Author Archives | Dustin Celestino

It’s Okay for Christians to Believe in Evolution

evolution-cartoon-11One of the most commonly acknowledged conflicts between men of faith and men of science is the fact of evolution. For many people with faith, scientific evidence for evolution is in direct conflict with the word of God, the Bible. Science, in their opinion, challenges biblical authority. Science, to them, is  threat to their faith. This has led a lot of believers to be skeptical of science, as a whole.

Skepticism, of course, is a healthy attitude, in general. However, it would be a little absurd to be skeptical of science, since skepticism is essential to science. If an individual is being skeptical of science, he is occupies an absurd space, mostly because he’s basically being skeptical of skepticism. Skeptics yield to science, because the scientific process is an extremely thorough form of skepticism.

In any case, people of faith often dismiss the theory of evolution as being “just a theory,” meaning they dismiss it as something similar to a “guess.” But there is a difference between how the word “theory” is used by scientist and how “theory” is used in common language. The question scientists ask when they devising a theory is not,  “Did evolution happen?” but rather “How did evolution happen?”

What that means is that there is evidence for evolution. Evolution is a fact. The only thing that scientists are doing is guessing how evolution happens. To provide more clarity on the situation, I should point out that there is also a theory of gravitation. However, developing a theory as to why gravitation happens does not discount the reality that gravity is a fact.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to deny facts, such as evolution, to keep to your faith.

In the article, “God vs. Science,” Dean Nelson tells the story of John Polkinghorne.

Polkinghorne is a famous physicist from Cambridge University, who achieved renown for his work in explaining the existence the world’s smallest known particles – quarks and gluons. He has been awarded membership in Britain’s Royal Society, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. But one day, Polkinghorne invited some colleagues into his office for a meeting to tell them, “I am leaving the university to enter the Anglican priesthood. I will be enrolling in seminary next year.”

Polkinghorne admits that a religious scientist is confusing for some people. For many people, including some of his colleagues, confessing that you are a religious scientist is similar to telling someone that you’re a vegetarian butcher.

However, Polkinghorne argues, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to him, both are necessary to our understanding of the world.

In the article he was quoted to have said:

“Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.”

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Polkinghorne completely embraces religious mythology.

In the article, “No Need for Christians to Fear Science,” Dean Nelson discusses Polkinghorne’s initial encounter with the religious community.

As a student in Cambridge, Polkinghorne had a brief encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity. He joined the Christian Union, because he was a believer, and enjoyed fellowship within a community of believers. However, it was not an entirely positive experience, because it felt narrow minded, guilt-inducing, and fearful of other points of view.

According to Dean:

“There was a certain bleakness that seemed to be expected of the faithful, which cast something of a shadow,” he told me. “They thought that their certainty was reality, but they were mistaken.”

Polkinghorne, unlike many conservative Christians, fully embraces evolution. In fact, from his perspective, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the process. Porkinghorne says, “The world is ever-evolving, still being created, and is much more complex than that. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Genesis is poetry, not history.”

The author, Dean Nelson, reveals his own confession:

“In the time I spent with him and in reading his books, I never felt like he was challenging my core beliefs in a loving God who has created a beautiful world. In fact, he challenged me to think bigger, not smaller.”

One does not have to be unscientific to be spiritual. Faith and science, as exhibited by one of the greatest priests/scientists who ever lived, can co-exist. It just takes a little tolerance, a little imagination, and a little faith. To a faithful man, scientific discovery is just another means by which God reveals himself.

 

Image Source: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/theological-mental-gymnastics-over-evolution/

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Meet a Freethinker: Dustin Celestino

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Dustin Celestino. He’s the current content editor of the Filipino Freethinkers website. He is a gradute of Philosophy and teaches writing, literature and research at Asia Pacific College. He was once hailed as the “Number One Authority on Anti-RH Arguments,” by mistake. He’s written over 40 articles for the Filipino Freethinkers and you can find them all here (http://filipinofreethinkers.org/author/dustin_celestino/).

Dustin IMage1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is a skeptic, first and foremost. He is a person whose knowledge about the world is based on the most reliable evidence he could find. He tries his best to be objective, and is suspicious of tradition, authority, and hearsay. He’s the type of person who would spend hours researching, looking for evidence, and would spend even more hours looking for counter-evidence, before he reluctantly makes a “truth” claim. In addition to that, I think a freethinker is a perspectivist who is aware that contradicting “truths” are constantly competing for validation and verification, and that there are agendas that influence the promotion of these “truths.”

