Tag Archive | "deism"

Church Morality vs. Secular Morality: A Matter of Premise

Morality is such a divisive issue. In simple terms, morality is “the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.” The divisiveness lies not in whether an act is in accord with certain standards of right and wrong, but on which standard should the rightness or wrongness of an act be judged.

In society, Church morality and secular morality often come into conflict with each other because their standards, and especially their underlying premises which dictate these standards, are as different as night and day. As such, their moral conflict is essentially a matter of premise, as follows:


With such opposing premises, it is of no great surprise that the Church blames secularism for destroying the morals of society, while secularists accuse the Church of trying to impose a misogynistic and bigoted moral system straight out of the Middle Ages.

For instance, on the issue of birth control, the Church asserts that it is God’s will that the unitive aspect of sex cannot be isolated, through man’s initiative, from its procreative purpose, meaning sex should not be done only for the sake of pleasure and bonding while avoiding the responsibility that comes with bearing children. And on the issue of gay marriage, the Church insists that God designed marriage to be the exclusive union between a man and a woman.

Secularism, on the other hand, operating on the premise that no one really knows the will of God – assuming he exists – has no objection towards contraceptive sex as long as the state laws on marriage, rape, and abortion are not violated. As for gay marriage, secularism has no opposition to its legalization as long as it is between two consenting adults.

If a moral system is based on the premises of the Church, it is easily justifiable to ban contraception and gay marriages since both are condemned by God, and the pleasures as well as the sacrifices of this life are nothing compared to the potential happiness and suffering in the next. But as the blogger Philosophy Bro once tweeted, “‘Because God said so’ isn’t a bad excuse if He really said so – proving that is the hard part.”

Since it is clear to the secularist that this life is the only life we really know exists, welfare and happiness in this life should take precedence over any imaginable but unverifiable condition after death – especially since we have absolutely no idea how to secure an advantage in the next life, if there is one. What’s wrong with passionate sex without the possibility of pregnancy if both partners are enjoying it and hurting no one, not even a fetus or a zygote? What’s so objectionable about two people of the same gender falling in love with each other and wanting nothing more than to publicly proclaim such love and enjoy the legal rights and benefits of a state-sanctioned union?

These intimacy and relationship issues appear to go beyond the appreciation of the Church hierarchy, who in turn seem intent on imposing a great deal of self-denial on others not only by preaching against hedonistic sex but by actually blocking laws that help poor couples enjoy sex without having more children than they can feed. As Bertrand Russell said, “Religions, which condemn the pleasures of sense, drive men to seek the pleasures of power. Throughout history power has been the vice of the ascetic.” Indeed, what can one expect from powerful men whose own institutional tradition bound them to become lifelong virgins?

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On Religion and Confusion

In the past, I considered myself a religious person. I prided myself in being someone who was pious. I made a mental list of my “sins”, to be religiously confessed later on. I felt really bad and guilty about my “sins”, which I thought was how it was supposed to be. I felt tortured by them, basically. I also prided myself on knowing what’s right and what’s wrong, what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do. I felt proud of being earnest and quiet during mass, when my peers would only be fidgeting in their seats, sharing gossip, or giggling about God-knows-what. Reflection papers in class were wrought with “reflections” about God.

But as time passed and I grew older, things became less black and white. I realized things could be gray. And a great deal of things proved to be.

Now, I don’t consider myself religious at all. I consider myself God-ish though, if there is such a thing. I believe in God, I really do. I believe in an entity who is somehow omnipresent, and who has a hand in what happens to us. For example, I pray for things to happen. I also thank God for good things that happen. And when something works out after a bad stretch, I think that God maybe meant for it to happen.

However, I find it hard to believe in religion, which is, to me, just something that some people prescribe. It’s an oligarchy, almost. How can I believe in something that was written so many years ago, allegedly by people who had direct contact with God? Why should I follow doctrine, when to me it just seems like a bunch of rules that men in pointy hats decided upon? For example, why is it that you’ll go to hell if you don’t go to mass every Sunday? Or why is drinking so bad? Or sex? Or homosexuality? Some things are intuitive. You can figure it out on your own. For example, of course it’s bad to steal, or to kill or rape someone. But some “sins” just don’t make sense. Why is sexual behavior bad? Why is something that is natural, something that can bring a man and a woman closer, bad? It’s something that can express love and intimacy, and really, something that just comes naturally.

Why does religion have to condemn so many things? Somehow, I’d like to believe that people are good, as opposed to what my religion dictates– that people are evil, sinful, dirty, and just lacking, and that we have to be saved. Saved from what? Do they mean to tell us that kind people, people who live honestly, who spread joy and love to the world, have souls that are lacking, just because they don’t have knowledge of the “correct” concept of “God”? Does that mean that God only “saves” those who happen to have knowledge of him? I do not like what my religion prescribes, that it is the only one true religion, and that people who don’t abide my its rules, or agree with its vision of God, will burn in hell.

