Letter To A Christian Friend

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Dear Christian Friend,

If you are bothered by my unbelief, please do not just tell me you are praying for me. I welcome questions, conversation, and dialogue. But what I find really irritating is when you just give me that look — a look that makes me feel like I have some sort of disease — and then tell me you’re praying for me.

I understand that in our society, saying “I’m praying for you” is a great source of comfort for many. It is an expression of sympathy that encourages most people — especially the religious — and so I do not blame you if you think it will also encourage me.

But it does not.

When you say “I’m praying for you” to my face, I feel like you see something very wrong with me. And you probably do because you think that I am on the road to hell. However, please understand that to me, prayer is a meaningless exercise and hell is just a fairy tale. I do not say these things to your face because I respect your right to believe as you do. I hope you also respect my right not to believe as you do.

Saying you’ll pray for me is just as meaningless as a Catholic giving a rosary to a Protestant. It’s as meaningless as telling a Hindu to swear by the Bible.

It also sounds condescending. It’s as if you are saying you’re in a better position than I am — that your belief is better than my unbelief and that you are praying that I’ll come around to my senses and believe as you do so we can all hold hands and sing happy hallelujahs once again.

Now I know you most probably don’t mean it that way, but that is how it seems to me, especially if you’ve never bothered talking to me. If you did, you would find out that I’m happier and more content with my life. There is more honesty and congruence in my thoughts, feelings and actions. I don’t have to pretend to be sure of god’s mysterious ways and call it an act of faith. Perhaps I should be the one praying for you, if I had anyone to pray to.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not telling you not to pray for me. You are, after all, free to do whatever you want. And you are most probably sincere in your desire to help. I just do not want nor need to hear about it because hearing it does nothing good for me. It doesn’t encourage me and it doesn’t give me hope and it doesn’t even make me happy.

If you really want to understand me, you are always free to talk to me. I don’t bite. In fact, I appreciate the handful of pastors and other Christians who are not afraid to be open and honest with me, who would even visit our little community of doubters and skeptics. “I cannot understand why, but I am happy to be here. I am even happy to be offended,” said one pastor.

If there is a heaven, that must be what it is like — full of people giving and taking offense, and being happy anyway.

Originally published in SunStar Davao.

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

Eulogy

Photo Credit: Marcy Leigh via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Marcy Leigh via Compfight cc

My father passed away, last Wednesday. He was 88. This is the eulogy I delivered, more or less, at his funeral. The extra time gave me an opportunity to clean it up some more as well as rewrite some parts for better details and clarity:

My dad was not the perfect father, but he taught me to strive for perfection.

When I was in grade school, I would sometimes go to school on Saturdays to hang out with my friends. When I asked for permission, he would always ask me what time I would be home and I had to call him at the office when I arrived. One time I arrived home around 10 or 15 minutes late. When I called him, I could hear his stern voice asking me why I was late. As I stammered through my excuse, he said, “If you say you are coming home at 3:00, then come hell or high water, you better make sure you’re home at 3:00.”

From there, I learned an important lesson in responsibility, in keeping one’s word, and in being on time.

A year before I was to be married, I had the opportunity to work closely with him. I was his driver, bodyguard, assistant and secretary, as he hopped from one meeting to another. He was a workaholic and  on top of running our business, he was president of three organizations and active in one or two more.

Being the resident computer expert, I would type letters that he drafted in longhand. Later on, he didn’t bother writing anymore but just dictated to me while I typed and edited sentences on the fly. I became quite good at editing and composing and so after that, Dad would not bother dictating word-for-word anymore but he would  just give me the gist of what he wanted to say, very informally, and I would write out the entire text for him.

That experience was an integral part in honing my writing skills, especially in being concise, clear and businesslike.

But perhaps the best thing my dad taught me was about love, relationships and family.

He would always find time amidst his busy schedule, to spend time us. When we were younger, Sundays meant swimming at Apo Golf Country Club or Villa Victoria Beach, or even just Times Beach. When he had business trips in Manila when I was in college, he would stay over the weekend so that I could spend time with him at his hotel. We enjoyed many breakfast buffets together, as well as a number of steak dinners.

When I was working with him, some of my favorite times were the lulls between work, when he would invite me for a snack in the conference room of our office where he kept a microwave, some crackers, canned tuna and bottled sardines. Over these little bites, he would share to me bits of wisdom or stories from his younger days, and I would would also ask him about his recent projects, sometimes voicing contrary opinions and we would go back and forth with our ideas.

One of the phrases I remember was, “Do not love things and use people. Rather, use things and love people.” My dad might have been a businessman with many organizations, but for him, relationships always came first. He would not hesitate to stop in the middle of something to help out someone in need — be it a family member, or our househelp, a friend, and sometimes even random strangers or casual acquaintances.

