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The Fateful Meeting at Taft Avenue

It was the afternoon of the twenty-sixth day of March, two thousand eleven, Anno Domini.

The glaring sunlight pierced through my black coat like a volley of searing javelins. I walked along the streets of Taft Avenue, amidst the towering alabaster-clad metropolitan megastructures apathetic to my existence. I was heading towards a specific private establishment, locally identified as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where I was supposed to meet a certain band of individuals. When I reached my destination, I took a seat, and waited patiently.

Soon enough, they arrived.

I was locked firmly on my seat as I perused the members of the organization, one by one, analyzing them with utmost curiosity. They have been called many things, such as blasphemers, heathens, and even demons, but they go by one collective moniker—freethinkers.

I had always looked forward to meeting them. In the recent past, I had only seen them in media broadcasts, formally recognized as the Filipino Freethinkers, owing their popularity, or rather, notoriety, to their naysayers, primarily constituted of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Catholic fundamentalists, and more Catholics. Prior to this day, I had only encountered them through their Facebook group wall where I constantly troll, ignite uproars, and cause general mischief. But at that moment, they were actually in front of me.

The first order of business was introduction. I was introduced to the head honchos of the organization. I learned firsthand what they do and how they got there. Subsequently, the initiates, who had only met the organization for the first time, who happen to be my colleagues and myself, were also asked for introductions.

With us being intellectuals, what we did was to freely exchange ideas. We discussed an array of issues, with topics ranging from international human rights, to the local reproductive health bill, to toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper.

I remember having to answer some ethical questions, akin to those popular ones wherein you have to participate in a critical decision-making scenario where your choice would dictate the outcome of your life and/or the life of others. I managed to answer them with a straight face, but what I tried to keep imperceptible were my doubts. Would I really be able to live up to my initial answer? I guess I would know when I face such a dilemma.

In summary, the discussions were casual and light-hearted, but at the same time intellectual and thought-provoking. Everybody was allowed to present their own perspective, regardless of religious or political affiliation.

The final agenda, and the main purpose of the meet-up, according to Red, the President of the Filipino Freethinkers, was about the establishment of a De La Salle University based freethinker group. They deemed it necessary that a new chapter of the organization be founded, particularly centralized in the aforementioned university. The initiates were commissioned to create and govern this distinct organizational division. I was designated president of this chapter.

Being surrounded by individuals of similar wavelength, intellectually open to philosophical discourse, sincerely convicted to their respective ideological stances, valiantly ready for sociopolitical action—I knew I was home.

What a glorious day this was. How privileged was I to have met people of my own kind. How honored was I to have been appointed leader of my very own circle of freethinkers.

I exited the café with a satisfied psyche and a sinister grin. Deep inside, I was delighted to see that there are still people like them. These people sacrifice their time and effort in the name of the ideals they are fighting for. I had a lot to do, and I knew I have to start right away.

Now I tread on forward with a greater shouldered responsibility. Anticipating undying support from my newfound comrades, I shall face our common adversaries—ignorance, fundamentalism, and intellectual suppression—all in the name of freethought.

It was getting dark.

The gleaming moonlight drizzled on my black coat like weightless droplets of hope. As I stared at the dimly lit sky of Taft Avenue, I had only one thought in mind, “Tomorrow will be a good day.

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Divorce, Annulments, Broken Families and Religion

Did you come from a broken family?

That was the question that was asked to me. I said yes.

That’s why.

He made it sound like that’s the reason why I became a secularist.

Having a bad experience growing up, growing up without a father or being in a broken family are common misconceptions that the theists think about the secularists.

Both of my parents consider themselves as cafeteria Catholics, for short, secular people. They may be annulled, but they said that they felt happier when that came.

According to the elders, people wouldn’t say that they came from a broken family because of heavy religious influence which makes them think that they are heretics. At the present time, people are very open about it and it is accepted in the society.

Today, the religious community are alarmed with the boom of divorce within their society.

According to this, 20% of Catholics and Protestants and 40% of Jewish marriages end in divorce after 5 years.

Also, the Barna Research Group stated that in the United States, 11% of the adult population is divorced, 25%  of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime and divorce rates among Christians are significantly higher than those of other religious denominations, and much higher than atheists and agnostics.

The results from their research about divorce rate by religion show that:

  1. Non-denominational (Evangelical Christian congregations that are not affiliated with any specific denomination) – 34% have been divorce
  2. Baptists – 29%
  3. Episcopal – 28%
  4. Pentecostal – 28%
  5. Methodist – 26%
  6. Presbyterian – 23%
  7. Lutheran – 21%
  8. Catholic – 21%

Their research proved that the conservative Christians have the highest divorce rate, while the mainline Christians have a lower divorce rate. They found some new information that states that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate at all. The Associated Press confirmed the results of the research.

There was a point in time where the Baptists had the highest divorce rate of any Christian denominations.

Another research about divorce rates by religion stated that:

Jews – 30% have been divorced
Born-again Christians – 27%
Other Christians – 24%
Atheists and agnostics – 21%

Ron Barrier, spokesperson of the American Atheists commented about the research. He said:

These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years. Since Atheist ethics are of a higher caliber than religious morals, it stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky. With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage. There is no room in Atheist ethics for the type of ‘submissive’ nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian and/or Jewish groups. Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage. also commented:
We hear an awful lot from conservatives in the Bible Belt and on the TV about how we all should be living. Certainly a culture that teaches the conservative religious values of the Christian right must have clean living written all over it. And lots of ripe fruit from their morally superior lives abounding.

