10)

Who I am Today


This article was originally published in the author’s “Second Wind” column in the Philippine Star, on August 31, 2011. She was kind enough to let us repost it here.

It was 1966, a few weeks after Holy Week. My grandmother was dying of cancer. I decided to go to confession and communion. I was only 22 years old. So I went to church and headed for the confessional. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been eight months since my last confession. You did not do your Easter duty! How could you wait that long without going to confession? The old white priest shouted. I got up and left and never went to confession again. That was 45 years ago. That was when I began to lose my Catholic faith.

Nevertheless…It was 1974 and we were in Rome. We decided to go see the Pope in his auditorium. Our guide got us the cheapest tickets saying he could have us moved up once we got there. I saw him discreetly slip some money into one of the Swiss guards’ hands and we were allowed to move up. Then I still believed — or better yet, I did not question — the infallibility or the greatness of the Pope. I waited patiently studying the audience. Quite a few nuns and little children, tourists and pilgrims. We were told to hold up our rosaries for the Pope’s blessings. Someone behind me said that would increase the price of the rosary.

 

Then the Pope entered, carried in by Swiss guards. He sat on a gilt chair and was carried on the shoulders of men. The nuns began to scream and applaud. This jolted me. I expected some reverence. This was not a Mick Jagger (the rock star then, today Justin Beiber) concert. This was Pope Paul VI, one of the forgettable ones. I would have screamed that way if I saw Elvis Presley gyrate a meter in front of me. But, please, this is the Pope. The nuns, rapture written all over their faces, some of them with tears streaming down their cheeks, continued to scream. Viva il Papa. Viva Il Papa. The only thing that popped into my mind was a quote: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

They set the dais that bore the small Pope near the papal chair at the center of the stage. They helped the Pope out of his carried chair into his stage-center chair. He sat down and lifted his feet. They carried the dais off the stage but the Pope still had his feet sort of lifted in the air. Then a boy came with a red velvet cushion. He set in down at the Pope’s feet. The Pope put his feet down on the cushion. There on the right side, lower than the cushion — my faith crashed and broke into pieces. Jesus Christ, who to me the Pope represented, walked the desert sands either in sandals or barefoot. What is the point of the Pope wearing embroidered shoes and refusing to set down his feet on the red carpet? Why did he need a red cushion? To me, there was no point and it even bordered on — for lack of a better word — something almost sacrilegious.

But never mind. I returned to Manila, still went to Sunday Mass but I was going as a matter of form. I was not ready to admit it, but my heart was not with me. Only my body was at Mass. At some point I had to see one of the monsignors usually in the news now because I was trying to get my marriage annulled. All I remember is he asked for my consent to an appeal to annul the marriage for some apostolic reason. I cannot now remember what he said and it doesn’t matter. What matters is I did not get the annulment so as far as the church is concerned I am still married to my husband who has converted to another faith and married somebody else with my full consent.

Once again, never mind. I was confined in the hospital undergoing a major checkup because I was quite sick. My significant other then, who has since passed away, called to say he was sending over an ecclesiastical lawyer from Rome whom his associate had recommended. This lawyer had gotten her annulment done for her. Please see him, the significant other said, and tell me what you think. Having no other choice, I did see him. He arrived in the middle of the afternoon.

In short he offered to get me a Roman marriage annulment for US$15,000 or about P300,000. This was in 1977. That was a lot of money then. Would I spend that much to buy a church annulment? Thank you, I said, I will call you. I did not call him. That afternoon, watching his back disappear through my hospital room’s doors I wondered —what kind of a church sells its annulments? Whatever the answer, I don’t want to belong to it. It feels as corrupt as the government.

But I have been most respectful. I have relatives who belong to the Catholic Church, I did not tell them that I considered myself out of it. I still believe in a power greater than me. The entity I call God I think is a spirit who lives in me and with me, who keeps me company, fills my home with his presence. He has two rules. He tells me to love myself and to love others, to do good for them. And that’s the way I live.

