In a recent speech, President Rodrigo Duterte raised the question, “What if there is no God?” He asked this in light of criticism of his stance on the war on drugs and the reinstatement of the death penalty, particularly to those who argue that only God can take a person’s life.
As freethinkers and secularists, we applaud the President’s recognition in that speech that not all Filipinos believe in a god. This might be the first nod toward non-believers by any sitting Philippine President in history. He also raised the valid problem of suffering in a world supposedly designed by a benevolent god.
Perhaps the Filipino public might begin to ask themselves that question, “What if there is no God?” How differently would we organize our lives if there were no God? How would our values change as a society? How much importance would we place on social justice in this life, rather than postponing it to a supposed afterlife?
We believe that it is about time that non-believers were recognized as equal citizens in this Catholicism-dominated country. Despite the Constitutionally protected separation of Church and State, too many politicians have used their belief in God to justify their policies, with Senator Manny Pacquiao leading the charge.
However, we also decry the misuse of atheism and agnosticism to promote non sequitur conclusions. President Duterte raised the issue of God because he believed that the death penalty would be his answer to the absence of a god judging the living and the dead.
We disagree that imposing the death penalty follows from the lack of justice in an afterlife. On the contrary, the highly likely execution of innocent citizens would be exponentially more despicable in the absence of an afterlife. There is no undoing the execution of an innocent life. There is no consolation for the wrongfully executed. In the United States, whose system of criminal investigation is already much more advanced and scientific than the Philippines’, an estimated 4% of defendants on death row are still wrongfully convicted.
And even when we are certain of a person’s guilt, the application of the death penalty should take into account its probable disproportionate imposition on the poor since the drug trade is often a refuge for those abandoned by society to fend for themselves. There is also little evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent against crime, when it can also serve to escalate and perpetuate the cycle of violence.
If there is no God, if there is no afterlife, justice in this life is of supreme importance. There would be no God to sort out the dead. Only we can provide justice, and there is no justice without due process.