I Got Mail: Feeling Guilty

Photo by slgckgc
Photo by slgckgc

I’d like to share an email I got recently and my response to it. I have made some edits indicated by bracketed [ ] words to correct grammar or to protect the writer’s identity:

Hi,

I have just read an article posted by Filipino Freethinkers regarding questions you have answered on belief of God as a creator and not as how it is presented in the Bible.

I want to say thank you for writing that. I have been struggling for the past months about my faith. I had a conversation with a Protestant friend who is a firm believer of God in the Bible. Trying to “save” myself from losing my faith, I admitted to her that I am having a love-hate relationship with Christianity, that I find myself comforted with reading different thoughts on deism. She responded to me this way: “Since you read a lot, why don’t you try reading the Bible? But then again, if you will really use logic, then, Bible will be a useless source for me.” How was that for an answer? It’s like saying, to believe, read the Bible BUT to understand or to read the Bible you have to believe first. I was not convinced.

I am still struggling now that it has become a day-to-day problem for me. It affects me a lot (that I feel like I’m becoming mad). I am torn between two belief systems…with Christianity and Deism at each end, my mind is leaning towards deism? I am currently in the situation of feeling guilty (like you, what if I’m wrong with my disbelief with Christianity?)

I want to ask you, during those tough times, how did you deal with it? I am in [another country] now and I have not found someone who can understand how I feel. I don’t have the courage to admit it. I still go to church, trying to talk to God to help me find my way to him. Or maybe this is the “way to” him. My partner is a Catholic, I have tried telling him these but (good that) he just [listens], he rarely responds (maybe he thought I just need to sleep it off).

Sorry for my tangled thoughts. I hope you got what I am asking.

I am somehow comforted to know that I am not alone. Thank you.

My response

Thanks for your email. I think I more or less understand what you’re asking. There is a part of you that seriously questions your traditional beliefs about God but there is also another part that fears that too much questioning might lead to your soul’s eternal damnation. Is that a fair assessment?

When I was at that stage, I just held on to this thought — that if God were truly just and fair, he would not blame me for asking all these questions. He knows my heart. He knows I ask these questions not as an attempt to rebel or to destroy him but to really know the truth. And so in a strange sort of way, I gathered enough faith to trust in God not to condemn me to hell even if I turn away from him after all these questions. After all, he was the one who made me this way, so he, above all, should understand.

In our tradition, God has often been compared to being a father. I happen to be a father and I can think of no circumstance where I would condemn any of my children to eternal punishment and torment simply for doubting me or for asking too many questions.

This is where I am now: I no longer believe in the God of the Bible. I do believe, however, that if a “god” does exist, then he/she/it will understand perfectly what I’m going through and not condemn me for it. If the God of the Bible does exist and if he would indeed condemn me simply for doubting or asking questions, then he never deserved my love and trust in the first place and I would not want to stay with him.

One “evil” of religion is that it has made us believe that we are not good enough, and that we are victims who cannot save ourselves but must rely on a savior in all aspects of my life. Once I removed that mindset, I learned to see that my life is my own. I am truly, totally responsible for what happens in my life and for how I live my life. I learned to love myself — to see myself as deserving love and because of this, I learned how to truly love others in return.

Your life is your own. Live it. Relish it. Enjoy it. It’s probably all you’ve got, so make it count.

Originally published in SunStar Davao.

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

Doing Science Wrong

Science Project
Photo by Robert S. Donovan

In many different places in our country today, high school students turn in their laboratory exercise sheets after having just performed an experiment to determine the acceleration due to gravity. The teacher begins checking and grading the papers and penalizes answers that deviate too much from the accepted standard of 9.8 meters per second squared.

Elementary students submit their observations when asked to list down the colors of light passing through a prism. They are penalized if they do not write the colors of the rainbow in the correct ROYGBIV order.

Children are made to taste different substances in different parts of their tongue, and to determine which part of the tongue determines a particular taste (e.g. front tip for sweetness, back and center for bitterness, and so on). Their answers are marked wrong if they do not follow the “correct” locations as diagrammed in the textbook.

