Monday, March 24, 2008

An Easter Reflection on Original Sin and the Secular State

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:1-5)

Original means ‘first’ I reckon, not ‘origin’ or font of all sin, although a strong case could be made for that, for it is through this first sin that mankind continues to screw itself, mucking about ineptly through life. Looking at the verses above one might be forgiven to think that the first sin was gullibility. We are gullible if we are unsure of the source of our information, or lack faith in that same source. (Was it Chesterton who said that if Man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He would believe anything?) I don’t know the reason Eve chose to believe in the serpent but it is pretty obvious that she found the serpent’s case – that God had reason to lie to her and Adam – compelling. Notice that Eve said, “…neither shall you touch [the tree]…”. God didn’t warn against touching the tree. Either Eve added this herself, or it was Adam who told her this to, as rabbis put it when talking about the Talmud, put a hedge around God’s word to make sure that one doesn’t transgress. Or perhaps she had some help believing it; it certainly isn’t too far-fetched to think that the serpent has been working on her for sometime. This calls to mind the admonition in Revelation to take care not to add or subtract from what is written in the book. In Adam Clarke’s commentary, he said Jewish writers wrote that as soon as Eve said this, the serpent pushed her against the tree and said “See, thou hast touched it, and art still alive; thou mayest therefore safely eat of the fruit, for surely thou shalt not die.”

And eat she did and gave some of the fruit to her husband and their eyes were opened, and they became ‘like God, knowing good and evil’. With history as our guide, we can surmise that ‘knowing good and evil’ means that man can define good and evil, that is, formulate his own standards of what is good and what is evil – to create his own morality apart from the standards of God – for history has shown that it is when man defines good and evil on his own, he has come to grief. Man then, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became their own god. Jesus himself did not deny the godhood of man. In John 10:34, when the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy ("It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.") Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 to them ("Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'?”) who were created in the image and likeness of God. In trying to formulate their own standards of morality, mankind runs smack into the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before (or above) me.” No other gods, not even ourselves. And it makes sense, for it is the height of folly to place man as the ultimate authority on anything concerning morals because of our tendency to screw things up. Every attempt at man-made utopia here on earth has ended in disaster.

Which brings us now to the Secular State which we have been made to believe is the best way to run things. I believe this as well but with caveats which we will be looking at in a bit. In the present political crisis, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) have been roundly criticized for their half-assed pronouncements against the scandal-ridden Arroyo administration which just goes to show that what they have to say still matters. We are still a long way off from weaning ourselves from the influence of the Catholic Church. But this is not so elsewhere. In Europe for instance they have more or less succeeded in stigmatizing any profession of faith in the public sphere. In the recent debate over the preamble of the European Constitution, they were quite determined to deny the role Christianity played in the formation of European culture. It was as if Christianity didn’t exist. They finally settled on acknowledging the role ‘religion’ played in the forming of Europe. The seeming phobia against Christianity borders on the ridiculous and is in marked contrast with what is going on in our other ‘parent culture’, the United States, where the so-called ‘religious right’ is a political force to be reckoned with. Why the disparity? It could be because the leaders of present day Europe grew up in the turmoil of the 60s and 70s when Europe’s youth flirted with Communism and its concomitant rejection of religion. This flirtation with Communism and rejection of religion could be because historically, the Church has allied itself with the oppressive power of the State in Europe. In America on the other hand, Christian denominations have been a force against the abuses of the State. They were at the forefront of the fight for freedom from the British Crown, the abolition of slavery, and the fight for civil liberties for all regardless of race. Here at home of course the close association of the Church with the Spanish occupation and with the subsequent secular political leadership in both the national and local scenes has seen the growth of the Protestant churches, but anticlericalism has failed to take hold in any significant way which I can only attribute to the innate spirituality of the Filipino. Dean Jorge Bocobo of Philippine Commentary points out that the revered Jaime Cardinal Sin was a fixture of the Marcos government, making beso-beso with Imelda in her numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies – moderating the greed, one might say – until the murder of Ninoy Aquino. It was probably those heady days of EDSA I when the Filipinos appreciated the Church again as a major force in social change. Before that they were mostly in the background, especially the bishops, even while the rank-and-file priests in the countryside spoke out in sermons against military abuses against human rights. It has always been the priests and nuns at the forefront; the bishops the slowest to react. But it was enough to save the Catholic hierarchy in the eyes of the people.

