Archive | June, 2010

Is the CBCP violating the separation of Church and State?

The endless meddling of the CBCP in the affairs of the supposedly secular State from one presidency to the next drives people to angrily invoke Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Phlippine Constitution: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. But as tempers cool down and rationality takes over, one begins to wonder if the CBCP is indeed violating this rule.

I am reminded of an article written by one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Dean Emiritus of Ateneo Law School and amicus curiae Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., where he says:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly-burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion …” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the church but to the state. It is the state, after all, which passes laws.

And on other parts of the article he wrote:

That is the “separation part” of the constitutional command. The other part is the “free exercise clause.” Both are embodied in one sentence which says: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

…the negative command of the Constitution is addressed not to bishops or priests but to the state and those who exercise state authority. As to bishops and priests, the pertinent part of the constitutional command is the guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

It does make sense, at least to me. The command was for the State, not the Church, and it is the former that seems to be violating this command by giving weight to what the latter dictates, as can be seen from the following statement of Fr. Bernas:

The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion.

Of course, the state hasn’t really declared Roman Catholicism as the official state religion – just the official consultant on issues and policies that affect all Filipinos, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Fr. Bernas explains:

The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

So it seems that we freethinkers have been barking up the wrong tree all along. While we’ve been making noise about the Church’s meddling, it is actually the State we should be blaming. (Besides, it is the Church’s moral obligation to meddle and try to impose its dogma.)

But the State is highly influenced by the Church, and we can’t touch the Church since it is merely exercising freedom of religion. The picture says it all. While there seems to be a wall of separation between Church and State, God is straddling that wall. This ought to be tolerable, but the problem is that this isn’t just the generic God as the creator of the universe; it has to be a particular brand of God even more specific than the Judeo-Christian God. It is, of course, the Roman Catholic God who says that contraception is evil because the main (sole?) purpose of sex is procreation between married couples and that overpopulation and poverty and the spread of STDs are all caused by immorality and can only be solved if people turn from their evil ways.

So what do we do now? Aside from taking the necessary legal steps to make sure the State observes the separation, I guess we could go for the source of the Church’s power. And I don’t mean God. I’m talking about the followers, who happen to make up the majority of the electorate and whose votes the state politicians are desperate to get. If we could open the eyes of enough people, we will be able to reach critical mass. It may be a long, uphill battle where we gain and lose ground one step at a time, but once we begin to weaken the Church’s influence, I imagine it will be all downhill from there.

Posted in Politics, Religion26 Comments

Rethinking Economics

Rethinking Economics

MAKE MONEY

In the circle of freethinkers, it is common to question religion and government as some of the many things that are commonly taken on faith. What I find to be less common, however, is a critical analysis of monetary economics, which is pretty much the fundamental mechanism that is running the world today. I think that it is of utmost importance that we revisit economics with a fresh perspective, given the many different failures that the traditional model has been spitting out these past few years.

The foundation of modern economic models dates back to a time when self-interest, utilitarianism, and profit maximization were the basic assumptions underlying human behavior. However, recent sociological studies have relentlessly shown over and over again that these facets of ‘human nature’ simply do not explain enough about new phenomena that are emerging.

For example, nobody could have predicted the rise of Free and Open Source Software volunteerism a few decades ago. This community violates all of the old rules of economics by volunteering precious time to do sophisticated work on projects which are just given away to the public.

Another thing that the old model failed to take into account is the exponential growth of technology. In the past, as technology progressed and people were displaced from their jobs, it wasn’t too difficult to learn a new skill from which one could earn a living. Nowadays, however, automation has penetrated the marketplace so deeply that people are having trouble looking for things to do in order to survive, especially since technology moves so fast that what one may be studying now could be obsolete in just a few years. The glaring problem here is the direct conflict between employed human labor and technological advancement. Given the primary profit incentive of business, this means that people will continually be laid off and experience difficulty in sustaining themselves due to the creation of new automated machines.

This exhibits a crucial flaw in the system, wherein technology, whose purpose is actually to free humans from drudgery, becomes a problem for the common worker. Therefore when we apply new technologies, businesses end up with greater capacities for productivity, while consumers are left behind with smaller capacities for consumption because of job loss. Therein lies the paradox of having much to offer but not being able to give it simply because the people cannot pay for what they need.

Surprising as it may sound, the current state of technology is actually advanced enough to allow for a virtually complete automation of the basic industrial processes required to sustain human life. This means creating an abundance of goods so high that putting a price tag on them just wouldn’t make any sense. This could spell the emancipation proclamation of all mankind from the paradigm of “labor for sustenance” and possibly the end of money itself. At this point, I would like to introduce the concept of a resource-based economy, wherein the necessities of life are provided to people for free, without the need for employment.

Naturally, a critical thinker would respond with many different questions to this kind of proposal, which is a good thing. Some of the common questions posed deal with the timeless debate of “nature vs. nurture”. However, as can be seen from the links I have provided above, the human species does have a capacity to change and learn to be sociable. Another common question that arises deals with motivation. Simply put, what would motivate humans to do anything if they were provided all of their basic needs without a price tag? The answer is simple: stuff they like. Sure, some people would argue that most people would just lie around all day having fun. But is there really anything intrinsically wrong with that? It’s not going to be as if nobody will ever do science or develop technology as if those were terribly boring activities. There wouldn’t be any problem with someone just lying around for months at a time, although I’m pretty sure that that person would eventually get bored with inactivity and wind up looking for something to do.

