Interview with Jess Corpus — Member, Humanist Alliance Philippines International

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is personal background on for you?

Jess Corpus: I would sum up my personal background as follows: I was baptized catholic. I am the oldest among six children, grew up in a devout catholic household. Went to a catholic elementary school (San Carlos elementary school) runned by nuns, actually runned by the same congregation where Marissa went to college at University Of San Carlos. I went to an exclusive catholic boy’s school, Don Bosco Technical High School, runned by the Salesian congregation based in Italy, school principal and the rector were Italians, technical heads were Italians. Don Bosco is a top notch school when it comes to technical courses prior going to college, it is also revered way back then for the “tough discipline” they instill on their students. The school slogan is…”In education, what is best is good enough”. I went to a catholic college after graduating high school in 1975, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I am happily married to my second wife, have a 9 year old son who is currently an “A” honor roll student, I have a first son from my first marriage who is serving his last term with the U S. military. Have five siblings, 3 sisters and two brothers, in which the other brother retired from the U.S. navy not too long ago. All of us are degree holders with one sister have a master’s degree. Both of my catholic parents are deceased.

Jacobsen: How did you become involved in the humanist community? In early life or later life, when did you first come to value humanist ethics?

Corpus: Actually, I only have a slight idea from what point in my existence did I somehow turned to be a humanist. I haven’t had a clue on what humanism is but here’s a short story: My father back in 1971 threw a small Christmas party for the families of the three carpenters that mt father hired to renovated the house my father just bought which will become our permanent family home. At first there were only a few people…the spouses of the three carpenters and a few of their children. As the years went by, my father kept the occasion going each Christmas. As the succeeding years came the crowd grew bigger, it swelled from the three original families to numerous families. A small Christmas party for the three carpenters had turned into a family tradition as a party for indigents each Christmas day. Families of indigent with their children in tow would come to our house and partake in the festivities with delicious sumptuous meal prepared by my mother and our household help. We would stuffed candies in sock shaped plastics for the numerous kids that would come, and we would also stuff a kilo or two of rice and can goods in plastic bags for families to take back home after the festivities. I for one would saved money from my allowance to buy more candies for the kids. Although our parents are gone, we kept this tradition to this day since 1971. It was also at this juncture that I started “questioning the goodness and kindness of god”. If god is so good, why are these people so poor? Many would come to the party barefooted, many with tattered and dirty torn clothes! Some smelled as if they haven’t bathed for days. When I watched them eat it appears that was their first meal of the day. Those were the saddest sights I’d seen in my teenage years, and to this day my heart bleeds every time I am confronted with an image of a poor starving child. I started questioning what kind of an all loving, giving, and caring god when we have indigent people like these? What kind of church if it can not feed and care for the people it professes to serve in the name of a god?…I started looking for answers!

Jacobsen: What do you view was the core of humanism?

Corpus: I can not conceived of any particular humanist ethics other than being good to fellow humans. That whatever we do big or small, good or bad can somehow impact directly or indirectly the lives of other human beings. Needless to say, good or bad deeds have each own consequence. Those consequence may or may not have a ripple effect, but nevertheless it have consequence, big or small.

What I view as the core of humanism is “human empathy”. Empathy is what differs us from the lower species. But just for the sake of argument, other mammals in the lower rung also demonstrate a sense of empathy in their natural instinct to care for their young. But we humans can reason why we do what we do, lower animals couldn’t.

Jacobsen: Who are some prominent humanists that you respect? What are some books that had an influence on you?

Corpus: Einstein is more humanist than a pacifist, read Walter Isaacson’s best selling book Einstein. Bill and Melinda Gates greatly qualify as prominent humanist through their charitable contributions from their multi billion dollar foundation, so is Oprah Winfrey comes to mind in her quest of opening schools for girls in parts of Africa to empower them…Angelina Jolie, a celebrity, and in spite of the tumultuous relationships in her per personal life adopt african children to give them a better life, and her work with the U.N. is commendable. Some say her deeds are are just publicity stunts, publicity stunt or not, her empathy is obvious! These are just among the few prominent people that comes to mind…but let’s not put aside our very own Marissa Langseth for doing what she does in her own ways for the betterment of humanity.

I am a voracious reader, I wouldn’t say the bible is a book that influenced me, it never did really! I would say “The God Delusion” by Dawkins, “End Of Faith” by Harris, and of course “God Is not Great” by Hitchens, very influential books for people like me who are not blinded by faith. There are so many arguments to be made that go against the grain in the belief of the existence of any gods and these books surely lived up to that expectations in their arguments. These books wouldn’t do as much good to hardcore theists though. I’ve read so many books in my lifetime. I kept the ones that are worth keeping and the rest I donate to Goodwill. Not only that I buy and read books, I also read other publications as well like Nat’l Geo. which I had been reading since I was in the 6th grade, Time Magazine which I had been reading since my freshman years in high school to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world around me.

