The following is a guest post by Marc Pagcaliwangan, a Canadian 10-0 boxer who wanted to share his story with us. Marc was a speaker last month at the 2017 American Atheists National Convention. Marc will be fighting in Brampton Ontario on November 11th.
If you had me on social media 3-4 years ago, then you would have remembered me as a Jesus loving, god fearing man. I’m sure you would have remembered me posting lots of bible verses and Jesus material on my social media.
My fans have been wondering “what happened?” since I don’t go to church anymore, never post anything about Jesus, and no longer preach in the streets. People often ask me “are you an ATHEIST?” Well, I was afraid to say anything about it because I was worried about disappointing my fans and supporters due to the fact that a lot of them are predominantly Christian, let me tell you my story.
I was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1990. My parents are both from the Philippines; met in Canada. I was born into a Catholic home. We lived in a small apartment. I remember my parents having a big statue of both Mary and Jesus with lots of rosaries hanging around the house. My parents are hard workers; so they weren’t home that much, it was always my grandmother and myself. I remember she would have the people in the building come over once a week to have a rosary prayer night, she would make me join In. In 1994 my brother Josh was born. Two years later my parents wanted to start a new life, so we moved to London, Ontario.
My parents moved us in a small apartment; my mother was a PSW and my father was doing lots of random jobs until he settled at Pizza Pizza as a pizza delivery boy. In 1998 we moved to a bigger home. We moved into a condominium. My parents were so proud of it. They were hardly home because they both worked all day, so I was responsible for taking care of Josh, and later on, my youngest brother Daniel.
It was at this time when my parents met some other Filipino people in the neighborhood, they invited us over to a church. It was a Pentecostal church. People there would consider themselves as “Born Again”.
My parents converted over. I remember the drastic changes in our household, all the Mary and Jesus statues were removed, the rosaries were gone, and my mother would play Christian music all day while she read the bible. The church was very different as well; in a Catholic church, it was boring, you would sit on a hardwood bench and kneel down and pray, then listen to the priest talk, who by the way was so quiet. But the Born Again church was fun, it was like a rock concert, I even saw people faint when the pastor touched them, and the pastor would yell and speak in tongues, people said it was the holy spirit.
It was at this church when I was introduced to the idea of “hell.” I was so terrified of hell. I was taught that if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as you Lord and savior, then you haven’t accepted his gift, which was eternal life, than you would burn in hell for eternity. I was scared. I would pray to Jesus and accept him every night before bed just to make sure. I was scared for my Muslim friends in school, I was scared for my Catholic relatives back in Toronto. I was scared.
I remember being taught about the rapture; the second coming of Christ. This scared me even more. The pastor would come preach at our house once a week because we hosted a bible study. I remember he made us watch a movie about the rapture. It was the scariest movie as a child. All the Christians were brought to heaven leaving behind family and friends who were not Christian. The people would later be forced to wear the mark of the beast which was 666, and if not, they would get their heads cut off. This made me want to tell everybody about Jesus as a young child. I was scared. I look back now, and I see this as a form of child abuse.
Fast forward to when I reached high school. I wasn’t that religious at all. I would still identify myself as a Christian and go to church with my family every Sunday. It wasn’t until after high school when I became heavily involved with Christianity. At this time I was already a professional fighter. My friend and I were driving home from the gym, my truck got t-boned, I lost control of my vehicle and some pedestrians were harmed. The paramedic told me if I were driving a smaller vehicle, my friend would’ve been seriously hurt, and so would I. I honestly believed that god protected us. The next day we had the opportunity to get our belongings from the truck. I remember opening the trunk and the first thing I saw was the bible my mother gave me. I really believed god was calling me. It was him calling me back to him.
About a few months later, I was in Montreal training for a fight. I had randomly thought of my old friend (who is now a pastor today), I was just thinking about him, about how he is so in love of Jesus and how he found peace after a tragic accident he was involved in. Two hours later he texts me, asking how I was and preached about Jesus. From then on, I knew god was calling me. So I rededicated my life to Jesus.