Now there are probably tons of other issues that are unresolved in your mind, such as those of how to deal with property, government, crime, etc. Why wouldn’t there? This is a huge fundemantal shift of perspective from mainstream economics and having these questions in mind is simply an indicator of a skeptical, cautious, and healthy mind. However, in the interest of avoiding a tl;dr post, I shall leave you with some links that will hopefully cover a lot of your questions:

The Venus Project – an organization that advocates the implementation of a resource-based economy
The Zeitgeist Movement – the activist arm of The Venus Project; concerned primarily with spreading awareness of these issues (Here are the Philippine Chapter’s Facebook group and page)

I invite you all to join the movement. Like FF, it is open to people from all nationalities, religions, and walks of life, and also highly values reason and science as important tools for learning about our world.

Posted in Science, Society23 Comments

Drowning in Baptismal Waters

Today is the feast of St. John the Baptist. And with our very own city of San Juan being named after the saint whose claim to fame is splashing other people with water, it’s no surprise that his feast day here is celebrated in the wettest way possible.

This year’s celebration seems to have been leveled up ten-fold. Whereas in the past few years, we would only see a few locals with their pails of water and garden hoses gleefully “baptizing” passers-by with water, this year we have actual firetrucks in every street corner literally deluging motorists and commuters alike in a torrential baptismal frenzy. With that much water power, one would almost hope that it would be enough to wash away all the evils in the country like Noah’s great flood. But alas, not even the might of Ondoy was enough to cleanse this nation of ours. So on we go with our lives, having no arks… yet still able to endure any amount of flooding that comes our way.

The first firetruck

Only in the Philippines will you see the government deploying all their firetrucks for merry-making (and making hapless commuter’s live miserable). Never mind if there was an actual emergency and all their firetrucks are out of water and stuck in the middle of the immovable crowd. After all, we are a christian nation and god will protect us. All it takes is a prayer to make everything better. In the meantime, the local royalty of the fiefdom of San Juan is much too busy celebrating their across-the-board win in the recently concluded elections. Their old mayor has just been promoted to congress and another family member takes his place in their own little kingdom. Enough reason to crank the celebration to the max. San Juan will not be outdone by Makati’s recent celebratory fanfare. What it lacks in budget, it will make up for in sheer chutzpah.

Yes, Filipinos really know how to party. Just like that those annoying neighbors who love the crank up their drunken karaoke parties till the wee hours of the morning. And its that same insensitivity that shows just how mature we are when it comes to merry-making. Sure, everyone’s having the time of their lives but what about those poor commuters who are just passing by on their way to work? Did anybody bother to ask them whether they’d actually want to participate in all the drenching? Did the revelers think of how those poor office workers will fare when they reach their offices soaking wet? Folks, this is not a simple sprinkling of water you can just air-dry in a few minutes, these guys are using actual fire hoses turned on full blast. The pressure alone from one of these babies will knock you off your feet, not to mention make you look like you swam to work. And if you think going to work with wet clothes suck, think of those carrying important documents that’s now reduced to wet rags.

The second firetruck

It’s a weird blend of one-third merry-making, one-third religious festival, and one-third politically-sponsored thank-you party. And just like its religious origins, things have a way to getting out of hand. People just get so caught up with the flow of things that they forget to even consider the collateral damage. Did the organizers think that everyone passing by is prepared for it and is a willing participant? Did they prepare alternate routes for those not in the mood to participate? You don’t get a choice. It gets shoved in your face whether you like it or not… just like religion. Most people didn’t have a choice of whether to get baptized or not since its done when they were still babies, they don’t get a choice of whether to get soaked when passing by San Juan, and they don’t get a choice whether they even agree with church-influenced national policies. Don’t have the same conservative views on sex as the Catholics? Tough. Think divorce is a feasible option in certain situations? Too bad. Don’t find anything wrong with same-sex marriage? Better luck next time. Feeling a bit more liberal with family planning, with contraceptives, sex-education? Sorry, no RH Bill for you still. It really doesn’t matter if you’re OK with it or not, whether you’re even christian or not, as long as the church has its way with Philippine politics, only church opinions matter and everyone has to play along.

Just like the deluge of today’s San Juan Day celebrations, the meaning of secularization in the Philippines has been washed way… in a torrent of baptizing water… coming from the hose of a government-owned firetruck.

Posted in Society13 Comments

Sunday Meetup: June 27 at Shangri-la Starbucks

RSVP on Facebook

Date: Sunday, June 27, 2010
Time: 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Location: Starbucks (near cinemas) at Shangrila Mall

Discussion Topics:

1. Starting steps for virgin vegans
2. Short story writing workshop
3. Freethinker Solidarity Day
4. Shoptalk: family planning & contraception
5. How to save Sex Ed (brainstorming)

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.
* You don’t have to buy anything from Starbucks.

Posted in Announcements, Meetup2 Comments

CBCP kills sex ed, DepEd needs our help

Update: According to a GMA News TV article, Secretary Valisno was misquoted by the CBCP article: “The DepEd is not putting the sex education program on hold. Sec. Valisno clarified that no such decision has been made,” Malaya said. “It appears that she was misquoted in the CBCP article.”

