Tag Archive | "meet a freethinker"

Meet a Freethinker: Sass Rogando Sasot


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 Sass Rogando Sasot. Currently based in the Hague, Netherlands, Sass is one of the founders of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), the pioneer transgender rights and advocacy organization in the Philippines; a student at the international honours college of Leiden University, finishing a Combined Honours Degree in World Politics and Global Justice minor in International Development; and one of the recipients of the 2013 ECHO Awards, given annually to excellent migrant students in academic and higher professional education in the Netherlands.

photo1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who takes freedom and thinking seriously. By seriously, I mean three things. First, being aware of not only the possibilities but, more importantly, the limitation of our own freedom and thinking, i.e a profound level of self-reflexivity.  Second, basing belief and action on that awareness, i.e using our freedom and thinking in a responsible and accountable manner. And third, understanding that thinking is a process, it is a conversation that never stops. This implies having the humility to accept that what you have thought is not something you generate yourself alone. Thought is a product of an endless conversation that preceded you, and it will continue to persist even when you’re gone. Kenneth Burke put this point more beautifully:

“Imagine that you enter parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly  what it is about. In fact, the discussion has begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone on before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally’s assistance. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My political conviction is very eclectic. I draw on insights from different thinkers. However, at this point of my thinking process, my political conviction is highly influenced by realist political philosophers, specially Raymond Geuss, Judith Shklar, Chantal Mouffe, and Bernard Williams. I even appreciate insights of philosophers of conservatism, specially that of John Kekes.

My religious belief is informed by the idea that there is a force greater than ourselves, but that doesn’t mean believing in a God. It means coming to terms with our own insignificance, i.e. the overcoming of the self. And if there’s any book that can sum up my religious beliefs, it’s Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.

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 didn’t “come out” as a freethinker to anyone. If there is one, I would probably find it a very, very strange thing to do. For me, one starts being a freethinker by adapting one of the greatest thinking tools: critical thinking. Critical thinking is a very laborious thing to do. The most interesting reaction I got is the same reaction we get from those who don’t challenge their own thinking (i.e. not used to self-reflexivity): They shut us off with “This is my opinion, respect it.”

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

It made me more deeply aware that pluralism is, as what Hannah Arendt would say, the inescapable fact of the human condition.

5) As a founding member of STRAP, what do you think is the biggest challenge that transgender persons face today? How can it be addressed?

The challenges transgender persons face today exist in a vicious circle. Each point in that circle feeds on each other, giving this cycle a momentum that is very difficult to counteract. One crucial point in that circle is the internalized transprejudice of transgender people themselves. Transprejudice is a set of practices and beliefs whose underlying assumption is that transgender people are not human beings, therefore they don’t deserve the treatment reserved only for human beings. The danger starts when transgender people start acting on that assumption by engaging in reckless, irresponsible, and self-defeating behaviour. I have struggled with this myself – and it is still hunting me.

How can it be addressed? There are institutional and personal ways of addressing it. The primary institutional means of addressing it is through the most basic institution, the family, where transprejudice begins. Every child, no matter who they are, should be treated as a human being. Treating someone as a human being is respecting their own uniqueness and accepting the manifestation of that uniqueness. Then, the next important institution is our schools and universities – they should endeavour to support the flourishing of everyone’s uniqueness.

As for the personal way, transgender people should start being aware of how they have internalized the prejudice and bigotry against them. When one becomes aware, one can be able to arrest the damaging effects of internalized transprejudice. We transgender people cannot stand up and claim our rights, or even love wholeheartedly, without first reclaiming ourselves from prejudice and bigotry.   This is a difficult and long process, but it needs to be done so one can fully live.

6. What’s the most memorable country you’ve been to, and why?

Denmark – it’s where I first met my partner. It was a very romantic and serendipitous moment.

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Meet a Freethinker: Marcelle Fabie


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 Marcelle Fabie. Marcelle is the head writer for the 8List, part of the Rowdy Empire on WAVE 89.1, a host, magician, mentalist, and comedian.

Behind the Mic1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who questions before accepting: someone who is guided by reason rather than dogma when it comes to believing or not believing in something.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

That’s hard to answer, in all honesty. There are days I wake up feeling I’m an atheist, or days I feel like I’m a hardline Catholic. Other days, I feel like a deist. Even calling myself “agnostic” in the face of that realization doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is I’m pretty bad with labels.

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?

“Huh. But why are you celibate and straight-edge?” Because obviously, being a freethinker means being a hedonist, right?

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

It has opened my mind to other points of view that wildly differ from mine, especially when it comes to ethics. For example, if I never heard Red Tani describe his reasons for being pescetarian, I would still probably roll my eyes at the very concept of veganism to this very day.

 

5) How did you become a magician/mentalist? Did it influence you as a freethinker somehow?

I was Grade 3 when I gained an interest in magic beyond single tricks, and ironically, it was a nun, Sister Angie, who taught me most of my first routines. It was an on and off hobby for most of my life, until 2006, when in an effort to perform a killer show for a surprise party for one of my then best friends, I seriously took up magic.

At some point, I noticed I was pouring in thousands of bucks into the endeavour already, so I just started announcing at large that I can be hired for magic shows. While learning the ropes that way, I developed an affinity for mentalism, and even took up a few psychology units just to get the right feel for the act.

So no, I don’t have powers, much less have I sold my soul to the devil to do what I do. If I had the smallest notion that doing so would be possible, though, I’d have done it to really make sure my standup comedy act or radio career really takes off from this point on.

As for freethinking, in studying secrets of magic and the way mentalism achieves its results, I’ve become wary of people who claim they have powers, yet are using the exact same methods I use. Hence, the Mindmaster article I wrote for you guys.

I come from the Penn and Teller school of thought when it comes to magic and mentalism. Both being freethinkers as well, they influenced not only my style but even my mentality as a performer. Of course, the traditional magicians frown upon exposure of magic wholesale, but my opinion of exposure is a bit more nuanced by that, having been tempered by Penn and Teller.

 

6) What is your favourite list on the 8List website so far?

Aside from the lists I wrote poking fun at Youtube music videos, I’ll have to go with 8 Mind-Blowing Instances of Pinoy Outrage (Aside from Dan Brown).

I think it’s no secret that my writing style for the 8List has been heavily influenced by Cracked. That being said, this list would have almost fit right in with Cracked, and I’m pretty happy about that.