That was the start of my Christian journey. I was in love with Jesus. I would preach to everyone, post bible verses on my social media, and I eventually got asked to be a Sunday school teacher. I also had a sticker at the back of my trunk that read “Real men love Jesus”, I was dedicated, I was the perfect son to my parents. I remember wanting to go to bible college and going deeper into Christianity. I would go to my friends house once a week for bible study and preach out in the streets with him. I was in love with Jesus. Even on a post fight interview for one of my fights, I preached about Jesus and asked everyone to read the gospels. I also had “John 14:6” on my team shirts. I would also debate with with Muslims and other Christian denominations who didn’t believe in the Holy Trinity. I was devoted to Christ and I wanted to tell the world. This went on for quite some time.
I remember one day I was preaching downtown, I would normally preach downtown for half an hour; then go to the gym to train. As I was preaching, I saw a man in a shirt and tie walking towards me, he had McDonalds in his hands, he looked like an office worker who was on break. I handed over a John 3:16 pamphlet to him, he smiles and asked me “Why do you believe in god?” I was excited, I thought to myself “perfect, a lost soul I’ll be able to save.” So I told him my story. He nods and then asks, “I see you’re holding a bible, why do you believe it’s true?” I told him “because it says it’s divinely inspired,” he then goes “so…. the bible is true, because it says so in the bible..?” as I thought about it, he had a point, I couldn’t really answer him. He then goes “before I head back to work, let me ask you one more thing” I say “sure,” he continues, “do you believe god is all powerful and all knowing?” I say “yes” then he replies “so… He knew that adam and eve were going to eat that Apple from the tree, causing original sin, causing him having to send Jesus (who was himself) down to be killed for our sins, why did he have to play this whole game when he could’ve just easily avoided it? Seems suspicious doesn’t it?” I had to admit, the man got me stumped, I replied back with “Well, god works in mysterious ways” the man smiled and said “have you read your bible?”, I said “well I read Matthew, Luke, John, Acts..” he cuts me off and says “no, no I meant the whole entire bible, from front to back,” “no not yet” I replied. He says “but you’re a Christian, you should know your book. Go read it, you’ll learn and see a lot, like slavery.” I instantly thought he was talking about god being bad in the old testament, so I say “but that’s the old testament, we’re under new law now,” he then replies “slavery is in both the old and new testament. I won’t go too deep about it. You should read the bible, make sure you think about what you read and question it. I have to go now buddy, have a great day.”
I remember being at home that day. I got challenged and I lost. He brought up good points and I couldn’t answer. I thought to myself “oh Well, I’ll watch boxing then read the bible and start on the very first page.” I was on YouTube and I saw a link for a video called “The Atheist Experience” it’s about these atheists hosts who takes calls and debates religious people.
The host Matt Dillahunty was on call with a caller named Denis. The call goes like this;
Matt: Did your god create hell?
Matt: okay, does your god create the rules of the universe including the criteria by which would are judged?
Matt: does anything happen that doesn’t go according to your god’s will?
Matt: then your god is ultimately responsible for everything including the people who he sends to hell.
Denis: that is so messed up.
Matt: yeah, this logic stuff is a real pain in the ass isn’t it!
This video got me thinking and questioning, but I had to admit; I hated Matt Dillahunty but he got me to start questioning. I remember starting to read the whole bible. I had started from the very first book, Genesis, I remember reading some horrible passages in Deuteronomy, Exodus and Leviticus, and all I could say is “it was a different time back then” I simply made excuses for every harsh thing I had read.
One story that I brushed off was the story of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, god sent angels to Lot, the mob in the village demanded Lot to turn them in so they could rape them, but Lot offered his two virgin daughters for them to rape instead. When I think back to when I read that, I’m embarrassed to how I just brushed that story off to the side. I never questioned it. There are plenty of stories like this in the bible that many Christians just brush off.
Weeks later as I was finishing up the old testament, I decided to go do more research about the bible and found out that the king James version is the most accurate translation of the oldest manuscripts we have. I was frustrated because I read the New International Version (NIV). The NIV has plenty of missing verses compared to the King James. So I bought myself a King James Version and started reading again. One day as I was reading, I decided to take a break and get on the computer to watch more boxing. When I went on, there was a video of Richard Dawkins explaining evolution, I knew who he was, he was the most hated atheist ever. When I clicked the video, I laughed at first because how could evolution ever be real? If it were true, then why are there still monkeys? right? Well as Dawkins kept talking, he made more sense; he explained that we didn’t come from monkeys, evolution says we and monkeys come from a common ancestor, we are related, at that time I thought to myself, “if evolution is right, then the whole biblical story must be false. There was no Adam and Eve, no Noah and the big flood, no Moses, and no need for Christ. I was intrigued, so I went to further research.
