Dan Barker during his passionate speech
Photo credit: Dominic Velasco
April 21, 2012 will be unforgettable for the nonbelievers, not only in the Philippines, but internationally, as it was the day that the atheists and agnostics convened for the first time in religion-dominated Philippines. Philippines Atheists and Agnostics Society has hosted the first ever Atheists and Agnostics convention in the Philippines, as well in Southeast asia and the event was graced by several popular international advocates of secularism, atheisms, and agnosticism: Dan Barker of Freedom from Religion Foundation, Jeremiah Camara, author of Slavesermons and Doubting Thomas, Mark Tier, author from Australia, Red Tani of the Filipino Freethinkers, one of the most active Filipino groups pushing for secular Philippines, Tanya Smith of Atheist Alliance International, Norm Allen of Institute for Science and Human Values, and Roar Johnsen of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). To anyone who has been reading online and attending the different atheist conventions abroad, they’d know these are the big wigs. It was one whole day of discussing atheism philosophies, stories, and advocacies.
All eyes and ears
Photo credit: Dominic Velasco
For us, Filipinos, though, what is the significance of such an event?
With 200 plus attendees, many have criticized the event as lackluster and irrelevant and that the small number of attendees will not make a good impression. There are plenty of criticisms as found in the youtube channel of GMA network news where the video report of the convention is posted (I’ll be posting the video in this blog later on). The worst kind of comments, perhaps, is this:
si Bin Laden at Gadaffi ay mga atheist na inutusan ni Richard Dawkins at Christopher Hitchens na mag panggap na Muslim!! Ang? Jemmaha Islamiya at Abu Sayaff ay inutusan naman ni John Paraiso at Marrisa Langseth na mag panggap rin na Muslim para matakpan ang terrorist activity ng mga Atheist! Gusto nilang sakupin ang mundo para patayin lahat ng naniniwala sa Diyos! Ganyan ka evil ang atheism
oldinfant23 in reply to pinoyatheist
How ironic that religious people, who were taught to love and forgive their neighbors, would wish harm on another simply because they differ in beliefs. And do not be surprised that this kind of thinking is still common in the age of information and technology. There are simply people who will throw out logic and common sense for the sake of their “faith”.
And perhaps, this kind of comments answers the question whether the country is ready for a godless society. With the rampant spread of misinformation such as this, taken hook, line, and sinker by those who do not want to exert the effort to criticize but merely accept the opinions of so-called “experts” or “authority” (even in aspects of living they obviously know nothing about), I’m quite not sure if the Philippines would be ready to embrace the idea of a Filipino who does not believe in a deity. After all, Filipinos have kept on saying with pride that we’re the only “Catholic country in Asia”. Whatever that means. A country consecrated to just one religion? Wouldn’t that be terrifying? And yet, what is more fearsome? The refusal to acknowledge that there is a different truth out there? Or is it the complacence that one holds the ultimate truth?
However, for me, this is part of an exciting time in our history as nonbelievers. We must not fear that these kind of criticisms are all coming out now. Our little convention (little in numbers, but great in effort, love, and focus) has stirred the pot of controversy. It has certainly awakened and threatened some enough to move and speak with such intent and caution. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the coming days, the religious will start to speak up openly against a movement such as ours, on print and online. I wouldn’t be surprised if every priest will take it upon his shoulders to sermon against the indecencies of fellows speaking against their god. For an atheist like me, this is what I want in the first place: an acknowledgment that this belief (or lack thereof) exists. I mean, how many theists can actually say that they know an atheist or two? The first time I ever came out as an atheist to my co-residents, I remember that they gave me looks of blank stares or looks of disbelief, as if saying, “I think we discovered a new creature or species of human.” It may sound incredulous, but some believers would confess not having heard of people who do not believe in a god or any deity. They have lived their lives as if the default setting is that humans believe in god. For someone who’s been born into a religious family and brought up in the ways of the religious, I can fully understand. However, even for me, that life of religion seemed so totally alien to me now.
And thus, we must consider that, though education and movement for a more secular country is important, it is more important for nonbelievers to also push for education of the masses regarding the existence of atheism. I remember a conversation with a friend regarding why we don’t have to be so aggressive with the promotion of atheism. He claims that with teaching critical thinking to Filipinos, they would be able to find atheism themselves. I guess he also has a point there. Most stories of “deconversion” by atheists would involve a time of exploration: studying different religions and then finally arriving at that point when they could finally claim that there is no religion that should be found because there is no god. It is the reason why it is said that, in the beginning, each atheist is born alone. In my opinion, however, it would be better if we complement the education of the masses with an introduction to atheism. Not because we wanted to push a political agenda, but rather, to just help them realize that there is just no “one way”.
And this convention is one of the ways that we can make our presence felt. Planting the seeds of doubt by planting the seeds of knowledge is how we will pave the way for a godless Philippines.
And to Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society officers, core members, and volunteers, congratulations for a job well done! I am certainly proud to be part of this and hopefully, in the future, I could give so much more to propel the organization and our advocacy forward. To the speakers, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us.
Fellow atheists, brace yourselves. This is but the silence before the deep plunge.
For those who are interested in related articles regarding the convention, I’ll be posting more links in the future. Please do see the following, for now:
GMA news report regarding the convention
Dan Barker’s talk during the convention
Godless Philippines – bring it on! by Tanya Smith of Atheist Alliance International
Emancipation by Adelle Chua
Post-Convention Post by Skepticmom
Convention photos by Santi Bolanos and Dominic Velasco