As the kicker, the list’s comments also contained instances of my pet peeve: people asking me why there are only 8 items on the list. In a site called the 8List. This almost directly gave birth to one of my lists that was so controversial that it was taken down from the 8List: 8 Mind-Blowingly Stupid Comments I See on List Sites.

Yes, I’m fond of the word “mind-blowing.” Why do you ask?

 

7) The 8List piece on atheism was pretty successful. What’s the most important thing you learned from publishing it?

I would have to say that I learned people tend to see an “agenda” when they see something on their favourite website that they don’t like. Write a single pro-LGBT list, a pro-RH list, and a list that explains what atheists are, and the 8List suddenly has a “liberal agenda.” That’s funny, because nobody’s stopping anyone from writing a list that is anti-LGBT, or anti-RH, or anti-atheist, so long as it’s not bigoted or sexist.

Oh, right.

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Meet a Freethinker: Ana P. Santos


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 Ana P. Santos. Ana is a freelance journalist who focuses on women’s sexual health rights. She is the fabulous femme behind Sex and Sensibilities, and the Rappler column Dash of SAS

 

ANA P SANTOS1) How would you define a freethinker?

I think a freethinker is someone who chooses to live by their own rules and belief system rather than be constrained by a structure–religion or otherwise–manufactured by someone else. A freethinker is critical and questioning; a freethinker is unafraid of standing apart as an individual and standing up for what he/she believes in. I love the way that last phrase is said in Tagalog: may paninindigan. It has so much more feeling in it. There are just some words that like curse words, are better said in one’s mother tongue. : )

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My own. And I would best describe that as a cocktail of different principles and beliefs that I picked up from various philosophies, life experiences, books, cultures, and interactions. It’s unconventional at best, I admit, but I reached a point where I’m unapologetic about my beliefs so it kind of evens things out.

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

I believe in showing not telling. I’ve never really had to tell someone I was a freethinker. I think they figured it out after reading what I write or Tweet about. Being part of a freethinking community is so very liberating. There’s really no other way to say it. I remember in my high school English class, we were asked to prepare a persuasive speech. So while my other classmates wanted to talk about the post-cold war era, and the US bases (yes, I am totally dating myself), I wanted to talk about pre-marital sex. I thought then, as I do now, that sex is but natural in the context of a committed relationship between two consenting adults. When it was my turn to present the topic of my speech to my teacher, I told her point blank, “My topic is pre-marital sex. I’m not against it.” She was so shocked and asked me, “You’re kidding, right?”

The other girls in line snickered in a “told-you-so” kind of way…and I cowered. I softened my stance to no to pre-marital sex, but ended my speech with, “It’s only you who can make that decision.”

I got deductions for the last phrase because my teacher said I was fence-sitting when the paper called for a definitive stance. I always kind of look at that memory and feel a tinge of regret–especially in light of what I do know in terms of sexual health advocacy. I have no excuse except that I was 14 and probably the lone freethinker in a school that prized conformity more than critical thinking.

5) What are the most common questions you get with regards to sex?

The usual: How big do I have to be to please my girlfriend/wife? from the boys and from the girls, it’s how not to get pregnant. I also get off-beat questions like: Is it true that the penis can get stuck in the vagina during intercourse, and a question posted on Twitter: Can I get pregnant from oral sex? That question spawned a witty retort from my friend, Alvin Dakis, another freethinker, who said, “Sabihin mo, hindi sya mabubuntis pero mabubusog sya!” In a column called “The Problem With Virginity”, the girl was asking about oral sex; she was avoiding penetrative sex because she wanted to preserve her virginity and wanted me to assure her that she would not get pregnant via oral sex or if he boyfriend just slid his penis outside her vagina but never put it inside. I told her neither I, nor science, could give her that assurance.

As you can see from the questions, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding not just sex — but biology, even.

6) What have been the greatest obstacles to freethinking in your life as a parent?

I can’t really think of any, honestly. Oh, maybe how my daughter would perceive it. Would she expect me to be normal like the other moms? Or would she think I was being too radical? All the hypotheticals. I’d like to think that I’ve managed to negate some of that by showing her that I respect her views and she should thus, respect mine. During one dinner conversation, we were discussing the RH Bill and I found her echoing some of my points. I asked her if that was really what she thought and assured her that it was okay for her to have an opinion different from mine. What is important is she has her own opinion!

7) Why do you think it’s important to be sex positive? 

I have my own definition of being sex positive: it’s acknowledging each person’s divine right to give love, show love, and make love. It is a mistake to separate our sexuality from our humanity. Sex positive is just the opposite of how we’ re treating and talking about sex now–as dirty, as taboo and restricted to married people. A lot of our problems in population and development and even gender stem from the sex negativity. Isn’t the very definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? So if things are not working under the current status quo, then we should try something different like sex positivism.

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Meet a Freethinker: Nancy Siy


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 Nancy Siy. Nancy is a full-time (and currently the only) Jivamukti Yoga teacher in Manila. The job is part-DJ, part-masseuse, part-preacher, part-stand-up comedian, part PE teacher, and part-therapist, which makes it all the more interesting. To take these classes that are dubbed “the wild child of yoga”, visit www.manilajiva.com for schedules and details.

 

1081175_10152080842499638_860837329_n1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who uses his or her own discernment, experience, logic, and set of values to live the life he or she chooses. The operative word is choice. A freethinker chooses the life that he or she lives. He or she was not pressured or brainwashed or tricked into it. A freethinker is ready to change his or her position when new information or experiences arise.

 

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am spiritual but not religious. By that, I mean that I believe our experience of this human life has to transcend our own ego, selfish desires, and fleeting sensual pleasures in order to be meaningful. Our lives are all entwined by matter, by consciousness, by our choices. There is more to life than the cycle of making money and spending it. Spirituality means that I take action to make this world a better place. Spirituality means that I am aware of how much power I have in creating this world we live in. Spirituality means that I believe we are all in this together.

 

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?

When I said I do not prescribe to any religion, I was asked “Where do you get your morals?” And I said “How can you question my morals? I’m vegan. My morals tell me it is wrong to kill.”

 

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

I did not grow up with a religion to begin with, so it was never a big deal to me. I didn’t have to “come out”. My freethinking friends and I discuss issues that are not very popular, like the morality of the choices we make – what we eat, being childless by choice, adoption (human or animal), etc.

 

5) What made you decide to be a vegan?

When it hit me that I was part of the problem, that my actions are causing so much fear and suffering which are completely unnecessary, I felt that I can no longer participate in this system of oppression, and that made me vegan.

 

6) What do you think is the connection between veganism and freethinking?

