The Four O’Clock Habit

Photo Credit: Jukai Fujiki Flickr via Compfight cc

Two days ago, Facebook reminded me that I had posted my first article on Sunstar on February 22, 2013 entitled Earth and Sun.

It was just over four years ago when I asked Sunstar Editor-in-Chief, Stella Estremera, how one goes about writing a column for a newspaper. We talked about several things like knowing how to connect with your audience, and how to sustain your writing. I said that I’ve long wanted to try writing a weekly column, ever since I was in my early twenties. I’ve always been afraid to apply for the job, however, as I could not imagine coming up with something to write about week after week.

She said that’s a problem a lot of writers have. They start strong, but drop out early and fail to stay in the race. I acknowledged that and expressed my admiration at professional writers like her who can churn out words day after day. There was a time I tried writing every day. It was also a time when I tried jogging every day. I was based in Manila then and I would get up early in the morning and go jogging around the pool area at the 6th floor of our condominium.

After jogging, I would go up and sit down in front of the computer to write my “jog blog” — basically a synthesis of the thoughts I had while jogging. I think I lasted about a month or two of this. I lost my blogs when decided to shut down. This was when Facebook was new and quickly gaining popularity.

Oh, and yes, I stopped jogging as well.

Anyway, I had a new blog by then called ZenBananas, but I didn’t write regularly and updated it only every now and then. Nevertheless, I gave Stella the link for her to peruse my writing. Then I didn’t hear from her for about two months so I figured she wasn’t interested.

Then out of the blue, I get a message from her asking if I was still interested in writing a column — because she suddenly had a vacancy and if I wanted the space, it was mine. I jumped at the chance, thought of a column name, then bought the domain to match it. I then renamed my old blog from ZenBananas to Freethinking Me where I decided to publish (with permission) a copy of all the articles I submit to Sunstar.

And then there it was, the weekly deadline. It was scary at first and I had to think of topics in advance. I tried to find a rhythm in writing. My articles come out every Friday so my deadline is every Thursday afternoon. I would often start writing on Wednesday night. If I couldn’t finish it, I would rush to finish it on Thursday morning.

Later on, I settled into the four o’clock habit, which has been quite successful for me. I decided not to write on Wednesday nights as my mind is usually tired by then. I sleep early (for me, anytime before 12 is early) and set the alarm for 4 am.

I wake up. My mind is fresh, and I prepare breakfast and a pot of tea. At around 4:30, I settle in and begin to write. Sometimes, if I don’t have any idea on what to write by then, I browse through Facebook while sorting through the many thoughts running in my head. By around 5 or 5:30, I usually have the germ of an idea already.

I start by writing the first sentence. If it doesn’t sound that good, I rewrite it. When I’m happy with it, I move on to the next, and the next and so on, and pretty soon I’ve written entire paragraphs. Most of the time I finish the article by 6:30 and email it to Sunstar and my wife who is always my first reader and proofreader. If she catches any typos before noon, she tells me about it and I send a corrected version to Sunstar.

So here we are, at the end of another of my four o’clock habits, just when the neighborhood is about to wake up. The birds are singing, the roosters are crowing, some dogs are barking and the sky is beginning to lighten up. A car engine starts in the distance as I finish off the last cup of tea.

Happy fourth birthday, Freethinking Me.


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Devil On My Mind (Part 2)

Cover art for The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities

The Satanic Temple (TST) is an atheistic religion, meaning it neither believes in God nor an actual, literal Satan. Instead Satan is seen as “symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions.”

Satanists, as envisioned by TST, are those who “embrace rational inquiry” and who reject superstitions and supernaturalism. They “actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things,” believing that one’s views must ultimately conform to the best scientific understanding of the world, and never the reverse. In other words, belief must follow science.

TST is not to be confused with the original Church of Satan founded by Anton Lavey in 1966, though its ideologies clearly evolved from it. Both are atheistic in nature but Laveyan Satanists still believe in magic or some sort of supernaturalism, claiming that it is still an undiscovered facet of reality.

It also rejects the authoritarianism found in other Satanist sects (yep, as with any other religion, there are several of those too) as well as the obsession they have in being the “one, true Church of Satan.” TST is quite open to working with other groups, Satanists or otherwise.

TST is quite active in the socio-political arena. In 2014, it started a fundraising campaign for a statue of Baphomet (the goat-headed demon) to be placed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. This was in response to a congressman’s donation of a sculpture of the Ten Commandments at the same place. The logic was that if the state allowed one religious monument, then it should likewise allow other religious monuments to be similarly placed. Otherwise, it would be violating the religious non-establishment clause in the US Constitution (also found in the Philippine Constitution) which prohibited favoring one religion over another.

The plan did not push through though as the Ten Commandments monument was destroyed that same year, and thus TST had no more reason to put its own monument there — and it also felt it was inappropriate to do so. They finally installed the Baphomet statue at the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple.

Another interesting campaign of theirs is called After School Satan, which blatantly proclaims to “counter evangelism in schools.”