Image Credit: Jess Corpus.

Disregard the spread on the table, photo was taken before a New Year’s dinner two years ago. Just to show my arsenal of books in my mini library at home. Still have too many in boxes in my garage, I am running out of room to where I put them. I would had donated many books to the Philippines if it’s not too costly to ship them!

Image Credit: Jess Corpus.

My Nat. Geo. magazines, about 5 years worth waiting to be donated at a waterfront ministry in Charleston. I love reading Nat. Geo…it features just about anything…people, places, things, etc., love their photography!

Jacobsen: Can you recommend any lectures or speakers for those organizations that want to invite them?

Corpus: I would surely touch on the subject of religion and how it regressed countries like the Philippines, and how religion regressed theocratic countries like the UAE. But the Philippines is one country whose catholic majority population doesn’t take lightly any criticisms attacking, contradicting or anything critical of their faith. How can other concept of thought break through the juggernaut of religion’s suffocating grasp in an ignorant and superstitious population like the Philippines? Organizations in the Philippines like HAPI or other non belief organizations in the country can tap on many well known non theist speakers who are well known and respected in their respective fields, but they come with a premium price! Dawkins, Harris, Kauss, Dillahunty, Seth, Aron Ra, Dr. Crier, NDT, Dr. PZ Myers, etc. There are many well known vloggers in “YouTube” who are anti theist and have a huge following, these personalities can be tapped for lectures or speakers to bolster not only their slight fame but also to draw audience and boost visibility of humanist organizations like HAPI. In fact I am currently trying to finish reading a book…”An Atheist Stranger in A Religious Land”…Selected Writings from the Bible Belt. Authored by Herb Silverman, a native of Charleston, SC…not to say that I live in Goose Creek, SC, a small city and a few minutes drive from Charleston. Herb is a professor of mathematics in the College Of Charleston, he’s an atheist Jew. He’s also the founder of the low country humanist assoc. in Charleston. I reckon he can be an excellent speaker for an organization like HAPI.

Jacobsen: What do you think are some of the more valuable activities of humanist communities in the Philippines, in addition to its diaspora?

Corpus: I haven’t gone to any humanist meet ups or had attended any humanist conventions, symposiums or anything like that. I also never thought that such organizations in the Philippines exist until a few years ago out of curiosity I looked up in FB atheist organizations in the Philippines, lo and behold I came across PATAS which Marissa also founded. Unknowingly, my name was added on the HAPI list by somebody, but that was ok. Since my work schedule and family life take the most of my time, my only active participation in HAPI as with the LGBTQbus, and PATAS are my humble monetary donations every now and then to enable the organizations to keep on doing good work for humanity. I also every now and then would chime in and give my two cents in a forum thread…I don’t do it as much anymore as I used to do back then knowing some people are just argumentative assholes and wanted to flex their intellectual muscles. Some are just “fast googlers” to rebut arguments making it appear the reply came from their own little heads…intellectual cheats!

Jacobsen: What is your current role in the humanist community?

Corpus: I had been trying to open up a business in the Philippines for quite sometime now but the process is a bit difficult. I think opening a business and employing people is one of the best way of giving back by making a difference in people’s lives through employment. One big drawback for humanitarian organizations in the Philippines is the lack of “operating funds”. The Philippines is not much of a charitable country like the U.S. In fact the Philippines is a recipient of various charitable organizations. Despite of some economic progress made, many filipinos when it comes to donating to charity for a good cause are stingy! Except of course when handing out small amounts to their church! You may find some volunteers for organizations like HAPI, LGBTQbus, and PATAS, but they are just a handful. Operating funds can make or break an organization. Donors can be relied upon every now and then but not all the time. A business that have its own charitable foundation whose philanthropic philosophy is in line with organizations like HAPI can be a very good source for operational funding. There is nothing like a well oiled and well greased machine, otherwise it will seized and stop! It’s not only a question of driving up membership, it’s a question of drumming up membership who are willing to contribute!

Jacobsen: What are important ways people can give back to the humanist community to help it grow and for future generations?

Corpus: Many philanthropist are also humanist, but they would rather be called philanthropists rather than humanists as the later is associated with non belief or atheism. It’s quite of a stigma that negates the good work that humanists does.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jess.