Culture

'I'm Not Sure If There's A God'

'But that doesn't make me a bad person.'
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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Thank you, Pope Francis, for suggesting that it was “better to be an atheist” than a hypocritical Christian. Some of my own religious family and friends shared that piece a gratifying number of times on social media afterward. If they can't take my word on the matter—that disbelief should be preferable to a damaging kind of belief—then maybe they'll take the Pope's.

I'm a skeptic, a secular humanist; call me an atheist if you like, but I personally dislike the last term because of its baggage. I've had this condition since the late '90s, and I'm afraid it's terminal.

People assume that nonbelievers lack moral guardrails: I've been asked if I'm now more open to cheating on my wife, as if fear of God were the only thing standing in the way!

You'd think that with more Filipino secular organizations getting our voices out there, taking a skeptical stance would be less fraught with controversy. After all, too much belief is why we're in such deep shit these days.

The 16 million Filipinos who believed the President's promise to end “corruption, drugs and criminality” within six months and the Cebuanos praying at a Mary-shaped wall stain are just subspecies of the same disease: the addiction to absolute certainty in a Thing regardless of evidence or results. 

But doubt remains equal in popularity to the Zika virus; I suspect it's partly because people believe the wildest things about losing one's faith. People assume that nonbelievers lack moral guardrails: I've been asked if I'm now more open to cheating on my wife, as if fear of God were the only thing standing in the way! (Fear is certainly a factor; I'm afraid of what my wife and her friends would do to me.)

Many “morally upright” believers, from my point of view, should be the last people to pontificate on morals.

The loudest voices against the execution of OFWs in Riyadh now also squeal girlishly at the return of the death penalty. The same folks crying “every sperm is sacred” have nothing to say when a government official suggests that some Filipinos don't count as part of the human race. And too many people alternate Bible quotes on their Facebook feeds with the lies du jour from social media's fake news underbelly. (Sometimes both in the same post.)

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There's too much moral relativism floating around, mostly practiced by the same folks claiming obedience to a Pope that railed against it.

Rejecting a corrosive kind of belief is a profoundly moral thing to do.

“Fancy that, an atheist harping on morals,” you say. To that I reply: rejecting a corrosive kind of belief is a profoundly moral thing to do. Probably never more so than now.

Yesterday's pontificating prelates have largely ceded the podium to oblivious officials, the latter's truisms getting far more mileage than the former's in the social media echo chamber. Listening to the same catchphrases repeated time and again, one thinks back to Hannah Arendt listening to Adolf Eichmann on the stand: “[repeating] word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés,” Arendt reflected, “the longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think.” 

To doubt the mainstream, to not fall into the easy certainty of stock phrases, to resist authority in the absence of evidence: it was necessary in Arendt's time, and in the age of fake news and social media echo chambers, it's certainly essential now.

To the question, how could you give yourself over to doubt and skepticism?, the answer is, how could I not? 

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