An assistant secretary working for the DepEd also confirmed this when I spoke with her briefly at this morning’s hearing on the petition for a temporary restraining order on DepEd’s pilot-testing program. She also told me that we (civil society) will be invited to the forum to discuss the sex ed modules. If I can’t get some seats for you guys, you can be sure I’ll represent.

The GMA article also says that the plan to upload the sex ed modules to the DepEd website has been cancelled because it might be accessed by those who are not old enough and be corrupted by it. DepEd, I know your modules are controversial, but I’m pretty sure those horny kids could find something more sensational to be corrupted by.

When the CBCP meddles in government, it’s almost always a contest between democracy and theocracy. It’s certainly been the case in their recent “partnership” with DepEd as sex ed consultants. We’ve all been rooting for DepEd and the democracy that their sex ed program represents. But the game is over; score one for theocracy.

Thanks to pressure from the CBCP, DepEd has decided to suspend its sex ed program until after CBCP has given the go signal. “We decided to hold sex education module in abeyance until a final decision is made on the consulting process.”

That was Education Secretary Mona Valisno. Before deciding to suspend the sex ed program, she attended a mass in Manila Cathedral. She sat in the front row while Archbishop Rosales delivered a sermon:

“All of us in this cathedral are either teachers or students or collaborators of church. Ang misyon ng kristiyano ay ganito: isang engkwentro kay hesus, hindi mo maaaring ipagpalit mo ‘yun. [This is the mission of a Christian: one encounter with Jesus, which you cannot replace with anything.] This is addressed to all the schools, let them meet jesus, the compassionate person.”

Any doubts that Secretary Valisno (and her department’s sex ed project) was the target of that sermon was erased by what Archbishop Rosales did after: In front of all the teachers and students in attendance, he gave her a potted plant , which according to him, symbolized the sanctity of life. To me what the action symbolized is this: democracy sacrificed on the altar of theocracy.

Immediately I was reminded of COMELEC’s decision to disqualify Ang Ladlad. Ang Ladlad was not allowed to run for representation on religious grounds — for the religious bigots who made the decision, members of the LGBT community are immoral and are a danger to the youth. Yet Ang Ladlad was able to run, thanks to the Supreme Court’s more democratic ruling, one that obviously bears repetition (emphasis mine):

“Our Constitution provides in Article III, Section 5 that “[n]o law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” At bottom, what our nonestablishment clause calls for is “government neutrality in religious matters.” Clearly, “governmental reliance on religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.”

We thus find that it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad. Rather than relying on religious belief, the legitimacy of the Assailed Resolutions should depend, instead, on whether the COMELEC is able to advance some justification for its rulings beyond mere conformity to religious doctrine. Otherwise stated, government must act for secular purposes and in ways that have primarily secular effects

As far as this court is concerned, our democracy precludes using the religious or moral views of one part of the community to exclude from consideration the values of other members of the community.

That decision was a victory not only for the LGBT community, but also for our country’s democracy, and the secularism that guarantees it. I hoped that the issue was controversial enough for the decision to echo in the halls of government much longer. But in less than three months, it appears the voice of secularism has already been silenced.

What’s happening now is essentially a repetition of COMELEC’s mistake. Even the language being used is familiar: “Anything that will not be in accordance with moral values then we will remove it,” said Secretary Valisno.

But who decides what is in accordance with moral values? Here’s an answer from an article on the CBCP website:

Valisno said they are willing to modify the contents of the program if the church should find topics that contradict Christian values.

Note that what Valisno actually said was “moral” values. But the indirect quotation on CBCP’s website makes it clear: as far as the CBCP is concerned, what is moral is what is Christian, and what is Christian is what the CBCP says it is.

So until the CBCP approves the sex ed modules, DepEds sex ed program is on hold. And from the CBCP’s initial assessment, it looks like sex ed is on hold indefinitely. Here’s CBCP spokesman Msgr. Pedro Quitorio:

Marami kaming hindi sinasang-ayunan sa modules na ito. Sa pagtatantiya namin ay hindi ito pasado [There are many things in these modules we don’t approve of. This program will most likely not pass.],” he said.

I can only imagine what kind of program will emerge from the CBCP’s censorship process. But one thing’s for sure: it won’t be the sex education program that our country needs.

So as far as sex education is concerned, theocracy 1, democracy 0. But maybe the game is not yet over. Maybe it’s only half-time. Secretary Valisno said that her department would upload the sex ed modules to the DepEd website for public scrutiny, in a way employing the public as sex ed consultants. I’m not sure how, but if this is going to be worth the effort, they’re going to find a way for the public to have a valid voice in this debate.

This may be her way of evening the playing field, giving everyone a say. But I’d like to see it as her way of recruiting allies. In the first half, the DepEd was alone in facing the CBCP, Ang Kapatiran, and all those other Pro-lifers. The DepEd’s going to need our help. I’m in, and I hope so are you. Let’s win this for democracy.

