About Face

Photo Credit: Tastwo via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Tastwo via Compfight cc

Dear Mr. Uyboco,

I just came across your newspaper column and was able to look at your website for past articles. You made me very curious because I used to know your father. I am sorry for your loss. I was able to read your eulogy to him. Anyway, I was wondering how come you turned about-face on what your father believed? I knew him to be very active in church and religious organizations. Don’t you feel that you are somehow disrespecting his memory or legacy as well as that of your family whom I know are still well-known in Christian ministry?

I am not judging you or condemning you but I am sincerely wondering. Don’t you think your dad is sad looking at you here and hoping you will open your heart and join him someday instead of continuing on the “path of destruction?”

Please do not publish my name. Thank you.

Dear Anonymous writer,

Thank you for your email, and please be assured that I do not take offense at your statements. I understand where you’re coming from and the context with which you are asking your questions. With that being said, I hope you will forgive me if I offend you by answering frankly. It is not my intention to offend but to simply be honest about how I feel, and if you find that offensive, well, I can’t do anything about it anymore.

You have to understand that although my father could be quite authoritative and a harsh disciplinarian, he was also surprisingly willing to listen to my ideas and he respected my freedom of choice (not very typical of a Chinese father of his generation). When I was very young, I was coerced to take Chinese tutorial lessons on Saturdays (because I didn’t study in a Chinese school), and also piano lessons (but the latter I volunteered to do because my friend was also taking lessons).

After some time, I didn’t feel that either was benefitting me and that I was just wasting away my Saturday mornings. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing so many episodes of the Superfriends, Space Ghost, Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget and so on. Anyway, I tried talking to my dad to stop and at first he wouldn’t hear of it. But later, he relented and said he didn’t want to force me to do those things but just thought that they would be useful for me someday. So he gave me a week to think things through and to give him my decision after that.

So I thought things through and after a week told him that I still wanted to quit. And he respected that.

It has been the same for many bigger decisions I had to make in my life as I grew older. When I wanted to take computer lessons in the summer, he supported me. When I wanted to study in Manila for college, he supported me as well. He made me decide on what to major and what I would like to do after that. I bluntly told him then that I didn’t want to join the family business, and he said, fine, I’m not forcing you to anyway — which was again, not very typical of a Chinese father.

Now why am I telling you all this?

Well, perhaps to show you that if my father were alive, I’m not sure if he would take what I am doing as shameful or disrespecting him. I’m quite certain that we could have a decent conversation about it. What would be more shameful or disrespectful would be if I was a bum, or engaged in criminal activity, or cheat on my wife, and so on.

Our religious (or irreligious) beliefs are our own, shaped by what we experience and by how we think and process ideas. And yes, parents can and are great influencers in this regard, but we should never think that abandoning what our parents believe is any sort of disrespect. This does not make any sense. I could just as easily accuse my grandfather of disrespecting my great-grandfather for abandoning his Buddhist beliefs. And I can accuse my Buddhist ancestor for abandoning whatever traditional Chinese deity in favor of Buddhism, and so on.

Or does it only become disrespectful when one’s beliefs do not conform to the norm of one’s social circles? I hope you see the inherent bias in this line of questioning.

Regarding my dad looking down at me with sadness — that is your own interpretation and imagination at work. How do you know that he is indeed looking at me with sadness? For all you know, he might be poking an elbow at God saying, “See? That’s my boy. I’m proud of him. Thanks for giving him a good head on his shoulders that he actually uses instead of just following the crowd or swallowing whatever the preacher tells him.”

And lastly, if my earthly father can respect and understand my decisions and free choice, why does this heavenly father not seem to do so? He has to compel people to love and accept him on the threat of eternal damnation.

That is not an act of love but of terrorism.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

A Christian Wedding in a Secular Court

Photo Credit: Bert Palmer via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Bert Palmer via Compfight cc

A sure sign of getting old is when people ask you to be a ninong at their wedding, instead of being a ninong at their kid’s baptismal ceremony.

I attended a wedding ceremony this afternoon where my friend requested me to be the ninong. Unlike other ceremonies I have attended in the past, this was a first for me because it was to be a civil wedding held at a court of law, rather than a church. So I was at the venue a bit early, a bit excited and curious to observe how court weddings go.