Many of you have probably experienced similar situations when you were a student in a science laboratory. I’m also pretty sure your kids or nephews or nieces are going through this very same thing today. And if you are the teacher currently practicing this, please do not get mad when I respectfully opine that you are doing science wrong.

When you grade laboratory exercises based on textbook answers, what do you think the students will do? Do you expect them to write down their honest observations? Of course not. They will quickly learn to be inventors instead of scientists. They will invent data or skew the experiment in some way so that the results come close to what the book says.

This should not come as a surprise though, even for the teachers. You probably did the same thing yourselves when you were students.

What bothers me is that this practice has been so ingrained in science education that hardly anyone talks about it anymore. I am probably one of the few parents raising a fuss about this, but I am doing so because I am seriously concerned.

When teachers begin teaching our kids that science is about getting the right answer in the book, then they have failed science miserably and have done a great disservice to the scientific development and future of our children. Remember that kids carry a lot of habits developed during childhood well into adulthood.

Look at the ratio of adults today who appreciate real science and do serious inquiry and research compared to those who readily believe and share anything posted on Facebook without a second thought. The amount of people spreading rumors and hearsay on the internet should be enough to convince you that there are not that many people really interested in finding out the truth for themselves.

The question now is, how then should science teachers grade laboratory exercises?

My suggestion is for them to observe the process. How did the students perform the experiment? Did they follow the procedures as described? Did they properly set up the equipment? Did they measure accurately? The teacher should also make the students aware of the many different factors that can contribute to deviations in test results.

One possible way of concluding an activity is to collect and compare everyone’s result in a graph, then look into answers that deviate too much and see if that particular group did anything out of the ordinary that could have caused the difference. True, it is a more work than simply looking up the right answer, but it is the right way. It is, in fact, the scientific way, and it produces a more enriching experience for both teacher and student.

The science teacher’s job is not just to make students memorize and spit out facts and figures but to make them think like real scientists — and one of the most important lessons they should learn in that regard is to provide honest data — only then can there be honest analysis and evaluation. Students should not be punished for reporting “bad” results but should be taught how to analyze and interpret these results and how they can improve from that experience.

Science has improved our lives in ways we could not have imagined just a mere one hundred years before and it will continue to do so for the next hundreds or thousands of years.

Let’s do science right. The future, our future, depends on it.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your email at andy@freethinking.me. Visit Freethinking Me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/freethinkingme)

Q & A

Photo by Marco Belluci
Photo by Marco Belluci

Last week, I got a note from someone who knows me but wishes to remain anonymous. I haven’t talked to this person in a very long time and he says he stumbled onto my blog and so decided to ask a few questions. I thought it would be interesting to share this conversation here.

1. In your “deconversion” (if you would even use that term), what was your greatest obstacle to walking away from your faith?

Cognitive dissonance. I saw inconsistencies with the doctrines — inconsistencies that I glossed over when I was a believer, or accepted the explanations for. But when I really thought about the answers I was given, it just didn’t make sense to me.

Let’s take the main doctrine of salvation, for example — Jesus came to die for my sins so I wouldn’t have to go to hell. I cannot reconcile the idea of hell with a loving God. I cannot even reconcile it with a just God. The punishment far outweighs the crime. Why the need to make one suffer for all eternity when you had the power to just snuff the life out? And for what crime — simply not believing, or believing the wrong god/gods?

Anyway, that was one of things bouncing around my head at that point in time when I was seriously seeking answers to these hard questions, and I couldn’t find a Christian answer that sounded right. For some reason, the answers and explanations I got sounded like excuses or just bending over backwards to accommodate the idea.

2. Did you ever consider yourself to be a Christian?

Yes, of course. At one point, I was even committed to be a full-time worker/pastor in the ministry. I was very active in the choir, was an officer/leader in fellowships, etc.

3. How would you compare the joy you experience now with the joy you experienced before committing to atheism?

I don’t know that I’ve “committed” to atheism, I’ve just abandoned my former belief. What I’m committed to is finding the truth via reason. Why reason? Well, faith is too fickle for me — how do I decide where to put my faith? Every other religion is also asking for the same type of faith (in their version of god or in their holy book).

