Archive | December, 2010

2010 Wrap Up Vodcast

Well folks, 2010 has been a great year for the Filipino Freethinkers and now we’re on the cusp of another great year to look forward to! Before the year is over though, we thought we’d try something new: vodcasts!

After luring Red and meetup regulars Frank, Margie and Dustin with promises of cake we sat them down on a couch and got them talking about their favorite FF memories of 2010 as well as what they’re looking forward to in the new year for the Filipino Freethinkers.

We’d like to do more vodcasts in the future, perhaps as a monthly thing. As this is our first vodcast, its still a little raw around the edges so we’d like to hear your feedback.

Happy new year, see you all in the first 2011 meetup!

Posted in Podcast, Video9 Comments

It's Confession Time!

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is just one of the many religious practices I learned as a student in a Catholic school. It seemed such a big deal back then for me to go confess my sins to a priest inside a confessional box. But now I’ve gotten the chance to look at it from the POV of an observer, something a few people are able to do. For many people in the world, the Christian life is the only life that they know, but for an outsider, they will be able to tell if there is something more beyond the confines of one’s own thinking. To put it simply, this sacrament was a way for any Catholic to have his/her Sins forgiven by God in exchange for a repentant attitude and some prayers.

Sure, I might have been a naughty young kid and got myself into trouble at times but it sure wouldn’t deserve the condemnation it gets me from the people around me. “Self-condemnation” is just exactly what I don’t need more of. Most young children are easily condemned for disobeying authority figures such as parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. As a rule, grown-ups believe that they are always right. What more about the God of the Holy Bible, the Great Authority for all the mankind’s affairs and also the biggest condemner in history for it is only Him who would condemn a person to eternal suffering in Hell?

So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50).

The idea of Hell is disturbing enough to scare people away from sin, but how can we be sure that there is such a place as Hell so I can start becoming one of the just people who will be saved from being thrown into the furnace of fire? Maybe I will never know the Truth about what is in Hell while I’m still with the living. Even if I do go to Confession once again or multiple times, it will not turn me into Saint but rather keep on reminding me of my fallen status as a sinner. Pope John Paul II, himself, recommended having regular Confession as part of the Catholic life. The Christian religions also tell us that Mankind is sinful by nature so no matter how hard people try not to sin, they always fail at it. So what is the point of performing the Sacrament of Confession aside from divulging both your shameful secrets and feelings of guilt to the priest in front of you, behind the screen. Can I be sure that whatever I say inside the Confessional is not going to come back to haunt me? You are talking to just a priest after all – not God – who is still just a man who may succumb to the same temptations as any of us. Haven’t we all heard of the dozens of scandals in the news recently, involving the Church and its own priests? It is also quite obvious that anybody behind the screen will easily be able to recognize the repentant person by their silhouette or through their voice.

Now it is not so clear to me which of my actions are sinful and which are not. I know that lots of people commit brutal crimes and severe abuse everyday but you won’t find many of them Confessing about their sins. You’ll just find them inside a Jail cell. I would go far as saying that some of those people don’t deserve God’s Forgiveness. Life is not simply black and white like people wish it to be. There are many gray areas in our everyday dealings that come up and need to be considered.

Posted in Religion, Society6 Comments

(intermediate)Victory!

Despite shameless dithering and outright bullying of resource speakers by anti-RH congressmen, isolated and dated studies presented as ‘conclusive evidence’ and yet more spouting of the misinformation opponents of the RH bill fear they’ll be jailed for should it pass (condoms don’t prevent AIDS, they spread it! Oral contraceptives will give everyone cancer!), the house population committee this week passed the motion to terminate congressional hearings and move to a technical working group, bringing the process to pass the RH bill one step closer to fruition.

The 3rd and last congressional hearing on the RH Bill saw the petty, the ignorant and the absurd. Honorable House Representatives bereft of valid arguments against the bill wasting time with long rambling speeches about arcane procedural loopholes, ganging up on resource speakers and demanding they answer questions outside their fields of expertise while ignoring the actual experts’ advice, facts and figures. In blatant breach of congressional decorum, audience members in opposition to the bill laughed derisively, incredulous at the assertions of the representative of the Catholics For The RH Bill that she could indeed be a Catholic and in support of the bill. At one point a three foot high poster of the Blessed Virgin Mary was raised up out of the audience area in the hands of a Pro-life Philippines member trying to distract a resource speaker, the same lady who at the last hearing called the bill’s supporters ‘Pro-death’.

That hearing also saw the brave, the well-informed and the just. A simple poor working mother, brought in as a resource speaker to relay the plight of the urban poor for whom ‘natural’ planning methods had failed so miserably, daring to speak out of turn and address a Congressman directly, chastising him for insinuating that oral contraceptives cause cancer by challenging him to come across the table so she could show him just how strong she still was after 20 years on the pill. Doctor after nurse after statistician after economist putting their professional expertise at the public’s disposal. Other congressmen, perhaps more mindful of the mandate of their office, remembering to simply thank the gathered resource speakers for their time and reminding their fellows to treat those citizens with respect.

Because it is too rare for the public to see these elected officials outside of a TV studio interview or campaign rally, here are the names of the congressmen who acquited themselves well in the meeting, perhaps the exceptions that prove the rule*:

Hon. Rep. Walden Bello, Akbayan

Hon. Rep. Rogelio Espina, Biliran

Hon. Rep.  Janette Garin, Iloilo

Hon. Rep. Teddy Casino, Bayan Muna

Hon. Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, Gabriela

Hon. Rep. Edcel Lagman, Albay

And here are those who fuel cynics/realists everywhere:

Hon. Rep. Karlo Nograles, Davao

Hon. Rep. Pablo Garcia, Cebu

Hon. Rep. Irwin Tieng, Buhay

Hon. Rep. Victorino Socrates, Palawan

In the much delayed interest of brevity, specific examples of their hot-or-not behaviour may be saved for either a future article or bought through a semi-inebriated dinner conversation with this author, who enjoys spicy food and cheap red wine.

