I had another interesting email exchange recently, this time with a woman who claims to have been from our church community before and has known me when I was a “cute little boy.” She probably saw fat little me running around playing hide-and-seek or tigsu (I have no idea what this game is called in English or even in Tagalog) in church countless times.
Anyway, she expressed a bit of surprise when she came across my articles and found out that I had abandoned Christianity. She shared that she herself still believed in doctrines like the Trinity but has stopped going to church 23 years ago, thinking that “every organized religion is a business” and that she would much rather communicate with God on her own.
I then replied that I also went through a phase where I shunned organized religion but still believed in much of the Christian doctrine. However, when I started unraveling the doctrine of exclusivity (“you go to eternal damnation if you don’t believe”) the other pieces started falling apart as well, and you have a very liberal form of Christianity that only works if you don’t take the bible literally as the word of God but maybe as a collection of writings from people trying to reach God — and falling short in so many ways — like an outdated map or guide book where you can still see some semblance of the landscape but it doesn’t contain a lot of the new roads or landmarks and you’ll have to figure those out for yourself.
She replied “Yes, I treat the bible as a history book. A compilation of people’s thoughts, opinions and life events. It cannot even possibly be precise when it has been translated and transcribed so many times, over so many years. As Mao once said, religion is the opium of the masses. It is a do good and feel good thing for a lot of people. If they find happiness and refuge in it, why not? Whatever floats each one’s boat will do. As long as they stop questioning me why I no longer attend church.”
That last sentiment is what I would like to address right now. There is a group of unbelievers and even passive believers who do not like atheists posting about atheism, or expressing their unbelief or offending other people’s beliefs. If other people find comfort and happiness in their religion, why bother them at all? Why write against it? Why be an ass about it? This attitude is encapsulated in a meme that goes something like, “John is an atheist. John sees his friend post about religion. Instead of being a dick, John just ignores the post and continues scrolling down.” The idea is that if you make comments about religion, then you’re a dick.
I do not adhere to this kind of thinking.
While it is true that I find a number of atheist posts offensive and out of line, I also find a lot of them insightful and thought-provoking. In fact, the occasional offensive post can be very insightful. Perhaps instead of getting so riled up, one can calmly reflect and ask, “Why am I so offended by this?”
But notice the very last line of my friend’s reply, “As long as they stop questioning why I no longer attend church.” This is the crux of the issue and this is why I don’t think one should simply be silent in matters of religion in the name of not offending others — because they will never stop questioning you or judging you. They will never stop talking about how unbelievers (or those belonging to another religion) are damned to hell, or that atheists just want to be their own gods and are deliberate rebels, or that earthquakes and floods are signs of God’s wrath and judgement. Do they stop and think that this kind of talk would be offensive to non-believers? Of course not, and you continue to hear this sort of thing preached Sunday after Sunday.
I write against religion because irreligion needs a voice. I write against religion because I want religion to be irrelevant as far as public policy and political activities are concerned. Christianity has become so ingrained in the Filipino culture that one no longer thinks twice about them: saying Christian prayers in government ceremonies, for example — never mind that there are Muslims and other non-Christians in the audience; seeing Christian symbolisms and figures in government offices (crucifixes, Sto. Nino, Virgin Mary, etc.); shutting down whole streets and causing traffic jams because of religious fiestas and processions; demonizing evolution and teaching creationism in science classes; having special laws enacted in the name of religion (despite the constitutional clause on separation of church and state).
That religion has a free pass in doing these things offends me deeply, but I doubt if most of the religious would care. They would rather say that there is something wrong with me than admit that there are fundamental flaws in their doctrine. They would rather blame the heathen than question their sacrosanct beliefs.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.