After the Pope Has Gone

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle describes the recently concluded papal visit as a “miracle,” though I wonder what constitutes a miracle for the good cardinal. Miracles must indeed be in short supply these days if what transpired could pass for one.

It would have been a miracle, for example, if our security personnel did not have to eat, drink or piss on duty, obviating the need for MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino to suggest that they wear adult diapers. Though it was a practical suggestion, it would have been another miracle if God had bestowed the good chairman with a little more wisdom not to make a public announcement of the matter, as it quickly became the subject of ridicule and embarrassment, so much so that the PNP had to make a statement that policemen won’t be wearing diapers while on duty.

It would have been a miracle if corrupt politicians suddenly burst into flames as the Pope delivered his message at Malacañang, urging political leaders to “be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” Oh what a happy bonfire that would have been. On the other hand, we would probably be left with no political leaders. But then again, is that so bad? I wonder.

It would have been a miracle if government did not have to spend millions of taxpayers’ pesos (not all of which are from Catholics) to ensure the Pope’s and everyone’s safety and security during the event. As it is, papal visits probably cost us more than we think they do. A worker’s group, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, is demanding to know how much was spent on the Papal visit, in the spirit of transparency. I do not have the exact figures for this but the same source states that a total of 40,000 security personnel were employed during the 5-day visit. This does not include opportunity and business costs lost during the cancellation of flights and the declaration of non-working holidays.

I am not talking about expecting angels to appear from the sky to act as the Pope’s bodyguards, thus nullifying the need for our government to spend for security. That may be too much to ask. The Vatican opening its checkbooks and offering to reimburse this third-world country for all the expenses incurred would be miracle enough for me.

It would have been a miracle if Philippine media had enough sense and dignity to refrain from making major headlines of the Pope’s every move. “Pope Opens Car Door Himself,” for example. How is that news? I’m glad I didn’t see “Pope Goes to the Toilet Himself.”

It would have been a miracle if the Pope could have provided a clear answer to the girl who asked him why children like her have to suffer — have to be abandoned by their parents or forced into prostitution. Yet, in the end, all he could do was embrace her in silence, and he later on implored the audience to “learn to weep, truly weep.” Now I am not belittling this response as I have no answer myself. But I would hardly call it miraculous.

It would have been a miracle if Kristel Padasas, who was listening to the Pope’s mass in Tacloban, had not died when strong winds caused the scaffolding beside her to fall on her.

It would have been a miracle if Metro Manilans picked up their own trash instead of leaving a mess after the Pope’s mass in Luneta.

And it would be a miracle, if after all this hullaballoo over the Pope’s visit, we see a decline in corruption and TRAPO politics. It would be a miracle if we see a decline in poverty levels, if we have more level-headed officials making sound and fair policies.

But as evidenced by a senator who doubts the Pope’s own words when he admonished Catholics to not breed like rabbits, even if it was clearly caught on video, and could easily be verified with the Big “G” (Google), nothing much has changed. Government is still filled with corrupt and inept people. The poor and suffering are still poor and suffering.

Miracles are indeed in short supply and I wouldn’t put much stock in them.

The pope has gone back home. The euphoria is over. There are no miracles or superheroes. If we want change, we better get to work.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

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

 

The Madness of the Crowds

Photo Credit: poi beltran via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: poi beltran via Compfight cc

Someone ought to put a stop to the annual madness that is the Black Nazarene procession.

Year upon year, this senseless activity claims lives and causes multiple injuries — not to mention the massive traffic jams and the amount of government personnel and resources needed to ensure everyone’s safety and security, all paid for by tax money — of which the church pays none.

This year, two people died — one collapsed with a heart attack and the other was trampled to death. The Philippine Red Cross reports treating more than a thousand injuries, some as minor as foot lacerations to more major ones like seizures, sprains and fractures. And all for what? Why, for the superstitious belief that touching the statue can bring about miracles.

Apparently the silliness of this all will be lost on some readers who might even be offended that I attack this time-honored tradition. That would be ironic given that they aren’t offended at all that this supposedly miraculous piece of wood failed to save the lives of two individuals who were passionately and faithfully devoted to it (to the death, even).

Renato Gurion, aged 44, was a businessman whose hope was to “live longer” for his two teenaged boys. He had already undergone heart surgery some years before. He became a devotee of the Black Nazarene for “better health and protection.”

Well, that hope was certainly dashed against the rocks when Gurion’s body was found slumped on the carriage carrying the statue. Nobody knew how long he had been lying there and for some time, nobody apparently cared as everyone was fighting their way up to touch the Nazarene. It was only later when security noticed the unmoving body, that they were able to control the crowd so they could bring Gurion to the hospital, but by then it was too late.

Christian Lim, aged 19, suffered a more gruesome fate. In the thick of the procession, he stumbled somewhere along the way and got crushed as hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, trampled on him until he died of asphyxia. They only discovered his body as the procession ended, already stiff with rigor mortis, and blood congealed on his hands and face.