The bias in this piece is obvious, and if it seems like those politicians against the bill are caricatured as arrogant know-nothing gloryhounds on a bully pulpit, any tax payer should be free to have a peek at the documented footage or transcript of the hearing. And what of the esteemed medical, educational or civil rights experts that must have been brought in by the opposition? In the interest of, or perhaps as a mere sop to, fairness, presented hereunder is the first resource speaker brought in to present her formal position paper in opposition to the RH Bill.

Despite all the ugliness on parade, at the end of the day we won. For at least that one day, government worked, and it worked because of all of you, you with your hours sacrificed on the altar of civic participation. It might even continue to work, if we all can keep making it so.

*The rule which states that in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, survivors are to eat their legislators first.

Posted in Politics, Religion15 Comments

January 2 (Sunday) Virginal 2011 Meetup

Location: Starbucks at Anson’s Ortigas (Google map)
Date: Sunday, January 2, 2011
Time: 2:00pm – 5:00pm

RSVP on Facebook

A new meetup for the new year! After the long holiday hiatus, we’re going back to our home meetup location of the Starbucks at Anson’s Ortigas. Filipino Freethinker’s second anniversary comes next month so we’ll be ramping up preparations for our annual FF filmfest and anniversary celebration. We’ll need volunteers to help top the success of last year’s filmfest!

Discussion Topics

– FF Filmfest/2nd Anniversary
– Ethics of Mockery
– Holiday Stories

Post meetup dinner and drinks is most likely at Congo Grill, El Pueblo. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall so we can contact you.

* 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 Meetup4 Comments

An Age of Reason

It was around the year 2009 when I discovered a cold-deadening truth: I have been a lapsed Catholic for almost two years. It’s not like I didn’t go to Church or receive communion and that stuff. I go to a Catholic school, I pray every time I eat, I go to mass once or twice a month – whenever the school tells me to go to mass, I go. Other than that, I never bothered. I even figuratively attacked my classmate for saying that he didn’t believe in God – yeah, I get points for hating.

However, growing inside of me were literally thousands of questions. So many reports on the news of this Catholic Church having controversies, but we weren’t like Ireland. In Ireland, the government would usually have its way, but here it isn’t like that. Secularism goes only as far as on paper. The Church controls the country with an invisible iron fist.

I’ve read a lot about irreligion – all about those varying degrees of atheism and agnosticism – but I never really thought that irreligion applied to my country – this lonely country, the country with the third largest Catholic population in the world. Then I started asking myself: did I truly believe – or did society tell me to believe?

What is very sad about religion is that sometimes it is more a social commitment rather than a spiritual one – I doubt I would be Catholic if my family practised a different belief. It was this cold hard truth that hit me made me start thinking about that last question.

Doubt: some kind of social taboo here. Conversion itself may be a bit looked down upon, but they treat people the same. However, when you say that you doubt, you’re crossing a line. Law guarantees a separation of church and state, along with the freedom to exercise any kind of religious belief. The society I grew up in defines it as “if you don’t have a god, you don’t count”.

Why do people think religion plays such a vital role in childhood? Is it this fear of God that makes children want to stay indoors? Well, I may not speak for every child, but when I walk out that door I’m not thinking about God – I’m thinking about my destination. Thinking that God’s my destination kind of makes me lose focus of my actual destination.

I would never call myself an atheist or an agnostic. These questions didn’t come to me in full speed until I started going back to Church. Curing my lapse in Catholicism – not lapse in God, lapse in Catholicism – however it came with thousands of new questions. To me God has always been there. The Church, the Bible, all that Catholic dogma, they were the things on the line.

I read online that child abuse cases by Catholic clergy in America had zero tolerance, so how come we didn’t have any of that? Dioceses all around Italy are well funded, and yet a Church near my school hasn’t been finished for years because of debt.

I’ve stated that I have read about religion – but it seemed to me that I never actually lived very religiously. Whenever I needed help, I turned to God. That was about it. I did not remember just getting up and saying “I want to go to Church” just because I wanted to – until my return to Catholicism. In one way or another, going to Church more often was better for me. I was opening myself up to God just because I wanted to. It was something about faith that just made me believe – against all rationality – that somehow, somebody on the other side was listening, taking notes, and was planning a way for nature to get me what I want.

That’s why I didn’t believe in big flashy miracles. You wouldn’t learn anything from it to help you as a human being. Believing that “I want a big breakfast” and having a miracle get it for you won’t help you – it will only help satisfy you. Spending cash on the food and making it yourself would help cure your laziness.

I’ve heard of a Catholic term known as the “Age of Reason”, when the child is fully capable to understand – and participate – in Catholic ceremonies, usually around seven or eight years of age. For me the Age of Reason had a different meaning. For me it was the age when the child started to think about the world around him – the age when that child would suddenly start to think differently from everything he had grown up to believe was true.

My Age of Reason had hit me early – although when it did hit me it wasn’t strong enough to be noticed properly. My Age of Reason grew gradually to this point and it is probably still growing.

I truly believe that the Age of Reason is essential for the proper spiritual growth of the child. However, I believe letting too much of the “good thing” may be disastrous for the child.

One of my beliefs showed my reliance in Catholic dogma: when I had read online about Pope John Paul II, I had seen one of his works known as Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), which labelled the Papal views of the relationship of faith and reason – which, to this day, I still believe in. It stated that faith and reason were not only compatible, but for all spiritual intentions essential together, for it is argued that faith without reason led to superstition and reason without faith led to relativism and nihilism. A view closely shared by the Baha’i faith.