Posted in Politics, Society33 Comments

A failed experiment: the CBCP as sex ed consultants

The CBCP began fulfilling their duty as sex education consultants by doing three things: (1) urging President-elect Aquino to scrap sex ed, (2) filing a class suit against Education Secretary Mona Valisno and Undersecretary Ramon Bacani, and (3) telling the DepEd (and anyone who will listen) that there shouldn’t be sex education in the first place.

The geniuses at Malacanang who thought consulting the CBCP on sex ed was a good idea made an obvious mistake: they weren’t being realistic. Why? Because the CBCP is not compatible with sex ed, DepEd, and reality in general.

The CBCP is not compatible with sex education. Asking the CBCP to be consultants on sex is like asking creationists to be consultants on evolution. Not only is the CBCP as ignorant of sex as creationists are of evolution, they have the same aversion toward the topic they’re supposed to consult on: both dogmatically ignore scientific evidence about said topics, both think that teaching said topics has lead to the moral degradation of our society, and both prefer that the public remain just as ignorant.

The CBCP is not compatible with the DepEd. The DepEd is a democratic, secular organization. The CBCP is a theocratic, religious organization. The DepEd is responsible for all Filipino citizens, while the CBCP, although it also tries to be responsible for all citizens, favors only Roman Catholics, ignoring the rights and beliefs of those who have different faiths, or who have none at all.

To implement its projects, the DepEd uses unbiased scientific evidence from experts around the world. To perpetuate its dogmas, the CBCP chooses only the evidence that is consistent with its myopic worldview.

The CBCP is not compatible with reality. By ignoring scientific evidence about sex and sex education, they are denying the truth; by making claims based on tenuous evidence or no evidence at all, they are spreading lies.

But apologists will say that they do consult experts, they do listen to evidence. Whose experts? Which evidence? The Vatican’s? Who can forget the Pope’s irresponsible comments about the condom?

They say that sex education will result in children being exposed to sex too early. The truth is, earlier than ever, children are not only exposed, they are bombarded by sexual ideas — from their peers, the media, video games, the internet, and so on. And this will happen whether or not our children are educated enough to deal with it. It is wishful thinking to think otherwise.

Another fallacy based on wishful thinking is the idea that sex education should be left to parents. How likely is it that a Filipino parent has accurate information on sex and sex education? How likely is it that a Filipino parent will actually talk to their children about sex properly, if at all? Just because the CBCP believes that parents should teach their children about sex does not mean that they will.

The spread of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted teenage pregnancies, the rapid growth of the population — these are real problems that need real solutions. If only the CBCP could stop its wishful thinking and finally accept reality, they will realize — sex education is the best real solution that we have.

Malacanang’s experiment has failed: making the CBCP sex ed consultants was a gross mistake. They have betrayed their partners not only by asking for the suspension of the project they’re supposed to work on, but by filing a class suit against the people they’re supposed to work with. Yet the appointment was a mistake from the start — a failed hypothesis. Their way of thinking is antithetical to the success of a secular, science-based sex ed program (or any secular, science-based program for that matter).

Malacanang must revoke CBCP’s appointment immediately. If the CBCP can be consultants on anything, it’s not sex education — it’s sex ignorance. But if the DepEd wants to keep them as consultants, the best way to go about it is this: measure progress by how much the CBCP is pissed off. If they’re filing lawsuits and pressuring politicians, you’re doing a great job.

Posted in Politics, Society61 Comments

Let’s Talk about Sex

The need for sex (education!) has been on my mind lately. You see this current furor about sex education to be done in schools. I don’t know what the fuss is all about – I remember being in Grade 5 or 6 and my homeroom teacher writing the words “penis” and “vagina” on the blackboard and proceeding to talk to the whole class about sex. And that was in a Catholic school run by Jesuits at that. I’ve been thinking about sex lately because of close friends having problems with their teenage daughters. I for one believe parents should talk to their kids about sex (please be more specific than just going on about the birds and the bees!). In these modern times when sexual promiscuity and having kids out of wedlock is no longer something to raise eyebrows about, I think the debate in the news about sex education in schools is way too much hype. For one, talking about sex does not mean condoning a sexual lifestyle. We can’t deny the fact that we live in quite modern times, and yes, more and more people are having sex (starting at a younger age than my 25 years!ahem.abstinence until absolutely, cannot completely control!). I remember a TV show about the sex education debate and a panelist putting it quite succinctly, “If you put a swimming pool in your backyard, shouldn’t you teach your kids how to swim?”

At a practical level, kids need to be taught about sex for their own good and protection. With sexual molestation and sexual perversion on the rise, sex education at its most basic level starts with telling kids that parts of their bodies are private. In a sense, I was teaching sex education to my Grade 2 students when I was handling Guidance classes as a Counselor several years ago (yup, me as a Sex Ed teacher!). The topic was teaching 8-year old boys about cleanliness and hygiene, but I segued the discussion to talk about how you keep your privates to yourself (the pressing incident at the time was that the kids were comparing their “soldiers” in the CR= funny, curious kids!). But on a serious note, I also tried explaining (ever so tactfully) how important it is that he is in control of his body, and that he has permission to refuse any unwanted touch. That if anyone does touch him, and it makes him feel uneasy or uncomfortable, he needs to tell that person, whether it’s someone his own age, someone he knows, or even if it’s an adult he might know, to stop. Then, he must go to a parent or someone older that he trusts, and tell about what happened. Horror stories abound about strangers in the mall, even older relatives, or cousins playing seemingly “innocent” childhood games, that I think such a talk is one a parent should have with one’s kids.