The court was near the Ecoland Bus Terminal. Images of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash and the Wonder Twins went through my head as I read the words “Hall of Justice” emblazoned on the building (For those too young to remember, the Hall of Justice was the headquarters of the Superfriends – a cartoon show that was popular a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I was a child).

The inside of the Hall, however, looked like a warehouse for old paper. Huge stacks of documents in folders lined the walls and corners of the place, a lot of them dusty and yellowed with age. I made my way to the back where the stairs to the second floor were. I had to wait a bit since I arrived during lunch break and the courts were closed. Most of the offices had their lights out. I walked around and peered through the glass doors and could see dark shapes sprawled on the court benches — employees taking their noontime siesta.

I hung out at the second-floor balcony waiting for the courts to open and the soon-to-weds to arrive. When they did, there were short introductions around and we waited for a few more minutes until the judge came out. She was about to begin the ceremony but noticed that the marriage form had the bride and groom interchanged. So she had the clerk correct the documents and we waited again for a while.

The clerk then came over and had the couple check the information he typed. Finally, everything was in order and we could begin. The judge said something along the lines of, “We know this is a civil wedding but let’s begin this ceremony with a prayer and know that you are committing yourselves to each other and to God in this Christian union.” Obviously the judge was using some kind of a standard script that she utilized again and again for these things. The vows were interspersed with “I promise to build a Christian home” and things like that.

I could only wince at the irony of those words.

I would liked to have stopped the judge mid-sentence but I was afraid of disrupting the ceremony and getting thrown out of court, or worse, jeopardizing my friend’s wedding. After all, there were huge signs all around that if your cellphone rang, you could be cited for contempt — what more if you interrupted the judge?

The irony of it was twofold. First, we have a very clear clause on the separation of church and state in our constitution, which the judge ought to have known. She had no business injecting Christian overtones in a ceremony that the couple had decided would be conducted in a secular setting. Even if those were her personal values, she should have used neutral and religion-free language to conduct the ceremony or at least did the couple the courtesy of asking if they were indeed Christians.

Which brings me to the second level of irony — neither the groom nor the bride was a Christian. The groom was sort of an atheist/agnostic and the bride was Muslim. I could hear the hesitation in their voices as they were forced to repeat sentences that became meaningless because of the insertion of religious phrases they did not even adhere to.

They expressed their frustration after the ceremony, outside the courtroom, but the damage had been done. And until our government realizes that their offices are not the proper places for crucifixes or other religious icons, and that mandatory prayer should be abolished, the battle for a truly secular government goes on.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

Lord, Liar, Lunatic – The False Trichotomy

Photo Credit: Anders Wahlbom via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Anders Wahlbom via Compfight cc

One of the earliest Christian books I read was Josh McDowell’s More Than A Carpenter. The book outlines his initial mission to disprove the Bible but it ended up the other way, with him believing and defending it, becoming a preacher and a writer.

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments he uses in that book is the “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” idea (originally from C.S. Lewis) which, in a nutshell, is this: When one looks at the character, deeds and words of Jesus, one cannot simply say that he was a just a great teacher, or a superb human being. Here was a person who heavily implied that he was God — In John 10:30 he says, “I and the Father are one;” In John 8:58 “Before Abraham was born, I am.” — therefore, there are really only three things you can say about him. Either he is who says he is (Lord), he’s not who he says he is (Liar), or that he is deluded or crazy (Lunatic).

McDowell then proceeds to argue that Jesus’ actions and moral uprightness do not show him to be a liar, and that his wisdom in answering arguments do not show him to be crazy. Therefore, one is left with no recourse but to admit that he is Lord.

It took me a long time (around 20 years) to see the flaw in this argument. In hindsight, it was not because it was an airtight argument, although it seems to be, but because I was only too happy to have a logical-sounding argument that reinforced and strengthened my faith.

A few years back, in a discussion board for freethinkers, I advanced the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument, and someone countered with a simple proposal — a fourth option that I never thought was available — Legend.