I have also tried “just believing” in many instances and more often than not, I was just disappointed in the end, or would end up rationalizing my experience such that no blame whatsoever was placed on God. It was always my fault, my lack of conviction, my lack of prayer, and so on.

When I became honest with myself and started to really examine those experiences, I came to the conclusion that faith doesn’t work for me, and in the instances that it does, it is coupled with reason. And so I decided to put my reason to good use because apparently God gave me a lot of that (I was still a believer at this point) and I treated that as my gift, and this is where it has led me so far.

I am open to there being some sort of “god” or “higher power” or “creator” (a deist position) if there is evidence later on to convince me of it. I just cannot make sense of God as presented in the Bible.

So, back to your question of joy — there was a time when I was a Christian that I also experienced euphoric joy, especially when I was engaged in praise and worship, I look at it now as more of an induced kind of joy — like I hyped myself into it.

Now that I am truer to myself and don’t make contorted excuses for my belief, I do have a deeper joy and peace than when I was a Christian.

4. Have you ever doubted your decision?

Mildly perhaps. I just found myself thinking — what if I’m wrong about all this? Then I actually prayed and said, “Lord, I just need you to make yourself real to me. If you’re real and all-knowing then surely you know how to convince me that I’m going on the wrong path. Please, if you’re real, then let me know you’re real in a way that will silence my doubts.”

That was about a year or more ago. I’m still waiting for the reply.

5. Do you get annoyed with Christians like myself asking questions like this?

No, I don’t. I actually appreciate it a lot. What gets me really pissed is when people I know (friends and relatives) listen to rumors about me and they go on and spread more rumors or ask questions from other people who are equally clueless, until everything is twisted in the end. They could have just dropped me a note (as you have done) or email me (my email address appears in my column every week so it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out) or just set a time to talk to me and ask me their questions directly. I’d be more than happy to answer those.

6. Do you have any regrets about the path that you took to reach this point in your life?

Not really, except perhaps that it took me too long to really embark on it. It would probably have saved me a lot of angst and confusion earlier on.

I have some earlier writings which deal with this if you want to take a look:

http://freethinking.me/essays/the-beauty-of-doubt/

http://freethinking.me/essays/unraveling-my-faith/

http://freethinking.me/essays/belief-unbelief-and-that-little-comma-in-between/

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you have other questions you’d like to ask, send me your email at andy@freethinking.me.

The Real Miracle

Photo by Philip Pessar
Photo by Philip Pessar

Last Sunday, I witnessed a miracle.

In fact, I did not only witness it — I was a willing participant.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about miracles, and how I thought science produces more miracles than faith ever will, and I still believe that. While there are numerous testimonials of miracles due to faith, they are few and far between, and you never know when you can actually get one.

The beauty of science is that it makes its miracles available for everyone — through technology, mass production and distribution, until it becomes so common that people take it for granted and are no longer awed by it. Take for example, the miracle of me pushing the “publish” button on this article, and you being able to read it in a few seconds even if we are halfway across the earth from each other. How many people even think about that as a miracle anymore?

But that is not really what I want to talk about. Science is not the hero of this week’s article. I will concede that there is yet a greater and deeper miracle than science.

Sunday night is a time when our family usually gathers together to have dinner together. After dinner, my sister started playing the piano and my wife and cousin sang along. My 86-year old dad was there in his wheelchair, listening. They were singing Christian hymns.

I was heartened by sight of my father there so I went beside my wife and started to sing along on the bass parts. I was a choir boy for more than a decade after all, and even if I had not sung these songs for a long while, I still knew most of the parts by heart.

My family knows about my doubts and unbelief. In fact, they do not approve of a lot of things — this column I write, for example. However, we have had a decent conversation about this and have agreed to some sort of truce.

However, I still do not go to church, don’t participate in prayer, and don’t do other churchy stuff.

So I don’t really know what was going on in their minds when I began singing those hymns, and it was not just half-hearted singing, mind you. I was singing with gusto. I enjoyed what I was doing and even dancing along to the music with my wife. Pretty soon, my other sister joined in, along with my brother-in-law, my aunt, and a couple of my nieces. We were now a full-fledged choir complete with 4-parts. And we sang with wild abandon. My mom recorded us with her iPad until she ran out of memory.