Most of all, I’d like to think that God is wiser and more understanding than they make him to be. I’d like to think that his law is more than a bunch of rules that you Must abide by, no questions asked. I’d like to think his understanding transcends these rules, these rules that seem to express such a narrow point of view. I’d like to believe in his goodness. Ultimately, that’s what I believe God is– goodness. A benevolent being, as opposed to this demanding, judgmental being they make him seem. To me, He is someone who created the earth, the good things in this world, and someone who meant for us to be Happy.

It doesn’t make sense, following a religion that tells you to hate yourself, and things seemingly inherent and natural. I don’t think I can agree with a religion that makes people feel so bad about themselves, feel so damn guilty all the time. I also don’t believe in the concept of saints. It all feels so contrived. All of it–it just seems like a bunch of people dictating on what to do, and what is right. Ultimately, it’s just an institution, a worldly institution. So maybe I’m not religious at all. This being said, I don’t think that I’m a bad person. More so, I’m not an atheist or an agnostic. I won’t stop going to mass, because to me, that is still a way by which I can show my faith to the God I believe in. However, I can conclude that I am not religious at all. But somehow this doesn’t make me feel bad at all. Outright demonstrations of “faith” have never appealed to me. People singing songs, jumping up and down in the name of the Lord were always things that didn’t agree with me. I preferred private conversations with God– quiet, and, ultimately, just private. When I look at the sea or mountains, or trees or flowers or leaves, I feel God, more than in the imposing buildings they call the church, meant to dictate people on how to communicate with God, and how to live their lives.

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Authority in Religion, Law and Science

Pope Benedict XVI, Chief Justice Renato Corona and Albert Einstein

In debates and discussions contenders often cite authority to support their assertions. In some cases citing authority is the strongest strategy while in others it is the weakest.

The German sociologist Max Weber identified three types of legitimate authority:

In law, or more particularly in the interpretation of the law, final authority is clearly vested in the Supreme Court, so whatever the Supreme Court says about how a certain law should be interpreted, that’s the way it should be interpreted. The authority of the Supreme Court is an example of rational-legal authority, hence, citing jurisprudence is very effective in legal arguments.

In religion, it gets a little tricky. If the debaters are from different religions, they will be citing different authorities (holy books, popes, pastors, prophets) that often contradict one another. But even if they belong to one religion, say, Christianity, authority may not be as clear cut as it’s supposed to be.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Church’s authority was originally derived from Jesus’ alleged charismatic authority which overcame the Pharisees’ traditional authority at the time – at least among his disciples, who later on “routinized” Jesus’ charismatic authority into the traditional authority of the Church. But centuries later a ranking member breaks away to wield his own charismatic authority, and the cycle continues. So now the question is, who is the final authority in Christianity – meaning who gets to say what Jesus supposedly meant to say (in the same degree as the Supreme Court gets the final say as to what the framers of the constitution meant to say)?

Weber’s three types of legitimate authority have been exercised by the State (rational-legal) and the Church (traditional and charismatic), so what is left for science? Nothing. When someone cites “scientific authority”, such authority can be quickly refuted by presenting new evidence or by performing the same controlled experiments and coming up with different results.

The philosopher and lawyer Morris Raphael Cohen wrote in Reason and Nature:

To be sure, the vast majority of people who are untrained can accept the results of science only on authority. But there is obviously an important difference between an establishment that is open and invites every one to come, study its methods, and suggest improvement, and one that regards the questioning of credentials as due to wickedness of heart, such as Cardinal Newman attributed to those who questioned the infallibility of the Bible… Rational science treats its credit notes as always redeemable on demand, while non-rational authoritarianism regards the demand for the redemption of its paper as a disloyal lack of faith.

As the proponents of science would say, in science there are no authorities, only experts, so when we debate about science the “authority” is only as good as their last experiment or observation. If we debate about the law, authority really counts and is virtually absolute. But when we talk about religion, authority is limited within each sect, where the leaders can teach their dogma to their respective members and no one can openly question or disobey them without having to leave that particular sect. But once outside the sect, religious authority ends, and no one is deemed infallible.

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The Church’s Constitutional Mandate

In response to criticisms against the Church’s meddling on the RH Bill, Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi wrote a pastoral letter citing the Constitution’s Preamble – “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations…” – and explained that it was  “the duty of the Church to remind the government of her constitutional mandate to protect this aspiration”, and that it was the “Church’s mission from Christ which impels it to speak about social, economic or political issues.”

