I received an email in response to my article last week and since the sender seems to have used a temporary, disposable email address, I would like to respond to it here. Here is the full text of the email, unedited except for one obvious spelling error:
Please respect the way other religion way of thinking. Most free thinker I know were atheist who do not believe in god. We don’t criticized your way of thinking so you have no business with us believers with God existent ok?
Thank you for your email, Mr. Viray. While it is clear that both of us hold contrary opinions, I appreciate that you took the time to air your concerns, which I shall attempt to address now. While I do not expect you to agree, I hope you think about what I say as well as I’m taking time to think about what you say.
You claim I am attacking your religion, or your religious way of thinking. You also claim that religious people do not attack those who think differently (freethinkers or atheists), so I ought to “respect” your way of thinking and just keep quiet and probably stop writing my column.
On the first claim, yes I admit that I openly question the religious way of thinking. Specifically, I question any sort of thinking that is dogmatic, authoritarian and traditional. The church has a proven history of being wrong on many counts (The Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, the Salem Witch Trials, numerous failed predictions of the second coming, failed faith healings resulting in death, etc.) so can you blame me for being critical of whatever claims it makes? Aside from historical events, I have personal experiences and insights which cause me to question what you call “God’s Word.”
Surely, there is nothing wrong with asking questions. I do not ask you share my doubts nor to agree with everything I say. I simply share ideas. I do not threaten you with hell. Take it or leave it.
On the second claim, I beg to disagree. Religious people do attack those who think differently. For one, you believe that we are going to hell. I don’t see how that cannot be construed as an attack. You are playing on people’s emotions of fear and guilt. You talk about people being sinners, possessing fallen natures and not being able to save themselves that they have to call on imaginary beings for imaginary assistance. I happen to think that inflicting those ideas on other people is a huge disservice to society.
Lastly, you want me to respect your way of thinking by being silent but respect does not mean silence. Respect does not mean subservience. Just because I respect you as a human being with the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as me, does not mean that I have to agree with you all the time, and I hope you agree with me on this point.
Besides, if truth is really on your side, what are you afraid of? I am one columnist in a local paper. There are many other columnists out there both in the national and local papers, writing about God and injecting God in their pieces. Do you see me writing them and asking them to shut up and respect my unbelief? No, they have a right to say their piece, just as I have a right to say mine.
When you watch TV, listen to the radio, scan your friend’s facebook walls, or even just stand on the street, you will inevitably encounter some religious message. Even in public classrooms and public offices where secularism should be enforced, we still find tendrils of religion — a bible study here, a cell group there, opening prayers before meetings, and so on. I am not saying these are bad things. I am simply saying that religion (and specifically Christianity — in whatever form) is everywhere and it permeates our society and culture.
Look at the ratio of believers to unbelievers in our country (data from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_Philippines#Distribution):
Roman Catholic (80.9%)
other Christian (4.5%)
Iglesia ni Cristo (2.3%)
Believers (of any religion) comprise more than 99% of our population. People like me make up less than 1%. I am only a small voice going against the gigantic chorus of priests, pastors, missionaries, lay ministers, elders, bible study leaders, theologians and Sunday school teachers.
You have overwhelming numbers in your favor. You believe you have the truth and God on your side. So let me ask you again. Why do you want me to keep quiet? What are you so afraid of?
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.