But what about teen-agers? Take out all the talk about spirituality and morality (though these are important mind you!) but at a practical, reasonable level, and what for me are my own personal views, I would stress 3 things about sex:

(1) It’s normal that we think about sex. Growing up means we have all these sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) raging inside us, and sex is nature’s beautiful way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing. I remember a co-teacher in HS (a Guidance Counselor) asking me (since I studied psychology daw = as if I had all the answers!) what he should tell students in Guidance Class about masturbation. I forgot what I told him exactly (!). But I do believe kids should be told that what they feel is normal, and that all those feelings are not “sinful” or not be taught to see sex as dirty.

(2) Take responsibility. Since the very nature of sex is for reproduction, then getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant IS a consequence when having sex. Basically, my personal take on the matter is (moral issues not withstanding), have sex if you believe you are old enough, mature enough, financially responsible enough to have a child! If there’s one thing that irritates me to no end aside from the question of sex education, is that other debate about birth control. I do remember Theology class on marriage and being taught about the Catholic Church’s premise on the rationale for natural family planning methods (and to a certain extent I do agree). But I also think we should be realistic. I believe women should have a choice about their own bodies, and that they be taught about other methods as well, so in this case, yes I am pro-choice (stopping short of abortion, I have seen from personal experience with close friends how the guilt one goes through is just not worth it). Girls, birth control is also your responsibility (don’t leave it up to the man! and I’m telling you – a month’s set of Trust birth control pills costs only Php49!). I also strongly believe Filipino men would do well to be informed about using condoms! (tsk, tsk, there ARE condoms of the ultra-thin variety where you can still feel pleasure!). So be safe!

(3) What about feelings? Ahh, a note of caution here. Sex increases attachment with someone so choose your partner carefully. Studies show the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are released during orgasm, hormones that deepen feelings of attachment and make couples feel much closer to one another after they had sex. In a sense, sex does confuse the issue, in that you might not be sure altogether if you really love the person. Physical intimacy should be an expression of love, not the other way around. Sex definitely does complicate men-women relationships. Yup, maybe the old folks had it right: fall in love, get married, then have sex. Yeah right.

I really don’t profess to be an expert on sex. Or even love for that matter. But the above sentiments are indeed something I feel very strongly about. At the end of it all, all I can say is, instead of having sex….. Make love!

Posted in Others, Society10 Comments

The Morality of a Freethinker

Morality is often equated with an absolute standard – religion and/or God – so atheists, agnostics, and other non-theists are sometimes viewed as people who lack moral standards. And why not? In a nation where a lot of people actually believe that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments – “Thou shall not kill…steal” – how indeed can someone who doesn’t believe in God be expected to tell right from wrong – or choose right over wrong? Someone who doesn’t believe in an absolute justice that metes out eternal punishment might be able to do evil things because they believe they can get away without any consequences.

But there are consequences, although they are not very obvious and immediate and one has to look far enough to understand. Even if a person thinks only of himself and what could be ultimately good for his own welfare, as long as he is rational enough he will apply the Golden Rule – which happens to be a very selfish rule by the way – and choose to do what is desirable rather than detestable according to one’s own standards.

For example, if a nonbeliever decides not to steal even when there is very little possibility of getting caught, it’s because he had somehow figured out a long time ago that stealing is such a lousy thing to do, and it’s not because of what he was taught in Sunday school or religion class. Stealing is wrong because it causes loss of property to others, and even if such loss doesn’t happen back to the thief or his loved ones, the highly evolved person will see that it will still bring more harm than good. He may not get caught now, but a lifelong habit of stealing will surely put him at risk of being distrusted by the people around.

But more importantly, he cannot bear to insult himself and his own self-esteem with the idea that he has to resort to stealing for his survival and prosperity. Freethinkers are often proud people; when one chooses for himself what he considers right and wrong instead of having some authority dictate it to him, he takes responsibility for his actions even in the absence of laws.

I believe that morality should be based on how certain actions benefit or harm individuals and society and not on the ‘revealed’ commandments of a deity whose existence still remains to be proved and whose ‘revelations’ are all hearsay. This comment on another article says it best:

The atheist’s morality of “do no harm” is actually much more complex than the theist’s “10 commandments” when actually put into practice. By no means, however, does this make the atheist’s morality inferior. Our morality is more nuanced, which many theists interpret as lacking principles, because they are unable to understand what isn’t spelled out exactly for them in a simple list.

The rational person knows that it is advantageous to himself to do things that benefit instead of harm others because while the temptation of undue personal gain at the expense of others may at first look attractive, in the long run he will have to pay the price. And if such inequity happens in a community often enough it will trigger even more injustice as people become desensitized to supposedly repugnant behavior.

Life is not a zero-sum game where each person’s gain necessitates an equal amount of loss to another; in nature and in society teamwork and cooperation have proven that it is actually possible for everyone to win, and that every now and then small civilized gestures go a long way and eventually trickle down to the pool of moral standards, gradually raising its level. And it only takes rationality – not religion – to realize that.

