Tag Archive | "conservatism"

Edwina Rogers of Secular Coalition for America – Freethinker Interview

We talk with Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, and discuss her experiences as a freethinker working with conservative political figures.

You may also download the episode 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, VideoComments (0)

Rep. Raymond Palatino, Another Victim of Catholic Bullies

For people who purport to have monopoly on morality, the sheer lack of charity and grace of conservative Catholics never ceases to amaze. After days of relentless literal demonizing and threats of physical violence from this group, both online and offline, Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino of Kabataan Partylist has withdrawn House Bill 6330, the proposed “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

Several opinion pieces were dedicated in the past week to misrepresenting Palatino and his bill—accusing him of trying to “ban God” and questioning his motives by painting him as an atheist. Ignoring that these are completely irrational and fallacious objections, neither of these allegations is true. As Palatino himself expressed with utter confusion, how can you possibly “ban God”? His bill’s intentions were quite simple—cease government sponsorship of religion.

It is clear what this de facto state religion is. In his interview with Filipino Freethinkers, Palatino revealed that Protestants thanked him for his bill, saying that it will “level the playing field.” The conservatives who opposed Palatino’s bill were almost purely of the Catholic pursuasion, with a few token non-Catholics to puff up a false image of nondenomenational opposition to HB 6330. Protestants have very few icons apart from the Latin cross (without the bloodied human sacrifice) and some Islamic traditions are forbidden from having any images of living things altogether. And it is not only Catholic iconography that is at the heart of the matter here. It is simply a fact that some government offices underwrite Masses with public funds, in clear and incontrovertible violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

It is plain that the right of non-Catholics against coercion into sponsoring Catholic dogma is viewed by the government as unworthy of protection. Despite being completely unconstitutional, conservative Catholics are quite proud that they have total command of the Philippine government. Palatino is just another victim in a long list of casualties of Catholic bullying. It’s practically an institution in the religion. Again, conservative Catholics prove that intimidation and threats trump reason and logical argumentation. This should not surprise us as their entire belief system is based on fear and punishment.

Conservative Catholics are always quick to identify the “Almighty God” in the preamble of the Constitution with their own Yahweh. They use this as if it gave them carte blanche to propound every dogma in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They fail to realize that this god could be any god—even gods they’ll find ironically nonsensical. Secularism benefits everyone, especially the easily offended. But, since conservative Catholics purport to enjoy majority support, the Filipino people have been helpless to contest their interpretation of the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution exists to defend the rights of the minority from the mob rule of the majority. HB 6330 seeks nothing more but to concretize the spirit of the Bill of Rights’ Establishment Clause. And what other purpose could that clause have but to safeguard the rights of citizens against state sponsorship of a religion? The building of chapels on public grounds with public money and the presence of Catholic saints all over public property is undeniably unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the tyranny of the vocal conservative Catholic minority holds our society, and our legislators, hostage. This belief in the non-existent Catholic vote is the Filipino politician’s most popular superstition.

We have seen time and time again that a small band of demagogues’ interests are disproportionately represented in the government. They abuse the state and mold it to further their sectarian ends. The flagrant display of religious icons on public property is only the most visible symptom of sectarianism—there are, of course, much more systemic violations of secularism. Non-Catholics should hear this loud and clear: we do not have a government for the Filipino people, but for the Filipino Catholic. That we even needed HB 6330 only proves this.

There is still hope for those who seek religious freedom, however. As in every single culture war issue, conservatives always lose. It is only a matter of time till freedom from religious coercion will replace First Friday Mass attendance sheets. Until then, advocates of freedom of religion and freedom from religion cannot trust the government to fight for their Constitutional rights.

Report violations of the Establishment Clause to Church in State.

Posted in Politics, SecularismComments (147)

The Good Intentions of Religious Conservatives

“Name me a moral action made by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” This was the late Christopher Hitchens’ storied moral challenge against theists who claimed that it is impossible for atheists to be moral without gods. Hitchens turned this around by showing how ethics is prior to religion. He continued, “If I were to ask, could you name a wicked action made by someone attributable only to their religious faith? There isn’t a person here who would hesitate for a second.”

