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One of the speakers at the Cebu Humanism Congress that was sponsored by PATAS was Jovelean D. Borces. She is currently the Operations Director for Visayas-Mindanao for the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society. This post is her take on the whole Humanism movement and how it is like in the Philippines.
Humanism is a philosophical approach or world view that focuses on human values and concerns. The main focus of Humanism is with the human rather than the divine or the supernatural. Hence, when I mention the word “humanism” now, I personally do not see a need to explain which specific type of humanism it is. To me, humanism will always be secular. The humanistic approach it seems is still quite alien to many Filipinos. We live in a country that focuses more on the divine and tries to give more importance to the “holy” than the often harsh reality. In a country with almost a hundred million people populating its small isles and majority of them have a religion that they follow, to say you are one of the godless few is more than enough to arouse suspicion or even anger.
When I was asked to give a speech at the first ever Cebu Humanism Congress that was held in the University of the Philippines Conference Hall in Cebu I was at first apprehensive to give a talk. I am not an expert on the Humanism movement and admittedly I have recently just embraced the world view. Before, I was what many might call an apatheist as I didn’t really concern myself with what people believed in or what they do with their lives. But my journey of atheism has led me down many roads and now I have realized that to be godless is not enough. There is more out there. Often the misconception lies in that many people believe others only embrace atheism to give them an excuse to do whatever they like and act immoral.
Atheism doesn’t offer a life after death where you can live forever, certainly not this one. But being an atheist can offer you a much colorful life concerned with the present and the freedom to make you think about different matters without it being colored with religion and all the don’ts it imposes on you.
And when I look at the other possibilities I have come to realize that I don’t entirely lack faith. I have just shifted my faith to something more real and tangible. Despite the many atrocious things we are being bombarded on, my faith still lies with people, on humanity as a whole. Hence, I am a humanist.
Many people especially in the Philippines still equate goodness with religiosity.
First we must ask ourselves these two questions, “What is Humanism?” and “What is goodness?”
According to the American Humanist Association
“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that without supernaturalism affirms our ability and therefore our responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment aspiring to the greater good of humanity.”
These are very long words but Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, in his book “Good without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe” simply stated that Humanism, it is, in short, goodness without god.
Humanism’s emphasis is on GOODNESS, not on the WITHOUT GOD PART. We need to do “good” towards our fellow man.
What motivates you and what gives you a sense of purpose in life, without the thought of rewards in heaven or damnation in hell?
What is a life of ethics, purpose, and compassion?
“Good without god” has been the motto of the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society ever since the group started more than a year ago, but a lot of people especially Filipinos still shake their heads whenever they would hear such an utterance.
I remember someone asking me this question. “Gi unsa man pagka buotan sa usa ka tawo kung walay mo sulti niya unsa ang buot pasabot sa pagkabuotan?”
(“How can someone be good if there was no one who told him how to be good in the first place?”)
This might sound like an ill-thought out question. But we must not discard the fact that a lot of people who are reared in faith really find such a position as non-belief quite mind-boggling.
We currently live in world where there are many unreligious people. The number of unbelievers around the world has reached one billion. But the sad part is legal and social discrimination against atheists in some places may lead some to deny or conceal their atheism due to fears of persecution.
According to a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota involving a poll of 2,000 households in the United States they found atheists to be the most distrusted of minorities, more so than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, and other groups. Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behavior, extreme materialism, and elitism.
To many people in this country, morality or being moral and an upstanding member of society, one must first and foremost subscribe to a belief in a deity, particularly the Judeo-Christian concept of a god. This god whom many people here in this country worship as one who supposedly died on a cross to redeem mankind’s sins.
As a person who does not believe in a god, are we really immoral?
Are we not capable of doing the right thing?
To the non-religious, if someone asks you such a question, can you really be good without god then that is something that we ought to reject on the spot because for someone to even suggest or HINT that in order for you to be good in the first place is to believe in a god is plain and simple prejudice. Why? Because it is clear that we, as logical and thinking beings, are capable of being good without believing in a deity.
For someone to say that you cannot enter a magical, happy land simply because you reject an idea of the existence of someone because there was no evidence is it not what true elitism is all about?
What is your concept of a god?
Regardless of what he looks like god is often always thought of as male. Why is that so?
And why do so many people get hooked on the idea of worshipping him.
IF we are going to look back through history, religion has always played a central role in human affairs. The most powerful form of community and connection has been religion. When you go to any church now, they do not emphasize the domineering, jealous, unmerciful god who gives mankind different promulgations that MUST BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Instead, now whenever you go to any church they would emphasize that their god is loving, kind, and merciful.
And the moment you join any religious gathering there is always merry-making, sharing of problems, song and dance numbers, and social rituals that aims to make you feel “right at home”.
The reason why this is so is because a religious community more than anything else is a social force. It is not really about beliefs, especially NOW. It’s all about having a sense of belonging.
It first makes you feel like you are part of something, that something is not given a definite face because it’s composed of so many aspects which is communal living. Then once you are in, that is when they emphasize the belief part which are; There is only one god, this god is this “x” being, and this is what he does, this is what he can do, this is what you should do, this is what you should avoid, and so on and so forth.
As a human being capable of reason, thinking and logic the ultimate question that should be asked is NOT “Can I be good without god?” because the definite answer to this is a big, loud YES!
A more interesting question is why should we be? And HOW can we be?
Is it enough to say “We are non-believers or we are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers (or whatever name you wish to attach yourself to)?”
Many non-believers share a common belief (Yes I have deliberately used the word “belief” in this sentence) and that belief is believing and trusting in Humanity. We see the ills and the hardships happening around us but instead of just telling someone to pray and make it all go away, we take it upon ourselves to find for solutions to these problems and helping out in ways we can.
We don’t have magical powers but we still can make a difference.
I know many of us here are still finding their purpose in life or perhaps some have already found their purpose and are now on a journey to explore it. May your journeys lead you to better pastures and a much happier life and may you change other people’s lives that you will encounter for the better as you go along.
I was very glad to share my views on Humanism and how it can be an alternative life stance to religion at the first Cebu Humanism Congress. I hope that the Humanist movement will flourish in our country and help empower the people and make them look at their fellow man with hope in their eyes.