That was my problem: I had too much reason, and yet I had believed that I did not need God. This is what I do not like about Theism, it may be not be majority, but I have seen a lot of people be fatalistic, letting God decide the outcome of their hard work instead of making sure to receive the outcome they want. I was nihilistic, what I wanted was all that mattered, God was there for purely aesthetic purposes and my life had no meaning other than material happiness.

So here I was, undergoing puberty and satisfied but not happy. It is said that I myself choose my happiness, yet it was still very hard to choose to be happy when everything you thought to be true turned out to be something else entirely.

My doubt is still growing. All of it has questions; all of it will have answers, though I am sure that I will not get answers for it all. While most people my age are concerned about relationships, grades and the like, I concerned myself about God, something which isn’t unheard of, but for the case of the society I live in, it is unordinary.

Whenever I go to Church, I participate. Though my mind usually wanders during the readings and the singing, my heart is participating, though my brain is in the clouds. There’s just something about being a member of the group that feels so comforting.

I guess a lot of my beliefs are still Catholic. I can’t help it. It all falls down to the great probability of my birth, and I guess God had decided I’ll be Catholic.

This Holiday season, it is a tradition in my country to attend Misa de Gallo, a mass that is celebrated late in the evening or early in the morning. It is celebrated every night starting the evening of December 15 or early December 16.  Popular belief says that if you complete all masses of the Misa de Gallo, that God will grant you a wish. I never really believed that God would have fully intervened, though I did believe that God would have done something as a reward. Maybe it is a reward for the person and not some material wish.

I woke up early December 16 prepared to begin by waking up excruciatingly early – until I was stopped by a headache that forced me to go back to bed. So I decided that I wouldn’t participate this year – showing how my Age of Reason is slowly distancing me from the Church of my birth.

Though I am not embarrassed by my views, all I worry about is how a lot of the people I know would probably hide the fact that they didn’t believe, or would hide the fact that they believed in something else.

Now I’m 16, and my Age of Reason has not yet passed nor has it fully grown yet. There are still so many questions; there are still so many things to answer. I don’t know what will happen of my future, whether this doubt shall continue to control my life. I’m sure in ten years I’ll still be Catholic. I love the Church too much to let go. All that I was really sure of is that this complicated watch had been made by a Watchmaker who was not sure of what He had brought to life.

(Originally posted in the author’s blog.)

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (Karol) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Religion4 Comments

Darwin's Missing Link

Darwin's Missing Link

Since my political commentaries aren’t always publishable here at the Filipino Freethinkers site, I decided to just focus on themes that seem to be prevalent here such as Religion and Science. In a non-religionist environment “Evolution” is quite a popular topic to discuss. While I do not intend to join a choir singing praises to evolution I also do not intend to throw a monkey wrench into it. The purpose of this article is to critically analyze the pitfall of reductionist thinking when it comes to Evolution.

Did you guys know that, Charles Darwin – the father of evolution, shares the same birthday with me? Wow! Isn’t that something? I used to think that my birthday was quite special because every birthday I celebrate the whole United States of America celebrates it (Lincoln’s birthday) too! Now it is even more special because not only do I have Americans celebrating on my birthday, I also have all the Darwinian atheists in the world celebrating, as well. Quite a big deal, huh?

So in one of the godless groups I used to frequent, Darwin’s birthday was always celebrated. Take note that I said Darwin’s birthday was celebrated, not mine. No one in that godless group cared enough to greet me on my birthday, but that’s alright. I certainly am not holding it against President Barack Obama for not giving me a birthday greeting, as well.

Anyway, it is just very much expected to find a discussion on evolution and Charles Darwin in an atheist forum or atheist group. Of course, in an atheist group evolution is treated as some sort of dogma. No one can question it… evolution explains everything in our lives! To question evolution and sometimes even Charles Darwin himself is a heresy! If you are stupid enough to question evolution and Charles Darwin in an atheist forum, you might end up being branded as some sort of an idiot mystic who cannot think freely outside the box of religious credulity.

So what is so special about Darwin and Darwin’s “evolution” that seems to trigger some sort of a Cognitive Dissonance amongst some “atheists”?

I came across an assertion by a self-professed atheist that said Charles Darwin’s Evolution through Natural Selection also answers the “why” questions in life. These “why” questions, he said, were once solely under the affairs of religion. Darwin has shattered religion’s monopoly for the “how” questions and now we are told that it has the “why” questions covered, as well.

I have no problems when it comes to Evolution trumping religion when it comes to the “how” questions. But I would like to take a pause for a moment and think about whether I can jump in the bandwagon with atheists on the claim for the “why” questions. So I pondered on the question whether Evolution based on Natural Selection can really answer some of the “why” questions or more abstract questions in life. Was Charles Darwin able to answer the question why humans have morals?

In the investigation, it is important to have a clearly defined scope. The empirical data needs to be within the scope of interest, which is Evolution through Natural Selection. In light of that, we need to establish a definition of terms – what is Evolution and what is Natural Selection?

As I understand it, Evolution is a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form. Natural Selection is the mechanism behind evolution and it is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments. Local environments change consistently. The Earth has become hotter and colder throughout time. Environments have become wetter and drier; grassy, more forested, more arid… etc. The empirical data we have certainly shows how different species have adopted to the changing environments. The evolutionary history of the elephant family gives a good insight for how natural selection worked. (Please see: http://elephant.elehost.com/About_Elephants/Stories/Evolution/evolution.html )

So in essence, evolution by natural selection tracks changing environments by differential preservation of organisms better designed to live in them.

Now, does Darwin have any empirical data that shows how the changing temperature throughout the planet’s history, for instance, has changed morality? Or why morality emerged from the change in our planet’s historical climate? Can fossils of Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis and Homo erectus and Homo sapiens sapiens be correlated to the changing climates from their respective periods for us to see why morality is what it is today? Does Darwin have empirical data to show that morality is directly proportional to natural selection from changing local environments?