In a society where consuming animals is normal, one has to be a freethinker to veer away from tradition and norms and grasp the concept of speciesism. Just as religion is imposed on young children, so is the idea that animals are inferior. Just as non-conformity to a religious society can put pressure on an atheist, so can veganism alienate one from “normal people”.

 

7) Why do you think people who are otherwise rational and compassionate still not vegan?

Veganism is not just about what one chooses to eat or wear or support. Veganism is a paradigm shift not only of how we view animals but also of how we view ourselves (our power, our choices, our priorities). There are people who may understand the ethical arguments completely, who feel awful when they watch animals being slaughtered, but they do not make the behavioral change because they have not yet made the connection of just how powerful they are. The ego swings the inferior-superior pendulum. “It’s only me, one person, I can’t make a difference anyway” fall into the inferior while “I cannot be inconvenienced to think about others” fall into the superior side of this ego swing. To become vegan, one has to get over oneself, one’s ego, and see that this is “not about me”. It’s not just about logic. It’s about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about being able to empathize.

 

8) What is Jivamukti Yoga?

Jivamukti Yoga is a yoga practice that teaches unity, oneness, and the connection with all beings. In a Jivamukti Yoga class, it is emphasized that although we use our bodies to come into contortionist-like positions, we do it because we use our body as a prop to get to know ourselves better. We can observe our reactions, our tendencies, our thoughts, our patterns. We become the silent witness. Our movements become a meditation in which we see ourselves. Jivamukti Yoga teaches nonviolence/compassion as the most important practice of yoga. Other elements included are devotion/transcending the ego, meditation/observation, sound/music/vibrations, and the intellectual study of yogic texts. There is a focus of the month every month, and the breadth of topic is broad, from Tat Twam Asi (You are That/God) to Sacred Geometr,y to sex, to aparigraha (non-greediness), to overcoming negative emotions, etc. Jivamukti Yoga, more than any other yoga style I have tried, is a communication platform to raise consciousness. Jivamukti Yoga teachers boldly talk about issues like veganism, environmentalism, and social activism. We draw inspiration from enlightened people (like the Buddha) and peace makers (like Martin Luther King) alike. I would sometimes read excerpts from literary works, sometimes play audio clips by Alan Watts or Neil deGrasse Tyson, or play songs by the Beatles or Bob Marley, or songs written about  heroes of peace like Gandhi.

 

9) How have you pointed your skeptic rational mind at the concept of chakras, and how do you reconcile this skepticism with the spirituality involved in yoga?

Yoga does not contradict science. The terminologies are different, but the concepts are the same. Yoga uses words like “prana” which is basically energy or “chakra” or energy centers. For example, the “manipura chakra” or power center is energetically located in the solar plexus, which deals with the pancreas and liver. The concept of this power center can be “translated” in layman’s terms as the center that deals with what we consume (what we eat) – the digestive system. These seemingly esoteric concepts are very practical if you dig deep into it.

Yoga is actually very practical, because it is a system that asks us to dig deep into the root causes – causes of our suffering, patterns, beliefs etc. I am spiritual not because I am not skeptical. I am spiritual precisely because I am skeptical of what is unreal. It is unreal to think that human beings are the center of the universe. It is unreal to think that reality only exists within our very limited perceptions of time, space, and dimension. The way I see it, scientists explain while yogis experience. Movies like “What the Bleep Do We Know” explore very yogic concepts. When Neil deGrasse Tyson said that our atoms are made up of the particles of stars – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen – that is what yogic teachings refer to when they say we are all connected and that “the universe is in us”.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post are of a personal nature, and do not speak for the Filipino Freethinkers as an organization.

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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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Meet a Freethinker: Bhavan Karnani


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 Bhavan Karnani. Bhavan is an Indian-Filipino with an adventurous streak. 

388178_10150596892046718_1132500027_n1) How would you define a freethinker;

A freethinker is someone who uses logic and reason to dictate his or her beliefs. Tradition, authority and personal biases are left out of the equation. It may be impossible to be perfectly unbiased but at the very least, there should be an attempt to eliminate it.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to;

I’m an atheist. I stopped believing in god and Hindu mythology late in high school or maybe early college, I don’t remember exactly when. I continued to believe that Hindu philosophy was probably correct although I never really decided which specific branch of Hindu philosophy I believed in. (It is possible to be an atheist Hindu because there are Hindu philosophies that reject the idea of a creator god). Eventually I realized I was being a hypocrite by rejecting the idea of god due to lack of evidence but refusing to reject concepts like karma, reincarnation and the idea that consciousness is the only absolute reality. These concepts are common to most, if not all branches of Hindu philosophy and I didn’t have evidence for them either so I dropped these beliefs as well.

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; and

I usually tell people I’m an atheist if they ask about it. I don’t remember getting any interesting responses. Oh wait, once someone asked “what if god is real and you’re going to hell?” Never mind, on second thought, it wasn’t that interesting.

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

I have learned a lot from discussions with other FF members and I’ve met a lot of awesome people from all walks of life at the meetups, many of whom are now great friends.

5) What was it like as a kid, growing up Hindu in a predominantly Catholic country?

It was alright although I did get teased a lot about the fact that I didn’t eat beef. That was annoying. Some people would try to preach to me and others made negative comments about Hinduism more out of an attempt to insult than to provide a genuine criticism of the religion. That wasn’t very nice of them. Those people were few though, most people didn’t care much that I was a Hindu.

6) You like cosplaying as Jesus Christ. What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had doing this?

I don’t have to cosplay actually, I just walk around with my hair down and people randomly comment things like “uy, si Jesus!” Once, I entered a store and the clerk went “nagulat ako pagpasok mo, sabi ko ‘si lord, dumating!'” (I was shocked when you walked in, I thought ‘the lord has come!’). A barber once jokingly protested my decision to cut my hair saying, “sayang, malapit na ang mahal na araw pwede kang ipako sa krus”. I’ve also had a few people tell me they dont believe in me, to which I always reply, that’s ok, I don’t believe in myself either.

7) Why don’t you eat mammals? Does it have to do with your growing up Hindu?

I was vegetarian for a year when I was a kid for ethical/religious reasons until my parents convinced me to start eating seafood and eventually chicken again. They thought it would help me gain weight, also it was hard to find vegetarian food in restaurants. It’s weird, because now my mom is a vegetarian. I do think that eating mammals is generally worse than eating fish as mammals have more highly developed nervous systems and consequently are more self aware, have greater emotional capacity and experience more suffering. Birds have highly developed nervous systems as well so I should probably stop eating chicken again at some point.