Posted in Religion, Society10 Comments

Losing My Religion

It was inevitable. Oft it’s been said, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, so I knew if I’d be cooped up in the house for 1-2 months then invariably, I’d be thinking about this. After all, in that litany of “R” words I’d written as my goals for this period of rest, “repent” was sure to be on the list. Or it could be that watching 24 episodes of “Supernatural” (esp. this latest season dealing with the Apocalypse) made me think about my faith and where my personal relationship with God stands in the scheme of all things that’s happened in my life. And believe it or not, no matter how hedonistic I might seem to purport at times in the pursuit of life’s pleasures, my faith, and the quest of it, has always been an important facet of who I am. So here goes…

I believe sometimes our mass, or Sunday church services, could better be improved at times. Far be it from me to tinker with centuries-old Catholic tradition, but truthfully, born-again, or evangelical Church services are way more alive and spiritual at times than our staid, stiff, and sometimes alienating Catholic mass. Still, having said that, a traditional part of our ceremony I find sacred is the saying of the Apostles Creed. It makes sense for any believer, to state what one accepts to be part of one’s faith. But here’s my personal take on that, my own set of principles in the faith.

(1) I believe in God. That much is made clear. For many reasons really, and the purpose of this note is certainly not to cite all my reasons why, or to prove that God exists. And boy, I’ve gone on that actual quest myself, even reading a book “God’s Questionable Existence” by Fr.Reilly(of course a Jesuit!) that makes for a compelling read by the way. But one, critical reason I believe is: I’m a Mom. It’s as simple as that. I mean, really, any mother, or parent who’s ever held a sick child in her arms can attest to how much faith you suddenly realize you have, when faced with the reality that you don’t control anything, and then, having faith in a higher power makes so much sense. When you have kids, you start praying…a lot! From: “Lord please help me find the money for the milk, diapers (or substitute with: tuition, kids’ braces, the list is endless) to “Lord, please help me find my son” (when my autistic child was lost in the mall for 15 long minutes, the longest 15 minutes of my life), to “Lord, please don’t let this scar my daughter for life” (on my failed marriage). Let me tell you, when one prays, one believes.

(2) Love moves in mysterious ways, as the song goes. Or rather God does, not love (but then God is love!). We live in a world where, bad things happen to good people and often we question whether God is really present in a world where evil exists (and oftentimes win!). A book I read once “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” (I told you I’ve done extensive research as part of my faith journey) said that God has no control over things that happen. I don’t think so. It’s tricky really, for it’s true that you can’t absolve God for all the atrocities that happen in this world. That’s what you get for giving man free will in the first place. Or for even putting that tree in the middle of Paradise (Lord, what were you thinking?!). It doesn’t make sense at all. Why He lets bad things happen. Coz, I can’t just credit God for the good things, and not let him be responsible for also the bad things. It’s all or nothing. Yet, I believe, it’s all part of His grand masterplan. That’s an integral part of what faith is. It’s the hope in things not seen. I think, the one flaw of Paradise was that you can’t really be sure if you love someone, if things are too perfect. And so, God, in his infinite love, risked it by giving us the choice, and so we all have to find our way back to Him. Of our own accord.

(3) I’m a bad girl. But God is good, all the time. If there’s one thing I concur with my foray into evangelical Christianity, it’s that no amount of good works will entitle you entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course that does not give me license to indulge myself, but it does explain why I say I’m a Christian but still find myself in situations where I can’t muster enough strength and willpower to say no to temptation (Lord, lead me not into temptation,for I can find it myself,haha). I still don’t subscribe to any one religion saying they’re the best and all that, which is why religion ticks of a whole lot of people. I believe, when I die, God is not going to ask me if I was a good Catholic (or substitute any religion here). I don’t know what he’s going to ask really, but I sure think it’s not going to be that. I mean, it has to be more than that. But you do have to keep on trying to be good, to love one’s neighbor, not even as oneself (coz Lord knows the things we do to ourselves at times!). And I do try, admirably, if I may say so myself. So, I’m really a good girl, who just tends to be naughty at times. Yet Santa (or God) still showers me with a whole lot of blessings, not just during Christmas, but throughout the year.

Hey, I’m not religious, but damn, I’m spiritual.

Posted in Religion51 Comments

Sex ed program starts, but is still in danger

When classes start today, sex education will be integrated into the curriculum of 159 schools, while thousands of others will continue to lack this much needed education.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) continues to compromise its integrity by trying to appease their official sex ed consultants, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP):

In a letter to Bishop Odchimar dated June 4, 2010, DepEd Secretary Mona D. Valisno said their noble intention to introduce sex education in public schools “caused some misperception about our planned actions.”

Secretary Valisno said both the government and the Church “care for the welfare of our youth who are facing the realities of the modern times and who may not have control of the factors that could cause continuous degradation of our moral decadence in this era.”

She added she looks forward to seal agreements with the Catholic Church “on how to safeguard the physical and moral wellbeing of the country’s youth. She asked for an audience with Bishop Odchimar within the week.

When Valisno talks about “degradation of our moral decadence,” she panders to the bishops by using their language. And when she looks forward to sealing agreements with the Catholic Church on our youth’s moral wellbeing, she considers them more than just mere consultants — she grants them authority as gatekeepers of morality.