But the recent events in both America and the Philippines have the Church seemingly siding with the State and is fomenting an anti-religious backlash. In America, the religious right continues to be the backbone of the War Party’s political support, while here in the Philippines, the CBCP is seen as propping up the Arroyo administration. Although I believe that the chances for European style secularism to arise here in our country are slim, I would like to point out that those who hold to this No-Religion-Allowed philosophy have got it wrong. I am all for a Secular State, one that accepts all religions, but I’m not for banning religion from the public sphere.

The most wrong-headed argument against Christianity in the public sphere I have heard is that it might ‘offend’ those of other religions and those with no religion. They might feel excluded and all that. That to me is poppycock. I remember a recent blog exchange about an atheist’s feeling of ‘exclusion’ from a prayer in a public event. I remember pointing out that it was a prayer, so of course those who do not share the belief in the Christian God are excluded and indeed would prefer to be excluded from participating in the communal prayer. But that doesn’t mean they are excluded from the community of citizens. As Christians we are expected to accept everybody as brothers created in the image and likeness of God no matter what their faith (or un-faith) is because that is what God wants us to do. A Christian nation can and should tolerate other faiths. ‘Tolerate’ I’ve read somewhere requires discipline. It isn’t indifference to other religions, but is an act of will. I choose to tolerate you and your faith (or un-faith) because you are my brother, my fellow human being. The Secular State need only to accept that society is made up of different faiths and guarantees that each and every one of its citizens is free to practice that faith. Now there’s a rather glaring rub here. What if my religion requires me to sacrifice babies once every 20 years during the Festival of Kukurukuku? Is the Secular State required to tolerate me? If the answer is No, then I have to ask why. By what right does the State prevent me from practicing my religion? It is quite difficult to answer that question without appealing to a higher power that says it’s wrong. If for example the State says it’s illegal because the lawmakers whom the people voted for have passed a law declaring baby sacrifice illegal, I could argue that the constitution of the Secular State guarantees freedom of religion in the Constitution (I’m assuming of course that the Secular State is a liberal, progressive one.). Anyway, fine, I say. If the law says it’s illegal then it’s illegal, never mind if it tramples upon my constitutional rights. But since the laws are made by man, then it’s all relative. If for example as years pass, the demographics change, and more and more people become adherents of my faith, and less and less people think it is wrong, then there will come a day when the law will be enacted to make it legal to sacrifice babies. And it wouldn’t be wrong because lawmakers whom the people voted for in a free and fair election have passed the law decriminalizing baby sacrifice. (The example is of course absurd but the principle isn’t so far-fetched. Secular Western Europe is slowly becoming extinct as they refuse to reproduce, while the Islamic population continues to grow through immigration and because of the fact that these people continue to reproduce. In a few decades, we may see the rise of an Islamic Europe.)

The Secular State needs God, a higher power, an ultimate authority beyond the authority of man, to which citizens can appeal to because everybody recognizes it. (Note that I'm not arguing here for the existence or non-existence of God. I am arguing for the necessity of a higher power to form a civilization.) Men have tried to form a Secular State without God, to replace the morality from God with a new man-made morality, where the ultimate authority is the Secular State and those that run it. Utopia! Imagine there’s no heaven, no countries, no religion too. A world government under man and the world will live as one. Except that isn’t what happened. Once God was eliminated, the utopian dream turned into a nightmare: the Holocaust, pogroms, the gulag, the cultural revolution, the killing fields. (To be fair, Hitler wasn’t an atheist in the strictest sense. He was a pagan, a New Ager, if you will. In any case, like the atheist Communists, he sought to replace the ultimate authority of God with his own ultimate authority, and Christianity with a new religion based on the superiority of the Aryan race.)