While the archbishop’s explanation may sound logical (and constitutional!), it is the implied corollary that makes it wrong: the statement connotes that the Catholic Church is the sole authority when it comes to God. The Preamble never said “imploring the aid of Almighty God through His revelations to the pope“; it’s just plain “Almighty God” with no reference to any particular sectarian teaching of God – and especially not to the Roman Catholic God who abhors contraceptives. No, the Catholic Church does not have universal religious authority to say what is the command of God, much less the constitutional mandate to exercise such imagined authority.

Authority is an interesting word especially in the religious context. The sociologist Max Weber theorizes about “charismatic authority” and the “routinization” of charisma:

Charismatic authority is ‘power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers’…For instance, a charismatic leader in a religious context might require an unchallenged belief that the leader has been touched by God, in the sense of a guru or prophet.

Routinization is the process by which ‘charismatic authority is succeeded by a bureaucracy controlled by a rationally established authority or by a combination of traditional and bureaucratic authority’.

In the case of Christianity, authority allegedly started with Jesus as he commanded charismatic authority among his disciples, who later on “routinized” it into the traditional authority of the Christian religion.

But the thing about Christianity is that its routinization over the millennia has ended up in so many sects with different beliefs that no single order can claim authority over the rest, and that is why the Catholic Church cannot invoke “constitutional mandate” to justify its meddling in State affairs because its authority ends outside the church walls. It may have some sort of authority partly based on the fear of Hell and excommunication over its own members, but certainly not among all citizens of the State.

The Constitution may have expressly recognized our country as generally composed of God-believers, but it never said anything about God being represented by the Roman Catholic Church. So no, the Church does not have the constitutional mandate to meddle with the affairs of the State. It has the constitutional right, of course – that’s called freedom of speech – but such right should not be asserted as if it carries with it a rational-legal authority tied to the established laws of the State, especially now that more and more people listen to reason than to self-proclaimed authority.

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Davao’s Deistic Duterte

Davao City vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his support for President Aquino’s stand on making a wide array of family planning methods – both natural and artificial – available to couples who need them. While this is already good news for the RH Bill advocates, Duterte’s comment on the Church’s teachings will surely impress the freethinkers:

There are some religions that go against the human biology. They prescribe sexual abstinence which is almost impossible. The urge to procreate is the most powerful force in the entire universe. Your teachings go against the grain of biology.

While Duterte might have meant “the urge to copulate” instead of procreate as the most powerful force in the universe (procreation is just a consequence of copulation although copulation is evolutionarily driven by procreation), the message is clear: to follow the Church’s teachings means to deny the reality of the human sex drive.

As if that wasn’t enough, what Duterte said next made me think that the vice mayor might be a deist, believing in God but not in organized religion, which often paints God as unreasonable and cruel:

Do not believe in hell. My connection with God is not thru my religion but thru my belief. There is no need for religion to go to Heaven and to talk to God. Excommunicate? Go ahead. My God understands my biological needs because I am His creation. My God is very understanding. I don’t need religion to go to heaven or hell.

And with that statement Duterte may have fueled a lot of people’s doubts towards the infallibility of Catholic dogma and significantly loosened the Church’s grip over politics, at least in Davao. While there is supposed to be a wall of separation between the Church and State, God is straddling that wall in this predominantly Catholic nation of ours. And if the Church says that God is against contraceptives, the people as well as the legislative and executive branches of the government tend to listen. Good thing we have freethinking politicians like Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. I hope others would speak up as well, especially those at the national level.

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The Christian Freethinker

I mentioned in one of my comments that a “Christian freethinker” is an oxymoron, or loosely a “contradiction in terms”. I realize I should not have made such sweeping statement that might antagonize some liberal or progressive Christians. I am sorry.

Wikipedia defines freethought as “a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any dogma.” A freethinker is therefore someone who practices freethought.

On the other hand, a Christian, in the broadest sense, is one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. By this definition, Christianity seems to be incompatible with freethought because the former relies on the “divinely-inspired” authority of religious doctrines to learn about the supposed teachings of Jesus while the latter repudiates such doctrines due to hearsay and circular reasoning, hence my use of the term ‘oxymoron’ to describe “Christian freethinker”.

But upon deeper reflection, I am beginning to believe that there are actually many Christian freethinkers (note the lack of quotes this time) out there. In fact, I used to be one. But it has a lot to do with the timing. Freethought holds that beliefs should be based on reason instead of authority, but most Christians had already acquired their sacred beliefs long before they were capable of rational thought, and so while they would now think critically when presented with new issues or claims, I guess they simply didn’t get the chance to evaluate the quality of the cognitive process by which they originally formed their religious beliefs way back in childhood.

