Archive | August, 2014

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

Conversations for a Cause: Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the podcast file here.




Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Secularism0 Comments

A Conversation with Michael Shermer

A Conversation with Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Religion, Science, Video0 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup, Sunday, August 31, 2014

meetup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venue: 2nd floor of Bread Talk Promenade, Greenhills
Date: Sunday, August 31, 2014
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Google Map: http://bit.ly/1j2rdf6

Topics:
1. ALS Challenge: Effective Campaign or Ineffective Altruism?
2. Spirituality without religion? [http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/chapter-one]
3. Richard Dawkins: Atheism asset or liability?
4. Bautista, Duterte, and Vigilante Justice [http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/374125/ulatfilipino/balitangpinoy/netizens-pabor-ba-sa-ginawang-pagsampal-ni-herbert-bautista-sa-umano-y-drug-dealer]
5. Should Google Spy on Criminals? [http://www.businessinsider.com/police-say-a-google-tip-about-child-abuse-led-to-arrest-2014-8?op=1]
6. Raunchy Topic of the Week

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. 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 or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome, and admission is free.
* Early birds get to play board/video/party games with the group.
* 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.

Posted in Meetup1 Comment

Believers and the “Myth” of the Angry Atheist

One of the most criticized aspects of an atheist is the tone he selects to convey what he believes. He sounds so angry, doesn’t he? That’s because he is. It’s not a myth. A lot of atheists are angry. For a long time, I was angry too. And throughout that anger, it never felt wrong to be angry. I felt that my anger was righteous. I also felt that it was important that this anger was conveyed.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that matters of belief are emotional issues. The same goes for non-belief. The atheist believes what he believes because of certain experiences that he encountered. For many atheists, the journey from belief to disbelief has been a painful one. It has not been an easy transition. Religion has been kind to some people, but it has not been kind to everyone. For some people, religion has been cruel.

 

I have some anger too, but recently I have been trying my best to communicate with a neutral tone. I have begun to consider the purpose of my writing and have decided that there’s no point to writing for an atheistic audience. Many of them already agree with me. However, my confrontational tone has been alienating not just religious folk I have never met, but many of my personal friends as well.

If I write with anger, all I would accomplish is either amplify the anger that many atheists already feel or offend many theists. I think my job, as a writer and educator, is to provide information and to encourage the peaceful discussion and evaluation of contradictory ideas.

However, if I do encounter an angry atheist, I will not tell him to stop being angry either. Anger is not a pleasant feeling. Many atheists who choose to feel something as unpleasant as anger have legitimate reasons to make such a choice.

Alex Gabriel, in his article, “To the Atheist Tone Police: Stop Telling Me How to Discuss My Abuse,” provides a comprehensive defense of his anger.

As a young bisexual man, Alex suffered from a lot of religion-inspired abuse. He was told that all Muslims were terrorists. He was told that he was an abomination. He was told that he would go to hell. After all he has suffered from religion, he believes that his anger is the correct response to religion. Part of his goal is to be rude to religion, and the anger that he is able to express is, for him, an achievement – a symbol of his freedom from religion.

In his article, he mentions others who have been labeled as “angry.” He mentions Shasheen Hashmat who was labeled as “angry” because she spoke openly about living with a mental disorder because of the traumas she endured from honor abuse. He mentions Sue Cox who was labeled “angry” because she revealed that her family told her that being raped by a Catholic priest was part of God’s plan.

Some “angry” atheists have had their genitals mutilated. Some have suffered sexual abuse from members of the clergy. Some have been living with shame because they were told that their “lack of holiness” was what caused a man to force himself on them. Some have been living in terror after being told that they were possessed, instead of depressed.

Some atheists are angry with religion simply because they suffered from religious abuse, and they are within their rights to express their outrage at the injustice they suffered.

Whether or not I agree with the communicative efficiency of an angry or bitter tone, I’m in no position to tell an angry atheist to “calm his tits” because I am not completely aware of his personal traumas to make a judgment about his capacity to calm down. It’s difficult to talk about abuse without anger.

And the last person who should be telling an atheist to stop being angry is the believer.

As Greta Christina writes in her article, “Atheists and Anger“:

“It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we’re going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it’s up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it’s not helpful. It’s patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it’s just going to make us angrier.”