Furthermore, I realized late in my life that the Catholic Church in the Philippines ordered Jose Rizal executed and never once apologized for it. I think they should apologize for their cruel misdeed. But they never have. Anyway, to me, all religions are man-made, a way for man to discipline himself without taking responsibility, actually an escape from responsibility. I think I am now, if I have to be anything at all, what other people call a freethinker. I think therefore I am and I take full responsibility for myself.

That’s who I am today.

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Philosophy and the tragic virtues, or Philosophy as an ode to life


 

All of philosophy originates from two things – burning curiosity and uncompromising honesty. All the other rudiments of good philosophy like eagle-eyed insightfulness, logical rigor and exacting intellectual standards, passionate skepticism, a deep moral and existential concern for matters of life and death and, of course, a teary-eyed wonder, spring from these two wellsprings, these two cardinal virtues.

Curiosity, because philosophy is naught without deep reflection, and reflection is impossible without curiosity. But being reflective is not enough. Many people spend all their intellectual energies reflecting on deep questions, but they end up holding on to their comforting beliefs. But such comfort-beliefs are like comfort pillows, nice to hug and cuddle; however, they’re mostly air and won’t stand against a moment of honest scrutiny. So why are they held on to dearly, and not only by the all-too-many, but also by those who are intelligent and reflective?

Read the full story

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Forty-four Thoughts of a Founding Freethinker


While the world watches Egypt in revolution, many are unaware that almost three centuries today, one of the greatest revolutionaries was born.

January 29, 1736 is the birthday of Thomas Paine, a man Thomas Edison regarded “as one of the greatest of all Americans.” He influenced intellectuals for centuries with works such as Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. He inspired such great men as George Holyoake, the father of British secularism; Bertrand Russell, a champion of humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought; and Abraham Lincoln, who lead the fight to end slavery in the United States.

In the 1990s, Truthseeker magazine began celebrating Freethinkers Day on Paine’s birthday. If you doubt that these celebrations should coincide, you haven’t read any of his works, and I strongly suggest you start soon.

For now, here are some excerpts from the writings of Thomas Paine, a founding father who fought not only for freedom in the United States, but for freethought around the world. Happy Freethinkers Day!