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Meet a Freethinker: Bede Daniel Garcia


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 Bede Daniel Garcia from the Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter. Bede has been a skeptic since secondary school. He is a registered nurse currently working at Davao Doctors Hospital. He is also a Naturalist, and a Secular Humanist

Bede Daniel Garcia1) How would you define a freethinker?

The basic gist of being a freethinker would simply mean to think outside the boundaries of dogma, religion and tradition — to not accept “truths” simply because they were handed down to us by those in authority. We are always guided by logic, evidence and sound reason.

If we are presented with situations where we are tasked to take sides or to voice our opinions, we take into account facts and evidences. We do not merely go with our gut feeling that is purely based on our biased emotions. On the contrary, we sometimes set aside our emotions to focus on cold hard evidence even though it may sometimes be against our own stand.

This is a freethinker, ever growing and changing. Science, and the world, changes and so must we and our opinions of the things that happen around us.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am a secular humanist and an avid naturalist. I subscribe to the fact that everything has its own natural and logical explanation. I focus on the things that are truly important in life and the lives of others like relationships, science, and politics, to name a few.

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 get the funniest reactions from people who put together religion and morality. The moment I say I’m an atheist, they would immediately think I’m evil and an antichrist. No amount of explanation can save me from the harsh and vicious verbal attacks (peculiar, because it usually comes from supposedly religious and pious people).

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

This is when I can shout out loud “At last! I’m not alone in this universe!” It’s difficult to converse with narrow minded individuals, especially if it does not agree with their belief system. I am not saying that all freethinkers are open-minded because I’ve met some that aren’t. But it’s just nice to know that I can have a conversation with a person and not feel persecuted or ostracized.

5) What are your thoughts on euthanasia?

This is a very sensitive subject. Its handling and execution depends on several reasons (prognosis, finances, etc). In my opinion, if the reasons for euthanasia are valid, then I am okay with it. But with regards to its execution on myself, here are my thoughts. I will, in the near future, prepare a written directive to remove the responsibility of “pulling the plug” from my loved ones. I plan on stating in this directive that if my prognosis is poor or my financial state cannot support my hospitalization, then I would hereby donate all working organs to those in need and my body to an educational institution for study. At least, even in death, I can still be useful.

6) What keeps you calm from stress in work?

I cannot really remove stress from work, but I can divert my focus. I sometimes spend my “alone time” helping people and enjoying the company of colleagues and friends.

7) How do you react when patients mainly thank god and the prayer warriors instead of thanking the physicians, the nurses and support staff who provided the expertise, the medicine, the bedside care, and the true and tangible solutions in a difficult time?

Since we live in a predominantly religious country, it is a given that a lot of people would first thank their supernatural deity before thanking us humans. I was once enraged by this notion. It did not make sense to give thanks to something that barely lifted a finger, and to forget those who truly helped. But as I matured, I realized that this was of least importance. Appreciation is a plus in our line of work. So I just give myself a pat on the back and learn not to hunger for recognition in my chosen vocation. I also realized that if I constantly clamored for recognition, wouldn’t I just be like the god that created humans in order for them to worship him? Isn’t that narcissistic?

8) How has freethinking helped you value life more?

When I had a gradual transition from a theist to becoming an atheist and to embracing freethinking, I initially felt lost, thinking that one day, I will be gone and only memories of me will remain. But I had to look at the brighter side of things. I have come to accept that my body is vulnerable to a lot of factors, that time is indeed limited. This has become a catalyst which has pushed me to accomplish things I did not think I could or would do: running a half marathon, completing a triathlon, exercising, and building friendships, relationships, and the like. Life is temporary, so live life.

9) How would you react to comments pertaining to their belief when consoling family members of a patient who just died?

Death of a family member is never easy. It is but human nature to call upon someone in troubled times. As a freethinker, I gather support from loved ones. I hang on to the notion that there are people around me who can help me and that is sufficient for me. For the religious, it is automatic for them to cry in pain to their deity. I, for one, am not militant regarding my atheism. I respect their practices so long as they respect mine. If a family member has just died and a relative cries to their god, then I will respect that. I will, however, remind them that I’m here to help them cope if they wish to talk to someone. Respect begets respect.

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Meet a Freethinker: Jaimee Baliton


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 Jaimee Baliton. Jaimee is currently taking an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education, and she hopes to shift to Community Development before this year ends. Aside from being chapter president for FF-UP Diliman, she is also active in a few other organizations on campus.

2013-05-18 18.24.59 11) How would you define a freethinker?

Freethinkers do not have to be academically intelligent, but must have enough command of logic, common sense, and the scientific method to accept, verify, or defend an idea or concept. I believe that anyone can be a freethinker; these tools aren’t so hard to find.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I identify as an agnostic theist. I believe if that there is a higher power, I am not capable of knowing if it exists since that and I are not on parallel dimensions.

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?

During that time when media hype on the RH Law was high: “Filipino Freethinkers? Yung pro-RH? Kilala mo ba si Kenneth Keng? Ang gwapo niya!”

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

Before being in a freethinking community, people always agreed to everything I said. Now, I like that everything I think is under scrutiny. It keeps everyone on their toes, it makes everyone more critical and more responsible about what they say, feel and do. And, as I’ve said, freethinkers aren’t necessarily academic all the time. Meeting various people has exposed me to different facets of the world in an engaging manner.

5) How come we haven’t seen you on the online forums?

I know FF started out as an online community, but I’m fine with lurking. I know I’m missing out on a lot but, as I’ve noticed, everything has a bigger tendency to be misunderstood online than upfront. I prefer the value of face-to-face interaction since it’s not just words that communicate to other people.

6) How would you describe the current freethinkerly climate over in UP Diliman?

Over at UP Diliman, people think that they practice freethought because they’re seemingly locked up in academia, but in fact there’s always something that hinders them that they don’t realize because it’s so ingrained. What, with “activists” bashing instead of trying to understand each other, more baccalaureate masses than interfaith ceremonies, religious people taking charge of one UP fair night trying to go all holy using blaring speakers. They’re all caught up in those that when we mention that there’s an FF chapter on campus, they’re surprised. FFUPD is one of the few untainted groups since we never really aligned ourselves to student organizations, but rather to specific causes that FF advocates.