Here in the Philippines, we have gotten it right. Our Constitution recognizes God, a tacit admission that he is our higher authority to which citizens can appeal if the State becomes abusive and enacts laws that trample upon our God-given freedom; if the institutions of government tramples upon the powerless and ravishes the defenseless. It is only a belief in God that can guarantee our freedom since freedom is from God. The dignity of a human being comes from God, his right to life. Without God there is no reason to believe we have these rights. Without God our rights are no different from the rights of a chicken. Indeed that’s the whole philosophy of Peter Singer and PETA. It is the only rational thing to believe in if one denies the existence of the source of our rights. Scratch that, without God, it is also rational to believe that we don’t have to respect other people’s rights. We would have no reason to believe in right and wrong in any moral sense. We can reject all these rights and morals. The French atheist philosopher Michel Onfray suggests just that. And it’s rational. Absent the mythical moral authority of some divine Flying Spaghetti Monster in heaven, all things are permissible and may the fittest survive. The greatest good for the greatest number and tough luck if you’re in the minority. It is not the irrationality of the atheism of Richard Dawkins that is dangerous (He likes singing Christmas carols – how irrational!) but it is the rational atheist that we have to watch out for. That’s why it’s easy to tolerate Filipino atheists. You know that they grew up with Christian morals and would still live by them even though they deny the authority that is its source. And it is easy to work for the attainment of the Filipino Secular State if we can be sure that it will not banish God from the public sphere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ms. Fernandez on blogging

A few months back, Manila Standard - Today columnist Malu Fernandez elicited a firestorm when she wrote condescendingly about Pinoy overseas foreign workers. The loudest howls of protest made themselves manifest through blogs and email groups, calling for her sacking by publications she worked for. If memory serves the magazine she worked for, People Asia, did sack her but the MST chose to stick by her. At the time I did criticize her but was against calling for her ouster on the principle of free speech. When MST announced that she would remain on board, I applauded the move as courageous. Needless to say, I was in the minority. Although I agreed that the vitriol she spewed deserved an equally vitriolic response from those she maligned, this blog was openly against her sacking, and I also voiced that opinion on other blogs more popular than this one. (This blog really is primarily a medium in which my pals and I keep in touch. The stuff here is what we'd be talking about if we were all in the same country. But I appreciate and welcome the people who weigh in and comment. This is after all a public blog.)

Anyway, back to Ms. Fernandez. Her new column in MST is about blogging, and understandably she is bitter. She writes:
Before I go any further I must stress the point that this is not about my previous issue, but simply the point of view of someone who has been a victim of vicious blogging and blogging as a new communication medium.
After assuring her readers that this is not about her, for which I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, she continues, after thumbing her nose at bloggers as slackers or lonely:
The difference between a journalist and a blogger is that journalists have to adhere to certain guidelines that govern the freedom of speech. And whatever a journalist chooses to write about—be it popular or unpopular—we do not hide behind an anonymous name and are resigned to the fact that we have to take as much as we dish out. However, I simply detest people who place vicious comments and slanderous statements in blogs yet sign their messages as ‘anonymous.’ If you have something to say, don’t hide behind a false name. It’s just plain cowardice of you to do so. I have more of a deep sense of respect for those—however unpopular or vicious their statements are—who post their views with their real names and make no bones about it. At least they stand for something; I would rather take it from them than the cowards that hide behind false names.
Let us ignore the fact that she calls herself a journalist. I prefer to call her a columnist, but that is neither here nor there. The difference between a journalist and a blogger is that journalists have to adhere to certain guidelines that govern the freedom of speech. Last I checked, freedom of speech and the "guidelines" thereof cover both journalists and bloggers, and in fact cover all citizens. The principle of freedom of speech does not discriminate between journalists, bloggers, butcher, baker, and candlestick-maker. Perhaps what she means is journalists are covered by the standards of the publication said journalist happens to work for. Bloggers, not working for anybody for the most part, do not have to adhere to standards other than their own. A blog is the blogger's own private space where the blogger can do whatever he or she wants, say anything he or she wants, insult or edify whoever he or she wants. The only courtesy a blogger affords to his or her readers or to his or her targets is to open the blog up for comments, an open invitation to his or her readers to agree or disagree with whatever was written. A blog is just like any other conversation, or at least it should be. The only standards bloggers adhere to are the standards of the host and society at large.