This has led to a castrated version of sex education — in both scale (only 159 schools?) and breadth (contraceptives not taught in sex-ed?). But it’s a start. Yet Valisno only succeeded in pilot-testing the program this year by ignoring Malacanang’s mandate to consult the CBCP — at least until classes open.

Now that she’s begun the consultation, I hope Valisno can take the pressure until June 30, when her term ends with Arroyo. And I hope that unlike Valisno, the next DepEd secretary won’t compromise too much in the wrong direction.

Posted in Politics, Society6 Comments

June 14 is World Blood Donor Day

Looking for a more practical way to help your fellow human beings instead “praying” for them to get well? Good thoughts and well wishes may be well and good but for an unfortunate few, more concrete help will be more appreciated than magically wishing for them to get well.

June is statistically one of the low seasons for blood bank supplies, thus the annual awareness campaign for the need for more people to step up to the challenge of giving something of themselves… literally.

The 2010 global campaign focuses on Young Donors, with the slogan “New blood for the world”. It hopes that a new generation of idealistic and motivated voluntary unpaid blood donors will form a pool that provides the safest blood possible for use wherever and whenever it is needed to save life.

source: http://www.who.int/worldblooddonorday/en/

Some excerpts from Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang:

Young blood is what we need. We need a new breed of heroes. That’s why we say a blood donor is a hero. It’s so nice to see young people giving blood as it is a testament of the hope and future of our National Blood Program and a reflection of the kind of society we have today given the challenges we face. We are still a country of good-hearted, volunteer blood donors.

Blood donation is not dramatic and requires no grandstanding. It is plain and simple but with a great desire to lend a helping hand to someone without the lights and the camera. In blood donation, you never outdo, outwit and outlast anybody to become the hero you wanted to be. It’s only true when you want to be the sole survivor in the world!

Every second, someone in the world needs blood. Majority of the world’s population do not have access to safe blood and it can only be provided by blood donors who will voluntary and willingly donate their precious blood to save a life — a life of a mother giving birth, a victim of certain accident, a boy who is suffering  from leukemia, a child with dengue or a father who is undergoing open heart surgery.

Millions of people owe their lives to people who are not personally acquainted to them in one way or another – these are the people who give their blood freely and without hesitation, without asking anything in return.

In the Philippines, 9 out of 10 Filipinos will need blood sometime in their lives. With the demand for blood increasing every day and with its shelf life of 35 days, it is important that blood donation becomes a regular custom in the Philippines especially among the youth.

source: http://www.redcross.org.ph/Site/PNRC/secgen.aspx

Blood is life. And it’s the best gift you could ever give because more often than not, its a matter of life-and-death.  It’s not just a gift of blood, it’s a gift of life. One simply can’t rely on prayers to God to help make people get well because well, frankly, he’s been slouching off lately, and we’re in short supply of miracles nowadays. So it’s up to us then to make a difference because in the end, it’s people that help other people (… and don’t let the Objectivists tell you otherwise… altruism is good) 🙂

comic strip courtesy of: Least I Could Do

For more information:

Posted in Announcements8 Comments

FF Top Ten: June 8, 2010

Well, it’s been another interesting week at the Filipino Freethinkers blogs, to say the least. The community’s been abuzz with Nancy’s article discussing the matter of Vegan Ethics. It’s a new topic for many of us freethinkers, and while it may draw disagreements, in the end, it’s still going to challenge us to think outside our comfort zones, which is a good thing.

And the timing of the article – along with the Benj’s recent post describing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” event here Manila – couldn’t have been more perfect. This week, UAE has announced its plans to build what will be the world’s largest solar thermal power plant.

Once completed in 2012, the plant will cover a span of one square mile, and will generate 100 MW of power through its arrays of collecting mirrors and oil pipes. Just to clarify, the plant isn’t a traditional solar plant many of the readers may imagine; it’s not just a collection of solar panels linked up to a giant battery, as in most households.

The plant uses solar thermal energy, which uses the sun to superheat an insulating liquid such as molten salt or oil to power a traditional steam turbine. It’s more energy efficient than panels on a large scale, but I’m digressing here – feel free to ask me more about this in our next meet this Saturday; I can go on and on about the tech XD. The point is that it speaks volumes when one of the world’s largest oil producers has decided to embrace the concept of green energy.

In more current event news, We have South Korea’s new idea of psychological warfare being conducted on Nokor forces at the DMZ. It involves several large speakers, and a couples of tracks of Korean pop sensation 4minute.

Yes, dear readers – SK has decided to torture the North with K-pop music.

Odd? Definitely. But before you go dismissing this plan, keep in mind that history has proven that when you’re outnumbered and outgunned, all it takes is one soulful ballad to destroy an enemy alien fleet that is literally bred for war, chaos, and violence. Just ask Lynn Minmay.

Of course she had the help of a city-sized space warship, and a squadron of transformable fighters loaded with tactical nukes, but that’s not the point.

In any case, enjoy this week’s tidbits, and be sure to drop in at the forums’ News Thread if you find any interesting topics you might want to bring up!