Darwin indeed offered evidence that suggests Natural Selection as the basis for humans’ morality. In his book, “The Descent of Man”, Darwin discussed in chapter 5 of that book, the “Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilised Times”. Here is the link to that chapter:

http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-descent-of-man/chapter-05.html

I do not see anywhere from the link above any empirical evidence to support Darwin’s claim of Natural Selection accounting for morality. The chapter, however, offers explanations and rationalizations, but no empirical data is presented.

As he described somewhere in the beginning of chapter 5, the lower animals must have their bodily structure modified in order to survive under greatly changed conditions. This certainly fits well within the scope of natural selection (which is the mechanism behind evolution and the theory of local adaptation to changing environments). This can be shown through fossil records. We have empirical data to support such claims by looking at the difference in skeletal structure of similar organisms from different places with different climates/conditions. That is fine and dandy. However, when it comes to morality, we do not see any data from him that shows how, say the change in climate, has triggered the formation or even refined our moral sense. Instead, he offers anthropological data to support his theory. But the anthropological data presented merely builds up his inferences. Testing the inferences is another story.

I am not suggesting that anthropological studies are worthless. However, I would caution about depending on mere anthropological data to readily conclude on something abstract. We see the value in taking a pause in making conclusions right away with critiques to Ruth Benedict’s Ethical Relativism defense using anthropological data. Our Philo 101 course has taught that lesson already.

Anyway, around the seventh paragraph, he avers to natural selection as “survival of the fittest”. He intimates that “survival of the fittest” points to reproductive success or success in the increase in population.

“Therefore, it hardly seems probable that the number of men gifted with such virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest; for we are not here speaking of one tribe being victorious over another.”

But how does Darwin define “fitness”? In the way he described it from his writing, it seems that he defines “fitness” in terms of survival success. So… the survival success of those who survive? Isn’t that a tautology? Sure, we can probably grant that tautologies sometimes are used for statement definitions ( e.g. “My father is a man.” ), but not as testable scientific statements – there can be nothing to test in a statement true by definition.

In the same book (The Descent of Man), Darwin also expressed his racism and sexism. Darwin argues that the male is an intrinsically more dominant figure than the woman. Darwin argues that because of the woman’s maternal instincts, women are more tender and selfless. But he also adds:

“It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization. The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman – whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.” ( The Descent of Man, p. 576)

Does Darwin have available empirical evidence using natural selection (featuring changing environments) to support his claim of why men attain a higher eminence in pretty much everything… including intellectual powers?

I do not see anything that gives empirical and objective data to support Darwin’s conclusions. What we can see are mere rationalization that tries to fit all observable human behavior to the Natural Selection framework. Was Darwin able to rationalize how morals could cohesively fit into the Natural Selection framework? Perhaps. Was he able to empirically and objectively test it? Well… there appears to be no evidence for it (at least not in the link provided).

Sure, we may grant that Darwin, from his “The Descent of Man”, concluded that man’s morality stems from the development of social instincts through natural selection. Sure we may grant that Darwin suggested that men are superior over women from the same book. Sure we may also grant that Darwin did write that the characteristic advantages of women are characteristic of “lower races” and “lower state of civilization”. We may even grant his explanations to be plausible. But his empirical data to support his conclusions is another story. I don’t think Darwin’s words ought to be treated as inerrant nor sacred. But then again who the hell am I, huh? For “freethinking atheists”, I’m just a stupid idiot sophist mystic who cannot think freely outside the box of religious credulity.

If that’s not the case, I guess we can just think that we just need more empirical data to support Darwinian claims on abstract questions such as questions regarding morality. With this, I guess the quest for the “missing link” continues.

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Science35 Comments

A Call to Restore Sexual Orientation in UN Resolution against Extrajudicial Executions

On November 2010, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to remove a reference to sexual orientation from a key resolution condemning extrajudicial killings. For the past ten years, the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions has urged states to “to investigate promptly and thoroughly… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation. The amendment removing the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with79 votes in favor, 70 against, 17 abstentions and 26 absent. The Philippines was among the seventeen states that abstained.

Today, December 21, 2010, the UN General Assembly will vote on a motion to restore “sexual orientation” in the text of the resolution. The following is a letter from the Filipino Freethinkers urging the Philippine government to uphold the rights of Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBTs) by voting to restore the reference to sexual orientation.

21 December 2010

H.E. President BENIGNO C. AQUINO III

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES

HON. ALBERTO G. ROMULO

Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs

H.E. (Mr.) Libran N. Cabactulan

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

556 5th Avenue

New York, NY

Dear Sirs,

We, the members of the Filipino Freethinkers, are writing to you as allies of the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and advocates of equal rights for LGBTs. We urge you to vote for restoration of the category sexual orientation in the Resolution on Extrajudicial Summary, and Arbitrary Executions.

In the Philippines and all over the world, LGBTs continue to be victims of abuse and extrajudicial killing. In 2010 alone, the non-government organization Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R-Rights) reported 11 documented cases of local killings based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Given the lack of policies against discrimination and hate crimes, it is highly probable that many more cases go undocumented and unnoticed. Overseas Filipino workers are also vulnerable to torture and killing based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, especially in countries where consensual same-sex behaviour is deemed criminal. By abstaining from the previous vote on the amendment to the resolution, the Philippine government has turned a blind eye to the realities faced by Filipino LGBTs.

All too often, these grave violations of human rights are motivated by an irrational hatred of sexual minorities, or committed in the name of religious fundamentalism.  As advocates of reason, science, and secularism, we condemn these forms of human rights violations, and we urge you to do the same. We believe that hate crimes and killings on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity—whether or not they are based on religious dogma—should have no place in a state that has committed to promote, uphold, and protect human rights for all. We implore you to vote to restore the reference to sexual orientation in the text of the resolution on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings.

