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Dear Richard,
I am a college student from the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country. I’m an “out” atheist. Mostly, I’m not being mistreated, and I can tolerate the fact that Catholicism is such a big part of the country’s culture. My problem is that in the city where I live, I am alone in my beliefs, and sometimes it gets lonely.
My friends are all Catholics. Some of them claim to be genuinely interested in what I have to say about religion, but then they would ask me to stop once they feel threatened that their beliefs are getting weaker. That leaves me keeping these “blasphemous” thoughts to myself.
Talking to internet strangers is nice, but it sure would be a lot nicer if I had atheistic friends whom I can hang out with and share my thoughts freely with. Alas, I don’t think I have a choice but to accept this. So I have to ask:
How do I cope with the loneliness?
Sincerely yours,
P. Atheist

Dear P. Atheist,
Firstly, I think that you are lucky to have some Catholic friends who will listen to you talk at all, even to the limited extent that they do. You must be quite good at it. For them to listen until they reach their threshold and begin to feel insecure says that you have a smooth and skillful delivery. Keep that up. It’s good practice for your persuasive skills, and you might be planting some seeds for free and critical thinking that will sprout some day.
Even though you haven’t met any other atheists, don’t assume that you are actually alone. There are probably several others in your city, but they are hiding. You need a way to call out to them and to coax them into meeting you. The Filipino Freethinkers is an active group that was featured here on Friendly Atheist back in February of 2009. They appear to be quite active. Contact them and if they’re too far away, ask their advice about starting a branch in your city. Don’t be discouraged that you start out by yourself. One member can eventually be two, then four…
I know that blogging and instant messaging with strangers can bring some intellectual satisfaction, but it won’t provide the emotional social fulfillment that face-to-face conversations do. One thing that can help is video chat. When you establish friendships with online people who are far away, begin to use a program like Google voice and video chat or Skype so that you can see their faces while talking directly with them. It will nurture your need for the complex facial interaction that is so important to human beings. These strangers will begin to matter to you, and you will matter to them.
As a college student, hopefully you are in a place where differing ideas and viewpoints are freely exchanged. In a vital college or university, that’s not just common, it’s expected. If your college does not yet have a freethinkers, skeptics, humanists or atheists group, start one. The faith-free folks are lurking there, just under the surface, probably just as lonely as you. Maybe you could start a Secular Student Alliance. Hemant…?
I found several websites about atheism in the Philippines, but some have had no activity for quite a long time. Here are a few that at least have had activity in 2010:
http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/philippineatheist
http://atheistangpinoy.blogspot.com/
http://pinoyinfidel.blogspot.com/
http://www.atheista.net/
I am hoping that several atheists in the Philippines will pick up on this post and will comment here with help and encouragement.
Finally, P. Atheist, remember that there is much more to you than your atheism. You should also establish friendships that are based on the several other things that are important to you. For instance, in addition to being an atheist, I’m an amateur astronomer. I have several friends who share that interest, and we seldom discuss atheism. I’m also an artist. I have a couple of friends who share that interest, and we never discuss atheism or astronomy. I also like hiking, fossil hunting, theatre, and jazz. My fellow hikers, fossil hunters, theatre buffs, and jazz lovers seldom discuss any of those other interests of mine. There is some overlap, but I have no friends who share all of those interests. I’m not lonely because I always have somebody with whom I can do something. I don’t define myself narrowly as just one thing, and I don’t mind that compartmentalization of my friends and our shared interests.
So look at all the possibilities that surround you and use them all. Make them all real, not just leaving them as potential. Don’t despair, and don’t give up. Put effort into this, and I think you will get a worthwhile result.
Richard
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