  1. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  2. It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  3. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  4. The Bible is a book that has been read more and examined less than any book that ever existed. [The Theological Works of Thomas Paine]
  5. Accustom a people to believe that priests, or any other class of men can forgive sins, and you will have sins in abundance.[The Theological Works of Thomas Paine, p.207]
  6. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication– after that it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it can not be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to ME, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  7. Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as ameans of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  8. It is far better that we admitted a thousand devils to roam at large than that we permitted one such imposter and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God and have credit among us.
  9. The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of willful alteration, are of themselves evidences that the human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God. The Word of God exists in something else. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  10. It will be proper to take a review of the several sources from which governments have arisen, and on which they have been founded.
  11. They may be all comprehended under three heads — 1st, Superstition; 2d, Power; 3d, the common interests of society, and the common rights of man.
  12. The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, and the third of reason. [Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man]
  13. Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but it is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it. The one is the pope, armed with fire and fagot, and the other is the pope selling or granting indulgences. [Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man]
  14. …Thomas did not believe the resurrection [John 20:25], and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  15. What is it the Bible teaches us? – raping, cruelty, and murder. What is it the New Testament teaches us? – to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.
  16. When I see throughout this book, called the Bible, a history of the grossest vices and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales and stories, I could not so dishonor my Creator by calling it by His name. [Thomas Paine, in Toward The Mystery]
  17. Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
  18. Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death, and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  19. The age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  20. Prophesying is lying professionally. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  21. If thou trusteth to the book called the Scriptures, thou trusteth to the rotten staff of fables and of falsehood. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  22. One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  23. Science is the true theology. [Thomas Paine, quoted in Emerson, The Mind on Fire pg 153]
  24. All this [Paul’s writing] is nothing better than the jargon of a conjurer who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  25. …to argue with a man who has renouced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead. [Thomas Paine, The Crisis, quoted in Ingersoll’s Works, Vol. 1, p.127]
  26. Everything wonderful in appearance has been ascribed to angels, to devils, or to saints. Everything ancient has some legendary tale annexed to it. The common operations of nature have not escaped their practice of corrupting everything.
  27. No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.
  28. When an objection cannot be made formidable, there is some policy in trying to make it frightful; and to substitute the yell and the war- whoop, in the place of reason, argument and good order. Jesuitical cunning always endeavors to disgrace what it cannot disprove.
  29. The story of the redemption will not stand examination. That man should redeem himself from the sin of eating an apple by committing a murder on Jesus Christ, is the strangest system of religion ever set up.
  30. Yet this is trash that the Church imposes upon the world as the Word of God; this is the collection of lies and contradictions called the Holy Bible! This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!
  31. The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.
  32. The countries the most famous and the most respected of antiquity are those which distinguished themselves by promoting and patronizing science, and on the contrary those which neglected or discouraged it are universally denominated rude and barbarous. The patronage which Britain has shown to Arts, Science and Literature has given her a better established and lasting rank in the world than she ever acquired by her arms. And Russia is a modern instance of the effect which the encouragement of those things produces both as to the internal improvement of a country and the character it raises abroad. The reign of Louis the fourteenth is more distinguished by being the Era of Science and Literature in France than by any other circumstance of those days.
  33. The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and as, after the lapse of more than three hundred years, no handwriting could be proved or disproved, the Church, which like former impostors had then gotten possession of the State, had everything its own way. It invented creeds, such as that called the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.
  34. The Christian religion begins with a dream and ends with a murder.
  35. All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for imposters to preach and fools to believe.
  36. Had the news of salvation by Jesus Christ been inscribed on the face of the sun and the moon, in characters that all nations would have understood, the whole earth had known it in twenty-four hours, and all nations would have believed it; whereas, though it is now almost two thousand years since, as they tell us, Christ came upon earth, not a twentieth part of the people of the earth know anything of it, and among those who do, the wiser part do not believe it.
  37. There is scarcely any part of science, or anything in nature, which those imposters and blasphemers of science, called priests, as well Christians as Jews, have not, at some time or other, perverted, or sought to pervert to the purpose of superstition and falsehood.
  38. Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.
  39. I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.
  40. The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.
  41. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
  42. Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.
  43. Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.
  44. But though every created thing is, in this sense, a mystery, the word mystery cannot be applied to moral truth, any more than obscurity can be applied to light. … Mystery is the antagonist of truth. It is a fog of human invention, that obscures truth, and represents it in distortion. Truth never envelops itself in mystery, and the mystery in which it is at any time enveloped is the work of its antagonist, and never of itself.

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Can you scare a Skeptic into believing?


One of the tactics proselytizers use to try to convert nonbelievers is the appeal to fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it turns out there really is a god and you’ve lived your life on the assumption that there isn’t? They invoke Pascal’s Wager in an attempt to scare people into believing. And this reminds me of my favorite skeptic Michael Shermer’s delightful appearance on Mr. Deity.

In that episode, Shermer has died and it turned out there was a god after all being referred to as Mr. Deity. Denied entry at the Pearly Gates, Shermer pleads his case before Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: The bottom line is you didn’t believe in the boy here (referring to Jesus).

Michael Shermer: Well, look, you gave me this brain to think critically. I read the Gospel stories…what about all those inconsistencies? They’re inconsistent about where he was born, who was there when he died…you know, come on.

Mr. Deity: Well maybe you were supposed to learn to walk by faith. Ever think of that, genius? Huh?

Michael Shermer: Uhm, well, sir, you remember, you created us in your image and you don’t walk by faith, do you? You walk by sound knowledge, and science is based on sound knowledge so I was trying to be more, you know, deity-like.

Mr. Deity: Yeah, but-

Michael Shermer: Plus if I said I really believed and I didn’t, you being all knowing would know that I’m lying and lying is a sin, right?