From those times, I learned the value of love and compassion. My school prides itself on shaping people to be “men and women for others,” but even though my dad did not attend the same school, he lived out that very ideal.

My dad was not the perfect father, but he was certainly one of the best and I am grateful to have known him, and be one of only four children in the world to call him “Daddy.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

Cherry-Picked Abominations

Photo Credit: clicheshots via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: clicheshots via Compfight cc

“Cherry-picking” is an idiom that refers to the logical fallacy of choosing only data that confirms one’s bias while ignoring other data that points otherwise. For example, a salesman hyping a new drug may point to one or two cases where it has worked marvelously while failing to disclose that 998 other people found it ineffective.

The US Supreme Court made a historic decision last Friday to legalize and recognize same-sex marriage throughout the United States of America. LGBT advocates and supporters celebrated while conservatives, especially religious clergy, were dismayed, calling the it a “violation of natural law” (never mind that homosexual behavior has been found in animals) as well as being offensive to God and an “abomination” according to Leviticus 20:13 (ESV): “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

So what does this have to do with cherry-picking? Well, the person who uses this verse to justify the “evilness” of homosexuality must also do what the second part of the verse says — to put to death these people. But most would balk at that although there are a few who openly state that “the government needs to kill all of the sodomites and all of their supporters, as the Scriptures command.” Thankfully, most people are not as bereft of their senses as these are. But that’s cherry-picking right there, in just one verse.

Cherry-picking also means focusing on the restriction of that verse (and another similar-sounding one in Leviticus 18:22) while ignoring other restrictions FOUND IN THE SAME BOOK.

Do you enjoy lechon, pork chop, adobo or bacon? Too bad. Leviticus 11:7-8 “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”

Garlic shrimp, sizzling squid, baked clams and oysters? You’re supposed to hate them like God does. Leviticus 11:10-12 “But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you.”

Dinuguan, anyone? Rare or medium steak? Leviticus 17:14 “Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

Beware of menstruating women. Leviticus 15:19-20 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.”

As well as men with wet dreams. Leviticus 15: 16-17 “If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening.”

Apparently, things such as crew cuts, beard trims and tattoos are forbidden as well — even if the tattoo is of Jesus. Leviticus 19:27-28 “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.”

Amidst all these, do you know what the good Lord doesn’t see as an abomination? Slavery — as long as you make sure to buy your slaves from other nations and not your own. Leviticus 25:44 “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.”

Now, the common argument against this is that these were laws specifically directed towards Israel that were applicable for them at that point in time. All right, but if you use that argument, you can’t use Leviticus to justify homophobia. If you think that our morality has evolved when it comes to dietary restrictions, bodily functions and so on, then it has similarly evolved for sexuality. But if you think morality is static and that “the word of the Lord stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8), then you should be willing to obey all those other restrictions and commands as well. You can’t have it both ways.

I like eating cherries but cherry-picking arguments are an abomination to me. Away from me, heathens.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

A Not-So-Perfect Jesus

Photo Credit: dangerismycat via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: dangerismycat via Compfight cc

Most Christians look at Jesus as the perfect human — perfect God and perfect man. Everything he did while he was on earth was good and right and true. Jesus is regarded as a maverick, championing human rights, women’s rights, and racial equality way ahead of his time.

I was reading a “random lunchtime reflection” of my Christian friend, Nate, who was musing on the persecution and discrimination of minorities. He recalled the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4) who initially refused to give him a drink on the basis of their racial enmity. But, Nate concludes, “Jesus offers her not only salvation but interestingly, also equality and freedom…”

I used to think like this as well. Jesus was my ultimate hero, my idol, and there was nothing he did that could possibly be wrong because he was, well, God in the flesh. When I began stripping away my beliefs, Jesus was one of the last to go, because he was the one that I had a supposed relationship with. But as I distanced myself, I began to read many of the stories more critically than I did before.

(Disclaimer: I will be discussing the stories about Jesus AS IF they actually happened. I have reasons to think they might not have happened the way they were narrated, if they happened at all, but that is another story.)

The anecdote about Jesus and the Samaritan woman does seem to imply that Jesus wasn’t a racist. However, there is this other story in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Caananite woman came to Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter from demon possession. Jesus initially doesn’t mind her, but she was persistent. His disciples finally asked him to send her away.

Then Jesus told the woman,“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Still the woman persisted, so he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

To which the woman replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus was then amazed at the woman’s faith and proclaimed her daughter as healed.

I used this story to mess around with Nate’s head a bit, to present another story showing Jesus was not as racially unprejudiced as he thought. The story shows snobbish, supremacist Jesus who wouldn’t give the time of day to this woman he equates to a dog. It is probably only the woman’s witty reply that saves her and makes him change his mind. But what if she had just scurried away at his stinging remark? Would her daughter still be healed?

