DepEd Caves In, Rewrites Vision Statement

Photo Credit: Hansel and Regrettal via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Hansel and Regrettal via Compfight cc

Amidst protests from various religious sectors, the Department of Education has announced that it will release a new vision statement, despite only having revised it recently. The issue traces its roots back to when the Filipino Freethinkers (FF) wrote to DepEd last February 2013, protesting the wording of the previous statement which said “By 2030, DepEd is globally recognized for good governance and for developing functionally-literate and God-loving Filipinos.”

According to FF, this is a clear violation of  the principle of secularism as it “enshrines theism as a preferred belief system and imply that those who do not subscribe to belief in a deity are at best second-class citizens who have flawed or incomplete values.”

Seemingly in response to that, DepEd recently released a new vision statement which states “We dream of Filipinos who passionately love their country and whose values and competencies enable them to realize their full potential and contribute meaningfully to building the nation. As a learner-centered public institution, the Department of Education continuously improves itself to better serve its stakeholders.” This change elicited strong reactions from different religious communities.

“This small minority has some nerve trying to speak for all Filipinos. If they do not want God, that is their problem, but majority of Filipinos believe in God and we have to shout louder and show them our numbers,” wrote Reverend Sye  D. Sins of the Winning Christ Church.

“This is the beginning of the end. When you remove Brahma from your life, evil things will follow. This is bad karma,” wrote Rajesh Chotrani of the Hindu Society of the Philippines.

On the other hand, the DepEd also received a complaint from the Philippine Fellowship of Isis stating, “We decry both atheism and sexism. Not only should you bring back God-loving but also include Goddess-loving for those of us who worship the Divine Mother.”

There was also a handwritten letter with dark-red ink, whom some suspect to be dried blood, from the Secret Satanic Society of the Philippines, “How about Satanists? DepEd should include Satan-loving also for us. We want to educate people about Satan as he has often been unfairly portrayed as evil. That is certainly not true. Demanding God-loving or non-God-loving is both offensive to us.”

Meanwhile, Red Tani, president of the Filipino Freethinkers said in a recent video podcast (see video below), “We are not trying to remove God or impose atheism. In fact, if the constitution were to have a clause forcing people to be atheists, we would be against that as well. We are simply ensuring that DepEd does not violate any constitutional provisions by favoring one religion over another, or even religion over irreligion, as said by constitutional expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas.”

However, mounting pressure from hundreds of religious groups all over the country have taken their toll on Department Secretary Armin Luistro, who released a statement saying “When we revised the vision, we did so in the spirit of fairness to the other religious and even non-religious in the country. However, our office has now been literally flooded with letters of complaints, suggestions, and even threats. Our staff are working overtime to process these letters and emails as well. Almost every religious group has written in with their official statements on the matter demanding action from us.

Of course, as a national institution, we try as much as possible to weigh the different options available to us, and in the end, we have decided to once again revise our vision statement to appease everyone concerned. It is not yet in its final form as our committee is still reviewing it to see if we have left anything out. But we can already release the working copy to the media, and even in this form, I hope there will be no more complaints that we are no longer a God-loving institution.

This is the working copy of the new vision statement of the Department of Education:

“We dream of Filipinos who passionately love their country, who are functionally literate, can think critically, and for those so inclined, be God-loving, Goddess-loving, Allah-loving, Brahma-loving, Shiva-loving, Vishnu-loving, Zeus-loving, Isis-loving, Satan-loving, Buddha-loving, Jesus-loving, Aphrodite-loving, Yahweh-loving, Na Tu Kong-loving, Bathala-loving, Baal-loving, Bast-loving, Ra-loving, Dagon-loving, Odin-loving, Jupiter-loving, Shangdi-loving, Lakapati-loving, Quetzalcotl-loving, Coyolxauhqui-loving, Ah Peku-loving, Kamilaroi-loving, Bundjalong-loving, Colel Cab-loving, Cthulhu-loving, Quiboloy-loving, Flying Spaghetti Monster-loving…”

The final copy of the vision statement will be officially published once DepEd has finished including all the deities of all religious groups in the Philippines, no matter how small, to ensure that no one is left out.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me. And to those who are wondering, yes, this IS satire with some smattering of fact scattered here and there. Religious organizations and characters mentioned are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental and unintentional.