He is someone who can understand, and even acknowledge, the merits of beliefs and ideas that contradict his own. I think a freethinker is also a person who is “free” from his own ego; a person that would be happy to be corrected, if the correction made by a rival would bring him closer to the truth that he is seeking.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an atheist. I live my life with the assumption that there is no God. I acknowledge the cultural reality of the idea of god, but reject its literal reality. I mean, God is real in the same way that abstract ideas like honor and beauty are real. These ideas do not have a physical reality, but they do have influence over the behavior, beliefs and emotions of people. However, these ideas do not have an objective, concrete, or measurable reality, in the same way that objects in the real world do. Until I encounter non-anecdotal evidence that proves otherwise, I will maintain disbelief in the existence of God.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

I don’t usually tell people that I’m a freethinker. I sometimes introduce myself as a member of the Filipino Freethinkers, but I’m often apprehensive about calling myself a freethinker, mostly because I am not entirely sure if I’m behaving or thinking rationally enough to be considered one. I have a tendency to romanticize my existence. I behave irrationally at times. I have a quick temper. I take unnecessary risks. I make bad decisions.

I can provide a litany of resources about why a person shouldn’t drink beer, or why it’s unethical to eat meat, or why a person my age should save more money; I often know what is, scientifically, the right thing to do, but I still end up not doing it.

Sometimes I would rather win an argument than find out what the truth is, when I’m arguing with a person I’m annoyed with. I’m not sure if I’m quite freethinker-like. I’m honestly more comfortable with the term “atheist.” However, I still base my knowledge about the world on evidence, and evaluate information free from the influence of tradition and dogma. So, I guess, that makes me a freethinker, sort-of.

I guess the most interesting response I got after mentioning I was a freethinker was: “Don’t you have to be, like, smart to be a freethinker?”

4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

Well, the community taught me to be humble. I was kind-of a smart ass and a know-it-all before and I didn’t take criticism well. My interactions with freethinkers allowed me to learn humility in that I sometimes found myself staring at lengthy essays about why whatever I said was wrong. The Filipino Freethinkers website also provided me a venue where I could write my ideas, and people could swear and curse at me, sometimes by the thousands. But, honestly, what I’m thankful for most is the friendship and camaraderie.

Although there are a few freethinkers who are quite arrogant and hypercritical, I still think that, for the most part, the freethinking community is populated by tolerant & ethical people who are united by their collective passion for humanism.

5) As the content editor of FF, what is your biggest challenge?

I’m finding it difficult to solicit material from progressive religious people. I’ve been wanting to feature articles from progressive faithfuls about how they integrate their faith with the scientific facts they encounter. I think that there is a way to be faithful without denying scientific facts.

I was hoping that through the works of contributors with faith, people who continue to deny science would be inspired to integrate science with their faith as well. I believe that the negative consequences of religion that are often criticized by many of our contributors can be avoided by offering more perspectives on faith.

I’m looking for contributors who believe in both science and God. So, if you know anyone, or if you’re one yourself, let us know.

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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

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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

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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?”

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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

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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

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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.”

 

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The Internet is Turning You into an Asshole

I become an asshole when I play online games with strangers. I happily curse at all my teammates, call them idiots, throw games on purpose to spite them, and tell both my teammates and the opposing team how I wish that they, along with all their relatives, die in a fire or of a plague.

It’s not just games though. Sometimes I would encounter an idiotic post by a stranger on reddit and it compels me to hurl insults at him. Sometimes I would see a YouTube video that features some form of idiocy or another, and I would use everything I’ve learned from years of creative writing classes to compose the most soul-destroying, suicide-inspiring, comment I can. That previous sentence is an exaggeration. I’ve never done that. However, I know people who have.

In any case, I’ve dealt my fair share of Internet venom. In fact, now that I’m writing this down, I kind-of feel bad about myself. I know that online flaming is unhealthy, and it’s unproductive, but I tend to do it anyway. There is just something about the Internet that turns people into assholes.

Just this month, I’ve encountered two interesting cases of unnecessary Internet vitriol.

