Godless Heathen

Around 2 or 3 years ago, I asked an atheist friend of mine, “If you don’t believe in God, what’s stopping you from going out, killing people, raping, stealing and doing all sorts of nasty things?”

He countered by saying, “Are you telling me that the only thing stopping you from doing those things is your belief in God? If you suddenly found out tomorrow that God didn’t exist, are you suddenly going to change into a different person and suddenly go on a crime spree? There are good or bad people whether they believe in whatever God or not.”

Image from atheistcartoons.com
Image from atheistcartoons.com

I then said, “But some say that belief in God provides some sort of moral compass. There is the fear of hell or the promise of reward in an afterlife that guides you to do good here on earth.”

He replied, “Actually, the promise of an afterlife may also be a reason for people not to take this life too seriously, because they’ll think they can always ask for forgiveness later and still enjoy eternal happiness. For me, however, I believe that this is the only life I have. I have one life and I want to make sure that I don’t waste it and I live it fully. Now, I will surely think twice before committing a crime because if I get caught, I might spend the next 10 or 20 years of life in prison. And that would be a huge waste of the only life I have. Not believing in an afterlife actually gives me more incentive to be the best person I can be because it’s the only shot I have.”

Growing up a Christian had made me see reality in black and white terms. There was either good or evil. You either went to heaven or hell. You were either the child of God or the child of Satan.

So words like “atheist,” “godless,” “heathen” and so on were words that had very negative connotations. I had a very hard time thinking of an atheist as someone being good. To call someone “godless” usually meant that person was unspeakably evil. In fact, the Random House Dictionary lists “wicked, evil, sinful” as secondary meanings of the word. It just goes to show how our language is still loaded with thousands of years of theistic prejudice.

However, that short conversation gave me a lot to reflect on and I have slowly unlearned my aversion to those terms. Just recently, someone asked me, “So when did you become an atheist?”

Before, I would have defended myself and said that I wasn’t an atheist. That I was more of an agnostic. But I realized that time that I didn’t really care any more if he thought I was an atheist or not. I guess in his book, if I didn’t believe in his version of God, then I’m an atheist. So be it. I’m a godless heathen, and that’s really not such a bad thing when you look at all the “godly” politicians invoking his name while stealing the country blind. There are much worse things to be.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Tuburan: Transforming the Educational Landscape (Part 2 of 2)

(Click here for Part 1)

The kids rush outside for their daily dose of outdoor play. Some climb on the wooden slides, others play in the sand, and still others grab their toy water cans and start watering the plants.


Outdoor activities form a large part of Steiner education. “Sometimes, we start the morning by letting the children hike through the fields and climb trees,” explains Kate. Steiner believed, as Piaget did, that the early stages of a child’s development (before age 7) depended largely on how he or she experiences the world. The educational approach then, needs to be sensory and experiential. Thus, they don’t only talk about trees, but they actually have to see them, touch them, feel them, and yes, climb them.

I snap a few more pictures, then it’s off to lunch with Maya, and we have a long conversation about what the school was all about and their teaching methodologies. Three things impressed me the most:

  1. No grades – People who really know me know that I have no love for grades. They may have served a certain need in times past but it is high time the educational system moved past this pass/fail mentality. The freedom from grading students removes the atmosphere of competition among students (and even parents), allows the teacher to connect with the student on a deeper level, and frees the teacher to conduct activities that facilitate learning but are difficult to grade — e.g. observing insects, digging for worms, etc.

    Teachers give a detailed evaluation of each student at the end of the year instead of just giving a card filled with numbers or letters.

  2. DSC_5884

    Holistic/Thematic learning – Traditional schools teach several (usually unrelated) subjects in a day. There is little reinforcement that happens from one topic to the next. The Waldorf system revolves around what they call a “block method” with a main topic that spans several days or weeks. For example, the teacher may allocate a block of two weeks to study Medieval History. During those two weeks, all activities will be focused on Medieval History. They will decorate the room accordingly. They will play relevant music. They will discuss the language, poetry and other literature of that time. They may do drama, crafts, sports or anything related to the theme. One can easily see how this approach can better engage students than to have them sit still listening to 8 different, unrelated lectures every day.