“It’s important that children be given an opportunity to realize that the evangelical materials now creeping into their schools are representative of but one religious opinion amongst many. While the Good News Clubs focus on indoctrination, instilling them with a fear of Hell and God’s wrath, After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children anappreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”

All this comes complete with their own religious literature, “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

TST cleverly used a legal decision that was first exploited by evangelistic Christian groups to argue that the government cannot prohibit their groups from operating after school hours, nor can it discriminate against religious speech. Since TST is itself a religion, it could then also operate under the same legal framework as other religious groups.

When I introduced this topic last week, one of my readers found it interesting but objected to the group naming themselves The Satanic Temple. Doing so antagonizes majority of the world’s population and may not really be appealing to many.

Personally, I find the idea amusing and appealing to a certain demographic. It has some shock value and because of its religious classification, it can certainly penetrate in some areas that other organizations cannot. It has its own niche in the budding fields of agnostic-atheist groups.

While I don’t see myself joining them anytime soon, I wouldn’t mind having some of them over for dinner. Care to join us?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Devil On My Mind (Part 1)

Photo Credit: black.zack00 Flickr via Compfight cc

Being free from religion has enabled me to look at other religions in a new, often fascinating, way. Before, I would approach other religions with a mix of fear and trepidation, always on the lookout to point out what was wrong with them. Of course, what was “wrong” was always in relation to what my particular branch of Christianity found wrong, and I was always armed with the appropriate Bible verses to explain why such beliefs were unsound or even perverse.

This way of seeing prevented me from truly appreciating or even just understanding other religions. And I was careful never to dig too deeply because there was always that irrational fear that the devil was behind all other “false” religions and would use those to subvert and seduce me into their way of thinking.

Of course, there would be some Christians reading this who would say that the devil has in fact been successful in subverting my mind, seeing that I write and think as I do. Then again, they would have to say that for all other sorts of thinking that are not congruent with their own, and looking at the many variants, denominations, and offshoots of Christianity, I cannot help but think that even they cannot get their own house in order so until they get that sorted out, what they think of what I think is their problem, not mine.

Anyway, I have just spent the last hour or so reading about this religious organization founded in the US in 2014, and has since been quite active regarding controversial issues in secularism, child abuse, gay marriage, and so on. It is an interesting organization because its name alone will send shivers down the spine of most Christians and even the more liberal ones will feel a slight tinge of apprehension.

Before I reveal its name though, let me share its mission statement as well as its guiding principles or tenets, as published in its website (slightly reworded as not to give away the name of the religion at this point):

“[Our mission]  is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Politically aware, Civic-minded [members] and allies have publicly opposed The Westboro Baptist Church, advocated on behalf of children in public school to abolish corporal punishment, applied for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed fraudulent harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners and claims in mental health care, and applied to hold clubs alongside other religious after school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations.”

Its guiding principles or tenets are the following:


  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.


If that sounds like something you can rally behind, then you might want to consider joining this group founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry called the Satanic Temple.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Heaven and Hell (Part 4)

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers Flickr via Compfight cc

Imagine, for a moment, that you are God.

In the beginning, there was only you (although it is not even right to speak of a “beginning” since you have always been, but for the sake of easy discussion, let’s just call that certain point in time the “beginning”).

Imagine the vastness of the universe, the multitudes of stars and galaxies that we have discovered in our lifetime — all of those are but a tip of your fingernail, or a single hairstrand of your being. But at this point of our imagination, none of those exist yet. Only you exist. There is no here or there, no light nor dark, no good nor evil, nor heaven nor hell.

There is only you. You are everything and everything is you — the ultimate state of perfection.

But perfection is quite static, and boring. Think about it. What do you do when you have everything you need or want, when you are already everything you desire to be? There is nothing more to strive for, nothing new to experience, nothing exciting to look forward to.

In fact, you do not even experience yourself as God, the creator, the most powerful, intelligent, benevolent and-whatever-superlative-you-can-think-of  being in the universe, because there is no universe.

There is just you. Only you.

And so you, as God, find yourself in this state of mind. You know you are God and you can happily live out the rest of eternity as this static thing, forever existing as yourself, but you lack that experience of being God.

One cannot fully appreciate the light unless one has experienced darkness, one cannot appreciate good unless one has experienced evil. There is no experience of being “here” unless there is also a place called “not-here” or “there” or somewhere else. In the same way, you know that you are God and that you are more powerful than…well, what else is there? So in order for you to experience being God, there must be in existence things which are Not-God. But how can that be since you are everything and everything is you?

Bang! The big idea hits you and you set your grand plan into motion. You break off a tiny piece of you, that tip of your fingernail, and make it forget that it is a part of you. You make it forget that it is in fact, you. So the universe is born and there is now a “there” to your “here.”

But you do not forget. In fact, you get to experience everything that is going on in that part of you that is Not-You — and there certainly is a lot to experience — wealth, poverty, greed, love, hate, anger, happiness, hunger, compassion, avarice, kindness, cruelty, awe, wonder, and so on. Everything that Not-You experiences is your experience regardless if Not-You decides to worship you, to deny your existence or to ignore you altogether. It doesn’t matter because in the end, Not-You returns to you and remembers and you can start the cycle again.

Big Bang. Big Crunch. Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.

No heaven. No hell. There is only the eternal breath of God.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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