Now let’s take a look at the following definitions of believe:

1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?

2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

3. To expect or suppose; think: I believe they will arrive shortly.

Based on the above, it appears that belief doesn’t imply a conscious choice but rather something people arrive at as a result of some other mental process. To some people the mental process can be as simple as memorizing what an authority figure says while others use a more elaborate method of counter checking for fallacy.

While skeptics like Michael Shermer choose to scrutinize truth claims with no less than the scientific method, can the all-knowing, all-reasonable God blame them for arriving at a position of non-belief even though they did not actively choose non-belief itself? I suggest you watch the video so you’ll have an idea what to do in case you died and came face to face with God, and he isn’t happy.

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What it Means to be a Nonbeliever



Credit: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO)

There are reasons why some people would rather call themselves skeptics or freethinkers instead of atheists, and one is to avoid the not uncommon misconception that atheism automatically means the positive claim that there is no god. While I thought this issue had already been resolved a long time ago considering the multitude of articles and videos posted online explaining that it isn’t necessarily the case, it seems that it hasn’t been explained often enough. People continue not only to assert that that is the only definition of atheism but even to imply that the New Atheists are deliberately trying to redefine the word to suit their purposes when their true position is just play-safe agnosticism.

To settle the issue, let’s look at the definition of atheist in the 1979 edition of The Grolier International Dictionary, of which I happen to have a copy:

atheist – one who denies the existence of God.

The operative word here is denies. Using the same dictionary, let’s see what that word really means:

deny

1. to declare untrue; assert the contrary of; contradict.

2. to refuse to believe; reject.

3. to refuse to recognize or acknowledge; disavow; disown.

If we add “the existence of God” to each of the above definitions, the first one seems to be the most presumed by theists while the atheists usually mean the second and third – that they do not take this particular claim as truth, that they simply do not believe.

And what does it mean to not believe? If a friend told me that last night he dated and slept with a famous actress, say, Angel Locsin or Christine Reyes – or both – but he didn’t even have a scandal video on his phone, I would simply say that I don’t believe him. However, I wouldn’t accuse him of lying because I wasn’t with him or either girl last night and I didn’t have 24-hour surveillance on any of them. No, I could not be certain that he’s not telling the truth. But I just wouldn’t believe him because his story is too incredible that I would provisionally conclude that he did not sleep with either actress – until I see some evidence that he really did. Then and only then would I reassess and perhaps even reformulate my conclusion. Heck, I might even worship him for banging those goddesses.

Going back to the God question, in The Agora, a Facebook group created by our very own John Paraiso, I saw this very amusing comment:

The universality of belief in the existence of God makes the burden of proof to rest upon those who deny the existence of God.

Wow. They demand proof against something that has not been proven in the first place. “Universality of belief” does not necessarily mean that such belief had undergone and passed through skeptical scrutiny.

But sometimes the problem lies with some atheists who, in their passion to express their new-found freedom from religion, go a bit too far not only by saying something inflammatory but by indirectly making assertions that they would have to defend, like this one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The poster is indirectly saying that Jesus, Allah and Yahweh are imaginary, hence, they do not exist. That is a positive statement that supposedly carries the burden of proof. However, when asked to prove such statement, some atheists would simply say that it is the theist’s job to prove that his particular god exists. That is wrong. A comment posted in Friendly Atheist says it best:

If you say, “There is no god”, you are making a claim that you can’t defend. It is a point of dogma.

If you say, “I haven’t seen enough evidence to believe in god”, you are making a defensible claim. You’ve left open the possibility that new evidence could change your position.

The first one clearly refers to the strong atheist, but the second refers to atheists in general and includes agnostics and skeptics. Unfortunately, to many people the word atheist is associated more closely with the “there is no god” position than with healthy skepticism, no thanks to the overeagerness of some atheists (and no thanks as well to those who say that agnostics are atheists without balls).

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics. The first two are defined by their positions on a certain truth claim; the third focuses more on the method of arriving at either position. All three are the same in one sense: They do not believe.