I was shocked to find out history behind the religion, the stories in the old testament were stories retold differently from pagan religions older than Judaism, a lot of the stories were similar, like Adam and Eve was similar to the story in the Persian Scripture that talks about the god Ormuzd who created the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh, and created the two first humans Adamah and Evah.
Noah’s ark is similar to the Legend of Gilgamesh, Moses is similar to the Hindu god Karna, and Sargon, etc. I searched and found more answers, a lot of the bible were stories from other holy scriptures. I was crushed, I tried to find arguments against it because I really wanted Christianity to be true. I thought I just needed to re read the whole bible again.
After some weeks, I had finally finished the bible again, but this time, I questioned everything I was reading; why would this book have slavery in it? And why would it tell women to submit to man? I just didn’t agree with the bible. I also just couldn’t believe in the stories. One story I found really weird was the story of The Tower of Babel. In this story it explains how all the languages in the world started. Men wanted to reach god in the heavens, so they decided to work together and build a tower high enough to reach god, as the tower got higher, god was worried that they would reach him, so he knocked the tower down, and when the people landed on the ground, they were all speaking different languages. This story was hard to believe. There is no way that’s how all the languages started. I later realized that the bible was just filled with unrealistic stories and I couldn’t believe it as true. When I later did more research on the history of the bible, I found more information, like how the story of the Holy Trinity was made up, after learning more and more, I decided to secretly walk away from Christianity.
I felt like it was silly for people to believe in demons, angels, the devil and of course heaven and hell. I walked away from religion and it felt good. I didn’t identify myself as an atheist just yet. It took me awhile. For some time I knew I wasn’t religious, but I still had the feeling of someone watching over me. I felt like I needed that. So I still believed in a higher power. But as time went by, that slowly faded away. I started to understand the word “atheist” a bit better. Growing up, whenever I heard that word, I thought it was someone who worships Satan or someone who has no morals. But all it really means is “the lack of belief if a god or gods” so technically everyone is an atheist towards some gods. There are 3000 different gods being worshipped all over the world, a Christian may deny 2999 of them, I go one god further. After awhile, I started identifying myself as an atheist.
People often ask me “Why do you care so much about religion? Why do you debate with people? Why are you so militant?” And I reply “how could you say that? when you hear or watch the news everyday and hear stories of innocent people losing their lives or loved ones due to terrorist attacks, or homosexuals being discriminated against and being told they’re unnatural because of someone’s faith, or hearing about a Christian child being sick and passing away because they’re parents refused to get them the proper medication or surgery because they would rather pray, or hearing about the church wanting the government to remove science in schools and teach the bible, or parents just homeschool their children and only teach them the bible, and you hear about people putting their children in Jesus camps and scarring these children with hell. This is why I’m against religion.” There are people who think the world was actually created in 7 days and the earth is only 6000 years old, some people believe in the bible stories as true word for word. This scares me. It shows that religion blocks people from logic, critical thinking and reasoning. It’s 2017. There is no need into believing those stories. There was a time when religion took over the world, it was the dark ages.
I’ve been in the closet as an atheist for quite some time now. I was worried of coming out because I was scared of losing fans or be hated just because of being an atheist, a lot of my fans are Filipinos, which are mainly Christian. I was worried to disappoint my Christian friends and my family. But I later decided to let go of that. I’m now a proud atheist, some consider me militant because I challenge religious people. But I am proud. My goal is to help all those closeted atheist. I encourage them to all come out. There’s nothing wrong to not believing in religion. Stand up for what you believe in and be you. We need to make the word “atheist” more known.let’s make it more heard so people understand it and get more used to it. Question everything, use logic, reason and critical thinking. I hope someday I could have a good discussion with my hero Manny Pacquiao, a lot of people look at him and want to believe what he believes, so they would not pay attention to reality. Manny, if you’re reading this, let’s have a friendly discussion.
25/Sept/2017: Story updated with edits from the author.