Meditations of an Atheist

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.

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23 Comments Add yours

  1. Yo, Eric, I hate to break it to you but you don’t sound like an atheist. You sound like an intelligent person who has recognized that what Christianity says Jesus was all about and what he was actually all about are two different things. I just draw your attention to John 8:24: “for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” The “he” is not in any original Greek text. In fact in early versions of the King James Bible there was a footnote indicating that the “he” was added by the translator. Some balls that guy had. What Jesus actually said then was: “for if you believe not I AM, you will die in your sins.” Jesus was a Jew he knew the name of God, given to Moses a century earlier. See Exodus 3:14 “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” So what Jesus was saying was unless you believe in the God of Moses you will perish in you sins. (By the way, “sin” used here is translated from the Greek word meaning to “miss the mark”, not to do something evil or bad. Jesus was a really smart guy, but just that, a guy. He never claimed to be anything else. He had a great philosophy of life. He also believed in the God of Moses. Moses concept of God was simply the all that was is and shall be (thus the Islamic name of God, “Allah” meaning ALL. If you want to discuss this further just make another posting on your blog, I’ll follow it. Or post on mine http://confusedchristian.blogspot.com/

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  2. Hello Wilderness Voice. Very interesting reply you have there. I agree with you when you said about Jesus being a smart guy. He is a smart guy indeed. I will be checking your blogsite one of these days. 🙂

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Yo, Rico. I do agree with Mr. Wilderness voice that you dont sound like an atheist. You appear to me as an anti-pope, anti-priest, anti-nun, anti-bible, anti-Christian (?). Although I admire your inquisitive approach to life, but there are lots of things that cannot be understood with the mind but only by faith, action, heart, and soul. Mystiques and saints of all ages and religion/ spiritual disciplines have approached the divine aspect of life in different ways– only to meet joyfully at the end point that there is God, and each soul is a spark of the Divine. Now, who are we to question the veracity of what they have found? So long as we don’t exert efforts to discover God as much as these holy people did, then we don’t have the right to invalidate their claim that there is God, much less to brush aside Jesus’ pronouncement of a Father God..The best we can do is just take their statements at face value but never to dismiss nor invalidate their claim.. However, being ordinary mortals not gifted with the stamina to live a life like the holy people did, we don’t need to go far and go on a pilgrimage or monastic isolation to find God. We only need to look at our lives. The laws of ecology say that there is no such thing as free lunch. For everything you give out, you receive..But if we look at our lives, it is not only a few times but many times that we received a windfall of blessings for little or no effort at all. Who could have caused that to happen? The society? The economy? I don’t think so..Remember that the world is governed by the laws of scarcity…Nobody would give more than he received. That would be flirting with bankruptcy..Instead of entertaining the thought that there is no God, why don’t you give God a try?..Believing a cane can support you is different from experiencing that it can actually support you. But you will not ever realize it until you give yourself a try at the cane.

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  4. It’s funny two people have already claimed that I don’t sound like an atheist. What is an atheist supposed to sound like then? :-)Mr. Anonymous, my intention was not to invalidate God. I also did clarify in the article that my purpose was not to convince others not to believe in God. If they can find enlightenment and strength in their God, I’m all for that. It just so happens that my source of enlightenment and strength is not God. To each his own.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    To be an atheist is to have a strong conviction that God does not exist. By saying “my source of enlightenment and strength is not God” does not make one an atheist neither does it make God disappear (or nullified) but only emphasizes that He is at the background–unacknowledged and ingratified. Personally, yours is more of a lifestyle than a conviction. Perhaps, you have everything within your reach such that you see no use of God. Presumably you are a young person. For, as far as I know, the older one gets and the nearer he comes to meeting the Creator, the more he sees the hands of God in every stage of his life–good or bad– and the more he relishes the fact beyond words that God exists. Certainly, you have not been in a life situation where your only means of support is the Invisible One..Let me say this again, your belief system maybe valid (within the limits of your inner experience) but you are not an atheist…Uhm, let me just say you are still searching..