You would think that these people’s relatives would get all fired up against the church for this, but no, Christian’s mother even called her son’s death “painful, but beautiful.” This is borne of some ill-begotten notion that the ceremony could not possibly be wrong. Or perhaps it is only fear of speaking against the authority of the church, or of God. But personally, I cannot see anything beautiful in the barbaric fate of someone so young and full of dreams. He was probably screaming as the weight of hundreds of feet bore down on his head, back, arms, hands, legs and feet — but nobody heard him, or nobody cared.

Far from beautiful, it was a senseless, brutal and cruel death.

The authorities could have put a stop to it. They could have cited statistics of previous deaths and injuries and withheld the proper permits and there would be no procession. But of course, it would have earned the ire of some twelve million voters who joined the procession that day, and of course, no politician could afford that.

The church could have put a stop to it. They could have refused to lend out the statue, and that would have been the end of it. They could have told their priests to preach against the mass hysteria that goes on during these processions, or that touching the statue doesn’t really do a damn thing. But perhaps it serves the church some purpose to keep its members ignorant and superstitious, so they can more readily believe in whatever agenda it wants to push.

Someone ought to put a stop to this annual madness. How many more lives have to be sacrificed until these people come to their senses? How much more blood has to spill until this stupidity ends?

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

 

Divine Selfishness

Photo Credit: Fire Monkey Fish via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Fire Monkey Fish via Compfight cc

Throughout the centuries, preachers have been preaching against selfishness and extolling the virtues of selflessness. There is a very long line of martyrs and saints enshrined in the annals of church history — people who were willing to make the supreme sacrifice, to give their very lives in the name of their faith or cause. Of course, not everyone can be martyrs or else there would be no church to speak of, so there are also the lesser mortals, like you and me, who do our best to get by, who sometimes make small sacrifices to help others.

And yet, are those seemingly selfless acts truly devoid of self-interest? I don’t think so.

“But how about the soldier who dies for his country?” You might ask.  “How about the mother who throws herself in front of a truck to save her child?”

Take another look at those questions and you will see the vested interest quite clearly. The soldier dies for HIS country. You don’t see him taking a bullet for the other side, do you? And the mother dies for HER child, not some random street kid.

Still you might argue that there are those who give up a life of comfort and riches to serve those less fortunate than they are — there are missionaries who go to far flung rural areas, there are social workers living in the slums, and so on. Are these people not selfless then?

While I have no intentions of demeaning their work and conviction, I would still say that these people are acting out of self-interest. They do what they do because it makes them feel good, or at peace, or closer to God. There is still some selfishness at work here.

I remember reading an interview the other day of a popular Catholic preacher and author. He recounted praying to God to make him rich in order for him to help others, which made me wonder why he didn’t pray for God to make the “others” rich instead. I mean, why should the wealth pass through him? So he can collect a commission?

But when I say that everyone acts selfishly one way or the other, I do not mean that in a bad way. I never said being selfish was bad or evil. I am just recognizing it for what it is and throwing out some food for thought that no matter how “selfless” people seem, there is still an element of selfishness in whatever we do.

Let me end with another tale of the master.

The master passed by a minister preaching against materialism. He was exhorting the congregation on the virtues of sacrificing their earthly desires for the rewards of heaven.

“Our treasure does not lie here on earth,” he said, “But it lies in the bosom of our heavenly Father.”

“Interesting,” remarked the master. “You preach against materialism but yours is even worse because you desire to bring it to the next life. You tell people not to cling to their possessions here by guaranteeing that they will have all those and more in the next life. You are after intangible rewards, but a reward nonetheless. What is so virtuous about that?”

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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

 

XMas

Photo Credit: ! /streetart#__+__www.♥.tk ﴾͡๏̯͡๏﴿ via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ! /streetart#__+__www.♥.tk ﴾͡๏̯͡๏﴿ via Compfight cc

I remember being chided by my dad way back when I was still in grade school. I had written “Merry X-Mas” on some greeting cards we were told to make as a school project. I didn’t think anything of it and just thought it was a shorthand way of writing “Christmas.”

But dad said, “Is your God an X? Don’t write XMas because that means he’s unknown.”

Of course, I hadn’t read up enough yet to know that the proper reply to this is “X is how the Greek letter chi is written and is the first letter of ‘Christ’ in Greek.” So I grew up always on guard that I should write “Christmas” and not “XMas” lest Jesus see me and cross me off his book for being too lazy to write the full spelling of his name. (Yes, I know that technically “Christ” isn’t his name but you know what I mean).

This is also that time of the year when Christians remind us to “Remember the reason for the season” and to “put Christ back in Christmas” — a yearly crusade against the commercial and festive atmosphere typical at this time of the year. I wonder what they would say if they knew that the reason for their season was most probably a political move by Pope Julius 1 at around the 4th century, who chose December 25 to be the official birthday of Jesus Christ. The decision to do so was not because of historical accuracy since the scholarly opinion at that time was that Jesus was born sometime in spring and not winter — a fair point if one considers that there were shepherds herding their flocks in the field — which wouldn’t make any sense if there were snow all around.