In a debate between David Wolpe and Hitchens, Wolpe countered the moral challenge by presenting a personal example. Wolpe recounted a story about his father, “When I think of the most powerful and intimate moments that I had with my father, it was when he put his hands on my head and blessed me on a Friday night.” Such an action is definitely unavailable to the logically consistent atheist. Hitchens dismissed this response, saying that he was not convinced that this was truly a moral action.

Even as an atheist, it is apparent to me that Hitchens’ skepticism was misplaced. You don’t need to believe in a supernatural deity to accept that mystical activities could possibly be conducive to well-being, if only for the false consolation that things are going to be okay. This is not to say that there is any evidence for the supernatural any more than there is evidence that placebos are universal cures. This is also not to say that the comfort produced by delusion is even worth the opportunity cost of being mistaken about the nature of reality. It is sufficient to show from this example that even delusion can be compatible with ethical motivations.



In the middle of the culture wars, it is easy to get lost in the absolutist narrative (I’m often guilty of such thoughts): conservative Christians are backwards Puritanical parrots, atheists and liberals are the height of pure rationality. The opposite view that Christians are the sole keepers of moral truth and liberals are mindless instruments of Satan is also a popular belief. Obviously, such black and white views are seldom accurate for any argument. By embracing such unconditional beliefs, we lose sight of the fact that we share a common human nature, regardless of our views.


The religious meme

It’s a common little jab by pro-RH activists against Catholic bishops that they are against the RH bill because they want more children—children that they can indoctrinate. This, however, is an unfair accusation. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has been more or less consistent about its sex negative stance for ages. This opposition to liberal views of sexuality comes from their own idea that sex was created by God for the purpose of procreation. Anything that falls short of God’s purpose is the privation (or the prevention of achievement) of the intrinsically good nature of creation. And anything that falls short of nature is evil. Having more children to indoctrinate is a bonus, but it does not come into their reasoning at all.

There can be, however, a naturalistic explanation for how the Church came to be so adamantly against contraception. We can appeal to the idea that the proliferation of cultural ideas, like religion, can follow a Darwinian analogue to genes called, “memes.”

Genes are selfish hereditary units. If they weren’t selfish, they wouldn’t be passed on. But this self-interestedness at the gene level need not be consciously held by the organisms they build. Animals, human or not, can exhibit altruistic motives, even though these behaviors are ultimately determined by selfish genes. Similar to genes, memes are selected for in cultures such that the ones that survive are those that exhibit characteristics that are conducive to virus-like proliferation in the minds of conscious beings.

To extend the Darwinian analogy to religion, the religions that dominate are predicted to have certain traits that are conducive to self-preservation—such as child-indoctrination and zealous opposition to change. Consider the Shakers, who prohibited any sort of procreation. They practically don’t exist anymore. Now, the Roman Catholic Church may have despicably self-preservationist doctrines (as in their protocol for shielding rapist employees) but this does not necessarily contradict with any benevolent motive. As in the selfishness of genes, the self-preservationism of religious memes need not manifest in persons as conscious malice. But, the road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions.


Questioning motives

It is important to understand that apparently evil actions can have thoroughly good intentions because the assumption of malice tends to be the root of misunderstanding and conflict. Relevant to this is a psychological effect called, “the moralization gap,” described by the psychologist Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a self-serving bias where injured parties tend to see hurts, no matter how small, as undeserved, permanent, and egregious, while offending parties see hurts, no matter how bad, as justified, temporary, and exaggerated. This is a consistent bias in human psychology that makes any sort of dialogue difficult. Parties on the opposing sides of disputes tend to hold distorted accounts of their own experiences.

Since this is a bias built into our brains by evolution, we must be constantly aware whenever it pops up so we can avoid such things. It is best to adhere to the principle of charity and steer clear of assuming malevolence in the motives of people.

The truth is, most people on either side, religious conservative or liberal, have well-meaning intentions and do not go out of their way to maliciously provoke. That is, both sides see an end that would be good for all parties concerned. The problem stems from competing notions of what “good” is.


