The 5 Most Common Filipino Misconceptions About Atheists In The Philippines

Majority of the more than 100 million people who call the Philippines home adhere to a religion. Most of them are Christians. A sizable chunk of them are Muslims. Then there are the minorities like Buddhists, Hindus, etc. In other words, the Philippines is a nation of believers. Most Filipinos subscribe to the notion that there is a higher power, a supreme being. They believe that they were created by a Creator. That they were put on Earth to live out a purpose. That there is life after death. That this post-death affair will be either of two things - eternal damnation or eternal bliss.

Filipinos who are religious strongly cling to their beliefs. This is not at all surprising given the fact that most Filipinos grow up in communities wherein almost every aspect of life is affected in one way or another by religion. A great example is the immense influence of religion on the country's educational system. This rings true whether a school is a public institution or a private one. From kindergarten to college, students are exposed to religious influence. Most private schools in the country are run by or are connected to religious organizations so their curriculum often include religious teachings.

Even public schools that are not supposed to be endorsing a particular brand of religion in accordance to the separation of church and state law often subject students to the trappings of religious belief. Displaying Christian crosses in public classrooms is an all too common practice in the country. This is of course a violation of the Philippine Constitution but you don't see people questioning or protesting it. This speaks a lot of how embedded religion is in Filipino society.

With all of that said, if you are an atheist in the Philippines, consider yourself to be in the lion's den. This is not the Netherlands. Don't expect to receive a pat on the back when you out yourself as an unbeliever. The truth is that coming out as godless in this country carries with it a lot of risks that can be quite serious. You might be disowned by your family. Your lover might break up with you. You might not get that job, or that promotion. You might lose friends. You can kiss your political ambitions goodbye. In short, you are entering a world of possible turbulence that can turn your life upside down.

This begs the question "How did it come to this?" Why the negative reaction when you come out as an atheist in this country? A major driver of this negativity are the rampant misconceptions that a lot of Filipinos harbor about atheists. Below is an overview of five of such common misconceptions.

1) Atheists worship Satan.
Satan from the series The Bible on the History Channel.
Many religious Filipinos consider atheists to be on equal footing with devil-worshipers. This often stems from the line of thinking that goes "If you don't worship God, then who do you worship? If you are not on the side of God, then you are on the side of his enemy Satan." Needless to say, this line of thinking is borderline wrong and grossly misinformed. Atheists don't worship any supernatural being. Not believing in God includes not believing in everything connected to him like the Devil and angels and demons and the concept of heaven and hell. How can you worship something that you believe is non-existent. To not believe in God but believe in the Devil is bollocks.

2) Atheists are communists.

In the Philippines, atheism has become almost synonymous to communism. Proclaim yourself an atheist here and some people will picture you waving the hammer and sickle flag or donning a beige-colored hat with a big red star in the front. However, atheists don't like being equated with communists as much as communists don't like being equated with atheists. And rightly so. Atheism is rejection of a deity while communism is a system of government. There's no glue connecting the two.

The idea that atheists are communists stemmed from the efforts of religious apologists who used the barbaric acts of well-known communists like Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong to discredit atheism. These apologists often make the argument that the atrocities done by these communists were due to their not adhering to a god. This is of course a lie. These men being atheists isn't the reason why they murdered millions of people. They committed atrocities because of their dogmatic Marxism and communist ideas. For a detailed debunking of this myth being perpetuated by Christian apologists, read this and this or this.

3) Atheists are rebelling against God.
Savages from the film King Athur.
Religious people think that atheists believe that God exists but because of their hard-headedness they want to rebel against him. Like teenagers rebelling against their strict and over-protective parents. Atheism is looked upon by religious people as a mere phase, one that atheists will eventually get over with. Like teenagers getting over their rebellious ways. This is of course wrong thinking. Atheists aren't rebelling against anybody. Again, how can you be rebellious against someone you believe do not exist. Not believing in the Tooth Fairy does not mean that you are rebelling against the Tooth Fairy.

4) Atheists are sinners who don't want to accept responsibility over their wrong-doings.
Al Pacino as the sin-loving Tony Montana in the film Scarface.
In other words, religious people think that atheists reject God as an excuse to keep on sinning. With that said, they imply that selfishness is the sole reason why atheists don't believe in God. Atheists just love stealing that they reject God to escape their self-guilt. This paints atheists as the most shallow and selfish kinds of people. Needless to say, the idea that atheists don't believe in God because they are enjoying their sins too much is bollocks. In contrary, people turn to atheism because they don't see substantial evidence that a supreme being exists. That's all. Sinning has nothing to do with it.

5) Atheists believe they came from monkeys.
Orangutan mother and child in Borneo. Photo by Hadi Zaher via Flickr.
This is a classic one. If you come out as an atheist, expect people to be asking you if you believe that you came from monkeys. Then a debate on the evolutionary theory will possibly commence. And your theist friends will ask you, "If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" Why are there still orangutans in the jungles of Borneo? Why are there still gorillas in the mountains of Africa?

Of course, anyone who is familiar with the real tenets of the evolutionary theory knows that we did not come from monkeys. Instead, we humans and monkeys evolved from a common ape-like ancestor. Majority of Filipinos are not aware of this simple fact.

So there you have it. Five of the most common misconceptions by Filipinos about atheists and atheism in general. If you have anything to add, feel free to chime in on the comments section below.