The Real Miracle

Photo by Philip Pessar
Photo by Philip Pessar

Last Sunday, I witnessed a miracle.

In fact, I did not only witness it — I was a willing participant.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about miracles, and how I thought science produces more miracles than faith ever will, and I still believe that. While there are numerous testimonials of miracles due to faith, they are few and far between, and you never know when you can actually get one.

The beauty of science is that it makes its miracles available for everyone — through technology, mass production and distribution, until it becomes so common that people take it for granted and are no longer awed by it. Take for example, the miracle of me pushing the “publish” button on this article, and you being able to read it in a few seconds even if we are halfway across the earth from each other. How many people even think about that as a miracle anymore?

But that is not really what I want to talk about. Science is not the hero of this week’s article. I will concede that there is yet a greater and deeper miracle than science.

Sunday night is a time when our family usually gathers together to have dinner together. After dinner, my sister started playing the piano and my wife and cousin sang along. My 86-year old dad was there in his wheelchair, listening. They were singing Christian hymns.

I was heartened by sight of my father there so I went beside my wife and started to sing along on the bass parts. I was a choir boy for more than a decade after all, and even if I had not sung these songs for a long while, I still knew most of the parts by heart.

My family knows about my doubts and unbelief. In fact, they do not approve of a lot of things — this column I write, for example. However, we have had a decent conversation about this and have agreed to some sort of truce.

However, I still do not go to church, don’t participate in prayer, and don’t do other churchy stuff.

So I don’t really know what was going on in their minds when I began singing those hymns, and it was not just half-hearted singing, mind you. I was singing with gusto. I enjoyed what I was doing and even dancing along to the music with my wife. Pretty soon, my other sister joined in, along with my brother-in-law, my aunt, and a couple of my nieces. We were now a full-fledged choir complete with 4-parts. And we sang with wild abandon. My mom recorded us with her iPad until she ran out of memory.

For a few moments, we put doctrine and dogma aside and we simply connected as a family and as human beings.

I posted this little story in my freethinkers facebook group, as well another atheists/agnostics group and got several likes from both, and no condemnation whatsoever for “succumbing” to religion — which only goes to show that beneath all the superficial belief systems we have built, we still understand what it is to connect and be human.

And this is miracle more marvelous than either faith or science. It is a miracle that occurs in the heart when enlightened by a heightened consciousness of our shared humanity. It is a miracle that can be brought about, not by some supernatural force out there, but by the greatest force that resides within us — love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness.

There are many things I do not agree with in the writings of Paul the Apostle, but I believe he had it right when he said that the greatest of all, is love.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you want to show me a little love, send me your email at andy@freethinking.me.

Trivial Pursuit

182954_10151492697358655_671757118_nI enjoy discussion and debate, not really a formal debate with rules, formats and moderators, but one in which there is a healthy exchange of ideas. I engage in discussions not really to win or prove that I am right, but hopefully to learn and gain some new insight or perspective from another person. I find that nothing sharpens the mind more than an opposing idea.

My friends, regular readers and FIFOs (Friends In Facebook Only) know that I like discussing religion and spirituality. I like posting provocative articles, videos, photos or quotations to get a good discussion going, or at least makes others think.

Every so often, I encounter the occasional courageous soul who will comment and enter into a conversation. But I find that once I start answering and challenging their position, they too easily give up and go away.

One such person mentioned to me that learned scholars have been debating back and forth for many centuries about the issues I am wrestling with, that he considers theological debates a “waste of time” since these are issues that even experts can’t agree on. Besides many of these are what he considers “trivial” issues.

This is not an isolated case. I have encountered a number of such responses: “I don’t want to debate with you,” or “I don’t want this to be a long discussion. All I know is I love Jesus and he has changed my life, and that is all that matters. Let’s just focus on loving one another and helping other people.”

Now, I totally get that. The same time we spend arguing with each other could be better spent feeding some malnourished child somewhere, or counseling a suicidal teen. However, it still bothers me when people share that their motivation for doing these acts is a belief system that they are not willing to study critically.

I find it amusing that a believer would think it a “waste of time” to delve more into his own belief system and call the issues trivial, while an agnostic like me is willing to spend time to learn more about them. It is his belief, after all, not mine, and should be the center of his life and attention. What could possibly be more important in his life than knowing deeper and understanding better the path he has chosen?