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The Morality of a Nonbeliever


One of the most common reactions I hear from theists on atheism or even on freethought in general is a question on where the nonbelievers base their morality considering they do not hold themselves accountable to an absolute standard or have their actions confined by the threat of eternal fire. A number of articles had already been written about the morality of an atheist/freethinker – some mention for comparison the “morality” of the Abrahamic god who condoned or even commissioned slavery, rape, and genocide; others talk about respect, doing no harm, and the Golden Rule (which isn’t of Judeo-Christian origin, by the way) – and yet the question remains: What compels the nonbeliever to respect others and do no harm?

I have tried to answer that in The Morality of a Freethinker where I said:

Life is not a zero-sum game where each person’s gain necessitates an equal amount of loss to another; in nature and in society teamwork and cooperation have proven that it is actually possible for everyone to win, and that every now and then small civilized gestures go a long way and eventually trickle down to the pool of moral standards, gradually raising its level. And it only takes rationality – not religion – to realize that.

Admittedly, though, not all nonbelievers realize that; rationality is not really a requirement for atheism – all babies are born atheists – so some nonbelievers really do not have moral standards. And this reminds me of M. Scott Peck’s stages of spiritual growth. (While Dr. Peck talked about four stages, I will describe only the first three because I am rather skeptical about the fourth.)

Stage I: Chaotic, Antisocial. All children are born into this stage, but some reach adulthood without ever leaving it. These are the people who submit to nothing but their own free will and have no beliefs or principles, and their relationships with other people are often manipulative and self-serving.

Stage II: Formal, Institutional, Fundamental. Because of the chaotic life in Stage I, some people experience intense psychological pain or get into trouble and end up converting into Stage II by joining or being committed to an institution – military, school, an organization, jail, a church. Stage II people follow rules but do not care to think about the reasons behind them. They do not want to hear anyone question the beliefs they hold so dearly especially if it is a logical, valid question, because the institution with its dogma is the only thing preventing these people from falling back into the chaotic life in State I, and they especially do not want that. (Some criminals, when caught and imprisoned, quickly turn into model prisoners and given early paroles, only to commit another crime on the first day of their release. That’s because they rely solely on the institution – prison – and have no principles of their own.)

Stage III: Skeptic, Individual. When Stage II people marry and raise a family, their children often become Stage II at a very early age. But as they grow into their teens they become so used to order that they sometimes take for granted the rules and beliefs of their parents and even question the reasons behind these rules and challenge the bases of these beliefs. Here they start getting into Stage III, the truth seeker. (For the Stage II people, Stage III is the same as Stage I – nonbelievers – and so they would try to convert them with their doctrines, only to end up getting ridiculed.) But Stage I and Stage III are very much different even though they both do not submit to an institution or dogma. Because while Stage I people yield only to their own free will, people in Stage III submit to something higher: truth, justice, and welfare.

But then, why would a nonbeliever submit to such noble concepts? I posted this question in the forum and I got very interesting answers. Basically, a nonbeliever (both Stages I and III) cares only about survival, but an enlightened nonbeliever (Stage III), while driven by selfishness, has less shortsightedness, “choosing a strategic behavior that yields the highest utility for all (all being a more positive rebounding system that is more long term)“. And here the Golden Rule comes naturally and is followed subconsciously. A person may strive only for his wellbeing, but somehow he realizes that he cannot achieve that without treating others well or at least how he would have them treat him.

Going back to the stages of spiritual growth, Dr. Peck asserts that one cannot reach Stage III without passing through Stage II; a man cannot see the reasons behind the rules if he himself has not undergone being subjected to some rules. And here some might argue that religion is necessary for morality after all, even if only as a stepping stone to get from Stage I to Stage III. To this I would answer that the “rules” need not be what Religion dictates. It could come from the secular parents and teachers who, for example, teach children not to steal – not because they would go to hell but because it would not be beneficial to their long-term interests.

