The Constitution ensures the legal separation of Church and State, but to announce one’s atheism in the Philippines still has its repercussions.
Residing in a predominantly Christian country, it’s understandable why people assume everyone has faith in God or some form of higher power. However, in the same way that we shouldn’t assume an individual’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other personal detail, it is impolite to presume a person’s spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof). In our society today, atheists—like plenty of other minority groups—have been unfairly cast in a negative light due to a plethora of myths and false rumors stemming from a lack of proper awareness in numerous communities.
In a report released by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2014, around 166 million Filipinos subscribed to a Christian denomination (Roman Catholicism, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Iglesia ni Cristo, etc.). The second most popular belief among Filipino citizens is Islam, with more than five million people. But, both in terms of belief and numeric value, less than 0.1% of Filipinos (around 73,000 people) lack a religious affiliation altogether.
While the law protects atheists from most radical actions people may plan to take, there are social and cultural obstacles that can make particular situations rather unpleasant.
Ever since I publicized my decision to be atheist, I’ve had family members slowly distance themselves from me, friends cut me off entirely, and anonymous internet users spam my social media with hate comments. This is a subject that should be open for discussion because I feel the stigma revolving irreligion comes from a chain from misunderstandings; and it all begins with the idea of what atheism is in the first place.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are but a few examples of theism—the belief in the existence of one or several deities. Atheism is simply the lack of precisely that. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessarily the disbelief in or hatred towards any gods. By definition, if you are asked if you believe in any deities, and your answer is anything but “yes,” then you are an atheist.
One of the most common terminological misconceptions regarding spiritual belief is that the word “agnostic” is the middle ground between theism and atheism, when semantically, that isn’t the case. The terms “gnostic” and “agnostic” refer to knowledge (whether or not someone claims to know for certain), while the “theist” and “atheist” tags concern a person’s belief. Hence, the terms deal with different subjects altogether and are not mutually exclusive.
Basis for morality
When people find out I don’t believe in a god, the first question I’m usually asked is “Where do you get your morals, if not from God or the Bible?” I answer the same thing every time: my moral compass based on my own rational consideration of the consequences of my actions— arguably, just like everyone else. This is why a number of Christians recognize that many things taught in the Old Testament are outdated and morally incorrect, and while not everyone can come to a consensus as to what is “right” and “wrong,” it can be agreed that we all come to our decisions the same way.
I would like to pose the dichotomy of Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma: Is something moral because it is commanded by God, or does God command it because it is moral? If the former is true, then morality is arbitrary (i.e. God could do absolutely anything and it would still be moral). If the latter is true, then God is appealing to a moral standard that he himself did not create. This forces me to come to the conclusion that we, human beings, have the capacity for empathy, and it is that empathy that allows us to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and not anything else.
In other words, murder, rape, adultery, theft, perjury, and everything else society has deemed unethical aren’t suddenly made permissible without an overseeing deity.
It bothers me, infinitely so, how I’m sometimes viewed as dishonorable simply because I don’t think there’s a higher being who created the universe and continues to keep an eye on us everyday. I don’t view religious people any lower than us and I safely assume for other atheists that all we want is for theists to do the same for us.
I’m often told that my life has no purpose without belief in any deities. The way I see it, since my unbelief extends to the concept of the afterlife, it’s up to me to make the most of the life I’m living now. Each and every moment is more special to me knowing that I have limited time, regardless of my religious beliefs or otherwise.
This article was originally published in The Benildean Vol. 4 No. 1: Exploitation.