I understand that theists will be offended by the atheists’ anger, and will make judgments about atheists based on his angry behavior. However, I also understand that atheists have legitimate reasons to be angry, not only because many of them suffered abuse, but also because these feelings of outrage are necessary for social progress.

“Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would fucking bother if they weren’t furious about something,” says Cristina.

Personally, I’m not as angry as I used to be, but I can’t promise that I will never speak with anger again. What I do want believers to understand is that when I express my anger, it’s not directed at you, believers. It’s directed at a system that has enabled this abuse. I’m not attacking your relationship with God. I’m attacking misguided manifestations of your faith that has led to human abuse.

The real battle is not between believers and atheists. The battle is between cruelty and kindness; bigotry and tolerance. I would like to think that as ethical human beings, that we’re all on the same side.

 

Image Source: http://churchandstate.org.uk/wordpressRM/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/reason.jpg

Posted in Religion, Society2 Comments

A Catholic Apologist’s Open Letter to Atheists

I always thought that the term apologist was an oxymoron. My idea of an apology is a regretful acknowledgement of error, and offering a humble gesture to compensate for any damage that might have been caused. Apologists, on the other hand, are people who do not apologize often. They rationalize religious behavior and belief. They make excuses for outdated traditions. They make arguments in defense of contradictory religious doctrines.

When I saw the article, “An Open Letter to Atheists,” written by a Catholic apologist, this was exactly what I expected – empty rationalizations. To my surprise, that wasn’t what I found. In fact, the letter begins with:

As Catholic apologists, we want to do something that our name would suggest we do far more often:

We’d like to apologize.

By that we mean exactly what you would think; we want to say that we’re sorry. We understand that you might be suspicious right now, that you may be thinking that this is another “tactic” for drawing you in. It isn’t. In fact, having tactics is one of the things we’re sorry for.

In the letter, this particular apologist conceded that, historically, apologists didn’t know what to do with atheists or how to respond to them. They were threatened by the very notion of an individual who refused belief, worried that his lack of faith could weaken their own. They didn’t know how to deal with modern atheist rhetoric that challenged the divine purpose of human suffering.

The apologist himself admitted that he finds the notion of “defending God” with rhetoric rather unnecessary, “God can take care of himself; he doesn’t need our defense like that. Neither do we need to defend ourselves from looking foolish or from seeing what you see as clearly as you see it.”

The point he’s trying to make is that a true Catholic will not bother defending his faith. He will not be afraid to admit that his beliefs are irrational. He will not be afraid to acknowledge the merits of an atheist’s arguments without his faith being threatened.

The open letter was what it said it was: an apology to atheists.

In all honestly, I liked it, and not just because it was a sincere apology to atheists. I think it makes a lot of sense. Matters of belief require faith. A Catholic can’t defend his religion with reason. He must do it with his faith.

He must be able to say, “Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that evolution is a fact, but I still have faith that my God exists. Yes, there is no scientific or historical evidence that the Bible is fact. For all I know, it could be a book full of metaphors, but I still have faith that my God exists.”

The faithful are not supposed to need evidence, because the point of faith is to believe without guarantees. Faith does not require facts, but neither does it require ignorance. You don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God. You just need to interpret the Bible in a way that would accommodate your new knowledge, like the Vatican did.

Faith is not static. The religions of today are practiced much differently from how they were practiced in the past. It undergoes its own evolution. The key is to allow one’s faith to accommodate facts, not the other way around.

I believe that a person’s personal, subjective, belief in God should not be used as a basis for matters that need facts, such as: science, health, gender, & sexuality. But I also believe that a person’s faith, if it is strong, welcomes new knowledge and evolves. I believe that the faithful should re-interpret and re-contextualize religious doctrine when they come across new information.

The conflict between atheists and the faithful is not caused by a religious person’s faith in his God, but in a religious person’s insistence on using his personal, subjective “faith” as the basis for facts. As long as we can all agree that religious doctrine should not be the basis for facts about the observable universe, I don’t think I’ll ever have to argue with another person about religion.

ae1
 

Here’s a confession from me, an atheist:

I don’t hate people who have faith in God. In fact, I like a lot of people who have faith in God. My mother, whom I love dearly, believes in God, the law of attraction, and other new age stuff. My girlfriend believes in the dhamma and in a non-anthropomorphic higher power. A close friend of mine is a deeply Catholic poet. Another is an Islam convert who used to teach about the Koran. I seriously don’t mind that people love and worship God.

