Sinfully Holy

Photo Credit: Rubén Chase via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Rubén Chase via Compfight cc

I got this interesting email in response to last week’s article about biblical inerrancy:

Faith will guide you Sir. If there are a lot of accounts on what transpired during the finding of the rolled stone of the tomb of Jesus – one thing is common – Resurrection! the basis of Christianity. Nothing in this world is perfect. Only God is perfect. The Church is both holy and sinful. It is an illusion to seek for the perfect Bible.

Engr. Cristy G. Gallano

Thanks for writing, Cristy. I appreciate your effort and sincerity. Allow me to respond to your letter sentence by sentence for you and our other readers to see where I’m coming from. Perhaps this will give you some additional insight about how I think and approach these matters and hopefully lead to better understanding.

Faith will guide you

I have written before about why I do not find faith to be a valid method of approaching reality (see my article on Why Faith Is Not A Virtue for a more extensive discussion).

To sort of summarize, faith is not part of my epistemology, or my way of acquiring knowledge. In my own experience, I resort to faith only when I have no way of getting good data on a certain matter, or when there is no time to think things through and process anymore. But unlike the author of Hebrews who proclaims that faith is the “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” I have no such assurance nor conviction.

Faith has never been a reliable guide. I have often made terrible decisions when I relied on faith when I should instead have relied on reason and common sense. But I believe I have given faith its due. I have tested it for many years of my life and found it sorely lacking. At best, it is wishful thinking, pretending to be sure of something you’re not really sure about — or as Peter Boghossian puts it, “pretending to know things you do not know.”

So I’m sorry but my experience tells me not to trust in faith anymore. It is reason that I have chosen to be my guide.

One thing is common – Resurrection! The basis of Christianity

My comparison of the four verses last week was not to refute the resurrection story, but to show discrepancies in the different accounts. However, your point seems to be that the small details do not matter since they all agree that the resurrection indeed happened.

So let me tell you why I find the resurrection improbable (not impossible, mind you but highly unlikely). I can only make one point for now (and maybe have a more robust discussion in a future article) and that point is a direct quote from Carl Sagan who said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

If I claim to have a hundred pesos in my pocket, you would have no cause to doubt me. That is an ordinary claim. You might not even require me to bring out the money but just decide to believe me outright, and there would be nothing wrong with that.

However, if I tell you that I have a laser pistol in my pocket that can shoot death rays, you would be a fool to believe me outright without asking to see it and even ask for a demonstration.

Now, let’s see the circumstances surrounding the resurrection. To claim that someone rose from the dead is certainly an extraordinary claim. What evidence do we have for it?

Well, you have your four gospels, which I have already pointed out, is riddled with contradictions. The scholarly consensus is also that they are anonymous. They were not written by the names they bear.

One would think that such a momentous event would merit the mention of contemporary historians of that time. Indeed, if we are to believe the book of Matthew, it wasn’t just Jesus who rose from the dead but many people did. Matthew 27:51-53: “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. One may possibly overlook one man rising from the dead, but a whole town? And no Roman or any outsider thought to write about it?

Christians are fond of using Josephus and Tacitus as non-biblical references of Jesus. Yet, if you read the few sentences they mention about Jesus, it is almost just in passing. There is no mention that he rose from the dead. That is hardly convincing and extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary event.

Nothing in this world is perfect

You are most probably correct in this statement.

Only God is perfect

But for this, I would ask, “How do you know? Have you seen this God? Have you met him and ascertained that he is indeed perfect?” If I were to base it on my experience of the world, I find that statement highly doubtful.

The Church is both holy and sinful

I neither call anything holy nor sinful, except as symbolic terms. Holiness or sinfulness has no meaning for me apart from being alternative words for good and evil.

It is an illusion to seek for the perfect Bible

Perhaps, but I used to believe the Bible as a gateway to truth, and many people are still under that illusion. I am merely telling my story and I know that it has resonated with a few others who have written to me saying they are comforted by the idea that someone else has articulated what they have bottled up in their own private thoughts.

I do not share my story to change the minds of those who do not think like me. I share it so that those who already think as I do, know and are comforted that they are not alone.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Erratum: The original article in Sunstar makes reference to Matthew 28:51-53. That should be Matthew 27:51-53.

Andy Uyboco is sinfully holy. If you kill him, he will rise again as a wooly mammoth after 233,594,348 days. You may leave a message at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy

Photo Credit: michaelrighi via Compfight cc
Altered image. Original photo by: michaelrighi via Compfight cc

I grew up believing that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I believed in a literal 6-day creation, the talking snake, the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, Samson’s wondrous strength, Elijah flying up to the heavens in a blazing chariot of fire, and of course, Jesus and all the miracles he and his disciples performed.