=================================

UAE Announces Plans for World’s Largest Solar Plant (via Popular Science) Link

Inventor of Photosynthesis-Based Solar Cells Wins Millennium Tech Prize (via Popular Science) Link

New Vatican campaign to clamp down on ‘liberal opinion’ (via Independent.ie) Link
http://www.independent.ie/national-news/new-vatican-campaign-to-clamp-down-on-liberal-opinion-2210401.html

What happens to women? (via Philippine Daily Inquirer) Link

Study: Children of Lesbians May Do Better Than Their Peers (Via TIME) Link

Stereotyping women right out of science (via Pharyngula) Link

South Korean Propaganda Blasts (Via Yahoo News) Link

Stephen Hawking on Religion: ‘Science Will Win’ (Via ABC News) Link

Adult Breastfeeding Establishes “Maternal Relations”…
(via Salon) Link

6 Companies That Make Money Solving Problems (They Made Up) (via Cracked) Link

Posted in Others5 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers = Atheist Preachers?


Some people have the assumption that the Filipino Freethinkers (FF) are a bunch of atheists who bonded together for the purpose of converting others towards atheism. This assumption is wrong on two counts: first, we are not all atheists; second, we do not preach atheism.

A quick visit to our info page yields the following:

Freethought is not the same as atheism. Freethinking is a way of thinking that can lead to different conclusions. Although most freethinkers are nontheistic — atheists, agnostics, deists — many freethinkers still reach religious conclusions. However, theistic freethinkers do tend to have more liberal or progressive religious views than other believers.

Whenever you try to use reason and science to reach your own conclusions, you are freethinking. Freethinking is a process of thinking free from dogma, authority, and tradition. Although these things may influence a freethinker’s conclusions, freethinkers make up their own minds.

To a freethinker, no idea is sacred; the worth of all truth claims is best determined by skepticism, rational inquiry, and scientific testing.

While we publish quite a few essays that argue for the non-existence of God, these articles merely reflect the views of the individual atheist authors and do not necessarily represent the collective position of the Filipino Freethinkers. What these atheistic articles do represent about the FF, however, is the way arguments are built around science and reason and presented in a non-dogmatic, non-adversarial way.

What the FF is basically promoting is reason; we are trying to open the eyes of Filipinos living in this predominantly religious and superstitious country. Why? Because religion has always been a powerful and oppressive force that has crossed the line to supposedly secular politics and medicine and stunted our progress over the centuries by refusing to implement practical solutions to real issues. (As I have said before, religion, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, shares a large part of the blame for overpopulation, poverty, and the spread of STDs because of its stand on contraceptives. And this stand is based on an encyclical called Humanae Vitae on the Regulation of Birth written more than 40 years ago by a pope who is now long dead. Of course the Catholic church has the right – the duty – to preach its doctrine to its members. That’s called freedom of religion. The problem starts when the church meddles with issues affecting the whole country as if all Filipinos were Catholics.)

Another reason why the Filipino Freethinkers are quite active in advocating freethought is that we want to live in a society where we will not be discrimated or prejudiced for our lack of faith in religious dogma, where in a job interview we can honestly say that we’re atheists or agnostics without fear of being passed over in favor of a more religious candidate, and where our lack of religion will not be taken as a lack of moral standards.

Some may think that ‘atheists’ who congregate are weak, in need of a support group because they cannot fend for themselves in a religious world. Well, let them think what they want, but don’t people congregate for many other reasons and interests? Why can’t they congregate for the love of stimulating discussions that do not always have to be about religion?

Freethought is a journey; atheism, agnosticism, deism, and even philosophical theism are just some of the destinations, and none of them has to be final. Won’t the journey be a lot more fun having fellow truth seekers along the way?

Posted in Religion32 Comments

Al Gore goes the convenient route

In his first public event following his divorce with wife of forty years Tipper Gore, Al Gore went to the Philippines to preach his message about climate change and man’s responsibility to do something about the pressing problems of the changing times. For the most part, regardless of what side you’re on in the climate change debate; you can more or less see that Gore’s conviction is sincere.

In what was touted to be an updated version of the Inconvenient Truth – an Academy Award winning documentary back in 2007. There were some issues that were rebuked in recent years so Gore had to go back on his world tour caravan to put the stamp on his landmark advocacy. The speech that he delivered at the SMX Convention Center was supposedly a more nuanced and contextualized take on the hot button issue of climate change.

What Gore did while he had the floor last June 8 was almost insulting and degrading to the intelligence of the Filipinos in attendance. While Gore did show a good amount of slides showing breath taking and dramatic contrasts of glacial thaw and ice sheet melting; the conclusion of his speech left much to be desired.

In the end, Gore suggested that it was a “spiritual” obligation of the people to do something about the climate change crisis. Regardless of how compelling the argument was, it was quite degrading for Al Gore to try to coerce of coax people into action with the relative standards of morality despite the supposedly strong empirical evidence that much care should be taken.

He may have been given a heads up that Filipinos are mostly religious but at the same time, most Pinoys would know that a spiritual imperative would not be necessary if an empirical reason to take action is already present.

After watching him speak for roughly 90 minutes, I was left unimpressed with his ability to convince people – he was merely preaching to the choir and he barely even responded to the criticism against his philosophy. The speech sounded like something that a televangelist would deliver to his already devoted flock. I doubt if he inspired new believers. It’s possible that he came into the even thinking it was and would be an all out Gore love fest.

Posted in Politics16 Comments

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