But you know what? I should apologize too.

I have often criticized religion, in general, and blamed it as something that generally caused pain and misery. But it’s not really religion, in general, that I don’t like. What I don’t like is when a person’s faith in his or her God is used to rationalize homophobia, hypocrisy, misogyny, slut-shaming, censorship, violence, and medical malpractice.

But whether or not God exists, acts of kindness will still help people and acts of hate will still hurt people. I don’t think atheists and faithful people should be arguing about the existence or non-existence of God. I think people, in general, should simply discourage hateful behavior and encourage kindness and tolerance in everything that we do, regardless of what we believe.

Instead of insisting that knowledge and faith are mutually-exclusive, atheists, like me, should start encouraging the faithful (everyone, really) to see scientific knowledge not as a threat to their faith, but a tool they can use to assist them in their own personal spiritual journeys.

As S. N. Goenka, a pioneer of the secular meditation movement, once said:

“Rather than converting people from one organized religion to another organized religion, we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion.”

I agree. Converting people from one religion to another, or from faith to un-faith, should not be the priority. I used to think that I had to disagree with faith, in general, to achieve my secular goals. I now believe that encouraging the pursuit of knowledge would achieve a lot more in spreading good will than criticizing, or ranting about, what I perceive as ignorance.

After all, it doesn’t really matter what people believe as long as they treat each other well.

 

Image Source: http://harmoniaphilosophica.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/ae1.jpg?w=251&h=300

Posted in Religion5 Comments

Davao City Declares 4,581 More Personae Non Gratae

Davao City Declares 4,581 More Personae Non Gratae

DAVAO CITY, PHILIPPINES — The city council of Davao has declared 4,581 more people as personae non gratae after only recently doing the same for comedian Ramon Bautista. The 382-page list includes Davao City police chief Senior Supt. Vicente Danao Jr., former Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, and incumbent Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

“We just realized how inconsistent we have been in how we respond to less than ideal behavior,” says City Councilor Joel Durtete. “It didn’t seem fair that a joke from a comedian could get him punished while other far graver acts went completely under the radar. It feels as if we were being butthurt about the wrong things.”

In their press release statement, the following reasons were cited as justifications for the declarations of particular individuals:

* SENIOR SUPT. VICENTE DANAO JR.for the use of excessive force and volume against his spouse

beater

* SARA DUTERTE-CARPIO — for the downright nasty physical abuse of a sheriff

* PAOLO DUTERTE and RODRIGO DUTERTE — for the indecent and insulting treatment of media personnel

Like Father Like Son

Like Father Like Son

Most of the actions cited for the rest of the people on the list include violations of the 30 kph speed limit, 1am liquor ban, and taking Duterte’s name in vain. However, others were very specific, such as “constantly making disapproving looks at frail elderly people”, “deliberately placing dog feces on the sidewalks”, and “making babies laugh at funerals”.

In his defense, Senior Supt. Vicente Danao Jr. was quoted as saying: “I may have hit my wife’s face, but at least I didn’t call it ugly by saying she was hipon.” The Dutertes opted to send a collective reply: a one-page letter containing only the phrase “PAKYU KAYONG LAHAT” and an image of a fist with its middle finger raised.

An anonymous source from Davao City Hall also said that the council was considering adding the members of the “Davao Death Squad” to the list for their disregard for due process and human rights, but ultimately decided against their inclusion due to fear for their lives.

According to Davao City Councilor May Pajabul, the council is still investigating another incident and hope to follow up with another declaration of persona non grata as soon as they uncover the individuals responsible for a website called Hipon City, which seems to have been set up to mirror the contents of the official Davao City website except with all faces replaced by ugly ones.

Some citizens have reportedly expressed concern about the sheer volume of the declarations and have raised questions as to whether or not the status will affect the ability of incumbent government officials to exercise their authority. Pajabul has responded, saying “You really shouldn’t worry; The declaration doesn’t do jack shit.”