I remember one bible study session when I was a young teen. The pastor declared that the scribes were so careful in copying the manuscripts that they had to purify themselves by taking a bath every time they wrote a word or a sentence. If a scribe made a mistake, the whole scroll would be burned and he would have to start all over again. So we were supposed to have very reliable copies of the original biblical texts, without errors or discrepancies.

It was later in my thirties when I began to seriously question the Bible’s authority. The verse often quoted to support inerrancy is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But this was written before everything had been compiled into what we now call the New Testament. What “scripture” then, did Paul have in mind when he wrote those words?

I began to look at how the biblical canon (the official list of inspired and authoritative books) was developed. When I asked about it, pastors told me that early church fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit to decide which book made the cut and which book didn’t, and for a time, I accepted that. However, as I read more and more about church history, I realized that the canon was not decided in a moment of revelation, nor was it declared by a voice in the heavens. There was much discussion, debates, arguments, bullying, politics, and in the end it all came down to a matter of votes.

In fact, few people realize that even up to this day, the biblical canon is still in dispute. A Catholic Bible (like the New American Bible) contains 73 books in all while the Protestant Bible (virtually all other versions with the most popular being King James, NIV, NRSV, and the like) contains only 66 books.

Of course, growing up as a Protestant, I simply ignored the Catholic version because I thought it was plain wrong. Life is simple when you just pick a side and don’t have to think so much.

Unfortunately for me, I was not wired that way. I had to know more, because this book was supposed to be the one driving my life. It was supposed to be my guide to life on earth and even beyond. I had to know if I could really trust it.

The more I read and learned, the more that trust withered.

I delved into serious biblical scholarship and learned that no serious biblical scholar (whether Christian or not) would claim that biblical texts are without errors or discrepancies. In fact, there are thousands of discrepancies. This is common knowledge in biblical scholarship. Most errors are minor, however, and consist of spelling or grammatical mistakes. Yet, some are downright irreconcilable. For example, one only needs to read the resurrection accounts in the four gospels and see that there are glaring inconsistencies.

Mark 16 gives the story of 3 women who came to the tomb and see the stone already rolled back. They went inside and saw a young man dressed in a white robe who spoke to them. They fled and told no one about it because they were afraid.

Matthew 28 tells us that there were 2 women who came to the tomb, apparently still closed, until a great earthquake came and rolled the stone away. Then they saw an angel descend from heaven which frightened the living daylights out of the guards. The angel talked to them outside the tomb. They ran from the tomb and Jesus met them and told them to give a message to his “brothers.”

Luke 24 does not specify how many women there were. Similar to the narrative of Mark, they arrive only to find the stone rolled away, then went in and found not one, but two shining beings. The women went and told the disciples about it but no one believed them.

John 20 has Mary Magdalene all alone. When she discovers the stone rolled away, she ran immediately to Peter and another unnamed disciple (presumably John) to report the matter because she thought someone had took the body. Both disciples ran to the empty tomb and saw only the linens. Mary later sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him, thinking he was the gardener.

Now, if these stories are supposed to be true, how come they do not corroborate each other? Why didn’t God “inspire” all four writers to be a little more consistent in their details? The logical conclusion is that some of these narratives contain errors. If they contain errors, you can hardly call them inerrant. Then how can we know which parts are true and which aren’t? How can we know if ANY of it is true at all?

Aside from discrepant narratives, there are many other problems. We have none (yes, none!) of the original manuscripts of the Bible. What we have are copies of copies of copies of copies and there are numerous errors from one copy to another. There are verses which appear in some copies of the text, but not in others — which suggests that they were either added in or taken out. The last part of Mark 16 is a perfect example of this and is even documented in most Bibles if you bother to read the footnotes.

There are entire books which were not written by the supposed authors. For example, none of the gospels were written by the people whose names they bear. Some letters of Paul were most likely not written by Paul, like 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians and Ephesians. Again, these are not new claims. Bible scholars have known this for decades.

World-renowned New Testament scholar and author, Bart D. Ehrman, details many of these in his book, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (free download available at archive.org). I suggest you look for a copy of that if you are interested in these things. In the concluding chapter, he offers this thought: “I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”

And I heartily agree.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is currently having a conversation with a talking snake. You may leave a message at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Valentine Crush

Photo Credit: Caro Spark via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Caro Spark via Compfight cc

Perhaps it was Kate’s new hairstyle, or the jade-colored bead bracelet he had never noticed before, wrapped around her smooth, skinny arm — whatever it was, something about her caught Sami’s attention that day. It was Valentine’s Day and he knew he was in love.

The first person he told was his mom who ruffled his hair, and kissed his forehead. “It’s just a crush, my boy,” she said. “You’ll change and meet many other girls, I’m sure. You’re only 10 years old after all.”

Sami looked up at his mom with his big, round eyes and said, “No, mom. I won’t. She’s the one.”

His mom just shook her head and smiled.

Sami was extremely shy. He stuttered when he talked and was often teased by his classmates, which led him to become even more shy. He would rarely talk to people, except for one or two friends (who were equally shunned by the rest of the class because of their shyness). This drove Sami crazy. Every day, he would wake up thinking, “I’m going to talk to her, I’m going to talk to her,” and when he got to class he would stare at her back from where he sat 3 seats behind her, imagining how he would start a conversation with her. Would he take the direct approach? Would he bump her accidentally? Would he ask to copy the homework, pretending that he forgot to take it down before the next teacher erased it? Each scenario would play out in his mind until the last bell rang. Kate would pack up her things into her blue bag and Sami would watch her saunter out the door, kicking himself inside for being such a wimp.

The days came and went. They both grew a little older, were now in high school. By this time, Sami knew who Kate’s best friends were — skinny Adeline and pimply Jane. He knew her favorite hangout was at the bench just outside the cafeteria. He knew that she liked soft-rock music, that she hated anything with onions, and that she had a crush on Ronnie, who was in the school soccer team.

He still had not talked to her.

They were now in their senior year. Sami had learned many more things about Kate, not the least was the fact that she was already dating Ronnie for a few months.

It was Valentine’s Day again, which also happened to be the birthday of one of their classmates whose family owned a posh restaurant. He invited the whole class for his last high school birthday party and they all went.

The party was loud and lively. Dance music blared through giant speakers as the carefree teens swayed to the beat, while others ate and drank and laughed.

Sami never liked loud music. After a while of sitting quietly in a corner, sipping his cola, he decided to step outside for a while to clear his head. He had barely stepped out of the large double doors when he saw Kate a few feet away, pushing Ronnie and yelling, “I don’t care what your excuse is. I saw you kiss her. We’re through.”

Ronnie tried to grab her arm but Kate batted it away and said, “Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me or I’ll scream.”

Ronnie glared at her for a few seconds, then shrugged and walked out  to the street.

Kate turned and saw Sami staring. She wiped her eyes and said, “I’m sorry you had to see that. You’re Sam, right?”

Sami nodded, “Uh, y-y-yeah. B-b-but my friends call me Sami.”

Kate smiled, “Yes, Super Silent Stuttering Shy-boy Sami,” using the nickname many of his classmates teased him with.

Sami turned his head and looked down at his shoes.

Kate went to a nearby bench and sat down. “You know Sami, I could really use a good listener right now. Are you good at listening?”

Sami could not believe his ears. He nodded slowly.

“Come walk with me then,” said Kate.

They walked together as Kate talked and poured out her heart. For some reason, she felt as if she had known Sami all her life. His presence felt comforting. She told him about how she fell for Ronnie when she was a freshman, how he had asked her out the first time, how they fought over inconsequential things, and how she had caught Ronnie kissing another girl that afternoon at school when they thought nobody was looking.

“Why would he do that to me? I thought he cared about me. I must be so boring and ugly that he really doesn’t want me anymore,” she said.

Sami had gradually started to loosen up as she talked. They had walked all the way to a deserted park. He stared briefly at the night sky and saw the winking lights of a plane in the distance. He realized that he now had the perfect opportunity and wasn’t going to waste it. “Y-y-y-you know, K-k-kate. I d-don’t think you’re b-b-boring at all. A-a-and you know wh-what? I th-th-think, I th-th-think, I th-think you’re the m-m-most b-b-beautiful girl in the world.”

Sami could feel his cheeks getting hot as he said this and he stared hard at his shoes, but he continued speaking, knowing that this was probably his only chance at releasing all those pent-up emotions seething inside him for so many years. “A-a-a-actually, K-k-kate, I’ve had a c-c-cr-crush on you ever s-s-since we were in fourth grade.”

Kate stared at him as he blurted out his confession, her right hand pressed at her chest. Then she said, “Sami, would you like a kiss?”

“Wh-wh-wh-what?” said Sami as his eyes darted back and forth and his breath caught in his throat.

“Sami, I’m sad and confused right now. But I do want someone to hold me and kiss me and tell me everything will be all right. I’m not thinking straight and I might change my mind soon. So do you want a kiss or not?” Kate said.

Sami did not need any more prompting. He pulled her in a tight embrace and kissed her. They closed their eyes as their lips met. Suddenly there was a loud roar in the heavens. It rang in their ears like a thousand drums beating in frenzied cadence. The roar grew louder and louder but they held each other tight and in that brief moment, those precious few seconds stripped away all the heartache and pain in their hearts and filled it with the joy of knowing that they were not alone, that there was another who cared. Time stopped and they were locked in the briefest moment of eternity. Then there was a sharp jolt of light and heat, a sharp pain, then nothing.

The headlines next day read, “Plane Crashes In Park, 57 Passengers And 2 Teenagers Killed.”

Andy Uyboco was not on the plane crash but he knows you wish he was. You may send him hate mail at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Doubt Is Beautiful

doubt-is-the-doorway

DOUBT is the doorway to investigation, to truth, and to discovery. It’s the fire that burns down that which we easily assume and forces us to appreciate our own inclination toward criticism and wonder.

Doubt is a willingness to say, “I’m not sure, but I want to find out!” – and that’s why doubt should be celebrated and encouraged rather than demonized and shoved in a closet.

Doubt is beautiful and a little scary but worth every moment because it drives us to know more and stop settling for less.

— Matt Oxley, www.ragingrev.com

Mayor Do Thirty

Photo Credit: Keith Bacongco via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Keith Bacongco via Compfight cc

Love him or hate him, but you certainly can’t ignore him.

Davao’s tough-talking mayor made the headlines again when he openly announced his willingness to kill alleged rice smuggler, Davidson Bangayan a.k.a. David Tan, if he catches him doing the dirty deed in our city. He made the announcement brazenly, in front of the Philippine Senate and every major news outlet in the country.

Social media was abuzz after that pronouncement. I would read comments praising him, calling him their idol, calling him to run for president, and so on. On the other hand I would also read comments calling him unsavory names, cursing him for encouraging a culture of lawlessness, violence and vigilantism. The Commission on Human Rights recently attacked his statement for tolerating and promoting impunity.

As a Davaoeño, I find myself smiling at the idolizers and avid fans. You don’t really know him that well. Your praises are exaggerated and no, I don’t think he would make a good president. That office requires a very different set of skills than our trash-talking mayor possesses.

On the other hand, I am also smiling at those who curse him and say that he’s as bad as say, Kim Jong Un, president of North Korea. Your fear and demonization of him is exaggerated as well.

We can theorize and philosophize over his statements and actions all day, mulling the possible effects and repurcussions, and never come to an agreement. But there is something that is very difficult to argue against: results. Duterte has been the mayor for most of my teenage and adult life. In that span of time, what can I observe about the city I live in?

In Davao, people follow the law (most of the time). I rarely see cars beating the red light (even police cars) or turning brazenly at an intersection where there is a big “No Left Turn” sign. I lived in Metro Manila for 10 years and police cars breaking traffic rules, even when there is clearly no emergency, is a common sight.

Even when the crazy thirty kilometer-per-hour speed limit or the 1AM liquor ban was imposed, people complained but followed nonetheless. Even Duterte’s daughter, former mayor Sara Duterte, did not resort to using her name or status, but gave up her license when she was apprehended for speeding.

I would like to disabuse non-Davaoeñoes of the notion that our mayor is a dictator who blatantly disregards due process. I’m sorry but that is just not an everyday reality in the city. The mayor is brash and talks trash but he does not go wantonly killing people left and right. Davao is not the killing fields in the clutches of a psychopathic tyrant, that so many want to paint. In fact, it was before he was mayor when NPA gunmen ran amok in the city and everyone cowered in fear. Duterte was the one who put a stop to that.

I actually feel safe in Davao. Of course, I don’t get too complacent either. We still have thefts and murders, after all, but I’m not as paranoid as I was when I used to live in Tondo, where I make sure to hide my watch (even if it’s just an inexpensive Timex) in my pocket when traversing the streets.

I do not recall ever seeing the mayor’s name emblazoned on government projects, ambulances, bridges, basketball courts and so on even as far back as 20 years ago when politicians made it a national pasttime to pollute our walls and streets with their faces.

A lot of what makes Davao stand out has been here for so long that locals already take it for granted — we are the first city in the Philippines to have an integrated emergency response team (yes, you can dial ‘911’ in Davao); we are the first city to ban smoking in public places; the first city to ban firecrackers, resulting in zero or near-zero injuries every year; we have won awards for being culture-friendly, child-friendly, clean and green, and of course being among the top most livable cities in Asia.

Do I think the mayor is perfect? Of course not. He has his faults and flaws and he’s getting old, but I cannot argue with his results. Even if I have to constantly watch my speedometer and do thirty for Duterte, he has made Davao safe, peaceful and liveable.

And for this, if nothing else, he has my thanks.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is probably doing thirty while you’re reading this. You may leave a message at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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