Competing notions of good

Conservatives, such as Manny Pacquiao, Miriam Quiambao, and Toni Gonzaga, are learning more and more that moral indignation is no longer the sole turf of the religious. From seeing the horrors of sectarian violence and the petty tyranny of religious self-appointed censors, people are growing more and more skeptical of religion’s purported monopoly on moral claims.

What liberals can fail to see, however, is that religious conservatives truly believe that they have everyone’s best interests at heart. Whether it’s closing down sacrilegious art installations or protesting blasphemous pop stars, religious conservatives honestly think that they are preventing future harm on all people—the fires of hell that will welcome all sinners. However detached from reality this motivation is, it does not diminish in any way the sense of urgency religious conservatives feel about the escalation of irreverence in the social zeitgeist. Theirs is an earnest and well-intentioned concern that liberals simply must accept and deal with.



The change in social values led by liberals is denounced by religious conservatives as moral relativism—the idea that there are no objective moral truths, only subjective moral preferences. However, liberals are just as morally motivated as their conservative opponents. It is just that liberals tend to view “bad” in light of the suffering experienced by conscious beings. This view of ethics is just as objective as the conservatives’ natural moral law, even though it is open to revision and correction as we learn more about human nature. Compare this with how medicine is an objective exercise despite the definition of health constantly changing as the years go by.

In contrast, conservatives tend to detach suffering in this world from the meaning of “moral.” They see morality as prescribed actions that lead toward the accomplishment of what they believe is their god’s desire. This is how they can find the “perversion” of the sanctity (God’s “natural” purpose) of sex and marriage more abhorrent (and more worthy of their time) than abject poverty and maternal deaths.


More noble than the “middle ground”

I see, in this state of affairs, an impasse. It is very difficult to argue ethics when either side comes from such completely different premises—the conservatives’ duty to God versus the liberals’ concern for earthly suffering. There is, however, hope for those who despise the notion that homosexuals do not deserve equal rights and that mothers do not have the right to raise the kind of family they want. It is this: conservatives always lose. It is only a matter of time. Our change in attitude towards slavery and the rights of women and homosexuals, clearly points to the possibility and reality of moral progress, as hard as religious conservatism may fight the rising tide.

In the meantime, we must be sympathetic to the motivations of all parties: we all mean well. We all want to make the world a better place. It is just that we mean very different and incompatible things by “better.” There is, in the understanding of this fact, a place higher and more noble than the so-called “middle ground” built by flawed notions of “tolerance” and “respect”. Acknowledging where each side is coming from without tritely asserting that everyone is right in their own way is, to me, the real meaning of respect.

Hindu Prayer Image Credit: Lauren Pursecki

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What Would a True Catholic Philippines Look Like?

It is quite clear that in an allegedly secular nation, politicians here in the Philippines are largely guided by their religion, which is more often than not Roman Catholicism. This is evident from the chapels in public institutions such as Philippine Science High School to the President’s “advisers” that invariably include at least one man of the cloth. And, there is truly no cause for complaint, if Roman Catholicism is, in fact, the one true religion.

If you allow that no politician is simply abusing the gullibility of their constituents and that they actually believe in the truth of Roman Catholicism, then the people who govern us are simply running on what they think are accurate observations of the universe. Every prayer before Congress and every “year of our Lord” in Presidential Proclamations are not mere statements of opinion or rhetorical flourishes, these are reiterations of accepted facts. Or, rather, “facts.”

The claims of the religious, whether moral or theological, are factual claims. For the former, moral claims are facts about conscious experience. For the latter, theological claims are facts about how the universe in general operates. Both are claims about how material stuff (particles and such) interact with the world.

Avoiding the unimpressive arguments for the existence of the specific Catholic flavor of Yahweh, let us, like millions of Filipinos, simply take this on faith. How would the much-desired fully-realized Catholic Nation of the Philippines look?