It doesn’t. Far from it. People that talk the loudest may be the ones walking the slowest. Joining its history of Biblically correct bigotry and discrimination, it is an area with the highest divorce, murder, STD/HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, single parent homes, infant mortality, and obesity rates in the nation. As a region, the Bible Belt has the poorest health care systems and the lowest rates of high school graduation.

So, before theists say something about secularists growing up in broken families, they should look at the statistics and see the reality about what’s happening in the religious community.


Source of information

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A day in a non-secular workplace

I’ve been talking more often to a friend who works in a Christian organization.  She is born and raised Catholic, but is the typical ‘seasonal’ Catholic – she only attends mass occasionally (during special occasions, or whenever she feels like it).  She works in a company dominated by members of Christian sects (e.g. Baptist, Born Again Christians).

Her job application involved her writing an essay about her relationship with God, which she had to elaborate on during her job interview.  On a daily basis, she is required to attend daily devotions, prayers before and after meetings.  She organizes and attends mandatory retreats and full-day prayer sessions on special occasions.  She is also surrounded by employees who like to quote the Bible and call each other ‘sis’ and ‘bro’.  She has been asked, on occasion, to lead spontaneous prayers, share her reflections, participate in group sharing.  It’s like a full-day Jesus party where she works.

As is to be expected from a person who has a brain and thinks for herself, this environment did not suit her.  Unlike other organizations where prayer (even when organized by the company) is optional, her workplace requires attendance to all religious activities, and non-attendance has negative consequences on job evaluation.  She has been reprimanded for being unaware of the negative influence of certain activities one would think was harmless (e.g. yoga).  As a person in charge of recruitment, she has been asked to reject ‘unqualified’ candidates (specifically, candidates that are not Christian enough, such as Mormons, or immoral candidates, such as people who look like they are homosexuals).  She hides who she really is – a funny, vibrant, person who curses and says dirty jokes- because this will lead to reprimands, which may include additional prayer reflections, being prayed over, or being thought of as a sinful, bad influence.

What is even worse than working in a company whose leadership is very, very prayerful is that the same religious, bible-thumping people are hypocritical, nepotistic employers.  My friend has been working for weeks outside of her initial contract based on false promises of further employment.  “We offer you spiritual growth in addition to a good career,” they said.  By “good career”, they had actually meant further indefinite contractual employment with no benefits, on a job that they have described as “seasonal”, which was their official excuse for her contractual status (despite exceeding the 6 month period for regularization as recommended by law).  In addition, my friend learned that this practice was not consistent for all employees.  Some employees whose family shared the same church as management were actually immediately regularized, with no probationary period.  Some are having contractual status while also enjoying the benefits of regular employees.  Meanwhile, my friend met a fellow Catholic in the organization who has worked there for a couple of years on a string of short-term contracts with no benefits.  It was obvious that Catholics in the organization, while ‘tolerated’, were marginalized for their half-hearted compliance with the majority’s religious practices. While one might say that this contract inconsistency is typical of other secular organizations, I find that these discriminatory practices (which, BTW, included flat-out lying to employees’ faces) are even more damning to an organization spouting Jesus talk eight hours a day.  I thought Jesus judged dishonest, unfair people!  Apparently he only judges the gays.

What was interesting to me was the effect of this type of environment on a person who actually believes in God.  My friend told me that she actually feels like she has started to dislike God and Jesus and all that she thought it stood for, just because her officemates have fully bastardized any meaning left in it.  How could anyone feel any affinity towards a concept that now stands for judgment, hate, dishonesty, and trite, petty rules?  She described to me a hive-mind environment of people trying to out-Jesus each other with memorized bible quotes and disapproval of immoral behavior (and cheesy jokes about pastors), where people with different or dissenting beliefs hide their true colors and actually have to communicate covertly their opinions and lack of interest in ‘finding Jesus in their lives’.  It seemed like a same-Jesus-shit-different-groundhog-day scenario, which her anecdotes being more ridiculous by the day. Who knows even if these so-called Christian people actually believe what they say, or if they’re just pretending to be like this for their careers?  What is sure is that if you go all-out with your Christian-ness, you will be rewarded by Jesus (and by Jesus, I mean the bosses of this company).

Overall, she has described to me a daily experience of detachment, a little fear and a growing desire to stick immorality in their faces.  We have discussed choosing the most immoral cartoon character for Kris Kringle, or the best workplace to say she transferred to when she resigns (HR manager for a gay bar), or inserting funny, sarcastic remarks in her daily prayer.  Why did she accept it in the first place, you ask? Because the situation was too crazy-bizarre for the imagination to fathom (esp. for a person who doesn’t interact with these types of people).  Why didn’t she leave immediately?  Because she needed the cash, and her contract was supposedly short-term anyway.  Why is she still there even if her contract has ended?  Because they wouldn’t let her leave. She is planning on leaving the company soon despite the uncertain job market out there because she can’t take it anymore.

I described this experience so that we may reflect and Thank God for our secular workplaces and freedom to express ourselves in our own little corner of the internet. (I’m kidding about the God part, of course)  To some of you, all religions are created equal (as in, equally false); to some, they are not.  However, the freedom to actually choose one or none is sacred and a workplace where it is mandatory to practice only one religion is not ideal.

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