There was an article from “the dailypedia” about a girl who sent her ex-boyfriend pictures of herself with a different guy. The girl wasn’t famous. Neither was the guy. However, it still went viral, because of how eager people are to swear and curse at strangers they’ve never met, and whose personal feud they have little knowledge of. There are over 200 comments posted on the article mostly consisting of remarks such as:

“Hahaha!!!Boom panext!!! Nagpapaka silverswan si ate… sawsawan bayan! Mga ganyang babae dapat pinag dadasal n lang…”

“ang babaeng mahilig sa seamen ay mahilig sa semen.”

“She deserve [sic] to be stoned to death!!”

Another article, from “techpinas,” mentions a deaf Filipino who was cyber-bullied because of his faulty grammar. Upon arriving home from school, 24-year-old Mininio Buhat, posted a simple status message about his day:

Deaf Pinoy Cyberbullied

A screen-grab was taken of his post, posted on Facebook, and people started making comments that range from insensitive remarks like, “Ito ang tunay na nakakanosebleed…” (“This is making my nose bleed), to more intense bashing like, “Sakit sa ulo basahin. Bigti na!” (“It’s giving me a headache to read this. Go hang yourself!”).

Thankfully, a certain Mike Sandejas, came to his rescue to inform people that the boy who wrote that “grammatically flawed” post was deaf.

There are a number of reasons why people are more prone to unnecessary aggression in online environments. In the article, “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?,” Natalie Wolchover and company discuss the social factors that provide the recipe for unwarranted hostility. In the article, Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains 3 factors that allow for online rudeness and aggression.

According to Markman:

“First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper).”

In the same article, the writers point to another asshole enabler: the media.

Rude television and radio hosts sometimes exhibit rude and aggressive behavior. I’ve heard radio hosts interrupt, insult, and even accuse their guests (many of them, public officials) on air. I’ve also heard radio Dj’s pretend to be experts on love, and call their guests “idiots” or “sluts.” Unfortunately, these attitudes are not corrected and are further legitimized by them having a private platform for their vitriol.

The article quotes Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, on the effect of media on how people communicate:

“Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire, Bill O’Reilly. People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about.”

I’m not a mean person. I’d like to think of myself as rational. If I were asked to describe myself, nice would probably be one of the adjectives I use. However, like most people on the internet, I often become an asshole online.

There are scientific reasons why people become assholes online. However, discovering factors that enable negative behavior does not rationalize negative behavior. At the end of the day, if a person behaves like an asshole, despite any scientific reason, he should know that he’s being an asshole.

Acceptance is the first step to recovery. So, I invite all recovering Internet assholes to say this with me:

“I am [YOUR NAME] and I am an Internet asshole.”

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Watch Me Burn: Why the Fire Challenge Went Dangerously Viral

There have been a number of harmful and dangerous trends that had emerged from social media sites: planking, thigh gap, self-harm, etc. But there is something about the “fire challenge” that makes it truly unique.

When people starve themselves to adhere to an unattainable standard, the perfect thigh gap, they do so with a goal in mind – to be viewed as thin and attractive. When people go on dangerous diets, they do so because they want to be thin, not because they want to suffer.

When plankers ascend to dangerous heights to take silly pictures of themselves planking, they do so thinking that they’re not going to fall. They were not planning to fall and die. They know that they might fall, but they don’t plank for the purpose of falling.

But when you set yourself on fire, you know you will be on fire. You can’t pour flammable liquid on your body, light it with a lighter, while thinking “I will not burn.”

People should not pour flammable liquid on their bodies and set themselves on fire. They really shouldn’t. I can’t imagine a situation where setting yourself on fire would be a good idea. However, that’s exactly what’s been happening recently.

fire challengeThe fire challenge is getting more popular on multiple sites, mostly Facebook and YouTube. An article from the Bustle (http://www.bustle.com/articles/34669-the-facebook-fire-challenge-is-only-getting-more-popular-and-heres-why) mentions how many teens around the United States have been reported to have set themselves on fire.

According to the article, “Cases of teens taking on the challenge have been reported everywhere from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Miami’s Kendall Regional burn centers have received eight of these cases in a matter of days, including a boy who was just 11 years old. Kids have been using a variety of flammable liquids — a 12-year-old girl in Cape Girardeau was severely burned after someone poured perfume on her and lit her skin on fire — but the most popular has been rubbing alcohol.”

And the motive for setting oneself on fire? Facebook “likes” and YouTube views.