  1. Celebrations and Festivals – In line with the desire for holistic learning or educating the “head, heart and hands,” there is a special emphasis placed on celebrations and festivals — as these are believed to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and the universe. Birthdays are meaningful celebrations. The teacher decorates the room in a special way and the moment the students step in, they know someone has a birthday and they become excited. The teacher then tells a story about the child, about how special he or she is. The story is customized to the child’s personality as the teachers weaves in details about his strengths, talents and gifts. The parents are also invited into the class to share stories and photos about their child.

    Now, isn’t that more meaningful than simply singing “Happy Birthday” and having spaghetti, fries and softdrinks from the nearby fastfood chain?

Tuburan is a Visayan word meaning “wellspring,” reflecting the school’s desire “to pave the way for a wellspring of independent, community-based schools in Mindanao offering a culturally transformative curriculum and pedagogy.” But I see it as more than that. I see it as a dream of two courageous souls who truly want to make an impact in the community.

Tuburan is not just a school, it is a wellspring of love, joy and hope for our children, and their children as well.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Learn more about Tuburan Institute by visiting school.tuburaninstituteinc.com. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Tuburan: Transforming the Educational Landscape (Part 1 of 2)

Teacher Kate greets each and applies citronella on their arms and legs each morning
Teacher Kate smiles and greets each child in the morning. She rubs citronella on their arms and legs to keep those pesky mosquitoes away.

I began the day with an air of anticipation last Tuesday. I was going to visit and observe a Waldorf school called Tuburan Institute in Indangan, Davao City. I have heard about Waldorf schools when I was still based in Manila and I knew that tuition there costs a small fortune. So when I heard about Tuburan and its mission of making this kind of education accessible to the community level, I was naturally intrigued.

The Waldorf system was developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and educator who started his first school in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. It is called “Waldorf” since the first school was set up to educate the children of the employees of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company. One can refer to the schools interchangeably as either a Waldorf school or a Steiner school, or even a Waldorf/Steiner school. At present there are over a thousand Steiner schools spread out in around 60 different countries.

I learned about Tuburan when I got an email from one of the co-founders of the school, Maya Vandenbroeck, who had read a previous article I wrote about education and she invited me to visit this very young school so I could see what it was all about.

I arrived a few minutes before class started, and chatted with a couple of teachers, co-founder Kate Estember and Nalini Libera. Kate told me that the Steiner approach was all about rhythm and balance. Education was not just about head knowledge, as is the case in most traditional schools, but also about the heart and the hands. A lot of emphasis goes to feeling and sensing. While we were talking, Nalini was quietly slicing and arranging slices of guava and rambutan in small bowls.

“We start the day by eating together,” said Kate. “This is part of the educational process. Kids eat a lot of artificial ingredients nowadays. We teach them to appreciate the natural taste of fruits. The different colors also stimulate them.”

The kids arrive and Kate sits just outside the door as they form in line in front of her. She gives a warm smile to the first child in line and says “Maayong buntag.” Then she takes out a bottle of Citronella (a natural mosquito repellant) and starts applying them on the arms, legs and neck of each pupil. I observe that she does this task with much affection. It was not just a matter of applying the repellant, but also a way to connect with the pupils through her loving touch.

Once everyone had gone inside, they sat around the tables prepared with fruit. Kate holds the children’s hands and they sing a short song of thanks for the food. Then they begin eating and talking.

The kids begin the day by eating freshly-picked fruits prepared with love

“This rambutan is sweet,” says one.

“This guava tastes good. But my favorite fruit is durian,” says another.

After the meal, the kids put their plates in the wash area and go to the play area where there is a shelf of mostly wooden toys. A third teacher, Vivi San Pascual, has arrived and assists some of the kids in laying the mats and giving them toys from the higher shelves. Some kids stay at the tables which have now been transformed into drawing tables, with large sheets of paper and crayons.

