The Filipino Freethinkers — Not Eating Babies since 2009

2 02 2011

“We don’t eat babies.”

I’ve been hearing this a lot since I joined the Filipino Freethinkers last May. And it’s true—the Philippines’s largest and most active group of atheists, agnostics, humanists, liberalists, deists, liberal theists, and whatever other -ists there are that think reason, science, and secularism totally pwns authority, tradition and dogma, has yet to partake of sweet infant flesh. We’re nice people. We donate blood and hold Wii parties. But of course, in a country that considers widespread Catholicism as a PR hook, convincing some people that we’re not a cult and, on the contrary, are purveyors of logic and individuality can seem hard.

Fortunately, attending just one of our bi-weekly meet-ups is enough to quell most qualms. When my boyfriend and I first went, starved as we were of fellow godless folk, we did have some doubts about these men and women huddled in a circle at Starbucks Shangri-La, listening so earnestly to each other, looking like an initial herding of pyramid schemers or a prayer meet with better clothes. But the moment we approached, they didn’t make a big scene, didn’t pat us on the back, tell us we’d come to the right place or any of that lovey dovey crap. We newcomers did have to share our beliefs or lack thereof and how we got to that point, but that was as cult-y as it got, and you have to admit it was necessary.

The rest of the meet-up—and all meet-ups since—was spent in discourse. Topics are very varied:  the ethics of having sex with friends, being a grammar Nazi, nationalism, genetic engineering, starting steps for virgin vegans, etc. And as we are a motley crew—a mix of college students, game developers, photographers, ex-evangelists, doctors, family men, businessmen, thespians, government employees, journalists, call center agents, professors and bums, each of whom harbor unique sets of principles—things can get rowdy. If shameless intellectual masturbation is your deal, then each Freethinker meet-up is the circle-jerk of your dreams. We don’t talk about pushing nuns into traffic or setting mosques on fire. We’re nerds, for the most part, and as harmless as they come.

Nonetheless, as we are all beneath the same freethought umbrella, we do have shared concerns, such as the passing of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, and are prone to act on them. This is where the Freethinkers leapt from being just a bunch of people I liked hanging out with, to the first opportunity I’ve ever had to stand up for something and not feel like I was shitting myself. I was never one for causes; I was the type who would rather blog about her period than the latest crummy thing in the news. But since joining the Freethinkers, I finally felt like I had a damn good reason to speak up about dire issues, which I didn’t use to have since neither god nor nation got me off.

I now commence with the inevitable reference to Carlos Celdran’s Sacrilege Spectacular. I was bedridden with fever the day some Freethinkers and members of like-minded groups trooped over to the CBCP and Carlos’s cell with their placards. As bad as I felt for not being there with them, I was also stoked about what was happening. Here was a tangible moment of conflict, and I was finally raring to support the side I was on instead of thinking that there was no point in getting riled up when there was Season 2 of Party Down to deal with. I didn’t give a fuck if others thought I was just some Carlos crony, promoting Damaso shirts on FaceBook because that’s what the cool kids were doing. I don’t blame them; I was obviously apathetic a few months back, so people who had known me longer would have had to do a double-take.

But the fact is that I learned a lot from my Freethinker friends about being a more vocal individual. These were people who had definite opinions, had the confidence to air them, and were principled enough to listen to others’ thoughts and support or counter those views civilly and within reason. In case anyone was wondering, that’s a good thing. And I wanted to be part of a good thing.

So, despite any hype or hot air that may have pervaded the RH brouhaha, it was apparent to me that the Freethinkers were being the real deal, and that I had every reason to be a more active person. We all wanted that RH bill passed because it made sense, and would bring about positive change. We don’t tolerate bullshit, and believe nobody else should.

I joined the Freethinkers about a month after I realized I was an atheist. (Side note: Nobody decides to take up atheism, much less try it out. Atheism is something you arrive at through rational inquiry; it occurs to you that there is no legitimate proof that higher beings exist. Simply put, you just don’t believe in the existence of a god or gods. That’s it.) I had never been a “spiritual” person, much less a religious one. I went through the motions—all girls’ Catholic school, paralyzing fear of rebultos, being a (restless, whiny) bead in a living rosary—and found no sense in them, or in any form of spirituality for that matter, growing older with no dependency on prayer or gratitude to a higher being. But I didn’t really bother labeling myself a non-believer. I just didn’t care then, up until I decided to read up about atheism—intrigued as I was because of my non-believing boyfriend—and realized that I had no problem whatsoever with what the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens were saying, and that the stuff I’ve read in defense of god and religion just didn’t cut it. I went through similar thought processes and made similar observations as atheist authors, but it was just that I was too apathetic to make any conclusions in the past. So there. That’s when I realized that—BAM—yup, there is no god, and I’m an atheist, yeehaw. Such certainty made me feel awesome, and I wasn’t even craving for an epiphany.