On a good note though, UPD is more-LGBTQIA aware, sensitive and open now, thanks to various offices on campus. I’ve noticed though that there is no established LGBT community on campus yet. One org has promoted awareness, yes, but their community is limited only to themselves. Also, there’s this new LGBT organization, and I worry that having two LGBT organizations will be more divisive than cohesive, especially since these two have started to manifest their political leanings and are siding themselves with clashing political parties.

7) What’s the greatest challenge facing any FF university chapter?

Membership, definitely. In UP Diliman alone, the organization recognition process requires a minimum number of members, and unlike area-based chapters like Main or Metro Manila South who have fairly stable memberships, members eventually have to graduate. Freshmen are also becoming more cautious about joining organizations, and while that isn’t so bad, some common misconceptions (like FF being purely atheist) lessen our chances for more members.

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Meet a Freethinker: Jon-Jon Rufino


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 Jon-Jon Rufino. Jon-Jon works in real estate development and live-aboard scuba diving. He is a proud single dad of twins, and has been participating in Filipino Freethinker activities since the Gay Pride March of 2010. He is on an unfortunate hiatus from his past lives as a triathlete and yoga instructor.

559912_10151305662455840_348572754_n1.How would you define a freethinker?

Freethinkers are always willing to ask what if, and compare the assumptions made to the evidence that surrounds them. Religious people can be freethinkers when they hold in their minds the possibility that they are wrong about their beliefs and that someone else is closer to the truth. Freethinkers change their mind and alter their assumptions when there is strong evidence against their current beliefs. Freethinkers are always asking questions, and they pay particular attention to inconsistencies.

2. What belief system do you subscribe to?

I’d like to say I’m an empirical agnostic ethical humanist, but since a couple of friends and I recently created a Pastafarian baptism ceremony, I must pledge allegiance to the Noodly One. I’ll respect your sky god, if you respect my carbonara, okay? Or if not, that’s cool too, but then all criticism is fair.

In the above mentioned ceremony, we hold that by anointing my children with sacred truffle oil, the Flying Spaghetti Monster creates an impervious shield around the souls of my children that prevents anyone else from attaching indelible marks or erratic or guilt laden theologies. These kids will have to form their own theory of everything . We also had the guide parents read a passage from any source to my kids and allow them to make unique bonds. And the ceremony was conducted by Gandalf and a witch, Manila’s most famous pirate witch.

But to clarify, I don’t know if anything happens after we die, and that’s okay. We have a great opportunity now with this one life.

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 don’t go around telling people I’m a freethinker. It is a description of a system of thought, not an end or belief system in itself. I am happy to talk about what I believe when asked, but it rather rarely comes up these days, as there is the dangerous assumption here in the Philippines that we are all Catholics. Still, coming out of the closet as a gay man is in many ways easier than leaving the religion you are born into, but I’d argue just as necessary, especially when that religion treats people like you so badly. If I followed the dictates of my religion, I’d either be a priest or a numerary (traditional shelter for people not interested in heterosexual sex) or by now, I’d be estranged from some woman I was forced to marry. And I certainly wouldn’t have these wonderful kids that were created through a technology my former religion bans. I might have kids that hate me because their mother would have convinced them that I abandoned her. Or not.

But to answer your specific question, I’m usually warned about going to hell, or told that is the danger of thinking too much. To be fair though, the church creates no euphemisms when it refers to its faithful as the flock, and its leaders as shepherds. Do shepherds tend to their sheep out of pure love, or because they make their living out of it? And what eventually happens to lambs and sheep? Are they allowed to graze in the pastures until old age like story book retired racing horses when their wool is no longer of good quality or they can no longer reproduce? I think not.

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

The foremost benefit when you questions society’s norms is that you can chart your own path in life. Why can’t I create and raise two kids on my own? I have resources, which I must clarify includes the invaluable support of my immediate and larger family, to do so in a non-traditional way.

It’s also allowed me to question society’s pressures to find a partner. I would love to be doing all this with someone special, and indeed I tried for the better part of three years recently. But I am very comfortable knowing that doing it all while single will not diminish my joy in the family, though finding the right partner might magnify it.
I’m also eager to address the normal inconsistencies and double standards that crop up between one’s own life and what we expect from our children, especially with sex. The bi-monthly meet ups of the Filipino Freethinkers have forced this with their inclusion of one raunchy topic per session.

And lastly, it has been fantastic becoming part of a community of people (not at all like-minded, as we embrace all sorts of political, social and religious ideologies) who are unafraid to seek new answers to the old questions of life, many of whom are happy to sacrifice their time defending the rights of minorities when they see them oppressed by organized religion. The Filipino Freethinkers have about the proportion of gay members as the general population, but they show up with as much enthusiasm and as many numbers for LGBT events as they do for women’s equality and reproductive health issues.

And as friends, when these people are invited to climb a mountain, or dive into the middle of the sea, instead of asking why, they ask why not and then get their feet muddy or wet.

5. How do people react here when they find out you are a father?

Honestly, it blows their minds that I found women, an egg donor and several surrogates until we were successful, to help me create this family. Some of them have seen it on TV, others did not know that these things were possible. I’ve never encountered condemnation, which would be hard when you meet my twins. I do sometimes encounter some envy/guilt from other people, especially from women my age who seem to feel that if someone like me can have kids, it reflects very badly on them that they have not, and I try my best to point out that parenthood is but one of the many valid life paths one can take. Many people in this world are happy without children, and that’s a good thing.

6. What is your parenting style?

One of the promises that I made to my children during their Pastafarian Baptism A.K.A. Naming Ceremony is that I will do my best to explain the reasons behind everything I tell them to do. If they can come up with an alternative plan that is at least equally effective to my request, then we can go with their suggestion. I will not destroy their natural tendency to ask why; instead, I will answer it as best as I can, and when I can’t I will seek the answer of why with them.

7. Will you use only gender neutral terms for your children?

No. I have a boy and a girl and our language has pronouns for that. But if I find that my biological girl feels that she is really a boy trapped in a girl’s body, I’ll do my best to conform to his needs.

8. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen underwater?

This summer, there have been tiger shark, hammerhead, and guitarfish encounters, and in the past I’ve swam with whale sharks, a sail fish, pilot whales, and a sun fish. But nothing compares to sprinting in the bow of a slow moving boat with dolphins to my left and my right, part of the pod for several minutes until my legs and lungs gave out from pure exhaustion.

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Meet a Freethinker: Keisi Cascon


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 Keisi Cascon, a 23-year-old LGBT rights advocate, a humanist, and an aspiring vegan who became a part of the Filipino Freethinkers in 2011. Keisi enjoys singing and walking–sometimes together! Take THAT, Eponine!

