Many people are actually surprised to learn that I am an atheist. They find it hard to believe that someone like me, who spent at least eleven years in a Catholic school run by nuns, raised by a family of believers including my brother, who is the choir head/conductor/organist in the local church, could eventually end up being an atheist.
I find it hard to believe myself but what can I say? Life sure is funny. Well actually, life could have been so much funnier if I just followed the flow and pretended to be a Christian just like everybody else. However, I can say I have come to the point where I couldn’t pretend anymore. Besides, when I stopped hearing mass and giving contributions to church, people can’t help but notice. I had to stand for what I believe in.
And stand I did. I have already spent countless hours in never-ending discussions about religion. Never-ending because with some people, it seems like no argument is good enough. I guess I can’t blame them because unlike me, they have faith. For people who have faith, I am a lost sheep and they take it as their responsibility to bring me back to the flock.
Not that I mind. It’s just I think I’ve reached a point that I am so lax during these discussions that I think I’ve heard them all already. I still enjoy these discussions because with each discussion, no matter how boring and repetitive, I am able to fine tune my theories and philosophies. With all these fine tuning, I am able to come up with my own philosophy, which just happens to be similar to what the atheists have already been promoting all these years.
After endless debates and occasional victories, I believe I am ready to attempt to put everything into writing… thus, the birth of this article. Just so it’s clear, my purpose is NOT to convince readers into joining the fold nor is it to invite good shepherds to take the challenge of putting me back to the flock, though I wouldn’t mind engaging these shepherds to a healthy discussion.
It’s more of presenting my ‘religious affiliation’ in the most complete way possible. My desired effect would be to give people a complete idea of what I believe in presented in a form that can stand the test of time… the written word.
Before I realized I’m an atheist
As with many atheists, I was not always an atheist. In fact, I am a Catholic by virtue of birth. My parents had me baptized into Catholicism two days after birth and I have been a Catholic ever since… at least until I realized I’m an atheist.
To describe my life before my ‘big realization’, I am what you might consider a regular middle-class Filipino catholic. In fact, I used to consider myself more Catholic than most other Catholics I know.
I spent eleven years in an exclusive school for Catholics run by the most conservative (with some exceptions) of nuns. I hear mass every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation and often it was with my family. I am often summoned to perform several functions during mass such as the reading of the gospel or leading the responsorial psalms. Once, I was asked to be the commentator but I really wasn’t really good at it. I have joined church choirs both in school and in our local church.
I was a firm believer of the faith. As with any Catholic, I would take it as my responsibility to defend my faith, no matter how futile, against others, who believe otherwise. I hated watching this “Iglesia ni Kristo” show on TV as it regularly argues against some of the dogmas of the Catholic church. I was both a believer and a defender of the Catholic faith.
As you might have guessed, there was no sign whatsoever that by the time I reached twenty, I would be a self-confessed atheist but as I have said in my introduction… Life sure is funny.
How I realized I’m an atheist
I would think that this whole realization thing started when I decided to move to the University of the Philippines for my tertiary education. Different from what I’m accustomed to, the State University is not run by nuns, is not exclusive to Catholics and does not require us to pray before and after classes. We don’t even have all those religious artifacts in the classrooms.
Others have argued that this environment is not good for Catholics… that I should have instead enrolled in prestigious Catholic schools like the Ateneo, La Salle and UST. They may be right. However, I would argue that this environment is actually good if not desirable for the general public, as exposure to different cultures, different beliefs and different ways of life is unquestionably healthy for people to have a broader perspective of society and of life in general.
And true to it’s promise, six years in UP gave me all these. The world in which I live in is now not limited to an exclusive subset of Philippine society… that of the Catholic middle-class. I now have exposure to different schools of thought, different religious beliefs and people from different classes of society from the unbelievably rich to well, the unbelievably poor.
Furthermore, this exposure is not limited to just the people in the University. Being the fabled Bastion of Academic Freedom, students were also exposed to education that truly reflects this ideology. The quest for knowledge, and not the quest for salvation from hell, is the primary inspiration for education.
Difference in beliefs and ideology is tolerated if not encouraged. This has lead to a culture where most people are free to speak their mind no matter how outrageous… no matter how different, without the usual prejudice. The only requirement would be that you should be willing to subject your thoughts to criticism and counter-arguments and you must be willing to accept defeat when it’s imminent.
‘Defeat’ here doesn’t always mean giving up your beliefs altogether although sometimes, that is necessary. For most cases, however, it should mean noting the arguments that lead to your ‘defeat’ and searching for new knowledge to back your old arguments or to raise new and better arguments.
Noteworthy is my residence in Narra Residence Hall. In Narra, discussions about politics, religion and almost anything under the sun are commonplace. It is not uncommon that residents engage themselves in arguments until the wee hours of the morning. I, too, have participated in quite a number of them, usually about religion but I remember once when I also participated in a political argument.