Still, some religious people and organizations would protest, “What about sexual morality, the ‘contraceptive culture’ that legalizes free sex and separates the unitive from the procreative purpose of sex according to God’s design?”

Well, this is all I can say to them: You really need to get laid.

Posted in ReligionComments (29)

New Beginning


“My Bliss is KNOWLEDGE, yours is IGNORANCE,” is a quote I made that, despite having struck my friends – whether they’re online or in person –  is one they respect. For several years it has been like this. As I was seeking for answers and looking for truths regarding life, I was disappointed and dismayed. I learned that truths are only illusions. I learned that each and everyone of us has truths of their own, one which if anyone dares to question, would surely make for long and exhaustive arguments. We have different perspective regarding things. Yes of course, for we are all different individuals, and yet we must not forget we belong to what we call the rational animals. However, some of us never use that ability.  Instead, we just nod and follow what other rational beings are telling us. Most of us are afraid to ask the WHY and the WHAT question: Why are we supposed to follow what others are telling us? What’s the purpose?

In this case, what we call rational beings are like puppets controlled by those people who are self-centered, and deceptive rational people. Those who are only concerned for one thing: to satisfy their greed for power.

Some people do think in the context What and the Why, but they forget to rationalize and evaluate. Instead, they jump from one thought to another without weighing things using their critical thinking.  Or did they have the ability to do so to begin with? So what exactly am I pointing out here, you may ask.

Let me just tell you that there is a kind of philosophical view-point about how people should think or the way people should think. This view is called freethinking, which holds that “opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, or dogma.” It is a way of thinking distanced from any bias and prejudice, especially those of religious beliefs. It is a cognitive application of free thought.

Sadly, we Filipinos lack this kind of thinking, for our minds have been tuned to follow what our elders and our forefathers say without question. We accept things we never tried evaluating for ourselves. It is the result of hundreds of years in the hands of these self-centered and closed-minded people, who brainwashed our forefathers. Until now we’re in bondage to this blurred form of thinking, yet, we do have people who fight against this. Much like what our national hero did before, we dreamed of a country free from religious bigots and political tyrants.

We hope for a country of freethinking people, regardless of beliefs. Like what Gautama Buddha said:

Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration…

Do not accept anything by mere tradition… Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures… Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions.. But when you know for yourselves–these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness– then do you live accordingly.

This is what freethinking is about, but most of us Filipinos misunderstand it.

I would like to share a short poem I made.

New Beginning

Enchanting thoughts of today
Undermines traditional religious faith of yesterday
Generations of thinkers are now dawning
Enticing everyone to grasp freethinking
North, south, east, and west
Enclosed with new thoughts for their quest
.
Change is inevitable, like death it will come
Amidst of it, we must stand firm and be calm
Make most of what you have
And do more…
Cease absurdity and be productive
Hurry up~ before its late
Open up your mind and start a New Beginning.
.

Will you have the courage of going out of your comfort zone?

Or die with your ignorance?

Posted in Poetry, ReligionComments (9)

What It Means To Be A Freethinker


To those who actually haven’t googled the term, Wikipedia defines freethought as:

“a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. The cognitive application of freethought is known as freethinking, and practitioners of freethought are known as freethinkers.”

In the FF forum and Facebook page, every once in a while someone oblivious to the standard definition butts in with the assumption that freethinking means setting the mind completely free – unrestrained even by reason, logic or reality. More commonly, people have assumed that freethought is synonymous to atheism.

It is important to note that the free in freethinking only means freedom from dogma imposed by “authority” – but not from the rules of logic and the cold test of science. In fact, freethinking is actually a very strict discipline that keeps the mind on its toes, preventing it from jumping into convenient conclusions. Once an argument commits a single logical fallacy, all its conclusions are automatically void; long-held scientific theories are discarded like yesterday’s paper once contradicting evidence is found. (Scientific theory differs from the layman’s definition of theory in the sense that the latter is actually just a hypothesis.)