How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is a person who does not hold that an idea or belief is right without analyzing the reason or evidence for it, and is willing to change his/her mind when an idea or belief he/she subscribes to is proven wrong.

What belief system do you subscribe to?

Like most Filipinos, I am of a Catholic background. I was baptized a Catholic, and went to Catholic schools all my life. But while I had identified as a Catholic–it’s what I used to write down on forms and stuff because that’s what my parents taught me to do–my religiosity went only as far as attending the required masses in school.

I was not the religious type at all. I took communion when I felt like it, doing so just for the heck of it, without believing that the host was literally the body of Christ. I didn’t like the idea of confessing my “sins” to a priest, and I opted out of confirmation. I would say I was an agnostic theist or an apatheist. So, it was very easy for me to abandon religion.

I now identify as an agnostic atheist and a humanist. In terms of belief, I just go with whatever makes sense. I act according to what I think is best for humanity.

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

A friend jokingly asked: “Naniniwala ka ba sa love?” (Do you believe in love?)

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

I have gained many friends in FF. Being part of the community gives me the opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds, personalities, interests, persuasions, etc. with whom I can openly discuss any topic, including those considered taboo in other circles.

With these people, I feel totally accepted and free to express myself without fear of discrimination or rejection. Everyone is welcome in FF, except jerks. Nobody likes jerks.

Which did you find more challenging: coming out freethinker-wise, or coming out gender-wise?

There wasn’t an occasion when I came out either as a freethinker or as queer because I never really claimed to be otherwise. Whether being out as one is more challenging than the other depends on the context, so it’s difficult to say.

You are an advocate for LGBT rights. What is the greatest obstacle you’ve faced so far during your efforts?

Apathy. Not just from straight people, but from people who are LGBT themselves.

Any particular lifestyle changes you’ve made since adopting freethought?

As a freethinker, I don’t just do what most people do. I think about the consequences of my actions, weighing them based on how they will affect me, my fellow humans, other sentient beings, and the environment.

In 2007, I started making efforts to reduce my carbon footprint–my impact on the environment. The most significant part of it is lessening my consumption of meat and other animal products, which are not easy to avoid when you’re surrounded by producers and consumers of these things.

I am currently a flexitarian–a pesce-pollotarian, to be specific–but I will become a vegan someday.

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Meet a Freethinker: Andy Uyboco


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 Andy Uyboco, a 39-year-old businessman and blogger (zenbananas.com) in Davao City.  He became part of the Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter in 2011.

How would you define a freethinker?
A freethinker is one who is unafraid of asking questions and is quite comfortable with having a contrary opinion. He does not take others’ statements at face value unless they sound plausible or reasonable. But he is also grounded in science and reality. When actual experimentation or observation proves a statement wrong — no matter how “reasonable” it may seem — he abandons (or modifies) the idea in favor of the evidence. Where evidence is lacking, however, then reasoning and logic must be used on whatever evidence is available. One thing a freethinker never does is appeal to authority, tradition, or any holy book to support his statements.

What belief system do you subscribe to?
I am a pantheist on Mondays, an agnostic on Tuesdays, a deist on Wednesdays, an atheist on Thursdays, a zen master on Fridays, and I like to take the weekends off. I do not really know what to believe about god since he (or she) has not spoken or appeared to me, at least in a way that makes me absolutely certain that it’s not my own mind playing tricks on me. And when other people tell me about god, it is always based on this or that holy book and you can see what I think about that in the paragraph above.

This is not to say that I absolutely deny the existence of any god as there are some versions of god that I find sensible enough — such as the deist view advanced by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason or a pantheistic perspective as laid out in the Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch. However, I have come to a point in my life where these belief systems do not guide my life. They are interesting for me to think about and discuss with others, but what rules in the end is reason and common sense. If there were a creator, then it created me as a thinking being, a rational being, and it would be a great disservice if I were to throw these away and mindlessly swallow any belief system out there.

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, someone once asked me what made me leave my former belief (Evangelical Christianity), and so I elaborated my reasons for doing so. His response was something like “Well, you know, science changes everyday but the Bible never changes,” and that just made me scratch my head.

In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?
When I started questioning, it was quite a lonely journey as almost everyone in my close circles believed as I did. The freethinking community gave me assurance that I wasn’t the only crazy one out there. At the same time, I was glad to see people with different belief systems in the community, which proved this wasn’t just another cult or religion with a charismatic leader out to convert me to his way of thinking. I was happy to be in a place where people can have different beliefs but are able to have sane and rational discussions about them.

Word has it you almost became a pastor. How did that part of your life come about?
When I was a believer, I was not your run-of-the-mill lukewarm types. I was an officer several times over in church fellowships. I was always in the choir and in special singing groups. I read Christian books extensively as I was always concerned with my “spiritual growth.” When I was in college, I attended a Youth Camp and made a decision there to “dedicate my life to the Lord in full-time ministry” which meant that you would eventually be a pastor or missionary or something to that effect. And the next several years of my life were lived in that perspective. What happened to change that is a journey of several years that would be too long to recount here. For now, let me just say that the good Lord probably had other plans for me.

As a parent, how do you incorporate freethought into your parenting style?
When I teach my kids, I tell them why they should behave a certain way. For example, “You shouldn’t hit others because they’ll get hurt. You don’t want others to hurt you, do you?” I do not say “God will become angry” or “That’s a sin.” So I try to explain in a reasonable manner why they should do certain things and why they should avoid others.

What is interesting though is that my three kids study in a Christian school and go to Sunday School, except for my eldest. But when they don’t feel like going, I don’t force them to go (well, sometimes I do it as a punishment, especially for the eldest). But generally I let them go when they want to but have no qualms about taking them to the beach on Sunday morning if we feel like it.

If you are going to critique the belief system you subscribed to, what would you say?
One of my biggest issues with Christianity is that it is based on a book which claims to be inspired or god-breathed. Yet it is filled with so many inconsistencies, errors and contradictions that the layman cannot hope to resolve on his own. He has to read explanations from apologists and theologians, he has to read the original Greek or Hebrew text, he has to understand the historical context, and so on.

If you had good news and you wanted to share it to as wide an audience as possible, you would make it availabe to the “lowest common denominator” so to speak. In other words, it should be so simple and so accessible that even a moderately educated individual can understand it. As it is presented, however, this is the all-important message of salvation — this affects your life for ALL ETERNITY — and the best that this omniscient creator can come up with is a book which requires a lot of mind-bending, logic-twisting explanations from scholars, Ph.D.’s and whatnots (who don’t even agree with each other)?