It’s crazy that teenagers are setting themselves on fire. However, there is an invisible culprit in this scenario – us, the audience. Why do “we,” as an audience, reinforce these behaviors by “liking” and viewing teenagers set themselves on fire?

The perverse desire that compels us to see a kid set himself on fire is the same human instinct that compels people to slow down and stare when they pass by a gruesome vehicular accident.

In the article, “Science of Rubbernecking” from salon.com, Eric G. Wilson explains morbid curiosity.

“Carl Jung, who founded, along with Freud, psychoanalysis, believed that we like to witness violence precisely because it, the watching, allows us to entertain our most destructive impulses without actually harming ourselves or others,” writes Wilson.

Both Jung and Freud have theories about the human compulsion for murder and suicide, as well as the desire for ruin. In Jung, this collection of urges and drives that represent everything we hate about ourselves is called “the shadow.” In Freud, it’s called the Thanatos Drive.

Both these terms tell a common story – human beings have an irrational, primal desire to blow up shit or set things on fire.

Unfortunately, doing those things would land us in jail. So, as a socially acceptable alternative, we watch other people set themselves on fire instead. It allows us to satisfy that desire without committing any crimes.

The fire challenge is not entirely irrational. It’s very logical, actually. These kids crave attention. They figured out that potential, permanent ruin excites people. Our morbid curiosity about the consequences of them setting themselves on fire, compel us to watch. We want to see what happens when things go wrong. Our morbid curiosity feeds them the attention they were craving.

To make matters worse, the fire challenge deeply is offensive to actual burn victims who did not set themselves on fire. In a YouTube video a burn victim talks about the fire challenge and how it affects her.

“Not a lot of people understand what I go through… how I live. I had no control over my car accident I wish I was never burned.” She continues, “I do suffer every single day due to the fire I lost body parts, my eye my nose my ear my arm. I can still do everything but that’s because I adapted and I learned but just to go and burn yourself on purpose because everyone else is doing it, What kind of sh*t is that?”

When a person burns, it’s not funny. Burning people and humor should not be freely associated with each other. Otherwise, more disturbing trends, like burning other people for shits and giggles – may emerge:

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Filipinos Need Sex Scandals

So, another scandal hit multiple media outlets this week.Paolo Bediones is reported to have allegedly starred in his own sex video. Who cares? Well… everyone, it seems. From the cigarette vendor around the block, to primetime news channels, everyone has a statement to make regarding whether or not:

scandal…it was really Paolo Bediones.

…there are ethical boundaries violated in the production of a private sex video.

…Paolo Bediones exhibited a superior skill-set of sex moves as compared to the other celebrities involved in scandals of a similar nature.

Seriously, why do so many people give a shit about this?

Let’s put a little bit of context on why this is surprising: Israel is currently bombing Gaza, Russia started a war with Ukraine, our own president just delivered a “State of the Nation Address,” and Filipinos are talking about a sex video.

At this point, it would be tempting to make a judgment about our nation and say that it’s just Filipinos being morons. However, that’s not always the case. Thankfully, we have science to rationally explain the irrational decision-making of many human beings. It’s comforting to think that, to some extent, there are socio-biological factors that could distort a human being’s priorities to such a degree as to prioritize sex scandals over anything else.

In an article published in The Atlantic called, “Why So Many People Care So Much About Others’ Sex Lives,” Cari Romm explains the evolutionary psychology behind human interest in private matters that doesn’t concern them.

According to the article, “In environments in which female economic dependence on a mate is higher, both a woman and her mate have a greater interest in maximizing paternity certainty. Because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty, both men and women should be more opposed to promiscuity by both sexes.”

In the Philippines, women are mostly economically dependent on men, and structures are in place to ensure the persistence of such a status quo. Many Filipinos still live by traditional gender roles that restrict a woman’s economic potential.

Therefore, in countries like the Philippines, both men and women are interested in maintaining a social order that penalizes sexual deviance, if only to improve paternity certainty. To simplify, Filipinos like hearing about sex scandals because it gives them an opportunity to create a stigma against sexual deviance and dissuade behaviors that may inspire doubts about paternity.

As Romm says:

“We’ve evolved to consider sex, the researchers argue, as a game of finite resources. For our ancestors, multiple sexual partners meant things could get knotty when it came to proving whose kids were whose. For women who depended on men for their livelihoods (and the livelihoods of their offspring), that uncertainty meant losing out on the support of their male partners. Bad news. For men, it meant investing in the well-being of children they hadn’t necessarily fathered. Also bad news.”