If you are based in Davao City, you are invited to join the next Filipino Freethinkers Davao Meetup on September 6, Saturday, 7:30PM at Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. Topic: The Pursuit of Immortality – A Secular Perspective; Speaker: Mr. Arnold Vandenbroeck. 

Doubting the Resurrection

Photo Credit: Dean Ayres via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dean Ayres via Compfight cc

In a previous article, A Second Look At Biblical Inerrancy, I promised to tackle the resurrection of Jesus in my next article, which was last week. However, that was the week Robin Williams died so that article took a back seat while I wrote a tribute to an actor who played a role that made a major impact in my life.

So to get back on the topic, let me do a quick recap. The previous article dealt with inconsistencies in the details of the resurrection of the four gospels in the Bible. A reader wrote in to say that there may have been inconsistencies, but they were all unanimous in stating that there was indeed a resurrection — and that was the most important point. I responded then that my goal was not to prove or disprove the resurrection but to show that it is erroneous to claim biblical inerrancy, for how can four different accounts be inerrant? They cannot all be right. That is but a logical conclusion.

So now, let’s go to the reader’s other point: was there indeed a resurrection?

There are many ways to approach this question and I have read a good number of literature from both sides of the fence. That being said, there is no way I am going to make a comprehensive case for or against the resurrection in an 800-word article as different scholars have written whole books on this subject alone.

Instead, what I will attempt now is a simple argument for the layperson, someone who is not well-versed in the deeper issues, and doesn’t need to be (at this point). If you are the scholarly type, I’m sure you have answers to my arguments and you’re more than welcome to write me and discuss those with me and maybe I will devote a future article focusing on your particular argument.

For now, let me begin with this phrase popularized by the late Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

For example, if I tell you that I met with a couple of friends from Manila last week, you would probably not have any reason to doubt that statement. It is normal to have friends from other places. Manila is an actual place and last week is a reasonable time to have met them. If you do challenge me, I could just show you my Facebook page where I posted a selfie with these friends and that would be the end of it. You probably would not allege that I edited that picture and that it’s fake, because there is no apparent reason for me to do so. It is an ordinary claim, hence ordinary evidence will suffice to make it believable.

However, if I were to claim that I had dinner with Robin Williams (yes, the dead actor) last night, on the planet Saturn, you would be the most gullible person on earth if you believed that at face value. When I made such preposterous claims to my daughter when she was still 6 years old, even she would raise an eyebrow and say, “Oh yeah, Daddy? Prove it.”

But what if I showed you a photo of me and Robin Williams in a restaurant with a backdrop of what appears to be Saturn’s rings, would you believe me then? You still probably won’t because photos can be faked. What if I showed you a short video clip? Well, it’s a more difficult process, but videos can be faked as well. What if several people claim to have been there with me and witnessed the event? You probably wouldn’t believe them either and think it’s all an elaborate joke.

What makes the second claim so hard to believe? Well, it is an extraordinary claim and what I need to prove it is not just evidence but a preponderance of it, or in the words of a Philippine senator, a whole truckload of it.

Now, what do we have for the resurrection? We have the gospels as the principal accounts for it.

I have pointed out in the previous article, however, that the gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. They were simply relaying a story that has been told and retold thousands of times in the past few decades. Some people claim that the eyewitnesses were still around at the time the gospels were being circulated and could certainly verify or refute whatever was written.

But that is a dubious claim as it transmutes modern standards of life expectancy, literacy and literary circulation into ancient times. The earliest gospel, Mark, is dated at around 70 AD, forty years after Jesus’ supposed death. Historian J.D. Crossan has estimated that the average life expectancy during first century Palestine is 29 years. Biologist Caleb Finch seems to agree with this estimate although he gives a broader range of 20-35 years. That means that an eyewitness who was 20 years old during the crucifixion/resurrection event itself would most probably be dead by the time Mark came out.

Some would argue that it was entirely possible for them to have lived longer, and yes, I’m not saying it’s impossible. All I’m saying is it’s on the wrong side of the probability spectrum. Also, books weren’t published en masse as they were today. It took a lot of time for them to be copied by hand and more time to be circulated, and since the general public were mostly illiterate, they couldn’t read them anyway and could probably not have refuted them outright.