I have detected perhaps the crux of the problem and it is this: Many believers would rather believe than know. They would rather be comfortable than to think the unthinkable, to take the opposite position fully and try to see from that perspective. Diving into deep theological issues is hard work. It requires a lot of time, effort and research. It is often confusing and very troubling especially if you are deeply rooted in your beliefs, and you begin to question them and not stop at the answers given by your own theologians.

So what I think happens is that many would rather not think about these issues: Never mind the contradictions in the doctrine — they are trivial and unimportant compared to the greatest commandment which is to love God and love others. Never mind that this “greatest commandment” is written on documents with anonymous authors, whose accuracy and credibility is debated upon. Never mind that the person who supposedly uttered that command is shrouded in myth and mystery. Never mind that the book you consider as holy and inspired has numerous contradictions, questionable decrees, and incredible tales.

It is so much easier to simply believe and be sure that you are going to heaven (even if no one has seen it or has proven that it exists), than to struggle with all the complexity and uncertainty. People are bothered when the discussions become long and tedious. Why? Because they want things to be resolved quickly. They want the answer immediately, so they can be certain, because certainty is so reassuring and comfortable. It is a more difficult path to suspend judgement – to not know something for days, months and even years.

Yet for me, that is the better and “truer” path to truth, because truth is not necessarily comfortable nor reassuring. Truth is truth and does not bend to our whims or desires, and my pursuit of it is anything but trivial.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you enjoy discussions or want to meet new friends, join us at our next Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter meetup entitled “Secularism: Beyond the Separation of Church and State,” on July 27, Saturday, 730PM at Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. Email me at andy@freethinking.me.  View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

The End of Reason

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Photo by Brian Hillegas
Photo by Brian Hillegas

Where Faith Begins
There is an oft-quoted phrase in Christian circles that goes “faith begins where reason ends” and I’m perfectly fine with that statement as it is.

The problem I have is that a lot of people who use this phrase to defend their faith do not really go to the end of reason. They stop short of the end, refusing to take reason past a certain point, and declare that faith is now the operative agent.

I, myself, have been guilty of this many times in the past. When I reached a point when I wasn’t able to understand some theological conundrum, I then declared that at this point, I must have faith. That declaration is often coupled with prayer for more faith as in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” At other times it is accompanied with thanks and praise to God for being so wise that his ways are higher than mine.

I then put the issue away from my mind, feeling assured that I am resting in the hands of a being who loves me and has a perfect plan for me, even if I do not understand it at the moment.

The Tipping Point
That went on for so many years until I was boiling with so many questions I had put away, so many unresolved issues about my faith and belief that it was impossible to simply ignore them anymore. I had experienced many ups and downs in my “spiritual” life. I had experienced putting everything on the line for faith, and I had come out unsatisfied and somewhat disappointed.

Around 5 years ago, I had a realization. God had created me to be an extremely rational being. If I put aside my rationality, would it not be a disservice to the gift that he gave me? Would I not be misusing my “talent” if I turned it off in the name of faith?

And so I prayed, “God, if you really are there, you gave me an abundance of rational ability and I want to know you more and understand you through that gift. You know of my disappointment with faith, but I believe you are also a God of reason and from this point forward, I will use your gift of reason to get to the truth of things — even if it means abandoning beliefs I have long held sacrosanct, even if it means abandoning whatever belief I have in you — because whatever I believe about you I have known from other sources. This time, I want to get to know you as you are, not as other people tell me. I want to know you directly, not just know of you from other sources.”

The Journey Thus Far
It has been 5 years and it seems that every word of that prayer has come true. I let loose with all those bottled-up questions. I talked about them with other people, tentatively at first, but more boldly as time went by. I read books I previously would not have touched and listened to speakers I would have avoided, for fear of being influenced by “the wiles of the devil.”

Over time, I learned to let go of certain “truths” I have cherished and found comfort in, and that was very difficult to do. It was like climbing a spiral staircase in a castle tower, and at every step I took, the previous step dropped back into nothingness. I could not see the top. I did not know where I was headed. Yet, there was no turning back, nothing to hold on to. There was no way to go but forward and upward.

