Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Unconventional Atheists Convention

According to a poll, the Philippines leads the world in the number of God-believers. So it's ironic that as an American atheist, I would wind up residing here. Yet,  I've never felt uncomfortable as a freethinker in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.  (In fact, I had more problems as a non-believer while living in the U.S.)  At any rate, I am fortunate that I managed to find and get involved with a local organization of non-believers called PATAS (Philippine Atheist and Agnostics Society).

On Apr. 21, PATAS held a convention for atheists and agnostics at the Bayview Park Hotel in Manila.  The event was billed as the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. I'm happy to say that seating was totally sold out and the affair itself was a great success.

I attended, and at first I felt a little out of place as a senior among mostly young people, a majority of whom appeared to be in their twenties. But then I realized what an asset their youth is to the future of the movement. These people have many productive years ahead as non-believers. And  those who have children will hopefully teach their kids to think independently, or at least that they don't need a god to be good.

Another thing that I noticed is that based on the percentage of women at the convention, there may be a greater proportion of Filipinas who actively support atheism and who hold positions of leadership in the movement than their gender counterparts in the U.S.  One such example is the Chairperson of PATAS, Marissa Torres Langseth.  BTW she and the other planners deserve a shout-out for the time and effort that they contributed in order to bring the convention to fruition.

There was an impressive array of renown speakers both local and from abroad who approached atheism from various perspectives. The latter group included Americans Dan Barker, Norm Allen, David Orenstein,and Jeremiah Camara.  Their presentations were lively and were followed by a discussion session with the audience after each speech. I chatted briefly with the speakers during lunch and found them all to be personable and dedicated to the cause of non-belief.

There seemed to be a consensus among the speakers and attendees, which numbered approximately 200, that there are many more atheists in this country than might be imagined. However, the majority of them are afraid to openly identify themselves as such for fear of negative reactions from their religionist families, friends, and employers. Filipinos tend to be very sensitive to the opinion of those in their circle of interest. And for most of them just the thought of rejection, especially by one's family (to which most people here are inordinately tied) is unbearable. Yet, if PATAS and other like-minded groups make their presence more widely known, closet atheists and agnostics might feel encouraged to take the giant step of outing themselves. The consequences may not be as dire as they fear. After all, many PATAS members themselves overcame the same hurdles and lived to tell the tale.

And who knows, maybe the hotel management who accepted the convention booking and the waitstaff saw for themselves that atheists are not the baby-eaters that they might have imagined us to be.

The theme of the conventions was "Godless Philippines. Are you ready for this?" For one day, a tiny number of the Philippine population  joined together in a public venue and celebrated their godlessness. They were not only ready but willing and able. 


ReasonBeing said...

Very Cool. Glad the conference was a success. I think the Philippines probably is exactly as you describe--more atheists than people realize, but who are afraid to come out. After all, this is the country that actually crucified willing people on good friday--not exactly a group you want to "come out" too.

The other side is that like most places, there are probably many more moderates and atheists than is credited...simply put, they don't make as much noise!

Glad the conference was a success! Great to hear there were so many young people there.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your input and support.

I also think that moderates by their very nature are not that vocal. But maybe over time many of them will get fed up enough to say "Enough".

ReasonBeing said...

We can hope so! In the meantime, I plan on trying to prod them along!

Secular Guy said...

A worthwhile endeavor if there ever was one.