Lord, Liar, Lunatic only works IF you take the Gospels as accurate accounts of what Jesus said and did in his lifetime. But once you are open to the idea that not everything in the Gospels can be taken as “gospel truth,” then other options become available especially when one becomes aware of the historical background of that time.

Many pastors and church leaders proclaim the story of Jesus as “unique” and therefore could not have been invented. I swallowed that before but not now that there is overwhelming evidence against it. History is replete with stories and ideas of dying and rising gods — Inanna, Osiris, Zalmoxis, Dionysius, Baal and Marduk, to name a few.

A Sumerian lore called The Descent of Inanna talks about the Queen of Heaven, Inanna, who leaves heaven and descends to the underworld. They believed the underworld or realm of the dead had 7 levels. At each level, she sheds off a piece of her royal vestments so that at the lowest stage, she was naked and no longer recognizable as a goddess.

She was judged before a court and killed and her corpse was “hung on a hook.” But she was resurrected after three days by two “asexual beings” created by another god, Enki. The beings sprinkled her corpse with the “food and water of life” and she was revived.

There are differences, of course, but one can see obvious parallels between this early legend and the story of Jesus, who descends to earth and was not recognized as god. He was tried before a court, the Sanhedrin, and sentenced to die by crucifixion — which is also popularly described as being “hung on a tree.” He was also resurrected after three days and according to the Gospel of Luke (but not the others), there were two angels (who most theologians concur are asexual beings) at the event. The “food and water of life” are also reminiscent of Jesus’ bread and wine — the body and blood of life.

Is it just coincidence that there are similarities in the Inanna story with the Jesus story? I don’t think so, especially since that is not the only story with those kinds of parallels. Many other stories have parallels and we know that people (whether ancient or modern) like to retell and reuse old themes from old stories, giving them a new spin, and so on.

Of course, none of this is conclusive proof that the Jesus story is legend. Probability, after all, does not mean certainty. However, it certainly opens the door a little wider to allow the possibility of it, and I believe there is a strong case to me made for it given the evidence we have.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

Dressing Up For Church

Photo Credit: Patrick Denker via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Patrick Denker via Compfight cc

A friend of mine told me last week that when he opened his newspaper, there was an enclosed fly-leaf which turned out to be a dress-code reminder from the Catholic church to the ladies attending mass. Ladies were supposed to be dressed modestly and not show up in spaghetti straps or shorts, perhaps because their naked shoulders or thighs might distract the men, including the priests, or cause other women to be envious.

This got me to thinking of my own experiences of having to show up in my “Sunday best” when attending church. I remember sometime in my teens when I wanted to just wear a simple T-shirt and jeans but my dad chastised me, saying that I should wear something nice “for the Lord.”

I wasn’t too vocal about it then but I think the Lord couldn’t care any less what I wore. After all, it also says in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It is ironic that a ceremony designed to welcome everyone to focus on no one else but God, should have all these social conventions that keep other people from feeling too uncomfortable.

Some Christians will likely quote Jesus’ story in Matthew 22 where Jesus talks about a king inviting everyone to the wedding banquet of his son, but during the wedding finds someone who didn’t have “wedding clothes,” and so tied the poor fellow up and threw him outside. So it was on that principle that people were demanded to “show respect to the Lord” when appearing for Sunday service.

However, the Book of James 2:2-4 states, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

What I gather then from this is that, yes, you show a certain respect towards the occasion by dressing appropriately, but the ultimate arbiter of what “respect” means surely has to be the the person you are giving respect to, and not the doorman. That is what James seems to be saying, to not discriminate and judge others by their outward appearance.

I mean, why should it have mattered to the creator of the universe what I wore when he could see me naked day in and day out in the bathroom? In the gospel stories, Jesus certainly didn’t care what the people who associated with him wore. He welcomed whores, beggars, drunkards and the like. When a man shows up at the door with a beer bottle in hand, or a woman in a tight miniskirt and a tube top, do you turn these people away, look at them apprehensively, or welcome them with a warm and genuine smile?

Anyway, these are simply intellectual musings for me at this point in time as I no longer attend church but for those who still do, this might be something for you to think about.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

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