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.