To be fair though, I have many Christian friends and family and I still do, and I love them with all my heart. My quarrel was never with the people around me but with the doctrine itself. If there is one thing I still adhere to in Christian teaching, it is to “love one another.” That, for me, is the most sensible way to live and be happy.

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Meet a Freethinker: Kenneth Keng


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 Kenneth Keng–entrepreneur, theater actor, and FF’s RH Advocacy Director. He is an Episcopalian, and became part of the Filipino Freethinkers in 2010.  

 

1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who does his or her level best to form their personal opinions and beliefs based on reason, through critical thinking and logic, with the best evidence available. They would hold no belief or idea as being right simply because someone authoritative said so, or because it’s been held by people for x number of years.

 

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

Episcopalian, currently worshipping at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Makati.

 

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?

They wrapped their hands around imaginary penises, began bobbing their heads up and down, and made sucking noises.

 

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

Perspective. I had always felt that one’s religious backgrond or lack thereof shouldn’t matter as much as simply trying to do the right thing as best as one can, but being part of the Filipino Freethinkers has concretized it for me. It can be easy when one is nominally religious to not have to think too hard about the ethics of one’s actions, and that can lead to a lot of regular church goers acting really shitty towards people. Conversely I’ve seen many in FF who don’t ascribe to religious faith constantly think and process their actions and behaviour through moral philosophy and honest discourse, and turn out to be kinder people for it.

 

5) How do you reconcile the seemingly exclusivistic Christian doctrine (salvation through Christ alone) with being a freethinker?

I admit to reconciling it on a more experiential or emotional as opposed to intellectual level. I count myself fortunate that the church that I grew up in has been a loving, open, and accepting community. While as imperfect as most anything organized by people can be, it incorporates through its vestry council system a degree of democratic self correction by the laity. Congregation members have a real voice in shaping day to day doctrine alongside our ordained priests and bishops, and this has made it supportive of many of the same advocacies that FF works with, including women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights (with the undeniable and reprehensible exception of certain branches in Africa and parts of the US). It doesn’t take the Bible literally so has no problem with evolution. It has a tradition of not forcing its doctrine onto anyone who isn’t interested in it, and I later found has a number of thinkers I admire, such as Bishop Shelby Spong.

In the case of Holy Trinity, its members and its presiding clergy are fully aware of my activities in FF and rather than censure, they have given me only encouragement. They’ve even granted FF free use of its facilities as a meetup venue on several occasions now, with our presiding rector fully aware of its many atheist and agnostic members. This support in turn has been invaluable to me through a lot of difficult times in my life when it seemed like most of the world thought me some incarnation of the devil. Going there Sunday mornings feels a lot like an FF meetup in that way.

 

6) As FF’s RH Advocacy Director, what would you consider your most memorable moment fighting for the RH Bill’s passage?

Winning was pretty memorable. I used to think the escalating actions of the anti-RH camp would be the most affecting going forward in life (progressively getting screamed at, threatened with litigation, and then hit), but none of it really compared to being there in the congressional gallery next to the guy who wrote its first draft, amidst the women who’d been taking to the streets for more than a decade, with the few politicians who really stood for it even when it wasn’t popular, when the vote finally came through. Tear-streaked faces and embraces and relief and release and vindication and humanity triumphant.

Wish I could say the other side stayed classy afterwards but the hands thrust outside the windows of the van of the BUHAY party list giving us the fuck you finger on the way out kind of means I can’t.

 

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Meet a Freethinker: Antonio Pe Yang III


Welcome to the second entry in our Meet a Freethinker series, where we introduce prominent members of the Filipino Freethinkers, and give you an idea about their motivations and beliefs (or lack of), and other interesting tidbits of info on who they are.

This entry will be about Antonio Pe Yang III, a 29-year digital content editor who’s been with the group since 2009.

He’s also into ponies. Deal with it.

How would you define a freethinker?

In the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, when the emperor is celebrating his “new” wardrobe by marching around town, there’s a kid in the crowd who’s laughing and saying his ruler doesn’t have clothes. The kid doesn’t care that townsfolk are telling him to shut up, or that he’s drawing attention to himself. All he knows is the naked (pardon the pun) truth – that the new “clothes” are a figment of the emperor’s imagination.

Freethinkers are that kid – we are the ones who aren’t afraid to speak up when people make extraordinary (and oftentimes ridiculous) claims about our world based on their religious beliefs or superstition, but are unable to back up their assertion with any solid evidence or facts. A lot of us also happen to be huge sci-fi, comic book, RPG, video game, and ‘toon geeks, so you could say there’s an extra layer to that metaphor.

I also don’t think being a freethinker is contrary to being open-minded. The latter means being able to analyze all possible data, and weighing which ones best explain the topic in question. My problem with people who demand that I be open-minded is that they almost always do so while pushing a superstitious explanation for something, while ignoring all other options. Such as claiming a statue of the Virgin Mary is crying, when it’s just simple physics.

What belief system do you subscribe to?

I follow deism as defined by Thomas Paine. I don’t believe in a “revealed” god, as stressed by the Abrahamic religions, or a god that directly interferes in human affairs or demands worship. I see god as something abstract, a “something” that’s the sum of all of the laws of physics that keep our world working. Think of it as “The Force” or “Data Overmind,” if you’re into that sort of thing. I also believe that the best way to better understand this God is through scientific study of our surroundings.

I say “something” here as an umbrella term, since I’m not sure whether it’s “a” god or a myriad of gods (for lack of a better term).

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

Not a specific person per se, but back when I was becoming more vocal during the height of the RH Bill debates and RCC child abuse scandals, people on the net began calling me out for being a freethinker despite, according to them, me being a proud graduate of Ateneo de Manila University.

I was apparently shaming my school because I dared to criticize the Catholic Church on several matters, like its intellectual dishonesty in the RH debates, its sheltering of child rapists, and its vocal opposition to gay rights. It was funny because it’s exactly because of my upbringing in ADMU that I learned to start asking questions and to be honest with what I said – anything less would.

It was also in ADMU that I began to understand that the RCC’s decline was the result of its own history of corruption and greed, and was neglecting its obligation to uplift poor and oppressed.

When you make students sit though a semester’s worth of lectures on Nietzche, Sarte, and Liberation Theology, what do you think is going to happen?

