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Come 2012, the first ever atheist convention in Southeast Asia will be held in Manila on April 21 at Bayview Parks Hotel. The convention is organized by the newborn organization Philippine Atheist and Agnostics Society, “PATAS” for short, founded just February this year. The organization aims to bring together the atheist minority in the Philippines with the help of speakers both local and international: Red Tani, president of the Filipino Freethinkers (FF); Dan Barker, founder of Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF); Jeremiah Camara, author of “Slave Sermons” and “Doubting Thomas”, and others yet to be confirmed.
In such a religious and somewhat traditional nation as the Philippines, the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia, atheism is understandably a rare and foreign ideology. Yet PATAS, not even a year old, is diligently pushing for such an event.
“Why wait if we can do it as early as next year? Atheists and agnostics in the country may be few, quite rare actually, but we believe we have a reasonable and sensible voice, and the convention is one way of solidifying our identity as Filipino atheists and agnostics,” a PATAS spokesperson shared. “With that identity, we believe we have the right to freedom from religion but our beloved country doesn’t fully understand what separation of church and state really is. Even if the convention may not enlighten our entire country, it is at least a first step for us atheists and agnostics.”
The Philippines is not truly secular, at least not in practice. The country has no divorce laws and the Reproductive Health Bill is still under heavy debate, with the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines (CBCP) being very vocal about their opposition to the said bill. Though the CBCP is not a government body, its influence on the lawmakers seems apparent.
Aside from political issues, the common Catholic practices and beliefs of the Filipinos are generally frowned upon by the members of the PATAS organization, who are mostly atheists, and are being criticized heavily in their discussions in the PATAS Facebook group. PATAS aims to promote secularism, reason, and critical thinking, concepts that are lacking or not so much encouraged in religious teachings. They hope to educate their fellow countrymen with a mature approach and to eliminate the common misconceptions of atheism, which many seem to think is synonymous with the terms “immoral” and “anti-christ”. PATAS generally believes that religious mentality discourages open-mindedness, that the concept of god is an invention of man, and that humans can be good without any reliance to a supreme being. Next year’s convention is the first of what they hope to be an annual event where atheists and agnostics can gather and gain further understanding. Believers are welcome too.
What exactly is PATAS? The organization is a group of non-believers who are atheists and agnostics, by their own admittance. These group of people mostly met through the Filipino Freethinkers (FF) organization, which has been around since February 2009, and remain to be members of FF, online at the very least. However, unlike FF, wherein non-believers and believers alike are welcome to their intellectual discussions, PATAS is exclusive only to confirmed atheists and agnostics and intends to seriously fund and pursue secular and atheistic programs.
So far, PATAS activities include meet-ups, feeding programs, “Coming Out” campaigns, a “Good Without God” jeepney campaign, and other planned activities, the greatest of which would be the upcoming convention. The group is a registered organization, with a set of officers and board of directors, headed by chairwoman Marissa Torres Langseth. The group is also affiliated with various international groups: Atheist Alliance International (AAI), Institute for Science and Human Values (ISHV), New Atheist Movement (NAM), International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and more. The group also has branches in Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao.
For more information on PATAS, go to http://patas.co.
The Facebook event page for the convention can be found here.