I’d been meaning to write an essay about my religious belief, Deism (click here to learn more about it, or, you know, just google it), that’s something along the lines of “An Open Letter to Believers and Freethinkers Alike.” But now I feel too antagonized to write such a level-headed article, so here, have a rant instead.
The other day, my parents found out about my deism, and I blame myself and my big mouth for it. My mother, in a sudden pang of religious guilt, was sighing about how we never go to church anymore. I said I really didn’t attend mass because I no longer identified myself as a Catholic. Perhaps I was too careless or invested too much trust in my mother’s capacity for open-mindedness; in any case, I didn’t see any reason against nonchalance. While I didn’t exactly call for a clan meeting to proclaim my change of religious belief, I’ve never kept it under wraps either. I haven’t been a practicing Catholic since high school. I don’t go to church and I don’t pray. Neither does our family generally practice. So I went ahead and said I was a deist, and thought nothing of it. Little did I know I’d be in deep shit for a remark made in passing.
My mother’s first reaction was, “Tinatamad ka lang magsimba!” Oh mother, if only I were that shallow. If laziness were my only motivation, I wouldn’t have attended the meetings of a religious organization in my freshman year, had discussions with believers and non-believers, and tried to realize what I believed and where I fit in. If that were my only reason, then I wouldn’t have wasted hours reading the whole Bible, articles on various philosophies, and essays and stories that problematized religion when I could’ve spent all that time on, I dunno, maybe skipping church to play bingo? If that were my only reason, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through years of confusion and doubt and existentialist depression, of not being able to say, “God knows how difficult this is” or "I give my worries unto Him" because I wasn’t even sure if there was a god.
Religious conversion is not undertaken lightly. I didn’t become a deist because I thought it was cool, or because I felt it made me appear smarter to call myself one, or because I was a lazy Christian. The shifts I underwent were neither sudden nor easy. I did not, as my mother accused me of doing, just shop around the internet for a belief system as if trying on clothes in a department store, and pick whichever looked best on me and the self-image I wanted to project. The crux of the matter was that I couldn’t bring myself to agree with certain tenets and practices of Catholicism and other revealed religions. I came to find organized religion repugnant. The more I learned and developed as a person, the more I wanted the freedom to think for myself, and not blindly swallow every spoonful of revealed “truth” fed to me. I became a deist long before I knew what to call the philosophy I had come to live my life by.
Becoming a “freethinker”, to be sure, entailed confidence in my ability to filter information, to think, to make my own judgments. This, however, does not mean that my deism was born out of arrogance. On the contrary, to give up organized religion is to give up the comfort of certainties, to have the humility to admit that the truths you’ve come to accept may not be absolute, to admit that you are not always right, and your religion not the only valid one amongst the hundreds out there. The problem sometimes with most organized religions is that they leave no room for doubt. For them doubt is a crime, doubt is a sin, doubt undermines faith and leads you to evil. But how many atrocities were committed with zealous and wholehearted belief in the rightness of the evil? You eliminate doubt and questions, and you limit horizons, insight, growth. So I chose to do away with the blinders.
But I don’t mean to write a treatise on freethinking; there are far more eligible sources to turn to for that. I can’t pretend to know much about the matter; I am still learning, curiously, sometimes cynically, sometimes hopefully, plodding along the roads of life in search of wisdom. And I value this liberty to learn and question and doubt without the anxiety that thinking for myself and rejecting certain beliefs will land me a nice, fiery pit in hell.
The freedom to think—that’s all I want. Is that so wrong? Just because I’m no longer Catholic, will I kick beggars, rob banks, flay babies alive? If I say that there is much misogyny in patriarchal religions like Christianity and Islam, if I condemn the abuses of the church against homosexuals, if I ridicule their arguments against the RH bill, am I then evil?
See, I don’t see why this is such an issue with my parents. After all, I still consider Christianity a moral guide (as I do Taoism, Feminism, and other belief systems/ideologies that offer insight), and I’m not that averse to going to church; it is, for me, like attending a lecture—sometimes you get good speakers, sometimes you don’t. But my dad is convinced I think too much and read too much for the good of my soul. Although at least he’s not hurling acid at me like every minute. My mom just won’t shut up about it, threatening to throw me out of the house yet again if I don’t conform to her rules and her thinking. She’s furious that I didn’t ask for her permission before leaving good ol’ Catholicism. Not that she would’ve allowed me to, what with her sighing, "Oh all those years [eleven, to be precise] of Catholic school down the drain!" As if all that religious training played no role in my maturity. Besides, since when (in our supposedly enlightened, liberal times) did people have to ask permission for their beliefs? It’s a free (at least constitutionally) country. But no, now she’s forcing my siblings to attend mass every Sunday. The woman who hasn’t been to church in more than a year is suddenly a religious zealot.
If they think deism is bullshit, I can respect that (to be fair, I think a lot of other beliefs are bullshit too). All I ask is that my beliefs be respected as well, and for them not to dictate which ideas I should and should not subscribe to. Because though I don’t know if god as I conceive her/him/it to be is benevolent or omnipotent or jealous or whatever as other religions conceive him to be, I do think this: we are given reason that we may exercise it, not lay it aside for blind conformity to narrow, self-righteous ideals that are, after all, largely human constructs anyway.