Ms. Fernandez doesnt like the anonymity of the blogging community. She calls it cowardice. But such is the appeal of the medium. In the comments section I visit, I like the fact that I, an ordinary schmoe, could exchange opinions with other people on an equal basis, whether they be doctors, lawyers, rocket scientists, or movers and shakers of the business world. I never ask for credentials; the opinion itself is what's important, although some would insist on giving you their resumé every chance they get, as if that mattered. It doesnt. What I care about (or not care about) is what you say. Truth be told, I dont like anonymouses either, simply because it's so easy to pick a handle. Call yourself something and stick with it, for the love of God. That is your cyber-identity, and your opinions are you. You are nothing else in the blog community other than what you write.

Ms. Fernandez then purports to diagnose Pinoy culture:
Perhaps it is the Filipino culture to foster backstabbing because they never mean what they say face to face. Just how many times have you dealt with co-workers who will smile in your face when you ask them to perform a task or engage in just plain conversation, when in fact they are quite uncomfortable with the situation and are forced to do what they absolutely detest with a smiling face. I guess it’s the kind of culture brought about by 300 years of Spanish colonization.
Perhaps that's true. Although I myself have had no problem with the 'wily Filipino' for the most part, having met but a very few of them, and those that Ive met are easy to spot. I think that's called empathy; when other people know they can be comfortable around you and can say what's on their mind around you. If Pinoys can't do that around you, then I think it's safe to say that the problem is not entirely with the other person. Notice that she wrote "when you ask them to perform a task". Sa Tagalog, kapag may iniuutos ka sa kanila. That ought to give you a clue where she is coming from -- from the position of 'order giver'. As we have seen from her OFW articles, she's not exactly respectful of people whom she perceives as not belonging to her station in life. I repeat, her problem might not entirely be with the other person. Perhaps the other person sees something in us that is not worthy of full trust. But this has nothing to do with blogging, so let's move on.

It is true that some people hide behind anonymity, and these people usually have the nastiest comments. In blogs I have visited, and I dont visit many, anonymous comments are indeed cowardly. But Ms. Fernandez doesnt single out only anonymous comments, but generalizes about the blogging community as a whole. No doubt her past experience has left a few scars, especially since most bloggers dont belong to the alta-sociedad she aspires to. I mean, how dare they?

She ends with:
Maybe I should start an anonymous blog and really let go... but then again I don’t want to be responsible for World War Three and I would sleep much better being brutally honest in your face than hide behind an anonymous name. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I started a blog just to shake things up and got a ton of money in advertising?
That, I believe, is what she calls her acerbic wit. It would be perfectly all right if indeed she starts an anonymous blog. She can do anything she wants in it, subject of course to the rules and regulations of her host -- is as lenient as they get. I am willing to bet that she would enjoy the anonymity. She can rant and rail about overseas foreign workers or her househelp, or bloggers, or Spanish mestizos, or whoever else is fortunate enough to merit her attention. I hope she goes for it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Speak the truth

As the only vertically-challenged member of my family, I resent this statement

After the February 29 rally, at the corner of Paseo de Roxas and De La Rosa streets there sat on the curb a group of young men sporting red luminous horns. A friend of mine greeted them with a traditional greeting, "Rakenroll!!" They acknowledged him by yelling out a more contemporary greeting, "Speak the truth!"

The truth, that's what everybody claims to want.

More impressions: Erap came on the stage for less than a minute and there was a cheer from the crowd. Leah Navarro of Black & White said that they booed him from the side of the stage. If they did, I didnt hear it. The group of people I was with were thrilled at seeing him. And I think booing is rude, man. Especially since this rally was supposed to show our unity. Let's take care of Erap later. Staying away from the streets just because Erap is there means youre giving the streets to Erap. The best way to dilute his influence is to show up.