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

When I discovered the Filipino Freethinkers, I’d had just left Catholicism because of some insanely stupid things the church had done – like excommunicating a medical team that performed an abortion to save a child’s life. The meetups helped me learn the ropes on what it meant to be a freethinker, particularly the importance of being truthful, and always, ALWAYS backing up everything with hard facts.

Being involved with the Filipino Freethinkers also gave me access to some my biggest critics – I can count on them to be the first to call me out if I say something out of line, and they’ll always present the facts proving why I’m wrong. This constant exposure to opposition has shaped me for the better, particularly my views on gender and LGBT equality, religious bias, and the importance of science in society, while giving me a drive to always learn more.

You’re very vocal online. What motivates you in engaging in online discussions?

If I had to pick a word: Rage.

I’ve become vocal because I got tired of having to put up with the sort of inanity religious conservatives here in RP think they can say with impunity, such as claiming that natural disasters are God’s punishment for whatever transgressions, or that the RH Bill is a harbinger of destruction, debauchery, and immorality (hint: It’s not).

I felt that as somebody who knew better, I had an obligation to call out the shit they were feeding everybody, partly for the satisfaction of destroying a poor argument, and partly to spread the word. Plus I seemed to write better angry.

So every time I speak up, I use direct language to drive my points home, and I prefer not to say “Fuck you, cockbreath!” or its myriad of variations until I feel I’ve categorically proven in the exchanges that the unfortunate sumbitch on the receiving end deserves to be bludgeoned with harsh language (Read: False positives). Just because I play by the rules doesn’t mean I have to play nice.

As a freethinker, do you look up to anyone as a particular role model?

Terry Pratchett. While he’s not as science-ish as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan, or as profound as Dawkins or Hitchens, through his Discworld novels, Sir Pratchett’s taught me much about how people work. His books are a hilarious but insightful take on just how complicated human society could be, and never failed to drive home topics as sensitive as gender equality (among dwarves, to boot!) and atheism (through golems!) while still playing them for laughs.

Sir Pratchett’s books also gave me a lot of pointers on how to handle god-bothering idiots and other people like them. I’ve realized that a lot of what fundies will say are already inane enough as it is, and all it takes is a nudge (or a little sarcasm) to turn them from today’s fiery rhetoric into this week’s lol-worthy meme.

Every belief system has a dark side, what is the dark side of your belief system?

Honestly, I don’t really know. I haven’t read that far into famous deists, so I’m not familiar with the darker aspects of my belief that might manifest. Thomas Paine himself was something of a troublemaker, although I’m not sure how much of what he did and said was a product of his deism, rather than Paine just being a pain in the ass.

It didn’t involve anything as ludicrous as shooting lightning from his hands or crushing somebody’s crotch with his mind, if that’s what you were hoping for, sorry.

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Meet a Freethinker: Marguerite de Leon


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 brand-new 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 first freethinker is Marguerite de Leon, a 27-year-old social media executive. She was baptized Catholic, and became part of the Filipino Freethinkers in 2010.  

1)     How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is someone who chooses not to tolerate bullshit. They don’t immediately believe in something because someone from a position of authority told them to; or because that’s what most people have always believed in for so long; or because there’s some man-made rule that tells you to. They adhere to empirical evidence; they only believe in something if there is actual, tangible, measurable proof that such a belief makes sense. If there is no such proof, then they will continue questioning this belief and searching for the truth.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an atheist. This means that I do not believe in the existence of a god or gods. So in terms of religious beliefs, I have none. The closest thing I do have to a belief system is secular humanism, which basically means being a good human being, no religious strings attached.

3)     What was it like when you first seriously questioned the dogma you were told to believe?

The defining moment was when I outright asked my mom and grandmother if I could skip Sunday masses and pray at home instead. I even offered to do the chores, or whatever other good deed they felt like assigning me. I found masses excruciatingly tedious and pointless (those scary rebultos didn’t help, either), and thought it sensible that I do something beneficial to others on Sundays instead of just sitting in a church staring at the clock. I also figured that praying to god directly was more sincere than sitting around reciting words lifelessly.

But no dice. Both my mom and grandmother got incredibly upset with me, and the afternoon ended in tears. They said I was being disrespectful. But no matter how hard they chastised me, however, I still knew I made sense. What I’ve been told to do and to believe just didn’t add up. Soon enough, religion started to look more and more inane and insincere, and I eventually wanted no part of it.

4)     What’s the biggest misconception people have about you as a freethinker?

That I’m holding on to the excuse that I can think however I want, no matter how inane or removed from reality it may be, like some post-modern, “anything-goes-let’s-all-believe-in-magic” kind of thing. That’s definitely not what freethought is. True freethinking has very strict criteria. My beliefs need to be backed up by reason and evidence, and should not be beholden to authority, tradition, or dogma.

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

“So that means you’re smart, right?”

Yes and no.

I’d consider freethinkers smart in that they try their very best to think well—that is, logically and rationally. Having said that, it’s not like I have a PhD, have a bazillion awards under my belt, or refuse to watch films in color or English. For the record, I love trash TV like The Voice, and would much rather read a fashion magazine than a Borges short story. It’s just that when I’m faced with situations like the CBCP telling me to fear the Pill, I don’t blindly follow them. I get my facts straight first and make my own decisions based on what I’ve learned. You don’t need to be cum laude to figure that out.

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

I finally found something I truly believed in and wanted to fight for 100%. I’d been pretty apathetic before then, mainly because I could never fully relate to any of the causes and concerns being trumpeted around me. Most charities and groups I’d encountered had an underlying religious bent to it—you’re doing all these good things for god, or because we are all god’s children, etc. I would feel like a poser or a hypocrite joining such groups.

The Filipino Freethinkers, on the other hand, was a group against bullshit, against people being sheep, against shitty excuses to be horrible people. It was right up my alley. I’d never felt more purposeful, more excited to do things for others.

7)     Would you date someone who was a fervent follower of your old religion?

Let’s just put it this way: If he WERE a truly fervent, by-the-book follower of Catholicism, then he would not have sex with me until we were married; he would prohibit me from using artificial contraceptives; he would have our kids baptized and sent to gender-exclusive Catholic private schools; he would force me to go to mass every Sunday; he would remind me to be miserable and penitent on Good Friday because god just died; he would keep me from meeting up with my LGBT friends; he would donate part of our hard-earned money to the church; he would delete most of my videos and music and throw away most of my books; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So, no. Unless, of course, he looked like either Frank Mir, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hardy, or Ryan Gosling. Then all bets are off.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker, Personal, SocietyComments (9)


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