In his book, Sense and Goodness Without God, historian Richard Carrier notes “The early Roman Empire in particular was replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, even innocent men were mistaken for divine, and there was no end to the fools and loons who would follow and praise them. Skeptics and informed or critical minds were a small minority…This was an age of fables and wonder. Magic, miracles, ghosts were everywhere, and almost never doubted…this can be credited to the complete lack of any mass public education…and the lack of any mass media, or any organizations dedicated to investigating and getting at the truth and publishing the results.”

The gospels then are not unique in their tale of miracles and wonders. Even older tales and stories contain resurrection narratives. If one believes in the gospels, then why not these other tales as well?

With all that being said, the gospels themselves do not constitute the necessary preponderant and extraordinary evidence to conclude that an extraordinary event such as the resurrection of Jesus did indeed happen, and thus I am doubtful as to whether it really did. If the writer of Matthew could spin tales of a massive earthquake and dead people climbing out of their tombs to again walk the streets (Matt. 27:51) — an event that surprisingly no other contemporary historian writes about (not even the other gospel writers) — who knows what other tall tales he could conjure?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

How Robin Williams Shaped My Life

Photo Credit: HotGossipItalia via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: HotGossipItalia via Compfight cc

The one movie that perhaps has the greatest impact on my life is Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams plays the part of Professor John Keating — a radical teacher in a school that valued tradition above all else.

My first encounter with it was in 1989 when my high school English teacher (whom I consider Mr. Keating’s real life counterpart), showed us the movie. He wheeled in a TV and Betamax player set, and around forty students crowded around it trying to see the action on the small screen and listen to the dialogue amidst the noisy chatter of some less-interested classmates. Needless to say, I didn’t really understand the story that first time and only had a very rough idea of it. But I was intrigued and wanted to watch it again when I had the chance.

I had that chance when I was in college, this time in the audio-visual room which was equipped with a large screen and better sound system. I came out inspired, even considering the possibility of being a teacher, one of the last things I would ever dream of doing.

My childhood classmates might probably remember that I was very quiet in class, but not because I wasn’t interested or didn’t want to participate. I had a huge problem. Like Todd Anderson, one of the characters in the movie, I stuttered badly when I talked in public and I was so embarrassed by it that I mostly kept to myself in class and would rarely volunteer to do anything that involved reciting or talking.

I watched, enraptured, as Mr. Keating broke the self-imposed mental barriers in Todd’s mind, and somehow I knew that the barriers in my mind were broken as well. When the characters shouted “Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!” I shouted along with them as well (in my mind, of course). There was a sense of exhilaration, joy and freedom and I knew then that I wanted to live a life like Mr. Keating’s — to inspire others to feel what I felt, to learn to trust themselves and experience their own greatness. I eventually did become a teacher.

My opening spiel on the first day of my first year as a teacher was a shameless copy of one of Mr. Keating’s lectures when he says, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”

I also shamelessly copied the stunt of standing on the table to demonstrate that we should learn to look at things from other points of view. Later in the year, I showed them the movie and we all had a good laugh when they recognized what I did.

One of the best lessons in the movie was a courtyard scene. Mr. Keating asks three boys to walk around the courtyard. At first, they walk at their own pace, but pretty soon, they were marching in step with each other while the other students started clapping in rhythm. Mr. Keating jumps in to join the boys and starts chanting while the others echo his chants. Then he calls a halt to the entire activity. He then uses this example to show how easy it is for us to conform, and to want to conform to the status quo because of the pressures around us.

We may start out walking at our own pace, but eventually, unconsciously, we find that we are marching to a different drumbeat. We strive for standards of success that that others have set for us. We scramble towards goals and dreams that are not our own. We gravitate towards beliefs, customs, practices that others deem “normal” and “acceptable” even though we can’t understand why they are so. Against these, Mr. Keating warns, “Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, ‘That’s baaaaad!’ Robert Frost said, ‘Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’” Indeed that one idea has made a very big difference in my life.

As I go through the different tributes and messages in the aftermath of the tragic news of Williams’ death, I see that people remember him for different reasons and different roles. To some, he is Patch Adams. To others, he is Peter Pan, or Mrs. Doubtfire, or Mork or Aladdin’s Genie, or one of many other roles that have touched people in one way or another.

But to me, he will always be O Captain, My Captain.

Farewell, and good journey.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles atwww.freethinking.me.  