Filipinos talk about sex scandals and demonize people involved in them because of a desire to maintain a social order that guarantees paternity certainty. In other words, Filipinos are poor and fostering an environment that may help guarantee paternity certainty is a more pressing and primal concern to them than deaths in Gaza, a war in Europe, or the state of the Philippine nation.

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Haters are Going to Hate “50 Shades of Grey”

In the article, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” Matt Walsh recently called for the boycott of what he expects to be a terrible movie – 50 shades of grey. According to him you shouldn’t watch this movie because:

1. Because you aren’t stupid.
2. Because you don’t go for cynical, boring, corporate marketing ploys.
3. Because you’re a Christian (and the sex portrayed in the movie isn’t Christian sex).
4. Because you’re a feminist (and feminists “supposedly” abhor dominance).

fifty-shades-greyAccording to Walsh, “This is some very, very stupid material. It reads like a thesaurus procreated with a script from a soft core porn and then the baby fell into a vat of Lifetime Channel DVDs. My inner goddess is rolling her eyes, my inner brain is hurting.”

The reasons he provided for boycotting the movie, came with a number of what I perceive to be faulty notions (only stupid people enjoy stupid movies, any movie that isn’t “art” is not worth watching, feminists hate all forms of dominance, etc). But that’s beside the point. The point I’m trying to make is that, in all social circles, of varying intellectual capacity, there will always be people like Mr. Walsh.

We call them haters.

Haters can’t stand it when other people make movies about a premise they don’t like. Haters don’t like it when other people like things that they don’t. The movie, “50 Shades of Grey,” maybe crappy to haters, and the high-brow, intellectuals they hang out with, but is it really necessary to shame people who like things that haters don’t?

The hater attitude is common among critics and connoisseurs. They never fail to point out how their tastes and preferences are superior to yours, and they make you feel embarrassed or inadequate for not being able to tell the difference between cheap and expensive gin, or between good and bad poetry.

However, this attitude is not exclusive to them. It’s just as notorious in rational circles.Greta Cristina wrote about this in her article, “More Rational Than Thou: When Atheists Buy the “Straw Vulcan” Fallacy.”

In the article, Cristina discusses how she appreciates the rational community’s habit of calling out each other’s bullshit. She likes the fact that atheists and skeptics don’t have sacred cows. However, she’s annoyed that some atheists and skeptics make value statements on subjective concerns. In other words, atheists and skeptics have a tendency to treat subjective questions as if they were objective.

Cristina argues that when it comes to questions with definite answers, rationality is the best way to find out what those answers are. However, not all questions are about objective reality.

“Some questions are subjective. The answers aren’t the same for everybody. If you enjoy drinking/ sports/ fashion/ pets, then you do. If it’s true for you, then it’s true,” writes Cristina.

Even in philosophy, there’s a term for matters that are not within the domain of what can be explained, understood, evaluated, or analyzed using pure reason: arational, or non-rational. There are simply situations in life where people do things for no other reason than, “it makes them happy.” If one commits an sub-optimal decision, based on a preference, its not evidence for how their rationality has failed them.

For example, Cristina writes, “I could make pragmatic arguments in favor of pet ownership: there’s some evidence that it reduces stress, and so on. But that’s not really relevant. Even if none of that stuff were true, I would still own cats. They make me happy. And when I’m talking about my own personal happiness, the subjective evaluation is the only one that matters.”

However, subjective evaluation should not be applied to all concerns. Rationality should still be applied to questions concerning what’s real and what isn’t; for example – the existence of God. Based on the same logic, that of subjective evaluation, people might begin to claim, “If my religion is true for me, then it’s true.” Well, unfortunately, it’s not.

Cristina explains:

“The question of whether God or the supernatural exists is not a subjective question of what’s true for us personally. It’s an objective question of what’s literally true in the real, non-subjective world. Any given god either exists, or doesn’t. And when it comes to questions of objective reality, rationality is the best tool we have for understanding it.”

In other words, it’s okay to challenge the rationality of people who think that evolution is not real, because there is overwhelming evidence to support evolution. However, it’s not okay to challenge the rationality of people who enjoy reading “50 Shades of Grey,” because the value of the book is based on a person’s subjective preferences, not on objective, observable facts. Even if there was a standard that judged that “50 Shades of Gray” was an objectively terrible book, with objectively terrible dialogue, it wouldn’t be irrational to read it and enjoy it, if that was the sort of thing you liked.