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Satire0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

FF Podcast (Audio) 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

In this week’s jam-packed episode, we talk about the Philippine government, for once, respecting secularism by removing “God-loving” from the Department of Education vision statement. Then, we talk about Pro-Life Philippines President Eric Manalang and his homophobic and violent comments against Carlos Celdran. We also talk a bit about Ramon Bautista and his being declared persona non grata by the Davao City local government.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Education, Politics, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

In this week’s jam-packed episode, we talk about the Philippine government, for once, respecting secularism by removing “God-loving” from the Department of Education vision statement. Then, we talk about Pro-Life Philippines President Eric Manalang and his homophobic and violent comments against Carlos Celdran. We also talk a bit about Ramon Bautista and his being declared persona non grata by the Davao City local government.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Video0 Comments

Religion and Memes: A Hundred Students Walk Out of a Lecture

A few days ago I was doing a lecture on the difference between master morality and slave morality as explained by Friedrich Nietzsche. I told my students that Nietzsche believed that many of the personal qualities Christianity considers virtuous (humility, obedience, mercy, charity) benefit only the weak and powerless. I also mentioned how Nietzsche thought that the promotion of these Christian values is a defensive measure conducted by weaklings to discourage stronger individuals from totally dominating them. While I was talking about these ideas, I knew that many of my students were Christian. If any of them were offended by these ideas and had to excuse themselves, I would not have held this behavior against them.

People, in general, should not be offended by facts that contradict their beliefs. However, some people DO get offended when they encounter information that they feel trivialize, belittle, or criticize the things that they believe. When I present data that contradicts the beliefs of people, I accept the reality that some of them might resent me for saying such things, even if they were facts (I mean, Nietzsche DID SAY all those things).

The problem with discussions that cross religion is that religion is not a rational subject, it’s an emotional one. Even if the information presented was objective & scientific, people will inevitably respond with emotion. People believe in religion because of their emotions, NOT because of reason. Obviously, if I criticize a person’s religion, he’ll respond emotionally and not rationally.

I’m not sure if this sounds condescending, but I have begun to treat people with religion with the same empathy I extend to people with depression. I don’t tell religious people that their beliefs don’t make sense, because that would be very similar to telling depressed people that their sadness doesn’t make sense. Depressed people can’t help but be sad, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their sadness. Religious people can’t help but believe, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their beliefs.

I’m not implying that religious belief is a mental disorder. What I’m saying is that telling a person that Christianity does not make any scientific sense won’t suddenly convince him to change his mind about Christianity. He knows it doesn’t make scientific sense, and he chooses to believe it anyway.

One of the challenges I commonly encounter, being a science-oriented atheist, is trying to deliver factual information without trivializing religious sentiment. I want to teach my students basic scientific facts, like evolution, but the very idea of evolution contradicts notions of creationism; natural selection contradicts intelligent design.

I often ask myself, “Should teachers and scientists walk on eggshells around matters of religion?”

url

Just recently, Susan Blackmore, the author of the book “The Meme Machine,” held a lecture at the Oxford Royal Academy. Her lecture was about how memes spread.

A meme is defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” An example of a meme is religion; it is system of behavior that is passed on from one individual to another (conversion, indoctrination, etc.).

Naturally, the lecture would have to tackle one of the most dominant examples of meme systems. However, when she discussed religion, people started to walk out.

In Sue Blackmore’s article, “A Hundred Walked Out of My Lecture,” she writes:

“Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.”

I wasn’t surprised that the audience walked out. In my youth, I’ve walked out of churches too when I was annoyed with the sermon. What actually surprised me was the fact that the lecturer was wondering why her audience walked out. She was disheartened by the audience’s dismissal of the facts she was presenting.

It was very obvious why they walked out, really. The audience dismissed her facts, because she dismissed their beliefs as ridiculous. She also intended to show them a slide about how their minds have a virus. In my humble opinion, she can’t trivialize someone’s views and expect them to listen to hers.

Yes, everything she said was true: these were facts – a religion IS an example of a memeplex.

However, I can’t help but wonder if there might have been a kinder way of delivering this information, especially to an audience with religion. At this point, most atheists would probably ask me, “What are you suggesting? Are you saying we should respect religious feelings?”

I’m saying that we should have realistic expectations. When we talk about facts that contradict religious teachings, we must accept that some feelings are going to be offended. When we openly criticize religion, we must accept that some of our religious friends would decide to stop being our friends. People’s feelings are more important to them than whatever it is we have to say. As soon as we offend feelings, we should accept the reality that people can stop listening to us, because we were never entitled to their attention to begin with.