A Second Look at Biblical Inerrancy

Photo Credit: Sunshine Lady ! via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Sunshine Lady ! via Compfight cc

In a previous article entitled, Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy, I pointed out some reasons why I no longer believed that the Bible is without error. I expanded on an illustration popularized by biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman, showing how the accounts of the resurrection in the four gospels differed in their details. My conclusion then was that because of these discrepancies, it is difficult for me to think of the Bible as free from errors.

A reader, whom I shall call Kevin (not his real name), wrote in and said:

It seems that you easily find discrepancies on the MINUTEST details of their respective accounts, which is not the central message or truth that they want to record.  They wrote to prove that there was such a thing as a RESURRECTION that happened.  They or I are not interested on the number of women who were there.

Let me give you and illustration.  Supposed I sent you to Zamboanga in September 2013 to cover the Zamboanga war with 3 other reporters and the 4 of you sent the following report of the same incident that happened at the same time and same location:

Reporter 1:  An army from 8 IB fired his armalite rifle to the MNLF and killed 2 of them.

Report 2:  A Soldier from the Philippine Marine fired his AK 47 and killed 3 MNLF rebels.

Report 4 :  A Policeman from Zamboanga Police killed 4 MNLF rebels with his .45 pistol

Report 4:  A government trooper by the name of Juan de La Cruz fired his guns and I am still verifying how many were dead.

Apparently, the 4 of you were giving me different versions of the report. BUT WILL THAT MAKE YOU DENY THAT THERE WAS REALLY A WAR IN ZAMBOANGA?  I sent you to Zamboanga to tell us that there is a WAR going on there and how it happened. You do not have to be accurate on who fired , what gun and how many were hit.

In the case of these 4 GOSPELS, the CENTRAL ISSUE is the RESURRECTION which the 4 of them recorded.

You mean that because they do not corroborate with each other, then it is false or hoax?  If 4 liars will corroborate to tell a lie, it is still A LIE. Even if what they wrote are perfectly the same. Equally correct is when these 4 gospel writers intended to write a hoax, they should have written it perfectly the same.

Here is my response: You seem to think that my opinion of the gospel is that it’s a DELIBERATE hoax. That is not my view at all.

The main point of my article was not to show that the resurrection story is untrue. The main point was to highlight the fact that the discrepancies make it impossible to claim that the Bible is inerrant.

Going back to your example of the 4 reporters, you may not be interested in who fired and how many were hit but surely, not all of us can be correct. If I say that the Philippine army fired first, and reporter 2 said that the MILF fired first, we cannot both be correct at the same time. One of us has to be wrong.

Now, if one of us is wrong, you cannot say that the 4 accounts that we have are without error — which is what Christians (at least, some factions) claim, not only for the 4 gospels but for the entire Bible.

Unlike your war example, the gospels are not firsthand accounts of the eyewitnesses themselves. It is generally accepted among reputable Bible scholars, Christian ones included, that the earliest gospel, Mark, was written more than 30 years after the event. Matthew and Luke followed 10 or 20 years later, and John followed another 10 years later.

So if we were to rewrite your example in these terms, it would go like this: It is now September 2043 (30 years after the 2013 Zamboanga War). A writer named Mark comes to interview me, knowing that I was an eyewitness. So I tell him about what happened to the best of my ability and memory.

Mark would possibly have other sources as well, and he uses all this material to piece together his story of the Zamboanga War. So now we have the Zamboanga War according to Mark.

Ten years later, two other writers named Matthew and Luke also hear stories about the Zamboanga War. They’ve read Mark’s book, but some parts do not exactly jive with the stories they have heard from other sources. So they want to set the record straight and write their own versions, but they copy heavily from Mark since he was the first to ever publish the complete story anyway. Needless to say, some details don’t match.

Ten or twenty years later, another writer from some other part of the world, named John, comes up with his own retelling of the Zamboanga war. He never saw the other 3 guys books but decided to write his own account based on his own sources, knowledge and interpretation of the events.

So there you have it — 4 books about the Zamboanga War which are not deliberate hoaxes, but not entirely accurate as well. You may say, well the point was, there WAS a war. And yes, I will grant you that. But that is an entirely different point from the one I’m trying to make.

I am not saying that because the details don’t match, then we ought to doubt that there was ever a war at all. I am saying that because the details don’t match, you cannot claim that the accounts are without error. I hope this, at least, is clear.

Regarding your claim that there was indeed a resurrection, let me tackle that next week.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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