Sincerely,

Filipino Freethinkers

www.filipinofreethinkers.org

Posted in Politics, Society9 Comments

Where It Starts

As a practicing Episcopalian, one might think that I would welcome a Bible quote on my money. Should I not be flattered, inspired even, that the Bangko Sentral has seen fit to elevate my religious identity to the national level by plastering it on our legal tender? Besides, its only a tiny little line on the bill itself. I myself was too busy harrumphing with everyone else at miscolored parrot feathers to even notice the quote from Psalms on the 500 peso note until someone pointed it out to me. Even one who appreciates the need for Church/State separation might feel tempted to call the issue insignificant, and that bringing any sort of serious attention to it would be a waste of time better spent on the many other more dire issues that face our country today. Why can’t we stay focused on more blatant and urgent examples of religious interference in government, such as the actions of the CBCP and its allies on the RH Bill?

The problem lies with the fact that these seemingly small things have a tendency to come roaring back, used as leverage for the big issues of the future. While attending the RH Bill congressional hearings, I’ve lost track of the number of times that Anti-RH resource speakers trotted out that line in our 1987 constitution about imploring the aid of Almighty God as definitively final proof that the Republic of the Philippines is not, in fact, a secular democracy and that therefore we ought to establish their version of God’s rules on all and sundry. The ‘In God We Trust’ line on American currency has similarly been abused by fundamentalists there who wish to keep the teaching of evolution out of schools.

Ask yourselves: do you respect the rights of others to practice their beliefs as they see fit, so long as they do not overtly impose those beliefs on you, or take your taxes to fund their practice? Do you like living in a country where you are free to think on your faith, or lack thereof, and reach your own conclusions about how to live your life and share it with others? Because that’s what a truly secular and democratic government guarantees for all its citizens. While we might be pretty far from that ideal right now, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthy goal to strive for.

Photo credit: Tico Bassie / cc-by-nc-nd

Here is a relatively easy place to start. For now, by itself, this is indeed a small thing, with a simple solution: remove that line from our taxpayer-funded printed official currency. In doing so we forever remove the possibility of someone brandishing that 500 peso bill and insisting that being members of the ‘official’ religion of this country gives them the right to dictate how everyone else ought to live their lives. This is our chance to actually prevent a problem from developing, rather than reacting to its future consequences. It may not be nearly as glamorous or dramatic, but its just as important.

Posted in Politics, Religion8 Comments

Statement Regarding New Peso Bills

There has been recent controversy regarding the new peso bills the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines or BSP) will be releasing. Various factual errors have been brought up such as the rare blue-naped parrot on the new P500 bill having a yellow beak and green tail feathers, instead of red and yellow, respectively. On a map found on the P1000 bill, the Tubbataha reef was misplaced.1

Regarding these errors, Fe dela Cruz, a spokesperson for the BSP has said that, “In choosing the design… we are always guided by our commitment to enrich the appreciation and knowledge of the Filipinos we honor on our banknotes…”1

On Radyo Inquirer, dela Cruz also said that the BSP will be evaluating the criticisms regarding the errors on the new bills saying, “pwede namang palitan (it can be changed).”2

While it is laudable that these mistakes are going to be attended to, there is one gross oversight that has yet to be addressed. New bills will be containing this direct quotation from the Christian Bible: “Pinagpala ang bayan na ang Diyos ay ang Panginoon (Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord),”3,4 which comes from Psalm 33:12. This statement can be found above the seal of the Republic of the Philippines.

Original image from GMA news blog, used under fair use. Emphasis by the editors.

This is a flagrant transgression of the non-establishment clause of the Philippine Constitution, which states that, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Clearly, this is a situation where the government is endorsing a particular religious tradition. While there is an undeniable Catholic majority in the Philippines, our nation also has citizens who are Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, and non-religious. The emblazoning of this Biblical verse on Philippine currency is an affront to the religious diversity of our country and the separation of Church and State guaranteed by our Constitution.

In its decision against the COMELEC’s order to bar Ang Ladlad from running as a party-list during this past year’s national elections, the Supreme Court said 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.5 We see in this overtly Christian statement on the new Philippine peso bills another example in a long-running trend of religious bias on the part of certain sectors in our government.

The quotation from the Christian Old Testament and its placing on legal tender is a manifest violation of the Constitution and the right to religious freedom of the country’s citizens as it forces even non-Christians to participate in the distribution of explicitly Judeo-Christian material. As a body that represents all of its citizens, Christian or not, the Philippine government must be a secular one; it cannot champion the religious beliefs of any particular faith.

We hereby call upon the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to remove the quotation from the Bible from all legal Philippine tender.


1 Agence France-Presse. Philippines in uproar over error-filled peso bills, <http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20101219-309872/Philippines-in-uproar-over-error-filled-peso-bills
> (2010).
2 Zamora, F. Twitter / @ fe zamora: BSP to evaluate criticisms …, <http://twitter.com/amfezam/status/16681407044657152
> (2010).
3 Bauzon, B. C. V. New peso bills feature younger-looking faces, <http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/top-stories/34272-new-peso-bills-feature-younger-looking-faces
> (2010).
4 Lardizabal-Dado, N. New Generation Philippine Peso bills (updated), <http://www.thepoc.net/blogwatch-features/10615-new-generation-philippine-peso-bills.htm
l> (2010).
5 Castillo, M. C. D. Ang Ladlad LGBT Party vs. Commission on Elections, <http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2010/april2010/190582.htm
> (2010).

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society117 Comments

Gay For A Day

I joined the Filipino Freethinkers at the Pride March last Saturday (Dec. 4) on Tomas Morato in Quezon City. It was my first.