The crowd was at its peak during the interfaith part of the rally which ended before 6 pm. After the communal prayer, the emcee turned over the stage to the next emcees. According to my officemates, they started to leave at this point. Most of the crowd who stayed for the prayers decided to stick around for Jun Lozada, who was supposed to speak at 6:00, but the organizers decided to have him speak at 6:30 to coincide with the live newscast of the major networks. He was welcomed like a rock star, and I hope his message hit home. He cautioned against doing this out of anger and emotion. "Kasi," he said, "kung mapaalis nyo na yung kinagagalitan n'yo, titigil na naman kayo." He called for a principles-based mass action. Whatever happened to him during his time at La Salle Greenhills seems profound indeed. It's nothing short of a spiritual awakening, which is probably why he's so convincing. A lot of the crowd left after Jun spoke. Most of those who remained were the 'Bayan-Gabriella' crowd.

If Jun Lozada was greeted like a rock star, Joey De Venecia looked like one. I overheard a girl who was part of the ABC 5 crew say that he looked like Elvis. And he did. Put your collar up, Joey. Rakenroll!

I wonder why the Wuds and the Jerks arent making videos. Their songs rock and they could show the younger bands a thing or two. Even their old songs still sound fresh today. Making videos would make them more accessible to the MTV crowd. Speaking of old songs, when Noel Cabangon sang 'Tatsulok', a teenaged kid near me was thrilled that Cabangon decided to cover a hit by Bamboo. I chuckled but I held myself from correcting him. He'll find out soon enough.

I was tempted to take a picture of Cheri Mercado's toes.

Rakenroll. And speak the truth.

No, Ate Koring wasnt marching with them. She was covering the event.
Also in the pic is one-time neighbor Enteng Romano (I sold him beef once)
and Butch Abad.

Boy, mga sulyap mo'y malambing,
Little boy, ngiti mo'y type ko rin
Datapawa't walang mangyayari sa ligaw-tingin
(That was one of Leah Navarro's hits.)

A friend and I had a huge crush on Risa Hontiveros (now Baraquel)
once upon a time.
With Randy David.

Manolo Quezon is the white of the Black & White group

Nun power

Youth power

Lawyer power

Ummm.. bohemian punk power?

The nation's prayers borne by 99 luftballons

Pray not that God is on our side, but that we're on his

Hands to heaven

Cheri Mercado covers for ABC 5


Monday, March 03, 2008

The mysterious Salenga of the positive electron

Years ago, one could find plastered on walls, on pedestrian overpasses, on electric posts, from Caloocan to Quezon City, and perhaps parts beyond, these words, crudely painted:
Salen-ga, a Filipino, discovered the electron is positive.
The mysterious Salen-ga has been the object of discussion between my classmates and I. Who is this man? And has he in fact discovered that the electron is indeed positive? And if so, what is the significance of this discovery? Does that mean science has gotten it wrong? Whoever he is, the media seems to have ignored this discovery completely. We started to doubt that he even existed. He was soon forgotten. Even his graffiti started disappearing as hordes of Metro Aides whitewashed his words from public property. He comes up every now and then, but my friends and I have concluded that he was nothing more than an urban myth.

Then came the February 29 interfaith rally. A smallish man with glasses was holding up a two-sided sign made of yellow cartolina protected with plastic wrapping, saying something I couldnt quite comprehend. Then I caught fragments of what he was saying. He said something about 'positive electron' and I did a double take and looked at his sign more carefully. The bold black letters said, in all-caps:


And in the sign, I caught a name: Salen-ga! It was him! In the flesh! He was saying, "Pagmalaki n'yo ang Pilipino. Natuklasan ko flat ang mundo! Ayaw ilagay sa dyaryo!"

Salen-ga, proud Pinoy

Amid the chants of GMA's ouster, and the presentations onstage, he was yelling pride in the Filipino, and his scientific discoveries that are way ahead of his time or being suppressed by the media. According to him, that is. I thought of approaching him and chatting with him about his discoveries but thought the better of it. My experience with his type of genius is that once you open the floodgates of his knowledge, you can't shut him up. I just didnt have the time. Besides, Zorro showed up and stole the show.

Zorro, ready to do battle with corruption