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Relating to my previous comment, you are not much of a searchee but more of a young person whose sphere of experience precludes God.

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  7. Thank you Mr. Anonymous for your analysis. I’ll think about what you said although I’m not really what you might call young (I’m 28) and I believe I do have a pretty strong conviction that God does not exist.I just gave up on forcing my belief on everybody. Instead, I just tell people my belief and listen to what they have to say. Life is more fun and enlightening that way.Not all atheists are aggressive and combative. I used to be but not anymore. Maybe, I’m what you can call a peaceful atheist. 🙂

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  8. RT says:

    I was gonna try to write something deep, philosophical, and disputing, but democracy has triumphed over your belief system.Get in the box man! Just get–in–the box!

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  9. Hahaha, RT. I think I know who you are. My reply to your suggestion: I am in the box! It just so happens that the box is like Forrest Gump’s box… you’ll never know what you’re gonna get. 😉

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  10. former atheist in tochigi says:

    Hi, I happened to come across your blog. I’d say that you have a well written article about your belief. I’m not really good at debating so I won’t try.However, I would suggest that in the same way that you gave consideration in learning atheism, I hope you will consider giving God a chance to prove Himself to you, too (by learning about Him).http://www.rbc.org/ds/god.html

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  11. Thank you FormerAtheist. Let’s see, I went to Catholic school from Nursery to Highschool so I think I already learned enough from the Catholic’s point of view. Maybe I’ll try learning more about this God from other perspectives. Hmmmm, the Buddhists seem to be a nice bunch of peace-loving people. Maybe I’ll start with them. Next, the Muslims maybe? 🙂

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  12. former atheist in tochigi says:

    hi, i don’t think that’s a bad idea. a lot of people have done it including myself.if you ever decide to pursue that plan, please start with this website: http://www.rbc.org/ds/god.html

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  13. Anonymous says:

    My child, humble your heart. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

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  14. Hi Anonymous. Thanks for the inspirational words. It really changed my life and because of you, I’m now a believer.Not!

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Hi rico i came across ur blog, searching about Japan. But instead of reading about Japan…the word Atheist caught my attention. I really just had to read it and know why. With what you’ve written in your article i do believe that you are actually looking for some security in life, u want questions answered,to the point that you tend to you the doubted you own faith..no offense meant. Its just that when you search, i just suggest you juz simply say,Lord Jesus Christ, God,if you really exist please let me feel your presence,or reveal yourself to me in any way, for me to understand and know that you really are there and that you are REAL! Im not goin to force on you my belief that God really exists, but it’s better if you experience His presence on your own. Considering my life, i could never imagine how can i live without God…life would be worthless, no meaning and purpose. Believing in God is that you have everything to gain but nothing to lose. “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” by: Bertrand Russell, atheist. See even this famous atheist, eventually believed that there is a God.It is also written in James 1:5-8. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.I pray that you will consider God. God Bless you and remember He loves you and is just there waiting for you to call on Him.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    sorry, error, i tried to edit it and forgot to erase..anyway what i meant was that …to the point that u doubted your own faith or the faith u grow up with. I have a saying to myself..Believe there is a reason for everything,we’ll never know why or what,until it will come to pass… But if we consider God, to have faith, trust and obey, then we will know why things in our lives had to happen…we may not like it, or have chosen it, but it’s what will make us a stronger person..and also what tests our faith in God…ok goodnight..i pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten ur mind. Godspeed…

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  17. Thanks Anonymous for your insight. One thing though… maybe you’re not praying hard enough because no Holy Spirit whatsoever has come to enlighten my mind yet. Peace! 😉

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  18. tony.basa says:

    Hi Rico, I know this article of yours is a bit dated. I found it by following links. I can actually relate to it having gone through very similar circumstances on my path to atheism. Blog on! cheers! Tony

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  19. Thanks Toni. Yeah, this may be a little dated but I still believe in everything I wrote here. Cheers! 🙂

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  20. tony.basa says:

    I enjoyed reading your posts. BTW, I belong to this small community of Filipino atheists. You may be interested in dropping by:http://www.philippineatheists.org/

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