Sunday, October 12, 2014

Into The Light of Day

When I became an atheist over 20 years ago while living in the U.S., I knew that there would be consequences. Nevertheless, I didn't try to pretend  to myself or to others that I was still a God-believer . This alienated some of the people in my life at the time, especially  at the workplace. And although I couldn't prove it, I may have even lost one job as a result.

As for my family, as it turned out, no one was particularly bothered by my rejection of theism, least of all my wife Lydia who had been an atheist most of her life and had been patiently waiting for me to catch up with her. Importantly, I am on good terms with her family members, who have taken my non-belief in stride, even though, most of them are devout believers.. 

Now as as a senior and a retiree living a minimalist but  independent-minded life style, at this stage of life I feel that I have little to lose in my relationship with others by  making clear when the occasion presents itself my non-belief in a supreme being, including to fellow members of the local synagogue that I occasionally attend for social purposes.  In fact, overall, here in the Philippines  where my wife Lydia and I have resided as expats for over 9 years and which is a highly religious society,  I feel more comfortable as an atheist than I did in the States . Again, this is likely because I am more in control of my life than in my earlier years.

It might seem strange, even paradoxical, that I would have this sense of freedom while living in a country which is predominantly and observantly Roman Catholic and which has the world's highest rate of God-believers. Yet there are nascent atheist and humanist organizations that have taken root here.  Among them are PATASFilipino Free Thinkers, and HAPI.  It's no surprise that their membership constitutes a minute fraction of the country's population. But the truth is that no one really knows how many atheists there are in the Philippines.  This is because many non-believers in this culture of dependency are stuck in the closet for fear of jeopardizing their ties with the members of their circles of interest, which usually include nuclear and extended families and close friends.

 It cannot be overemphasized that  these relationships are taken very seriously here. Hence, many secret atheists here do not want to risk being forsaken or shunned by coming out. I recall a social media entry by  a Filipino who stated that he's a 22 year old closet atheist and wanted to disclose his non-belief to his parents. However, he was afraid that if he do so, they would disown him , and he wanted advice on how to handle the situation. Now, on one level, I can certainly sympathize with his plight. Most people do not want to be turned away from their families. But my response to him was that he needs step up and unashamedly declare his atheism. After all, he's 22, not 12. In other words, he is not a child and has as much right to his convictions and principles as his parents do theirs.

The alternative for this young man and others who share his predicament is to live a lie. But regardless of  nationality or culture, when you do that,  you are disowning yourself. And that is the worst kind of rejection of all.

No comments: