The Thirty Million Dollar Question


Which is more important — the mass or thirty million dollars?

When Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle asked this question to a young audience, he was reportedly bothered when a good number of them chose 30 million dollars. He then proceeded to chastise them, saying how easy it was for them to exchange God for money, and so on.

When he related the story in his homily during Palm Sunday, he asked the audience the same question, to which they answered, “the mass,” though I highly doubt the sincerity of that response.

If the good cardinal was bothered about the initial reply, I am bothered that he asked such an inane question in the first place, and all the more bothered at the hypocrisy of his response.

Why so? Well, Tagle speaks from a position of privilege. He is head, after all, of an organization that owns vast tracts of land and has billions of pesos invested in publicly-listed corporations like BPI, Ayala Corporation, San Miguel Corporation, and so on. He probably does not have to worry where his next meal will come from, or what clothes to wear. He sleeps at night with a comfortable bed under him and a good roof over his head.

The question is a setup. It is designed for guilt-tripping.

While I talked about this with a friend, he said, “Why don’t we turn the tables around and ask him, ‘What is more important? Your stock holdings, your properties, and your public stature or saying the mass?’”

And if he responds that the mass is more important, then ask him why he and his church still clings tightly to its riches and grandeur while telling its flock to give up the same.

30 million dollars is not a paltry sum. It is around 1.3 billion pesos. It is more money than over 95% of our population will ever see. Invested wisely, this sum can literally turn people’s lives around and ensure their future for years to come.

Yet here is this very influential person, admonishing his flock for choosing a very real answer to their very real problems in exchange for a ceremony invented by men to appease and adore their deity. If I were that deity, I’d give that priest a smack on his head because if there is anything that people should learn, it is not to deify their rituals, but to see reality as it is and to live in the here and now, not in some future reality that they’re not even sure of. Would I be offended if some poor sap choose money over some ritual for me? Of course not. I do not lose any of my godhood whether or not people attend mass, yet that person stands to lose a lot if he doesn’t take the money.

I think one of the reasons why such a large percentage of our population is poor is this perverse brainwashing by our religion and by our culture that to desire money is somehow evil, and that to suffer is somehow good (the martyr syndrome). This is why we meekly bow and suck up to abusive leaders and officials. This kind of thinking has to stop.

I have a number of friends who came from poverty and worked their way into comfortable wealth. They tell me that they had problems when they were poor, and they still had problems when they were rich. The problems do not disappear. But every one of them said they would rather have problems while they are rich rather than have problems while they are poor.

Yes, I understand that money is not everything and cannot solve everything, but it certainly is something and it can solve a few things (of course, the more you have, the more you can solve). Now, the thirty million dollar question for the bishop is — in very real and practical terms, what problem does your mass solve?

And please don’t answer “eternal life.” Your most brilliant theologians would probably roll their eyes at that answer.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco enjoys mass only in physics equations. Contact him at View previous articles at


Hide and Seek

Altered Image. Original Photo Credit: Daran Kandasamy via Compfight cc
Altered Image. Original Photo Credit: Daran Kandasamy via Compfight cc

The road to truth is a lonely one.

The road is full of twists and turns, numerous forks, and curious bends that invite you to put your foot to them. You meet fellow travellers along the way. You get along with some and enjoy their company but you also meet those whom you can’t wait to get rid of. But sooner or later, you have to part ways. Either they decide to take a different path, or you do.

Of course, there is always the option to stay where you are and make yourself believe that you have found what you were looking for. You make camp (or discover one) and decide that you like it there, and you begin to get others to join you. You create all sorts of rationalizations and reasons why your camp is the best and why all the others have got it wrong. Of course, that’s what those in the other camps are doing as well.

Pretty soon, a good number of you are embroiled in squabbles and arguments and debates. There is a lot of anger and insults thrown about left and right,  and you forget that this all began as a journey, not a war, which it has become. And the way to progress in this journey is not to be content in staying where you are and protecting your camp but to actually move on and keep walking the path, and to keep seeking. The camper digs his heels in and defends his territory. The true seeker is ready to pack up and follow wherever truth leads.

If you are still wondering what in the world I am talking about, let me make it plain — I am talking about the “war” between theists and atheists — those who believe in God and those who don’t.

As I walked the path from theism to atheism, I discovered a lot of material to digest. I read articles and books. I watched debates and listened to different podcasts. I also got to meet and talk to a lot of people and get different ideas.

One thing I found out was that both sides had their share of cheerers and jeerers. These were the noisy ones, the ones who get noticed the most, who post provocative and challenging statements on social media to grab attention. It is easy to get drawn by them (whichever side you’re on) and I’ll admit that I enjoyed being one of them for a time. It was fun cheering your side and jeering the other side.

But then I woke up and remembered how I got to this side in the first place. I was seeking the truth, not auditioning for a cheering squad. I don’t regret having done those things or having gone through them as they were important parts of the process, but I believe I’m on to something deeper now.

A friend of mine has made me realize that in my writings and discussions, I may not have been addressing the best arguments for theism. He managed to convince me of this and now I am halfway through a book that he recommended, even if I have to struggle with some of the concepts since philosophy is not really my forte and I still have painful memories of having to repeat a class because of a failing grade I got.

Theists tend to read books written by fellow theists and atheists tend to read books written by fellow atheists. While this has some value, I think it is of utmost importance that each side should read the other sides books as well, and with an open and humble attitude — not merely with the intent of punching holes in them. It is also important to read what are considered the best works of both sides, in order to really get the strongest arguments and thus be able to evaluate them better.

Now, of course, campers are afraid of this because there is always the chance that their numbers will be reduced because of those who will be swayed to the other side. Yet, truth often demands that you make the journey from one camp to the other, and still to another. A theist pursues his doubts which leads him to be an atheist. But it is very possible for the atheist now to have doubts and thus return to being a theist, or something else altogether.

The camper is content to select one side and entrench himself there, but the true seeker does not allow himself to be trapped, and is willing to reconsider and doubt whatever is his current position. A true seeker is not attached to labels but is relentless in his pursuit of truth. In the end, I do not aim to be a staunch defender of theism, atheism, agnosticism or whatever. I only aim for the truth, whatever it is, and wherever it may bring me.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco likes hide and seek. Contact him at View previous articles at

Free Writing

Photo Credit: The Hamster Factor via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: The Hamster Factor via Compfight cc

Free writing is an exercise designed to stimulate writing. It is not related to freethinking although they sound the same. I use this exercise from time to time when I have a hard time coming up with something to write about. The idea is to write whatever comes to your head, without stopping, filtering or editing.

Well, that’s the idea, but I find it very hard to turn off my inner editor. Some of these sentences went through 2 or 3 revisions before I even completed them (including this one). Many people do not realize this but writing — or at least, good writing — is often a two-step process. Sometimes, it is even a three, four or five-step process. The first step consists of writing the first draft. The second step (and onwards) consists of revising and editing.

The point of free-writing is for you to come up with enough material for your first draft so that you have something to revise. After all, it is quite difficult to edit a blank page. The great artist, Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” However, it is quite difficult to create a statue if all you have is a pebble, or worse, thin air.

In the same manner, I believe that every block of text contains a bestseller or a Pulitzer-prize winner, or at least something memorable and meaningful. The task of the writer is to shape it as such. As with the pebble, It is quite difficult to shape only a few words — unless of course you are meaning to write short poetry, haiku, or the like — and even then those skilled in that art will tell you it is not an easy task to write them. Since one does not have the luxury of hundreds of words to make a point, then every word must count. Each word must be the right word. Some poets even labor over whether to put a comma or not.

I digress, but then that happens a lot in free writing. You just have to keep going and going. Yet, you need not be stuck with any material you don’t like. You can delete entire paragraphs if you want. You can delete the whole piece if you want and start over with an idea you got while typing the last paragraph of the first draft that you free-wrote.

The beauty of free writing is that it is very possible to generate a large amount of material in a short amount of time. That is, if you do it right. If you’re like me, however, who tends to mix editing and revising along with writing, then it will possibly take longer, but you spend less time on final revisions since you have already done most of the work anyway.

The danger of doing what I do, however, is getting stuck. You now have an idea of where you want the article or story to go but you become obsessed with perfecting it, with using the right words. Sometimes, that will cause you to just stare at the screen and think, until you realize that an hour has passed and you still haven’t progressed. That actually defeats the purpose of free writing in the first place.

So when I catch myself pausing for a long time, I just force myself to type on. I mutter things like, “Press on. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The battle is won by winning each war and each sentence you write is a war won.” And so on and so forth.

And then comes the magic. You type a word at the end of the line and your word processor automatically bumps you to the next page. You can hear angels (or Hell’s Angels, whichever you prefer) singing.

You have now reached the second page.

Of course you do a quick check to make sure that you haven’t cheated (like typing in double-space, or things like that). Sometimes, this experience is enough encouragement for some to just keep going and going, like runners getting a second wind.

However, don’t get too carried away. It’s not the length of your article that’s important but also its substance and value. Remember to revise and rewrite as necessary, and cut away anything irrelevant. Be a cruel and merciless editor of your own work. Your readers will thank you for it.

Samuel Johnson said, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”

So, do use free writing as a technique but remember to review and revise your work to make it meaningful and a pleasurable read.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco reads and writes for pleasure. Contact him at View previous articles at

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