The usual apologist explanation to this story would be something along the lines of Jesus making that remark on purpose in order to draw out the woman’s faith. Now, if you are a Christian, you would, of course, be inclined to accept this and be thankful even that such a wonderful explanation existed. It just doesn’t make sense for me though. Besides, this is not the only passage that shows Jesus favoring the Jews.

Another passage I find really uncharacteristic of a sane person can be found in Mark 11:12-14:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”

The story goes on to say that when they passed the tree again the next day, it had withered and the disciples were amazed.

So let’s get this straight. The perfect God-man sees a fig tree that didn’t have figs (because it wasn’t the season for them) and goes into a little tantrum because he was hungry and curses the tree to die.

Sounds legit.

(Yes, I’ve read the various apologist commentaries on this passage. No, they are not really that satisfying, unless you are already predisposed to believing them anyway, because the alternative is simply unthinkable for you at this moment in time.)

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

Where Digong Gets It Wrong

atheist

People who know me well know that I am a Duterte fan. My Facebook wall is testament to that as one can see many pro-Duterte articles and memes I have posted. While we can argue black and blue about the morality of his methods, the brutal frankness and vulgarity of his statements, or the future impact of his brand of leadership, the one thing we cannot argue with is results. It is because of him that Davao is what it is today.

(By the way, to those who read my column two weeks ago entitled “Would Duterte Make A Great President?” I would like to clarify that the only paragraph I wrote there was the first one. The rest of the piece was written by Mr. Abella, whom I mentioned there. I hope this puts a stop to people who keep asking me if I was really kidnapped, or if I was really a pastor in 1996, or if I am still a pastor now. Please read carefully next time.)

However, there was a statement he made in an interview with Jessica Soho of GMA that bothers me. At the conclusion of the interview, Soho asks, “May kinatatakutan ho ba kayo, Mayor?” (Is there anything you are afraid of, Mayor?)

Duterte replies, ”Nanay ko pati tatay ko, at ang Diyos. I am afraid of karma. Takot ako sa tao na hindi naniniwala ng Diyos, hindi naniniwala ng karma because that guy will do what he wants to do in his life.” (My mother, my father, and God. I am afraid of karma. I am afraid of people who don’t believe in God, who don’t believe in karma because that guy will do what he wants to do in his life.)

That is a statement I totally disagree with.

People who want to do what they want in life, who have headstrong personalities, will do it regardless of their belief or non-belief in God. They will simply find a way to justify what they are doing (if it is wrong). In 2013, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons released some information regarding the religious affiliations of the inmates and it shows that atheists make up only 0.07% of the prison population who were willing to divulge their religious affiliation. Christians (Catholic and Protestant) accounted for 53%, Muslims around 5% and smaller percentages spread out among other minor religions. We don’t have such statistics for the Philippines but I don’t see how the result will be much different given that a vast majority of our population are predisposed to believing in some sort of god.

One may even argue that belief in a merciful God may pave the way for desperate people to commit crimes. “Surely God will understand and forgive. He knows that I have to do this to survive or to help my child, or some other family member.” The hope in an afterlife may give a person the idea that there is still a chance to do better next time.

In fact, look at all the people we have in government who are involved in one shady deal or another. Chances are, you will also see them professing their faith, praying, and supporting their church. An atheist friend of mine, who happens to be a harsh critic of Digong’s “kill them all” methods remarked, “Isn’t it ironic that he says those who do not believe in God will do what they want to do? Yet, isn’t he doing what he wants to do by killing the criminals without due process?”

You have to admit that he has a point.

Let me share why an atheist might not necessarily be a person who will go around raping, pillaging, murdering and drinking babies’ blood. This is a stereotype I hope to shatter in this deeply religious country of ours.

A person who holds no belief in gods or an afterlife believes that this life is the only one there is. There is no reset button, no replay option. Once the game is over, it’s over. Therefore, this life is precious. It is not something to be taken lightly. This person has more motivation to live a good life instead of being reckless because there is no second chance and no redemption.

Penn Jillette, a prominent atheist and stage magician, once said, “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

The mayor should be more afraid of are those who believe that God is on their side. Look at the suicide bombers, fanatics and martyrs. Almost all of them hold deep religious beliefs. They think they are obeying their God’s commands. They are willing to die because they believe they will be rewarded in the next life. These are actually the kind of people who will do whatever they want as long as they can justify it in the name of their god.

As for atheists/agnostics? You need not be afraid of us. All we do is write articles like this, or rant or debate on Facebook. We will not strap bombs on our body and threaten to destroy all your churches. We have no ideologies to die for and everything to live for. We live only once (and we believe that literally), so we have every reason to make sure that we live good, happy lives.

Let me end with a verse from Robert G. Ingersoll, also known as The Great Agnostic:

“Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now.
The place to be happy is here.
The way to be happy is to help make others so.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

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