So the ancient church decided to celebrate their savior’s birthday alongside other pagan winter festivals, in the hopes that Christmas would also be popularly embraced — a strategy that paid off, especially when Christianity became a dominant religion in many European countries.

In fact, many Christmas customs and practices have origins in pagan celebrations. The tradition of gift-giving and merrymaking comes from the Roman’s celebration of Saturnalia — in honor of the Roman god, Saturn. After a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, ancient Romans held a public banquet, then more private celebrations, gift-giving, and a general carnival atmosphere. Sound familiar?

The word “Yuletide” is not a Christian word but is derived from the pagan Yule celebration practiced by Scandinavians and historical Germanic people. The exact meaning of the word “Yule” is uncertain although there are references to the Norse God, Odin as the “Yule Father” and “the Yule One.” Ancient Norse people would burn large logs to celebrate the end of winter or “the return of the sun.” The logs would literally take several days to burn out, and during those days, the people would feast and have a good time.  Today, burning the “Yule log” is a popular a Christmas tradition in Western countries even among Christians who probably have no clue where the practice came from.

In the early 17th century, Puritan Christians decried the decadence of Christmas celebrations.  This would start a prolonged fight between different church factions, the Anglicans, Catholics, Protestants, and so on on how Christmas should be celebrated. Some wanted more elaborate ceremonies, while others wanted to focus on the more religious aspects, and still others wanted the whole thing banned altogether — which actually happened in many communities and even countries like Scotland.

It was only in the 19th century when writers such as Washington Irving (“The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon”)and Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”) wrote popular stories about Christmas that many traditions surrounding it were slowly revived. Christmas became a popular holiday to celebrate family, goodwill and charity, and that continues to be the case to this day.

So whether you are Christian, Atheist, Agnostic or Pastafarian, I wish you all a Merry Xmas and Happy Saturnalia!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me

 

Rediscovering Theism

Photo Credit: Raphael Goetter via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Raphael Goetter via Compfight cc

Change is never easy.

When I started questioning my beliefs and distancing myself from church, I felt quite alone. Then I found a community that welcomed doubters like me, who had the same questions as I had, who felt the same way I feel. And I thought I had come home.

I immersed myself in various atheist and agnostic books, videos, podcasts, agreeing with many of them, and even writing my own articles (as regular readers of this column know very well) in a similar line of thought as them.

Many months ago, I got acquainted with a member of our freethinking community, Gelo, and although we have never met in person, I found him to be an impressionable and reasonable fellow. There was one major problem though.

Gelo was a theist, and a Roman Catholic at that.

For those who don’t know my background, I studied in a Catholic school all the way from my elementary years until college, and even after that, but I have never been a Catholic.  I was a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian, as was my family. I was immersed in Protestantism vs. Catholicism arguments way before I gave up on the whole thing altogether.

And yet Gelo’s ideas do not necessarily fit the mold of what you would hear from CBCP proclamations or Sunday sermons. He agreed that my objections about God were valid and that he agreed with them, however, he claimed I was hitting a straw man – a caricature of God – and not the God that classical theists like Thomas Aquinas understood and wrote volumes about, and that even the concept of God I understood as a Christian was wrong.

He says in a recent blog entry entitled, Christmas Post:

“Intelligent people rightly find illogical the proposition that such a being (or beings) exists. And the problem is that both the religious and the skeptic have little time to parse through the metaphysical obscurities — or, as Dennet would say, “deepities” — of theology in order to get a better conceptual framework with which to view God.”

In other words, he is contending that most atheists and agnostics are arguing against an idea of God that the truly intelligent theist finds as illogical as they do. The problem, however, is that most atheists and agnostics do not even take the time and effort to understand what classical theism is all about. They like hitting the easy targets because well, it’s so easy and convenient to do so.

He continues:

“Unsurprisingly they are left ill-prepared to see Him as nothing more than a divine tinkerer, or, more famously, as Paley’s watchmaker. This is why we often see a theology that is more akin to that of Pat Robertson and Kirk Cameron than to that of Alvin Plantinga or Edward Feser.”

Gelo suggested I read a book by Edward Feser, a philosophy professor who was once an atheist but later also turned to theism and is now a Roman Catholic, which I did and found fascinating although I would have to read it again because a lot of the philosophy went over my head.

So anyway, after several months of putting that book down, I have decided to revisit classical theism in more detail and may even write about it in future articles. I have found out that I understand best when trying to make other people understand what is in my head. It’s like the principle that the teacher also learns when he teaches.

Change is never easy. I have built a comfort zone around the fact that I have gained some notoriety in being that “atheist” writer, so this may come as a surprise to some of my readers. But I have said before and I will say it again: I am committed to neither theism nor atheism. I am committed to truth by way of reason, logic and evidence, wherever that may lead.

So I don’t know where this will end up (or if it will ever end, for that matter), but it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

 Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me

 

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