For a start, all faith-based holidays not in the Roman Catholic calendar will be erased. This is because the truth of Catholicism necessarily negates the contradictory truth claims of all other religions, from similar Paganism to largely foreign Hinduism. This shouldn’t worry kids who pray for school cancellations since there’s still pretty much a saint for anything and any day. Secular holidays such as Labor Day may continue to exist, but in the form of feasts for one of the myriad saints “venerated” by Catholics. It may perhaps be replaced by a day for Saint Joseph the Carpenter, a model laborer and cuckold, or for Saint Matthew the Tax Collector, to remind us of the price of civilization.

A Catholic Nation of the Philippines would be different from the Vatican in that it would be a real state—with a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning government, and a real capacity for diplomatic relations with other states. These are the criteria for statehood set out by international law, which the Vatican arguably does not meet.

Assuming that the Catholic Nation of the Philippines will continue with its sham democracy label (as it does now), there will be an entirely new branch of government to buttress the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—the ecclesiastical. This branch will oversee all actions of the government to make sure that they are in line with the will of God. The head of this branch will be the person who is most keen to discern that will, most likely a Cardinal (someone who God “communicates” with, on matters such as who deserves to be pope). This branch will also supplement (maybe event supplant) departments such as Education, Science and Technology, Health, Treasury, and Public Works and Highways, through prayer. It will hire battalions of “prayer warriors” in lieu of civil servants, since prayer would be enough anyway.

Perhaps surprisingly, religious freedom will have a place in a Catholic nation. Albeit, this will be limited to the private sphere. The Church no longer has any teachings advocating hate against other religions. They have already apologized for their indefensible establishment of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The humanism of the Enlightenment has seen to it that even our historically cruel religious institutions will find the torture and sadism of their past unthinkable. However, religious tests will be required of all members of government to ensure that the nation maintains its course following the will of God. While citizens may be free to believe anything in private, to hold beliefs contrary to Catholicism, when Catholicism is true, is like believing that circles have corners. It’s just absurd. Given the fact of Catholicism, religious freedom would exist as the freedom to be ignorant or insane.




Judas' Cradle, one of the brutal eroticized torture methods used during the Spanish Inquisition


Needless to say, most changes in our legal system will revolve around sex, the favorite whipping boy of Catholicism. Of course, all kinds of pharmaceutical birth control will be outlawed. And, given their definition of human personhood as beginning at some vague point called “when the sperm meets the egg”, all miscarriages will need to be investigated whether foul play was involved. All terminated pregnancies, whether intentional or not, will require death certificates for the unborn. Reflecting the Church’s “pro-life” stance, in vitro fertilization (IVF) will be illegal, and those who participate in it will be accessories to murder (since IVF involves fertilizing multiple eggs and discarding some embryos). Sex outside marriage will be expressly forbidden and periodical hymen checks for the unmarried will help enforce this law. Unwed women who no longer have hymens as a result of strenuous activity (such as horseback riding) or due to congenital or medical reasons will require permits to walk around with their ungodly genitals.

Homosexuality, as a “disordered sexual inclination”, will obviously be regulated. LGBT persons will be sent to ineffective psychiatric care. While they may remain homosexual in orientation, they cannot engage in “homosexual activity,” which will be illegal. Anti-sodomy laws will be passed and those suspected of homosexual activity will be prosecuted.

Like here in our universe, child rapists who happen to be priests will continue to enjoy impunity from the Catholic Church. The worst punishment, if any, they will ever receive would be removal from Holy Orders.

Jails and prisons will continue to exist, and the Philippines might even serve as the Vatican’s prison system (like Italy). Convicts will be forced to undergo religious counseling in order to save their souls (which will include the Sacrament of Penance for baptized Catholics).

But what exactly would a Catholic legal system protect us from? While earthly laws might be used to protect citizens from physical or material harm, Catholic laws will be constructed to protect citizens from hellfire. Dying or temporal suffering is trifling when compared to eternal torture. It would only be rational to true believers of hell to frame all laws in this context. If an act will lead to the eternal damnation of a citizen, it will be forbidden. Since Catholicism is true and all religions are false, the Catholic government’s control over you will not end in death. It will merely be continued by the true celestial dictator in the afterlife.