I have a confession to make. I was a homophobic when I was a Christian, but I do not just blame it on my former religious beliefs. They say that Filipinos have this “macho culture,” so to be called a “bakla” is something to be ashamed of. In those times, I never really thought that gays are being discriminated. Who cares? They’re already a plague in our media and fashion industry. But that’s just plain stereotyping: screaming faggots (that what I used to call them) are better off working in beauty parlors and hosting trashy gossip shows anyway.

I was angry with gay people. I don’t know why, but maybe I just took it for granted that these confused perverts are just a product of a sexually deviant, evil society. My homophobia was the result of a culture and religion that already judged them base on some “moral standard.”

In this “macho culture” I was made to believed that only a man – the father, the man of the house, is the symbol of strength. It is the man who gives the rule and demands to be obeyed. He is the provider. Well, this is quite archaic, but that’s how people that were born in the time of the “baby boom” were raised to believed.

So it is a shame in the family to have a gay son or a gay daughter. A homosexual man or woman is a shame, an oddity. He’s a mistake in somewhere…maybe a screw-up in his growth. Men are expected to act as men and women to be women. That’s how society depicts them. I told you, it’s a stereotype.

Gayness is a sickness. Remember an old folk remedy that say to cure a homosexual son, you have to place him head first inside a drum filled with water. Most often, gay people retaliate by saying that if you place them inside a drum with water, they’ll just become mermaids. Funny, but it is just a reflection on how society in the early 70’s and ‘80’s look at homosexuality.

But it’s not only here in the Philippines. Sometimes in its history, society has considered homosexuality a deviant. The term ‘homosexuality was coined by a German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert in 1869 and the first attempts to classify homosexuality as a disease were made by the fledgling European sexologist movement in the late 19th century. In 1886 noted sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing listed homosexuality along with 200 other case studies of deviant sexual practices in his definitive work, Psychopathia Sexualis. Krafft-Ebing proposed that homosexuality was caused by either “congenital [during birth] inversion” or an “acquired inversion”. In 1952, when the American Psychiatric Association published its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, homosexuality was included as a disorder. It was removed in 1973.

Now, thanks to modern science, homosexuality was discovered to be a natural behavior that is surprisingly, not only confined to humans. It was documented in over 400 species of animals. A 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl ( Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, St. Martin’s Press, 1999) shows that homosexual behavior has been observed in close to 1,500 species of animals and other new researches have found it common to animals like chimpanzees, birds, lizards, hyenas, dolphins, giraffes, bison, sheep and even in insects. According to Bagemihl, “the animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity— including homosexual, bisexual and non reproductive sex — than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept.”

Modern thinking has transformed most Filipino family to accept homosexuality as normal, but society is still cruel. Gay people are still being discriminated. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals are still being marginalized by society. They have no legal recourse when they are the victim of public or private sector discrimination, whether at school, in the workplace, or health care settings since sexual orientation is not included in the Philippine civil rights code. What’s worst, the Philippines did not sign the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Also, do you remember the issue concerning The Ladlad Party List? The Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) denied the Filipino LGBT political party Ang Ladlad’s petition to be allowed to run in the May 2010 elections, on the grounds of “immorality”.

Religion
If you’re going to look at it closely, both Christianity and Islam connect homosexuality with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s why we have the word “sodomy” which literally means the act of “unnatural” sex. Sodom and Gomorrah are that twin city in the Book of Genesis that becomes the synonymous with carnal banality and moral blasphemy. It now use by Christian as a metaphors for vice and homosexual deviation.

Conservative Christians blames homosexuality as the sin of those ill-fated cities. That’s why God destroyed them by raining down burning sulfur on both cities. According to an article by David J. Stewart (Jesus Is Lord.com), “God destroyed Sodom because of fornication and homosexuality.” In the Christian website GotQuestion.org, it stated that, “homosexuality was the reason God poured fiery sulfur on the cities, completely destroying them and all of their inhabitants.” In Stand to Reason, Gregory Koukl said, “The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of many things, but foremost among them was the sin of homosexuality. In this section of Leviticus, God gives directives not just for ritual purity, but commands to be observed by every Jew, and even by every visitor.

Homosexuality was wrong for the Jews. It was wrong for gentiles who visited the Jews (“aliens”). It was even an abomination that defiled the land when practiced by pagans who inhabited Canaan long before the Jews came. Homosexuality is a defiling sin, regardless who practices it. It has no place before God among any people, in any age, then or now.”

In the Christian New Testament, the Apostle Paul considers homosexuality as a punishment given by God to those who fail to worship Him properly (Romans 1:21, 26-27) and here he was specific even to lesbianism. So I guess Fundamentalist Christians are wrong when they say that gayness is a personal choice.

In Islam, homosexuality and sodomy (Al-Fahishah) are considered synonymous. It is stated in 7:80-83 that it is sinful and perverted deviation from the norm that even jinns didn’t dare to commit. Many Hadiths discuss liwat (sexual intercourse between males). Ibn al-Jawzi records Muhammad as cursing sodomites in several hadith, and recommending the death penalty for both the active and passive partners in same-sex acts. Two examples are:
“When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes.”
“Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to.”
(in reference to the active and passive partners in gay sexual intercourse)

There is at least one mention of lesbian behavior mentioned in the Hadith: “Sihaq (lesbian sexual activity) of women is zina (illegitimate sexual intercourse) among them.”
Different Islamic schools deals with homosexuality differently. The Hanafite school (currently seen mainly in South and Eastern Asia) teaches that no physical punishment is warranted. The Hanabalites, (widely followed in the Arab world) teach that severe punishment is warranted.
The Sha’fi school of thought (also seen in the Arab world) requires a minimum of 4 adult male witnesses before a person can be found guilty of a homosexual act.

The al-Fatiha Foundation estimates that 4,000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since their revolution in 1979. 10 public executions of homosexuals have been performed in Afghanistan by the Taliban army.