I guess, regardless of which circle we come from, we all need the self-awareness to identify when we’re making a rational argument based on objective reality, or expressing a subjective opinion based on a personal standard of value. Matt Walsh wasn’t completely inaccurate with his disparaging remarks on what the movie version of a terrible book would be like. “50 Shades of Grey” does have bad dialogue. It does have a weird plot. There are many rational arguments for not watching this movie. However, our preferences are not entirely determined by rationality.

It’s not irrational to like bad literature or bad movies. But it is irrational to use rationality as the sole standard for evaluating arational or non-rational concerns.

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Possession by Indoctrination

On July 20, 2014, five students were possessed by evil spirits because they took selfies near a duhat tree. Allegedly, several men were attempting to hold down a kid and they seemed very, very strong. To appease the spirits who possessed the kids, all cellphones that were used to take the selfies were buried underground.

sanib

How did this nonsense make the headlines? It sounds like the premise of a low-budget horror movie. The incident in La Union and how it was described by the people who were involved does not prove that possession is real. The only thing it proves is that the Philippines and its many regions suffer from a harmful culture-bound syndrome.

In his paper, “Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy,” Timothy C. Thomason mentions various examples of shared delusions:

“The DSM-IV TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) describes several disorders involving spirits and possession in the appendix on culture-bound syndromes. For example, the phenomenon of Zar possession is common in many North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Susto or “soul loss” is an illness that is said to result from the soul leaving the body, and affects Latinos in the U. S. and people in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The DSM-IV TR notes that similar beliefs are found in many parts of the world. Many Native American tribes believe in spirit possession, and healers often suck illness-causing spirit objects out of patients; the Tlingit have a verbal exorcism ritual (Hultkrantz, 1992). The phenomenon of Windigo psychosis (possession by a cannibalistic demon) is well established among the Northern Algonquin Indians. The Ainu community in Japan believes in demonic possession and exorcism; in Nicaragua and Honduras there is a possession state called Grisi Siknis; and trance possession is found in Voodoo as practiced in Haiti (Prins, 1990).”

Demon possession is also a culture-bound syndrome. What this means is that demon possession happens only to people who believe in demon possession. The symptoms that “possessed” individuals exhibit are based on the mythos they subscribe to. A person suffering from Windigo Psychosis, for example, cannibalizes people, mostly because he believes that this is how a “demon” would function “if” he was possessed. People who become possessed subscribe to the fantastic narrative they were fed.

However, in the case of the “selfie” kids, it’s not just them who are affected by this delusion. The delusion is shared by those who make claims of supernatural strength, and those who attempt to cast out demons. In other words, these individuals are subconsciously playing a game that allows them to flesh-out their religious fantasies.

As Thomason writes:

“Although exorcists claim that people who are possessed demonstrate superhuman strength and perform supernatural acts such as levitation, a literature review shows that no evidence for this exists other than the anecdotal statements of believers. Given plausible psychological explanations for possession behavior (such as self-deception and communal reinforcement), and the lack of evidence for the existence of demons, there appears to be no good reason to believe in the reality of demonic possession.”

Now, if demonic possession was a harmless culture-bound syndrome, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that this belief causes kids to act out in strange ways, demon possession and attempts at exorcism could be fatal as well.

According to the article, “Exorcism: Facts and Fiction About Demonic Possession,” a number of people have died because dumb people have attempted to exorcise them.

Benjamin Radford writes:

“While most people enjoy a scary movie, belief in the literal reality of demons and of the efficacy of exorcism can have deadly consequences. In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee,Wis., was killed during an exorcism by church members who blamed an invading demon for his disability; in 2005 a young nun in Romania died at the hands of a priest during an exorcism after being bound to a cross, gagged, and left for days without food or water in an effort to expel demons. And on Christmas Day2010 in London, England, a 14-year-old boy named Kristy Bamu was beaten and drowned to death by relatives trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the boy.”

There are many reasons as to why a person would exhibit symptoms of demon possession, and none of these reasons involve a real demon or a real devil. Despite the fact that demon possession is not real, news of it should still be a major cause for concern.