Needless to say, I wasn’t in search of a support group. I certainly didn’t join the Freethinkers to feel better about being an atheist—it was definitely the opposite of being a burden—or to get further assurance that god is as real as my Worldwide, Genre-Spanning Literary Success. I didn’t need anyone else to be an atheist. Nonetheless, I became very curious as to what other atheists living in the Philippines were like, and what they were doing about the fact that most everyone around them had at least some fleck of faith when they didn’t. So when I joined the Freethinkers, not only were these curiosities sated, but I learned far more than I ever expected to.

As I’ve mentioned, not all Freethinkers are atheists. Absolutely anyone can be a Freethinker, as long as they understand that every single thing is liable to be questioned or scrutinized, as long as whatever sacred cows they’ve tended in the past have already been slaughtered into scrumptious patties. Freethinking is not about giving the finger to faith. It is about using reason and science to get to your own conclusions about anything. Since meeting the Freethinkers, I learned that my atheism was just a stepping stone towards a far more significant personal belief: that thinking before speaking (or doing, or anything) would do all of us a big, fat load of good.

In the past, writing about religion and gods this directly would have made me incredibly nervous. In fact, this essay is my first time to put into print a sentence as controversial or potentially infuriating as There is no god without muffling it with disclaimers. But I’m cool with it. I thought before I wrote, and know for a fact that I can defend my views neatly and objectively.

If you’ve ever been made to take up Theology in college and had to explain the holy trinity with a straight face for finals, I bet you’d know how much better I’ve been feeling now. And if you don’t, it sure wouldn’t hurt to think about it.

A Very Happy 2nd Anniversary, Filipino Freethinkers! I’m stoked to be part of such a warm, passionate, and blindingly attractive group of people.

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8 responses

3 02 2011
Kat

I’ve been meaning to check out a meetup one of these days, but I’ve been dragging my feet about it. It’s mostly because it’s a small world; my “attendance” would rain down judgment on my parents, who sort of run the church where I grew up. They don’t know all the details of my beliefs; they just know I skip church and have decided to let me be. But I doubt the people they interact with will be so understanding.

I still wish I’d known about the Freethinkers when I started doubting so that I could hash it out with someone who knew where I was coming from. I had to content myself with being the lurking odd-Filipino-out on http://de-conversion.com . Now, though, just knowing the group exists is some strange source of comfort.

Anyway, the timing of your blog post is funny. This month, our health topic is “taboos,” and what with the recent House Panel approval of the RH bill, I thought it would be a good chance to write about it. Would you know a doctor I could interview for the article? I’m hoping to find someone with an unbiased, secular point-of-view, of course, though someone who’s Catholic AND in favor wouldn’t be too bad, either.

If you don’t know anyone, that’s okay; I’ll just keep looking on my own. Hope to see you around. 🙂

3 02 2011
Marguerite

Hey Kat. I understand how daunting it may seem to attend a meetup, but if your main concern is not being found out, you can simply request to stay out of photos, and you can even offer a pseudonym. The Freethinkers will be totally cool about keeping your identity secret. And I’m sure you’ll have a good time if you go; many first-timers mention FF as the group they wish they had when they first started doubting. In the end, though, we’re just a bunch of people who have fun like any other group of friends.

As for the doctor thing, I’m afraid TMC has a rod up its ass just like any other corporation, and the RH bill is a no-no interview topic for us. I know some docs who would be great for interviewing, but it’ll be my head if their views become linked to TMC. Really sorry that I can’t help you there. 😦

But seriously! Punta kang meetup! You’re a grown person who can go wherever the hell she wants. 🙂

4 02 2011
Kat

Yes, I am a grown person, and I know my parents have accepted this because they no longer nag me on Sundays, hahaha. I’ll think about it. 🙂 Thanks, Margie.

4 02 2011
Jeiel

The FF is part of the RH Advocates Network now, we could help link you up with them. They are bound to know people who would be perfect for your interview.

4 02 2011
Kat

That would be great, thanks! How do I get in touch?

4 02 2011
Cinna

Kat,

All I can say is… oh Jeebus. I just hope there are enough Freethinkers who reside here in Baguio for a meet-up. It’s exasperating reading the motions off the site and not being able to participate.

It’s a growing wish of mine that more Filipinos get more empowered with these modern times and realize how not to get tied down with dogmas that are shoved down our throats as constantly as Sunday mass gets riddled with political agendas and negative propaganda.

More power to (the steadily growing number of) Freethinkers!

4 02 2011
Marguerite

Hi Cinna! Why don’t you try rounding up some Baguio-based Freethinkers through our Facebook page? Just give a holler. Hopefully, you guys can arrange your own meetup there. We strongly encourage those who are too far away for the Manila meetups to organize their own shindig; would be a waste if there were a lot of Freethinkers in your area and you actually had the opportunity to meet one another. 🙂

31 03 2011
Jed Mallen

same here, no epiphany when i discovered there’s no god back in highschool.

just pure honest to goodness RELIEF.

like a dark heavy cloud clearing above you…

and that was almost 22 years ago.

was very excited to “convert” friends back then to my newly discovered happiness

but as time went by, i just didn’t care anymore if someone believes in a god or not.

i’m not out to convert or enlighten people. just respect them as humans.

the way pinoys are opposing the church right now is inevitable.

10 or so years ago who would have imagined it.

we are humans after all and all of us will evolve down the road somehow…

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