Bigotry Continues
Religious bigotry continue, surprisingly even in a modern society. The Christian TV show The 700 Club on its December 24, 1973 telecast, Pat Robertson urge the US Government to discriminate homosexuals on the same basis that they discriminate “kidnappers, murderers and thieves” because of the homosexual agenda to “destroy all Christians.” Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Enrique Rueda emphasized that homosexuals should never be considered anything less than human.” Dr. Paul Cameron, an anti-gay propagandist even link gay to mass-murder and child molestation in his brochure entitled “Murder, Violence and Homosexuality.”

Death is the worst. Hate crime against homosexual are violent. On March 14, 2007, in Wahneta, Florida, 25-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper was found dead from 20 stab wounds and a slit throat. His body had been dumped on a dark, rural road less than 2 miles from his home.

And who can forget the story of Matthew Shepard? He was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered on the night of October 6–7, and died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12 from severe head injuries. The worst of the story was the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by a certain Fred Phelps, picketed at Shepard’s funeral as well as the trial of his assailants, displaying signs with slogans such as “Matt Shepard rots in Hell”, “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” and “God Hates Fags”.

Homosexuality is not the disease. Gayness doesn’t kill; it’s those hate crimes fueled by religious and cultural bigotry that do. As I now understand them – their real issues, the discriminations, the personal suffering…of both mental and physical harm that bigotry and prejudice have been doing , I got rid myself for this homophobia and I now say to myself in that Pride March that I was gay even for a day.

Posted in Religion, Society11 Comments

For what more?

For what more?

From science, my spirit’s wonderment;

From philosophy, my life’s meaning;

From reason, my truth;

From my own spirit, my very purpose;

From my humanity, my morality;

From the ones I love, my comfort;

From my children, my hope;

For what more do I need religion?

Posted in Philosophy, Poetry, Religion9 Comments

FF Lantern Corps lightens the UP Lantern Parade

FF Lantern Corps lightens the UP Lantern Parade

“In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!”

~ Green Lantern Oath

The Anti-choice advocates have been telling lies about the RH bill, spreading fear and confusion among the citizens of the Philippines.

Wearing yellow, these sinister fear-mongerers weaken the willpower of legislators and advocates who have been fighting for the passage of the RH bill.

But there is hope. For whenever truth and freedom are threatened, the FF Lantern Corps are there. Recently, they appeared in the UP Lantern Parade.

In solidarity with the UP Center for Women’s Studies the FF Lantern Corps marched, the lanterns on their chests symbolizing truth that overcomes lies, the green in their costumes symbolizing willpower that overcomes fear.

The UP lantern parade ended, and our heroes triumphed — they had fun, the crowd appreciated them, and awareness was raised for the RH Bill. But this is only one of the many battles the FF Lantern Corps will face. For they shall continue to fight for the RH Bill and other secular causes in creative ways, taking a stand for reason, science, and secularism. In brightest day, in blackest night.

Thanks to our allies at the UP Center for Women’s Studies for letting us march with you.

Click here for more photos.

Posted in Humor, Others, Politics, Society17 Comments

Misconception

Is conception equivalent to fertilization? Catholic bishops think so. Their argument goes on to say that some contraceptives like pills and IUDs block the implantation of a fertilized ovum, which they insist makes these methods contrary to the law and the Constitution.

If the bishops are correct, Catholics will have to accept that Mary’s Immaculate Conception can be called Immaculate Fertilization. The Catholic creed that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit can be replaced with fertilized by the power of the Holy Spirit. We all know that sperms fertilize eggs, but the Holy Spirit fertilizing something? These alternate phrases will surely jar most Catholic ears.

If the bishops are correct, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) will be synonymous to in-vitro conception. In IVF, eggs are harvested from a woman and manually fertilized by her partner’s sperm in a Petri dish. If conception has already occurred by then, who is conceiving? Surely it cannot be the Petri dish.

Herein lies the key difference. Fertilization only needs a sperm and an egg to complete. Conception requires a woman who will conceive. Conception comes from conceive, which in turn comes from the Latin concipere—”to take in and hold; become pregnant”. The bottom line: a fertilized egg needs to successfully implant in a woman before conception—meaning pregnancy—begins.

The FIGO (International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology) Ethics Guidelines clarified this in 1988 when it defined pregnancy as follows:

Natural human reproduction is a process which involves the production of male and female gametes and their union at fertilisation. Pregnancy is that part of the process that commences with the implantation of the conceptus in a woman, and ends with either the birth of an infant or an abortion.

The Constitutional Commission’s use of the imprecise word “conception” reflects the intense debates that occurred on this issue. Lawyers who have studied transcripts of the debates point out that the terminology started from “fertilized ovum”, then “moment of conception” and finally just “conception”. The proposed phrases—all not accepted—evolved as follows:

1. The right to life extends to the fertilized ovum
2. Protection of life should extend to the fertilized ovum
3. The State shall protect human life from the moment of conception
4. The State shall protect the unborn child from conception
5. The State shall protect the unborn from conception

The final provision, now part of the State Policies of the 1987 Constitution, says that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” If there was consensus that conception means fertilization, then any one of the first two phrasing should have made it. Both failed. Catholic bishops are reviving a battle they lost 23 years ago.

In a democracy, constitutions must be approved by the majority, so we need to understand what people knew when they voted in 1987. When the Constitution was brought to the people for ratification, women were already using pills and IUDs. Were they ever informed that the unborn clause will be used to ban these contraceptives? I don’t think so. Using the unborn clause to ban contraceptives now or block the RH bill reeks of deception and bad faith.

The term “conception” probably means many things to ordinary Filipinos. Translation will often give us a clue. For example, many writers have translated “Immaculate Conception” as “Malinis na Paglilihi“, so to them conception is paglilihi, a Filipino word that describes behavior during the first trimester of pregnancy. Paglilihi is certainly not fertilization. It happens even much later than implantation.