The teachers assist the kids when needed but they are mainly left to their devices. They play with whomever they want with whatever toys they want. They draw whatever they want. If there are conflicts between the kids, the teachers are content to let them resolve it by themselves and only intervene when there is a threat to safety. This is part of the educational process, letting children learn to express themselves, build communication and negotiation skills, be comfortable in their own skin and have a better sense of who they are.

“In Tuburan,” explains Kate, “We learn to take time. We don’t pressure the kids. We let them experience and learn things on their own.” I observed the teachers resolving conflicts not by raising their voices or using harsh words, but always with a soothing voice — so gentle it could almost be a love song.

(continue to part 2)

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Learn more about Tuburan Institute by visiting school.tuburaninstituteinc.com. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Who Do You Trust?

Image from the Evangelical Pastafarian Party of Canada
Image from the Evangelical Pastafarian Party of Canada

Someone once pointed out to me that he would rather trust God than science because science keeps changing while the Bible has remained the same for thousands of years.

Some people think that constancy is a good thing. In some cases, it is, but in many others, it’s not. The Biblical text may have remained the same but our understanding and interpretation of it certainly has not. I, for one, am certainly glad that we no longer execute homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), nor stone to death non-believing relatives — with your own hands no less (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), nor decimate entire towns that entice you to believe in other gods (Deuteronomy 13:12-16). Imagine the killing spree that would happen should you open your doors to a couple of Mormon missionaries. Imagine the bloodbath that would happen.

But wait, one need not imagine for it has already happened in the Crusades of the middle-ages, the Salem witch trials, and other such events in the annals of history.

Now tell me again why being unchanging is actually a good thing.

Many people find comfort in constancy. They want a stable job, a steady income, a close set of friends and so on. That is but natural and I’m not making a judgement call on whether that’s good or bad. It is what it is. Now, it is good in a sense that your life becomes quite predictable and free from nasty surprises. However, constancy can also prevent you from moving forward and radically improving your life.

In fact, the reason I trust science more than the Bible is because science is honest enough to discard or modify its own principles when sufficient evidence arises to warrant a change. Granted, there are unscrupulous scientists who falsify evidence in their favor, but then again, there are unscrupulous people anywhere, be it in business, politics or religion. In no way does the presence of such individuals invalidate the scientific method. If anything, it serves to show that no matter how plausible or philosophically elegant a claim is, it can be discarded based on the evidence or counter-evidence.

Science can show that whether your skin color is black, white, yellow or brown, you are not inferior or superior to another and this cannot be used as a justification for slavery. Science can show that man and woman are essentially the same, yet it took thousands of years for people steeped in superstition to accept that and give the same rights to both. Even today, with all the evidence available, that same right is not yet a given in all countries or cultures. Science can show that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon occurring in various animal species and although much research and debate is still ongoing, it certainly is no cause to pour hatred or condemnation on the LGBT community, nor lump them together with murderers and thieves as in 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

The great comfort I derive from uncertainty is that there is always the possibility of changing for the better. Of course, one can always take a turn for the worse but that is a necessary risk, or one will forever be stuck in a meaningless cycle of existence — a point excellently made in the 1998 film, Pleasantville, starring Tobey Maguire (before his Spiderman days) and Reese Witherspoon.

This is not to say that science is always uncertain. We can be certain of things to a reasonable degree. I trust in science and the scientific method because it works. When you drop a ball, you can reasonably expect it to fall downwards instead of falling upwards. When you build a rocket based on sound science, it flies into space. When you create medicine based on science, it alleviates pain and suffering.

And yet, the beauty of it is that science is always open to new discoveries and new principles that can supersede the old. It does not brand as heretics those who want to disprove Einstein or Hawking as long as they can back it up with sound data or mathematics. Now, try raising your hand at the next church service and seriously question the virgin birth of Jesus, or his resurrection.

Let me know how that goes.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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