We should be concerned about “news” of demon possession because it is evidence that many people in the Philippines can’t tell fact from fiction, and this is primarily because a lot of people in the Philippines grew up with religion.

Here’s a fact: The real cause of the selfie kids being possessed are not demons – it’s religion.

An article from Politix reveals a study published in Cognitive Science whose findings suggest that one’s exposure to religious ideas has a profound effect on a child’s ability to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. Those who believed in fantastic religious situations are more likely to believe in other supernatural stories. In other words, if a child was raised Catholic, he’s also more likely to believe in white ladies, kapres, tikbalangs, manananggals, and spirits who possess children for taking selfies.

On July 20, 2014, five students were NOT possessed by evil spirits, or by elementals who lived in a duhat tree, or by a “Shake, Rattle, n’ Roll” inspired cellphone. What the news should have said is: “Five students were possessed by the cultural delusion that they have been indoctrinated in.”

 

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Why Most People Suck at Love

*Reflections on Yann Dall’Aglio’s TED TALK presentation, “Love — you’re doing it wrong.”

suckatlove

I’ve always been interested in the idea of attraction. I have, in fact, for a number of years studied theories on attraction, desire and seduction. I also experimented with those theories A lot of people think that my decision to study what women found attractive, in an attempt to be attractive, creepy. “It’s like browsing for video game cheat codes that one can use to manipulate women into bed,” one friend commented (not true, by the way). Some think it’s unethical, even, to use certain speech or behavioral patterns to elicit positive emotions in other people, that may cause them to see one as a favorable mate.

Everyone does it though. At some point, most people who have been infatuated with another wanted to be seen as desirable by the the person they’re attracted to. MOst people have, to some degree, altered his or her behavior because of a desire to be “liked.” Some people wore makeup, other people learned pickup lines. Some people feigned disinterest, other people gave gifts. Some people projected a successful image, other people talked about art.

According to Yann Dall’Aglio, all these compulsions to behave a particular way, to project a desirable persona, in order to “earn” another person’s interest comes from a faulty, preconceived notion – the idea that one can “earn” desirability.

As a teen, I subscribed to the same notion. I thought that “attraction” was something that you did, or something that you accomplished, to earn another person’s adoration. Courtship made sense, at least on a theoretical level. If desirability was something one can earn, one only has to keep working to make someone fall in love. If the other person hasn’t fallen in love yet, it means that you have to invest further. It sounds like a gross oversimplification, however this notion has a long history.

In the past, what made a person worthy of love was his or her ability to fulfill a role. As Dall’Aglio says, “You had a specific part to play according to your sex, your age, your social status, and you only had to play your part to be valued and loved by the whole community.” However, developments in science, politics and economics have unshackled individuals from having to play specific roles. Unfortunately, these developments also ensured that the rules would change. These changes have created what Dall’Aglio calls a “free market of individual desires.”

In this market, “performing a role” is no longer enough to be desired. Thus, the modern individual’s obsession with desirability. Dall’Aglio says, “We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental, than a teenager buying brand new jeans and tearing them at the knees, because he wants to please Jennifer.”

In other words, we buy nice things so other people will like us. Dall’Aglio predicts that the future of our romantic interactions will proceed in one of two ways. One, the commodified consumption of the modern individual, the personal obsession with one’s own desirability, will result in the further depersonalization of intimacy.

Dall’Aglio says that a symptom of the former trend is the advent of the “Pick-up Artist,” specifically a concept introduced in pick-up culture called, “oneitis.” Many members of the pick-up community see an individual’s exclusive desire for one person, romantic love, as a disease that is meant to be cured. One can collect “seduction capital” by causing people to fall in love, while not being in love.

The narcissim of the seducer comes from the distorted belief that one can become worthy of desire. Because of an individual’s desire to be deemed worthy, he collects seduction capital that he can display as if to declare, “I am entitled to your love because I’m a desirable person.”

The second prediction made by Dall’Aglio is a little more optimistic. He beleves that the faulty premises that we delude ourselves with and suffer through may collapse and lead to the renunciation of the need to be valued. Once these delusions are eradicated, we can begin to understand that regardless of what we accomplish, we are not entitled to love – not worthy of it, even.

As Dall’Aglio says, “We are all useless. This uselessness is easily demonstrated, because in order to be valued I need another to desire me, which shows that I do not have any value of my own. I don’t have any inherent value. We all pretend to have an idol; we all pretend to be an idol for someone else, but actually we are all impostors, a bit like a man on the street who appears totally cool and indifferent, while he has actually anticipated and calculated so that all eyes are on him.”