For a few moments, we put doctrine and dogma aside and we simply connected as a family and as human beings.

I posted this little story in my freethinkers facebook group, as well another atheists/agnostics group and got several likes from both, and no condemnation whatsoever for “succumbing” to religion — which only goes to show that beneath all the superficial belief systems we have built, we still understand what it is to connect and be human.

And this is miracle more marvelous than either faith or science. It is a miracle that occurs in the heart when enlightened by a heightened consciousness of our shared humanity. It is a miracle that can be brought about, not by some supernatural force out there, but by the greatest force that resides within us — love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness.

There are many things I do not agree with in the writings of Paul the Apostle, but I believe he had it right when he said that the greatest of all, is love.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you want to show me a little love, send me your email at andy@freethinking.me.

Trivial Pursuit

182954_10151492697358655_671757118_nI enjoy discussion and debate, not really a formal debate with rules, formats and moderators, but one in which there is a healthy exchange of ideas. I engage in discussions not really to win or prove that I am right, but hopefully to learn and gain some new insight or perspective from another person. I find that nothing sharpens the mind more than an opposing idea.

My friends, regular readers and FIFOs (Friends In Facebook Only) know that I like discussing religion and spirituality. I like posting provocative articles, videos, photos or quotations to get a good discussion going, or at least makes others think.

Every so often, I encounter the occasional courageous soul who will comment and enter into a conversation. But I find that once I start answering and challenging their position, they too easily give up and go away.

One such person mentioned to me that learned scholars have been debating back and forth for many centuries about the issues I am wrestling with, that he considers theological debates a “waste of time” since these are issues that even experts can’t agree on. Besides many of these are what he considers “trivial” issues.

This is not an isolated case. I have encountered a number of such responses: “I don’t want to debate with you,” or “I don’t want this to be a long discussion. All I know is I love Jesus and he has changed my life, and that is all that matters. Let’s just focus on loving one another and helping other people.”

Now, I totally get that. The same time we spend arguing with each other could be better spent feeding some malnourished child somewhere, or counseling a suicidal teen. However, it still bothers me when people share that their motivation for doing these acts is a belief system that they are not willing to study critically.

I find it amusing that a believer would think it a “waste of time” to delve more into his own belief system and call the issues trivial, while an agnostic like me is willing to spend time to learn more about them. It is his belief, after all, not mine, and should be the center of his life and attention. What could possibly be more important in his life than knowing deeper and understanding better the path he has chosen?

I have detected perhaps the crux of the problem and it is this: Many believers would rather believe than know. They would rather be comfortable than to think the unthinkable, to take the opposite position fully and try to see from that perspective. Diving into deep theological issues is hard work. It requires a lot of time, effort and research. It is often confusing and very troubling especially if you are deeply rooted in your beliefs, and you begin to question them and not stop at the answers given by your own theologians.

So what I think happens is that many would rather not think about these issues: Never mind the contradictions in the doctrine — they are trivial and unimportant compared to the greatest commandment which is to love God and love others. Never mind that this “greatest commandment” is written on documents with anonymous authors, whose accuracy and credibility is debated upon. Never mind that the person who supposedly uttered that command is shrouded in myth and mystery. Never mind that the book you consider as holy and inspired has numerous contradictions, questionable decrees, and incredible tales.

It is so much easier to simply believe and be sure that you are going to heaven (even if no one has seen it or has proven that it exists), than to struggle with all the complexity and uncertainty. People are bothered when the discussions become long and tedious. Why? Because they want things to be resolved quickly. They want the answer immediately, so they can be certain, because certainty is so reassuring and comfortable. It is a more difficult path to suspend judgement – to not know something for days, months and even years.

Yet for me, that is the better and “truer” path to truth, because truth is not necessarily comfortable nor reassuring. Truth is truth and does not bend to our whims or desires, and my pursuit of it is anything but trivial.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you enjoy discussions or want to meet new friends, join us at our next Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter meetup entitled “Secularism: Beyond the Separation of Church and State,” on July 27, Saturday, 730PM at Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. Email me at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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