The fertilized ovum deserves respect, even awe and wonder. All of us breathing, thinking, living humans with our intricate organ systems came from this single living cell. But the reverse proposition—that all or most fertilized ova will naturally grow into living human beings—is simply not true. Medical researchers estimate that more than half of all fertilized ova do not implant, and a sizeable proportion that do implant are aborted spontaneously. Genetic defects incompatible with human life are thought to account for most of these losses.

A fertilized ovum is a single cell on a long and difficult path of developing, and thereby proving, its humanness. To equate the tenuous life of this single cell with the full life of a woman diminishes her, and diminishes all of us.

Posted in Religion34 Comments

The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto

I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

Oh every time I close my eyes
I see my name in shining lights
A different city every night oh
I swear the world better prepare
For when I’m a billionaire


-Travie McCoy

It was a sad day for literally hundreds of thousands of people last week when their hopes of turning into an overnight millionaire shriveled up with the news that the lottery prize has already found an all-too-happy owner. Weeks before, the tension has been steadily mounting as the pot climbed steadily to a mind-blowing P741-M. Even people who don’t usually buy lottery tickets tried their luck at the guessing which among the 29 million possible combinations will be drawn next just for the heck of it.

Everywhere you go, the conversation meanders its way to the lotto. People were talking about betting techniques, dreaming of ways to spend all those millions, security concerns, and generally how it could change your life overnight – for better or for worse.

Now it’s strange that one of the most vocal critics of the lotto is the Catholic Church who opined that gambling is a sinful vice. But the irony here is that choosing to believe in a religion itself is a gamble. Mathematician Blaise Pascal was credited with formulating what is now known as Pascal’s Wager – that is, he reasoned that betting that there is a god is a winning proposition since you lose nothing but stand to gain everything by believing that there is one.

Now the argument may be sound if there was only one religion to believe in or not. But as it stands, according to Wikipedia, there are over 4,000 active religions, cults, and sub-denominations in the world today, each one claiming that they have the One True God(s) and/or Goddess(es). And in most cases, simply aligning yourself to a specific religion is not enough to “win” salvation, you have follow their often times vague and seemingly wishy-washy rules and regulations as dictated by their “sacred scriptures” so that come Judgment Day, you would have garnered enough points to pass your deity’s imponderable standards. Factor in extenuating circumstances like the accuracy of translating and interpreting said “sacred text” (the bible itself has over a hundred different variations) and depending on which denomination you belong to, you can’t really be sure which rules to follow anymore.

Suddenly, the numbers don’t seem to be in your favor. Religion has become the ultimate lottery game. You play against impossible odds but still, people get suckered in time and again because they’ve got their sights set on the ultimate “pot money” – heaven.

When you ask the man on the street what he’d do if he won the lottery, more often that not, he’d say that he’d put it to good use by making sure that his and his loved ones’ needs are met and he’d make sure that they’d never want for anything else ever again… well that’s “heaven” in a nutshell – the ultimate freedom from all worldly concerns and problems, where no one goes hungry ever again and you spend your days in  eternal happiness with your loved ones forever and ever… and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s an effective lure. Just look at the sales figures for lotto tickets during the height of the frenzy. The odds didn’t improve any more than it was during the last draw, but people didn’t care about that, they had their eyes set on the pot money and were already dreaming of all the ways to enjoy all that money… how much to spend, how much to give away, how much to invest… but now that someone actually walked away P741 million richer, everyone just sighed and went back to their daily grind, hopes dashed but still dreaming of someday being “the one“.

So what lesson have we learned from all this? The analogy between religion and lotto goes beyond winning or losing, so we have the…

The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto:

.

  1. You’re playing against ridiculous odds but…

  2. It’s easy to ignore the odds if you’re fixated too much on the prize.

  3. There may not even be a “winner” at and you just wasted all that time and money for nothing.

  4. In most cases, you’re actually playing a Lucky-Pick game, because your choice of religion depends largely not on personal choice, but on the circumstances of your birth

  5. If the lotto was like religion, you are forced to use the same combination every time.

  6. If the lotto was like religion, you can’t bet on more than one combination at a time. That is, you can’t improve your chances of “winning” by playing the field.

  7. You have to play continuously and (pardon the pun) religiously because you don’t want to run the risk that your “number” was drawn on the day you didn’t prepare.

  8. Lotto tickets aren’t free. Bought one at a time, you may think its small change. But add up a lifetime’s worth of constant betting and it’s easy to regret all that time and money wasted on buying losing tickets.

  9. Some people may claim that they’re buying a ticket to “help charity” but everyone knows they’re just after the prize.

  10. There’s no shortage of quacks and superstitious nonsense all claiming to know the secret to getting the winning combination.

And a bonus #11: If everyone just stopped wasting all their time and money betting on the lotto and concentrated their efforts on something more tangible and realistic, a lot of good could have gotten done instead.

In recent senate reports, the aggregate lottery sales of PCSO’s accredited operators have grown to P23 billion in 2009. That’s 23 billion in disposable income that people were willing to throw away in a game with ridiculous odds. Now granted a third of that amount is supposed to go to charity, what if the whole amount instead went to a worthwhile cause? It shouldn’t be too hard of a strain to the imagination to think of ways to put the whole amount to good use, instead of 2/3 of it getting lost to the system.

In the same way, imagine a world where people found more productive ways to spend their time instead of worshiping their deities in the slim chance that he/she/it actually exists. And the same reasoning applies when apologists give the same lame excuse that religion does “some good”. If people *really* wanted to help their fellow men, then wouldn’t it make better sense to spend more time helping people than performing those inane religious rituals over and over again?

In the end, its a question of priority – do you want to spend your time and energy making this world a better place? or do you just want to play the odds that there’s a better one in the next world?

You do the math.

Posted in Humor, Religion, Society13 Comments

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