I also believe that we should respect feelings, in general, whether these feelings belong to a religious person or an atheist. I believe that some religious beliefs and practices harm a lot of people. But I also have to recognize the fact that religion is important to some people.

I honestly don’t know how to navigate the issue of respecting feelings, being both an advocate of science and a critic of some religious beliefs and practices, but I’m working on it. I believe that there is a way to educate with empathy, all that is needed is a desire to empathize with our audience.

 

Image Source: http://i.imgur.com/ppR7TU3.jpg

Posted in Religion, Society3 Comments

Atheists Can Be Assholes

The interest for the film God is Not Dead was immediate. It had Kevin Sorbo, a man I will forever remember as Hercules (the bastard son of a god), and it’s never a bad idea to hear what the other side has to say even though…well, it’s not even though I already have a position. I’m hoping that despite a predisposition to be stupid, I’ve worked past most of my deficiencies as a fallible human being and have decided based on evidence that the Judeo-Christian god is as real as all the other gods in all other mythologies. All gods were created equal, so to speak. However, if, one day, I wander into a room filled with fairies, I’m going to change my opinion about them.

Gods-not-dead

So I watched the film, eager to find out what they will do to try and change my mind. I didn’t quite expect them to be that offensive to Muslims, but I can’t say that I don’t think it’s true. I’m pretty sure being disowned is the least of your worries if you suddenly find yourself questioning Allah’s legitimacy as the one and true creator of all and everything. When a father slapped his daughter for listening to the Bible, it became clear to me that this was not about god. Like most debates, this is about religion. The film doesn’t just want to“revive” god from being “dead”, it aims to resuscitate one specific god. I admire it for that. I like close-minded bigots more than apologists. You’re not a Christian unless you believe in every word of the Bible. Faith defines you. A hint of doubt means you’re a nonbeliever to some extent.

Now, some have cried foul over the depiction of nonbelievers in the film, but let’s face it, it happens. You can’t honestly say that you’ve never (not even once) felt superior to people who need god or religion as a crutch to live. It would be great if I can actually say that I’ve never met Professor Angry Atheist (Kevin Sorbo’s character) in real life, but I have. He is very real but I don’t really give a shit. I care about the depiction of atheists as much as I care about the depiction of Christians and Muslims. Everyone in it was a caricature instead of a character, which is not surprising at all. For all I know, people perceive me as Professor Angry Atheist.

Here is a list of things that people assume of me once they find out that I’m an atheist:

I hate god

Talking about religion will make me angry

I have no morals and will do evil things because I can

I don’t say “Oh God, Oh God” when I have sex

I need saving

How can I prove that I’m not any of those? Except for number four, I’m guilty of all that and more. I do occasionally hate god as an idea. Talking about religion sometimes makes me angry. I’m probably evil by some standards. I do need saving (from poverty, mostly).

I think it’s true that atheists can be, at some point, a bunch of assholes wanking off during sessions of intellectual exhibitionism. I can’t say that anything the Christian Kid in the film said made any actual sense “scientifically” speaking, but anyone more willing to debate a point is more“scientific” in my book. Had he met a less dicky atheist, he might’ve become a heathen.

Watching that film, all I could think of was how I should try very hard not to be that guy, because I hate that guy too. Who wouldn’t? He’s the kind of guy that reads big books so he can drop big names in conversation. He throws around the word reason as a shield, but he doesn’t actually act nor think rationally. He’s an atheist, sure, but when did that become a safeguard against being a douchebag?

The fight against the predisposition to be stupid doesn’t culminate in one’s godlessness. For me, atheism was a by-product of skepticism—not a wonder drug against fits of rage, irrationality, and becoming a stereotype.

 

Image Source: http://dl0.creation.com/articles/p094/c09451/Gods-not-dead.jpg

Posted in Personal, Pop Culture, Religion, Reviews, Society2 Comments

The Problem with “Poverty Porn”

I watched a few films during the Cinemelaya festival. I really enjoyed most of them (First ko si Third, The Janitor, Dagitab, Lolo Me), but there was one movie in particular that stood out for me, and not in a good way: “Children’s Show.”

The movie was about two minors, brothers, who had to train MMA-style combat skills because they were part of an underground child-fighting ring. That premise, by itself, would have made for an engaging movie. However, because of the makers’ inability to turn the premise into a story, they ended up just dumping one misfortune after another on top of the premise.