As such, freethought is a journey where one takes the road paved with science, logic and reason; atheism, agnosticism, deism, and even philosophical theism are just the destinations, none of them final. This may come as a surprise, but while the majority of the vocal Filipino Freethinkers are atheists, we do have some members who acknowledge the possibility and even the probability of God to a certain degree but are well aware that all they have are circumstantial evidence and logical arguments, not proof. There are no fundies in Filipino Freethinkers or even strong theists (#1 in Dawkins’ spectrum) who claim not just to believe, but to know that there is a God. Remarkably, there are also no strong atheists (#7 in Dawkins’ spectrum) in Filipino Freethinkers, or at least none have declared being so at the forums. More importantly, our beliefs (or non-belief) matter less than how we arrived at such beliefs (or non-belief). So you’ll never hear the words “because the Bible says so” from a freethinking theist or “because Richard Dawkins says so” from a freethinking atheist.

So what does it mean to be a freethinker? I guess it means being a truthseeker, relentlessly holding on to reason amid powerful forces telling society that blind faith is preferred. The Filipino Freethinkers are sometimes accused of being angry at religion. Well I can’t say that we aren’t, because religion, being very influential, pervading education and politics, has become the embodiment of ignorance and the eternal cause of poverty, overpopulation, and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases while the churches continue to rake in the offerings. And yet they have the guts to say that we are the bad guys.

But how can freethinkers be the bad guys? We never ask people to give up anything – not their money, not their reason, not their freewill, not even their beliefs. Freethought is not telling anyone to believe in a certain freethought doctrine or creed; it is merely asking that we open our eyes and use our minds, to see for ourselves what is right, what is good, and what is true. How can that be bad?

Posted in Others, ReligionComments (13)

I Killed My Guardian Angel – Is That OK?


“From being Lucifer, son of the morning, the lightbearer, the brilliant one, the shining one, he now became Satan, the adversary, the slanderer, the accuser, the archrebel, the archenemy, the devil, the destroyer…”
– Angels, we never walk alone, Walton John Brown-

Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01

I was born on a date when the feast of the holy guardian angel is being celebrated. My mother always believed that I was saved by an angel when I was six years old when I fell from the balcony of my grandmother’s old Spanish house. I was perfectly fine after the fall, because I landed on my father’s chicken pen, covered by fishing nets. Nevertheless, my mother insisted that I was totally unhurt because my guardian angel took hold of me – that is what they all insist.

Today, I am confronted by two forms of religious and maybe mythical consciousness. On one hand, there is the form of consciousness that understands all human beliefs through freethinking and logic. And on the other hand, there is the form of consciousness that is inverted, which irresponsibly enslaves the minds through mysticism. Certainly, the intellect has both the authority and the power to follow or resist whichever it wishes to – and I chose to follow freethinking.

This is the point where I felt the need to reorient myself towards the self. I strongly believe that an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church.

This is the point where I killed my guardian angel.

I couldn’t care less what happened billions of years ago and whether time began or not. I only care about this lifetime. Time alone is fair and just.

What difference does it make whether you believe in angels or not?

Maybe believing in it is just an opinion, like believing that Noynoy Aquino is the best next Philippine President; or a personal trust or reliance, like trusting a quack doctor; or it can mean part of faith, giving your whole heart, thus restricting the self to that belief because it requires adoration and submission.

As I observe among the faithful, possible reasons why they believe in angels are;

  • They need to – it’s like believing in angels will save them when they walk through a dark Metro Manila alley.
  • Believing makes them feel good and it’s fun.
  • They believe in Angelology or the scientific study of angels, their hierarchy, etc.
  • They believe those who tell stories about actually meeting an angel
  • They believe they met one themselves.
  • They believe it because it’s part of religion.

But I thanked my parents for teaching me to believe in angels when I was a child – like believing in Santa Claus, it gives me the feeling of wonder, fascination, curiosity and excitement. Like those stories about fairies and elves, angels still entertain me.

Do you believe in angels, or have you killed them too?

_____________________________________

by Yodz Insigne

Posted in Personal, ReligionComments (11)


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