Today, I have a very different concept of God, the Bible, church, religion, and spirituality. I have reached this point because I was willing to take reason past the point where most sensible believers stop. I was willing to cross a line I dared not cross before. I dared to question the existence of God. I dared to question the authority of the Bible, the necessity of church and religion. And when I asked these questions, I did not just dip my toe into the pool and shake off the water and declare proudly that I have already challenged my beliefs and survived. No, I dived in and learned to embrace the cold waters. It was very uncomfortable at first and I had to fight the urge to jump out of the pool and go back to warm embrace of “just” believing. But I stayed there and am still staying there because I need to know how far reason can go.

If, in the future, I do return to faith, then I can truly and honestly say that I have reached the end of reason, and it would not be an empty declaration.

But until then, the journey goes on.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me.

A Leap of Science

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Photo from Sabrina's Stash
Photo from Sabrina’s Stash

I believe in miracles, and it is spelled S-C-I-E-N-C-E.

I have spent the last few hours reading articles and watching videos about the latest scientific breakthroughs. I have focused on research and technology that alleviates human suffering, compensates for human disabilities, prolongs and grants better quality of life.

One such miracle which will be very evident and available for online readers is called HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the “language” of the internet which allows you to simply click at the links I give and you will be instantly whisked away to other websites I have used as source material.

To those of you reading this on paper and ink, you too can access this miracle by going online, not by prayer. Unless, of course, you pray for a laptop (or tablet) to drop down from heaven onto your lap, automatically turn on, hijack your neighbor’s wifi signal, fire up its web browser and go to my article — and it actually happens.

The Deaf Shall Hear

In the meantime, let me tell you about 3-year old Grayson Clamp who hears his dad’s voice for the very first time. That may not sound so spectacular at first, unless you know that baby Grayson was born without a cochlear nerve which transmits signals from the ears to the brain. In other words, there is no connection between his brain and his ear.

To get around the problem, doctors performed a cochlear implant, putting a chip in Grayson’s brain which allows him to receive and process those signals. The look on his face as he hears his father’s voice is priceless.

26-year old Amy Barber went through a similar operation and she was able to hear her six-year old son for the first time. Her aunt who was there, took a video and posted it on Youtube where it went viral.

The Blind Shall See

Diane Ashworth, a 54-year old woman from Australia, is the first recipient of a bionic eye transplant. The result isn’t perfect yet as the technology is still in the prototype stage but Diane can see flashes of light and shapes which proves that the brain is now receiving some sort of signal from the device. Researchers in Israel are also working on such a device and in the near future, we may very well have functional bionic eyes that can enable even those born blind to see in full color.

The Lame Shall Walk (and tie shoelaces as well)

Prosthetics are nothing new and have been around for decades. Still, they are minor miracles in bringing back some sense of normalcy in an amputee’s life. What caught my attention is the degree of advancement in prosthetic development which blends with robotics. A company called Ekso Bionics has developed a robotic exoskeleton that allows those paralyzed from the waist down to walk. This was a boon to Jason Geiser who had a motorcycle accident and was told that he wouldn’t be able to walk again.

Hand prosthetics are a bit more complicated because of the fine-motor tuning involved. In the past, it was nearly impossible to create a bionic hand that could alternate between strongly gripping an object and holding it delicately (like holding an egg without breaking, or holding a pen and writing). 53-year old Nigel Ackland shows off an advanced hand prosthesis that allows him to deal cards and tie his shoelaces, as well as make an omelet and open a beer bottle.

The Dead Shall Rise Again

39-year old Colin Fiedler was dead for at least 40 minutes being brought back to life with a cardiac support pump called the AutoPulse which keeps the patient’s blood running through the brain and other vital organs, as doctors administer medicine or shock treatment. The procedure has revived two other patients under similar conditions as well.

I have no doubt in my mind that science will continue creating, refining and delivering life-changing technology such as these in the years to come — and that they will become available to more and more people. Machines and electronics have become so prevalent and familiar to us that we fail to see the wonder in them any more.

Miracles are all around us, if you would care to open your eyes and see. They are brought about not by a leap of faith, but of science. And unlike other so-called miracles, they can be depended on to work again, and again, and again.

 

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you actually had a laptop or tablet drop on your lap from heaven, send me an email at andy@freethinking.me.

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