The makers decided that the siblings needed a mom who killed herself, an alcoholic dad, and some brain injury related hallucinations. The older of the siblings also had to have a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, and also had to stab his own father to death, at some point. Finally, the younger brother had to lose a leg due to some injury caused by the alcoholic father, and had to contemplate suicide, because, you know, that’s what one-legged people do. The decision to add more misery to an already miserable duo turned an otherwise sympathetic story of child fighters into a couple of Mary Sues – characters created for an audience to pity, rather than empathize with.

What was the movie about? In my opinion, the movie was “supposed” to be about kids who literally fight to survive. But what it became about is two kids that the universe decided to torture with every tragedy at its disposal.

It was poverty porn.

Childrens ShowIn “Children’s Show,” the characters seem to have been robbed of any chance for improvement. There was nothing any of the characters could have done, there was no decision the characters could have made, to significantly affect where the story was headed.

Similarly, Emily Roenigk, in the article “5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person,” writes, “Poverty porn objectifies its subjects, defining them by their suffering and stripping them of the vital components of all human life – agency, autonomy and unlimited potential.”

Although its entirely possible that there’s a child fighter somewhere that has an alcoholic father, a suicidal mother, a one-legged younger brother, a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, head-injury-related hallucinations, and a dead former-alcoholic father that he killed, it’s not an accurate representation of the “norm.” In other words, it’s an extreme example.

Ali Heller wrote about this tendency to feature extreme cases. In the article, “The Race to the Bottom and the Superlative Sufferer,” Heller asks, “Why do we need the superlative of suffering?  Why must we highlight the extreme cases when the norm is bad enough?”

I don’t want to completely disparage this movie. I’m sure it was made with good intentions. In fact, supporters of the movie might argue that the sensationalizing of suffering for dramatic effect was done in order to effectively call attention to the problem.

The problem is poverty porn is not an effective strategy to deal with an issue.

In the article, “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?”, Glendora Meikle narrates her personal experience while working with women suffering from fistula (http://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/), as an aid-worker and as a journalist.

At Queens Hospital in Malawi, Meikle was collecting testimonials and stories for her advocacy work. The first patients she spoke to mentioned how their husbands were very supportive of them. Unfortunately, she felt that a fistula patient that had a supportive husband deviates from the CNN stereotype:

“A woman with a fistula, who is perpetually leaking urine and sometimes feces, is often rejected by her husband and shunned by her village because of her foul smell and inability to bear more children.”

The first few patients Meikle interviewed did not fit that particular profile. Meikle confesses that at that moment, she realized she was actively looking for women with worse cases, so she could come up with sadder stories. Meikle writes, “This is a difficult admission. That I deemed their situations not awful enough to merit attention means I had failed at a very human level: an inability to find a story in the quiet, unassuming lives of my fellow humans.”

In other words, Meikle recognized that she was unable to empathize with the average patient, because she was concerned with finding the perfect sob story for her project. Poverty porn has a similar effect. When only extreme cases of suffering are highlighted, it somehow trivializes the struggle of the not-so-extreme cases, despite both cases being worthy of our attention.

In “Children’s Show,” even if the younger child fighter did not have an alcoholic father, or a mother who committed suicide, or an amputated limb, his struggle is still worthy of our attention, because children should not be punching and kicking for their survival. Unfortunately, the main point of the movie was overshadowed by all the other drama.

Meikle ends her article with an epiphany that, in my humble opinion, can help both makers of film and literature portray suffering properly:

“The truth is that we don’t necessarily crave high drama in our stories. We just like them well told. It isn’t an easy fix (partly because I don’t think the best writers would work for non-profit wages) but if there is one thing that connects humans the world over, it is stories. We’ve just got to do a better job of telling them, so that the voices that emerge are not ours, but theirs.”

 

Image Source:http://www.cinemalaya.org/sites/default/files/poster_0.jpg

Posted in Society6 Comments

Robin Williams is Not Guilty of Suicide

Robin Williams committed suicide, but he should be free of any guilt or blame. What I’m trying to say is, Robin Williams did not commit a moral injustice by ending his own life, because suicide is not immoral.

robin-williams

Suicide is Not Immoral

The negative moral implication of suicide is based on a religious idea that was inspired by old superstitions. The Judeo-Christian notion that “life was a gift from God” meant that destroying one’s own life, would be akin to throwing away a divine gift, or, essentially “dissing” God. Suicide guilt, for the most part, belongs to the believer.

