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Navigating Life as an Atheist in a Predominantly Catholic Country
Hi, I’m Andrei, I’m 25 years old, the eldest son of the family, I live in a predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia, and I’ve been an Atheist since I was 6 years old.
Growing up in a Filipino family, religion often plays a significant role in one’s life. However, not everyone feels the same way about faith. Being an atheist in a predominantly Catholic country can be challenging, especially when one comes from a religious family.
In this blog post, I’ll share my personal experience of growing up as an atheist in a Catholic Filipino family and how I navigated through it.
The Pressure of Belonging
When one comes from a religious family, there’s often a pressure to conform to their beliefs. This pressure can be overwhelming, and dealing with it is quite challenging. Especially during my younger years. I’m always getting pressured to participate in religious gatherings, events, and church.
I remember when I was young and in church, I always feel like I’m being forced to something I didn’t want to do. Even now, I still feel like I’m being forced, but not like before. That’s because I slowly build up my courage to stand my ground and just don’t participate.
But that didn’t mean that there’s no pressure. I never do the sign of the cross, and I always get a glaring eye from my relatives, especially my mother. She would berate me constantly, then ask my what really is my religion.
Most times I just kept quiet because I already know what my mother is going to say, while sometimes I just say “I’m just not that religious,” and my mother would say “It’s not about being religious or not, it’s about showing respect.”
Finding Your Voice
Being an atheist in a Catholic family can feel like you’re the odd one out. I’ll share how I found the courage to express my views and stand up for what I believe in. It all started when I was in high school.
Facebook is gaining popularity faster and faster as the days went by, and then there’s this one edgy high school student that always gets bullied, but that’s a story for another time. I’m a shy guy and I rarely interact with anyone, but with Facebook, I found a means to express myself online without interacting with people in person.
I would share posts made by Atheist Facebook pages like Atheist Republic. During that time, almost everybody is on Facebook and my parents and relatives are no exemption. My relatives would send a message to my parents saying they saw my posts about Atheism, and my parents would, of course, berate me, saying I’m an antichrist, and a Satanist.
Usually, when my parents berating me I would just keep quiet until they’re done, but sometimes I would say “I’m not a Satanist because I don’t believe in Satan as well.” That didn’t go well, they would berate me more, that’s why I choose to just be quiet.
The school I went to is a private school and is run by the Church, so nuns and priests teaching there, but mostly they teach about religion and moral values. Their moral values. I can still remember even now.
Most nuns that became my teacher are nice and really value equality regardless of social status, religion, age, and ethnicity, but there’s this one nun, let’s call her “C,” is a (and I’m trying to be nice as much as possible) total bitch.
C is the epitome of a Filipino Karen and a toxic feminist. C would constantly treat the boys in class harshly, while the girls gets none of the bullshit. I am no exemption, on the contrary, I was her favorite target because she heard from other people that I’m an Atheist.
C would always call me for recitations, activities, and label me as an example of “bad people.” This would continue to happen until I graduated from high school.
During that time, I had enough. I wrote an anonymous letter and send it to 5 offices: the Office of Student Affairs, the Faculty Office, the Principal’s Office, the Guidance Office, and the Convent of the church that runs the school. I wrote that C is treating her class unfairly and told about her malpractice of targeting boys and treating them harshly.
A day has passed, and I was suddenly called to the Office of Student Affairs. I was surprised to see my mother there. What caught me off guard is that the Student Affairs Coordinator is holding a piece of paper about C and saying that I wrote it.
My mother was deeply disappointed in me and that what I did was wrong. What disappointed me towards my mother is because she herself is a high school teacher at public school. Then I suddenly snapped right then and there and said, “No, C is in the wrong here for treating her students unfairly! You’re a teacher yourself, mother, but can’t you see the wrong that she’s doing?
Making the students’ lives miserable! Making my life miserable.” Then my mother said, and this is the most disappointing part for me, she said, “You’re just a student, you can’t just say those things, you have nothing to prove.” Luckily, I didn’t get suspended or expelled back then. When C learned about the letter I wrote, she is making my time in school even more miserable, she’s even trying to get me suspended and expelled. As for how they knew that I wrote it, some of my classmates, those who participates in bullying me, ratted me out.
After what happened to the Office of Student Affairs, I became more vocal about my beliefs and got me to stand up against C constantly. This happened until I graduated. After I graduated, I heard that she was moved to the Diocese in Vietnam. Good riddance, if you ask me.
Dealing with Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions about atheism, and it can be challenging to deal with them, especially when they come from people close to you. As previously mentioned, my parents would correlate Atheism to being an antichrist and being a Satanist. But I don’t believe in that statement. Atheism is the absence of any belief in any deities and rejects their existence. Deities meaning God, Satan, Zeus, Yahweh, Jehovah, everything.
I’m constantly being told that I’ll be going to Hell for not believing, in which case I would say, “If you need the threat of eternal torture to be a good person, you are not a good person.”
I am, in no way, a “good man,” but I always do what is right regardless of beliefs, ethnicity, social status, and age. That’s why I love when the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who said, “Good men don’t need rules.”
Atheism is always being correlated to being disrespectful. While I disagree with this statement, they’re not entirely wrong, though. I see other atheists berating people who follow a specific religion, and I do not condone it. That’s one of the things I hate about my fellow atheists, they’re doing what people of religion are doing to them.
Respect and Tolerance
In a society where religion is a big part of people’s lives, it’s important to respect and tolerate each other’s beliefs. I’ll discuss how I was able to maintain a healthy relationship with my family while still being true to myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect people who have religion, but what I hated the most are those people claiming to be good because they go to church or pray, but their inner self is rotten to the core. For example, someone who is preaching the word of God but then a few moments later they are belittling other people. People who are only doing good in front of other people just for attention. As it says in the Bible, Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
I’ll say it again, I respect people regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, social status, and age. I see people as people, a fellow member of the human race. What I only ask is for them to respect my lack thereof.
In a country that its Constitution states the importance of separation of Church and State, the moment that the Church, or any religion for that matter, wants to dictate the country’s legislation and judiciary, then I would be a militant atheist. As Daniel Radcliffe once said, “I’m not religious, I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation.”
Growing up as an atheist in a Catholic Filipino family can be a challenging experience, but it’s essential to remember that everyone has the right to their beliefs. By finding your voice, dealing with misconceptions, and practicing respect and tolerance, it’s possible to navigate this situation successfully. I hope this blog post helps those who are going through a similar experience and provides insight into the topic.
I want to imagine a world where people can come together in peace regardless of their religion, politics, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, and age. What a beautiful world that would be.
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Andrei Jarell Vedad is a passionate financial literacy advocate from the Philippines. With a background in Information Technology and currently pursuing a law degree, Andrei combines his knowledge and expertise to empower individuals in managing their personal finances. Through his blog and extensive research, he shares practical tips, strategies, and thought-provoking articles to help readers make informed financial decisions and achieve their financial goals. With a global perspective, Andrei aims to inspire positive change and foster financial well-being, not only in the Philippines but also worldwide.