I was trying to convince my peer about the wonders of communism. As you might expect, my opponent was a vigilant defender of capitalism although he has his own version of capitalism, which was a little different from the capitalism we have in the Philippines. To make the long story short, I lost that debate in one of the most humiliating defeats in my debating history.
This prompted me to read more books and articles about politics and forms of governments. Eventually, I gave up communism and embraced capitalism. I discovered that capitalism is more realistic and is more apt to current situations. My point however is, I am willing to accept defeat and am willing to embrace a new ideology. For now, I am a capitalist… at least until I find a better alternative.
The same is true with religion. After discussions with non-Catholics including several atheists, I realized that I have always been an atheist. I’ve always had doubts about religion, I just never dared entertain them because of fear of excommunication, hell, eternal suffering and all those stuffs religion use to keep people within their folds.
I began entertaining my doubts about religion. I began thinking about questions like “If I were born to a Muslim family, would I still defend the holiness of Jesus Christ?”
“If I were born during the time when people firmly believed in the Roman Gods, would I still believe in one and only one God?”
“If I were born to a Protestant family, would I still believe in the infallibility of the Pope?”
“Why are there so many races when we all came from Adam and Eve?”
It is amazing to know that all world religions, which are supposed to be universally true, are only true within specific religious groups. Rizalistas firmly believe that Jose Rizal is God though all non-Rizalistas believe otherwise. Muslims believe that Jesus is just a prophet though most non-Muslims, including the whole of Christianity, believe otherwise. Christians revere the Bible… Muslims revere the Koran. What happened to the universality of religion?
I have chanced upon a funny comic strip. It goes something like this… a child was with his soldier father, who was currently in fierce combat with another group.
“Father, what is it that we are fighting for?”, the child asks.
“We’re fighting for what is right,” replies the father.
The child, confused, asks a follow-up question, “Father, if we are fighting for what is right, why are they fighting so hard for what is wrong?”
Now, imagine the child to be the son of a soldier from the other group. Funny but I’m sure it’s ends being funny when you hear about deaths resulting from wars between Christians and Muslims.
One is tempted to ask, “What if I’ve been reading the wrong book?”
Add to that questions like “What if the Bible is just a literary work like ‘The Little Prince’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet?'”
“What if ‘Adam and Eve’ are to the early Christians as ‘Malakas and Maganda’ are to the early Filipinos?” It just so happened that they were able to include their version in a well-read book, which a lot of people believe to be factual.
“In what day did God create the dinosaurs and why did He kill them all?”
These are questions many religions never dared ask and if ever they did, they already have canned answers provided by their religious doctrines and religious leaders. These people don’t have to ‘think’ anymore because their doctrines and leaders have already provided them with the answers.
Speaking of canned answers, let’s go back to the question “Why are there so many races when we all came from Adam and Eve?”
When I was in 6th Grade, I asked that question to a priest and he replied, “There are many Adams and Eves… one for each race.”
I asked the same question to a nun when I was in High School and she replied, “Genesis (the book in the Bible where the story about Adam and Eve is found) has been recognized by the Church as purely literary and should not be taken literally.”
Now, who’s telling the truth?
One significant personal change since I recognized my ‘religious affiliation’ is that I’ve learned to say “I don’t know.” Instead of having canned answers, usually provided by the church, to all questions, I admit not knowing the answer and for sure, I am more than willing to find out.
If somebody asks, “What happens after we die?”
“How did the universe come into being?”
Instead of giving the church’s predetermined replies to these questions, I would say “I don’t know but I’m sure there are a lot of scientists and truth-seekers out there, including myself, who are willing to find out.”
Science and Religion
There’s this strange argument I’ve encountered that Science and Religion complement each other and should not contradict. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While Religion pretends to have all the answers to life’s questions, Science admits to not having all the answers but is vigilant in looking for the answers. While Religious Dogma can never and should never be questioned, Scientific Theories can be disproved and nobody gets executed or excommunicated in the process. Stories of Galileo and other excommunicated scientists come into mind.
One of the more popular disagreements between Science and Religion is the Origin of Mankind. Most if not all scientists believe that Man evolved from the lowest of life forms. On the other hand, Religion believes that Man was created by God. It’s a disagreement between Evolutionists and Creationists.
I tried consulting friends regarding this matter and much to my surprise, most of them are still Creationists. It seems that they cannot simply accept the fact that we evolved from the apes. They have this idea that Mankind is superior to all other species and that we are the only species with souls and free-will.
I can’t blame them. Those are exactly the canned answers provided by the Church. Those are exactly the canned answers taught in most schools especially Catholic schools. Although Science is also taught in school, it seems like for many, Religion takes precedence over Science.