However, suicide is neither a moral issue, nor a selfish act.

In his work, “On Suicide and On the Immortality of the Soul,” David Hume argues that, despite the fact that suicide is a one-step solution to end all suffering, people don’t do it because of their fear to offend god. In addition to that, people naturally fear death. Because of these reasons, it’s difficult to evaluate the implications of voluntary death without negative bias. In his work, Hume attempts to objectively examine the common arguments against suicide to show that a person who commits suicide should be free from guilt or blame.

The article “Can It be Right Commit Suicide?” further examines Humes position:

“A common argument against suicide is that it is selfish and harms the people and society that are left behind. For Hume, a man does no harm in committing suicide, but merely ceases to do good. Even assuming that he is under an obligation to do good, this obligation comes to an end once he is dead. And even if it does not, and he is under a perpetual obligation to do good, this must not come at the expense of greater harm to himself—at the expense of prolonging a miserable existence because of some ‘frivolous advantage that the public may perhaps receive’. In some cases a man may have become a burden to society, and so may actually do the most good by committing suicide. In such cases, Hume argues, committing suicide is not only morally neutral but morally good.”

Suicide is Not Selfish

Robin Williams was not selfish for choosing to die, because he was under no obligation to remain alive. Still there are comments here and there about how Mr. Williams deprived people of his talent; that he chose not to add to his already impressive list of contributions to comedy and cinema.

What is overlooked is the fact that, as an audience, we are not entitled to Mr. Williams’ talent. Mr. Williams is under no obligation to remain alive for our sake, if remaining alive caused him great harm. It’s not the suicides who are selfish, it’s us.

Suicide is not something I would encourage anyone to commit.

If my girlfriend, Patricia, for example, hints at suicide, I will do everything I can to prevent her from committing suicide. But, honestly, I will prevent her suicide not because I think suicide is inherently wrong, but because I love her, and I would like to keep her in my life. However, I must also admit to a human flaw:

“When I obligate my loved ones to stay alive, despite having no knowledge of how much suffering they’re going through, I am being selfish.”

Suicide is Not Irrational

A lot of people question suicide, as if it was an irrational act. But suicide is not a failure of logic or reason. In fact, as a concept, it is quite logical.

A few years ago, I contemplated suicide because I felt irrelevant and unhappy. I felt that whether I was alive or dead, was of little consequence. I found it difficult to justify the importance of my existence. I also felt an overwhelming sense of absurdity:

“What’s the point of all this hassle (going to work, commuting, falling-in-line, arguing, getting sick, overcoming illness, enduring pain, etc.) if we’re all going to die anyway? Wouldn’t it be more rational to skip all the hassle and pain part, and just fast-forward to my ultimate ending?”

Suicides are no less logical than those who don’t commit suicide. I didn’t commit suicide not because I was more moral, more ethical or more rational than someone who has. I believe I didn’t commit suicide simply because I have not gone through the same suffering that they have.

What We Don’t Know About Suicide

No one can make a moral judgment about suicide because it’s not a moral issue. No one can accuse suicides of selfishness, because suicide is not an ethical issue. No one can accuse suicides of irrationality, because suicide is not a failure of reason (unless it’s done for 72 virgins).

According to psychologytoday.com, “Psychiatrists believe that more than 90 per cent of cases of suicide are not the result of a rational decision (the so-called ‘rational suicide’), but of mental disorder.” That’s one fact about suicide that a lot of people don’t recognize – suicide happens because of depression, a mental disorder.

As the article, “What We Don’t Know About Suicide,” claims:

“Here is the grim fact about suicide: this is a health problem that claims 35,000 lives a year that we don’t understand, and that we are not trying hard enough to understand. We don’t know why people kill themselves, and that fundamental fact means that we are not very good at preventing tragedy.”

 

Image Source: http://uselesswarrior.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/robin-williams.jpg

Posted in Society1 Comment

FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 46 - Depression

This week, we talk about Robin Williams, his death, and the general public reaction to suicides.

You may also download the podcast file here.


 

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Pop Culture, Science, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 46: Depression

FF Podcast 46: Depression

This week, we talk about Robin Williams, his death, and the general public reaction to suicides.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Podcast, Religion, Society0 Comments

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