The romantic anxieties we suffer are generated by our desire to be perfect, and our desire to find someone perfect to validate our own perfection. This unreasonable demand on both ourselves and others is what distorts our capacity for love and makes our intimate bonds more fragile. The moment we sense weakness or imperfection in the other, we immediately declare, “I deserve better than this.”

Dall’Aglio mentions how tenderness and not perfection should be the measure of love. “To be tender is to accept the loved one’s weaknesses,” he says. Dall’Aglio suggests that we should see love not as something we can earn through our achievements, positive behaviors, or superior genetics, but as a boon we have been granted, despite our shortcomings.

Instead of demanding perfect treatment from perfect partners because of how perfect we perceive ourselves to be, we should recognize our own faults, indulge in self-mockery, and learn to see another’s decision to love us as a gift rather than an achievement.

Personally, I agree with Dall’Aglio. I think we’ll all have better relationships once we learn to get over ourselves.

 

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The Pope is Sorry About Priests Who Fuck Children

In a private mass last week, July 7th, Pope Francis apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse. That’s cute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change anything. But let’s not forget the facts.

The Catholic Church is still an organization with members that have raped so many children that it has its own child-rape wikipedia page: Catholic Sex Abuse Cases. That page is linked to 277 other online sources, many of which refer to priests having sex with children.

Priests have inserted their penises into the underdeveloped anus or vagina of children as young as 3 years old, and the Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to these incidents for so long that even the United Nations human rights panel has accused their leadership, the Vatican, of systematically protecting its reputation instead of looking out for the safety of children. According to the United Nation committee, “the Holy See maintained a ‘code of silence’ that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.”

In other words, the Vatican allowed pedophiles to rape and molest children.

The Catholic Church is still an organization that continues to pay billions and billions because many of their members can’t keep themselves from raping children. It’s a multi-billion dollar organization that has dioceses going bankrupt because many members have a very expensive sexual preference: children.

In Holland, there’s a set cost offered for different types of clergy abuse. It looks a lot like a restaurant menu:

5,000 € – Sexual gestures against physical or mental integrity.
7,500 € – For touching one’s genitals.25,000 € – In case of rape.
100,000 € – For atrocious,continuous and prolonged abuse resulting in permanent trauma.

As we can observe, the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church is so insidious that they had to come up with an abuse scale as a guide for how much they’d have to spend for each form of abuse. According to an article in the Economist, “The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years.” And that’s just in the United States.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of how much this organization has been spending in an attempt to keep rapists out of jail. Here’s a third of the first page. The document, by the way, is 5 pages long:

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Here’s a quick look at some crimes that priests have committed from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP):

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According to the pope himself approximately 2% of clergymen are pedophiles. In other words, around 8,000 of the 400,000+ active members of the clergy are pedophiles.

Unfortunately, according to statistics, “pedophiles have a strong, almost irresistible, desire to have sex with children. The average pedophile molests 260 victims during their lifetime. Over 90% of convicted pedophiles are arrested again for the same offense after their release from prison.”

The only way to stop a pedophile from having sex with children is to keep him in prison. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has ways to make sure that pedophiles stay free. In the report, “Fighting for the Future: Adult Survivors Work to Protect Children & End the Culture of Clergy Sexual Abuse” by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), it was mentioned that there were five ways the church resisted accountability and taking responsibility:

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The section on victim blaming reminds me of that ridiculous notion implied by a priest that, “child sex abusers are often seduced by teenage boys.”

As happy as I am for Pope Francis’ apology, I still don’t think he should be revered for admitting the crimes committed by the Vatican. That’s what he’s supposed to do to begin with. I just find it a little ironic how it’s a big deal when a pope does something an average ethical human being would have done – apologize for being the head of an organization that committed many crimes.

I’m happy that Pope Francis finally admitted that some clergymen have been responsible for sex crimes. I’m happy that he admitted that some of his colleagues systematically hid records of the abuse, hid the abuser, and silenced the victims.

But I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still an institution that protects child molesters. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church still follows “hush-hush” regulations that perpetuate child molesting. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still a financial behemoth that spends billions upon billions to make sure rape victims keep quiet, and child molesters are not punished.

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