To accept the rule of Catholicism means that we must surrender our so-called liberties in this life for salvation in the next. The only true freedom is the freedom to choose God’s will over that of our own. This is what gets the monastics through their ascetic lifestyles. This justifies the personal sacrifices of those in religious orders, not to mention the torture and execution of heretics in the past. What is a hundred years in agony and discomfort if it means eternity in bliss? What is the point of establishing peace on Earth if it lasts only in a world that is destined to boil in five billion years from a dying expanding star? The true point of life here is to prove ourselves for the next.

What I’ve painted here is fictional, though I assert that it is not very far from how our world would look if we take Catholicism to its logical conclusions. Because of the cherry-picking of cafeteria Catholics who largely comprise the country, we can be thankful that this vision is rather unlikely. The Roman Catholic Church is far from the monolithic bloc of devotees the CBCP likes to present. We do not live in this disgusting world because most people who identify as Catholics are unconvinced of the orthodox conservative Catholic lifestyle choice of the minority, which is so vastly disconnected from the reality of temporal suffering and tangible well-being.

However, it is only fair to point out that if indeed Catholicism is the right religion, this vision would not be so bad, since it would deter people from acts that would lead to eternal damnation. But it is irredeemably repulsive if heaven does not. This would mean that the sacrifices conservative Catholics force upon pregnant victims of rape and victims of child indoctrination are wasted on nothing. This would mean that we would have to actually build a lasting society here on Earth and stop worrying about what God thinks about our private thoughts.

We have but one life to live. If the conservative Catholics are right, the best way to spend this life is in strict conformity with the will of God. If they are wrong, as tens of thousands of incompatible religions necessarily assert, then the best way to waste your life would be to listen to them and avoid enjoying this life.

Image Credit: Weird Worm

Posted in Religion, SocietyComments (104)

On the Futility of Church Reform

A 300-strong faction within the Catholic Church in Austria has declared open rebellion against the Church hierarchy, calling for policy changes such as allowing remarried divorcees to take communion and letting women become priests. The “Priests’ Initiative,” which is pushing for these, was started by the former Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Vienna and director of Caritas, Helmut Schüller. Their demands have been seen as refusing obedience to the Pope, a sin that merits excommunication. Sure enough, Vienna’s Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has threatened them with (or informed them of the risk of) that penalty.

Helmut Schüller, leader of Priests' Initiative


Even as a former Catholic, one of the traits about the Roman Catholic Church that I can at least admire is their tenacity and refusal to yield to societal pressure. Because, if indeed the Roman Catholic Church is the one organization God himself thought to start, then changing any core teaching of the Church would be against the will of God. And I think the Church hierarchy, from the pope down to the parish priests, agree with me on this. This is why it is simply unrealistic to expect the Church to budge on issues such as these, either in Vienna or in Manila. It is for this reason that I find it hard to sympathize with Schüller’s cause.

There is an easier and more intellectually honest solution for Schüller and his followers: leave the Church. Start a new religion or drop religion altogether. As much as I’d like to believe that the Church would be willing to consider the possibility of reform and acceptance of progress, changing their tenets simply surrenders too much and renders their Church impotent. It is either God commanded the Church to have these totalitarian dictates or he did not.

Look at what these “rebels” are fighting for: the acceptance of divorcees and women as equals in a congregation. It would almost be comical if it wasn’t so sad and infuriating that in this day and age some people aren’t treated as human beings in an institution that boasts 1 billion adherents. To challenge the Church hierarchy on anything as integral to its tenets such as misogyny and sexual repression is to challenge the very foundations of its claims to holiness. For if God, as revealed by the Church, is wrong in disallowing women from becoming priests, where else could their God be wrong? Unfortunately (or fortunately), it simply isn’t plausible that the Creator of the universe would create an institution as small-minded and as provincial as the Church. Without this premise of holy origin, the Church is simply a club of nerds fighting over rival interpretations of fan fiction.

Image credit: Internationaler Controller Verein

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