In my personal experience, it was relatively late in life when I encountered cogent arguments against the tenets of my faith. For a long time I merely skirted the Problem of Evil, taking comfort in the belief that God has a purpose for everything, a grand plan that is just beyond our human understanding. My faith was even strengthened after reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time because it somehow seemed to imply the necessity of a Creator, offering “scientific support” for my belief. (I felt uneasy at the part where Hawking suggested how the four-dimensional space-time could be finite but with no boundaries – like the two-dimensional surface of the earth – so the universe could have no beginning nor end but simply be, negating the need for a creator. I was later relieved when he said that such wave-function scenario could only happen in imaginary time, and in real time in which we exist, there will always be boundaries.)

At this point, was I what you would call a freethinker? A lot of people would probably say no because I wasn’t a critical thinker. According to The Critical Thinking Community, critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” And based on that definition, I surely was not a critical thinker.

But critical thinking is not the same as freethinking. While freethought values science, reason and logic, critical thinking is more concerned with how scientific is the evidence, how rational is the argument, and how logical is the conclusion:

It is believed by some philosophers (notably A.C. Grayling) that a good rationale must be independent of emotions, personal feelings or any kind of instincts. Any process of evaluation or analysis, that may be called rational, is expected to be highly objective, logical and “mechanical”. If these minimum requirements are not satisfied i.e. if a person has been, even slightly, influenced by personal emotions, feelings, instincts or culturally specific, moral codes and norms, then the analysis may be termed irrational, due to the injection of subjective bias.

It is quite evident from modern cognitive science and neuroscience, studying the role of emotion in mental function (including topics ranging from flashes of scientific insight to making future plans), that no human has ever satisfied this criterion, except perhaps a person with no effective feelings, for example an individual with a massively damaged Amygdala.

Freethought is the general process; critical thinking is the quality control. As such, I personally believe that it is actually possible for a Christian to be a freethinker as long as he honestly tries to be rational, regardless of the quality of his rationality.

But once he is presented with a compelling argument against the basis of his faith, he will have to choose between Christianity and freethought. He will either have to remain blind and stubborn – or start reexamining his beliefs. And in my case, it was this image that changed everything:

Once I realized that this “Word of God” is actually just hearsay and might as well be stories concocted by fallible humans with their own personal interests in mind, it was almost immediately that I stopped considering myself a Christian.

To the Christian freethinkers (again, note the lack of quotes), I know it isn’t easy to question one’s faith especially if one believes that questioning will jeopardize one’s immortal soul. But ask yourselves, who are you questioning -God, or just the self-proclaimed human messengers? Once you realize it’s the latter, I bet you wouldn’t think twice about applying critical thinking to every belief you hold sacred. And then you could honestly say that you are, as you always have been, a freethinker, regardless of your beliefs.

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A Former Christian’s Letter to an Old Friend

Dear CB,

I regret not being able to see you when you last came home to visit. It’s been almost a decade since you left the country and we had somehow lost touch, and surely I could have spared a few minutes – a few hours, even – to meet with an old friend.

But the reason I didn’t see you had nothing to do with time. I did not come to see you because I figured the topic of Faith would most likely be brought about in our conversation, and I didn’t want to lie to you even as I didn’t want to tell you that I no longer have it.

I remember several years ago there was this Q & A being circulated via email. One of the questions was, “What is most important to you?” As I had expected, you answered “Jesus.” Back then I still considered myself a very spiritual albeit not a very religious person, but I wrote down “Truth.”

I realize I’ve been a truth seeker ever since my childhood days. I remember feeling uncomfortable in Sunday school when the teacher told us that Jesus chose the dumb people for his disciples because the bright ones had too many questions. Whether that was biblically accurate or not is beside the point; she was implying that one should simply follow and not think. But I realized that no matter how I tried, I simply could not not think. And there I was struck by the irony of why our God-given intelligence would be the very thing to hinder us from getting closer to Him. I could not understand why the same God who gave us reason would prohibit us from using it.

Still, I managed to stay on the path and maintain a personal relationship with the Lord throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. You might have noticed, however, that I was the liberal type of Christian who always tried to find a rationale for our beliefs instead of just taking them by blind faith.

One of the things I tried to ponder was the presence of evil and pain in a world supposedly created and cared for by the loving and powerful God. I even opened that up to you and you were able to conveniently answer it with the explanation that we are not omniscient, hence, we cannot fathom God’s purpose in His infinite wisdom.

That explanation kept me going for a few more years, but the Problem of Evil had been an eternal bug up my theist ass. I lived with cognitive dissonance as I struggled to rationalize gratuitous – unnecessary, unwarranted, and unjustified – suffering as part of God’s divine plan. And I do not mean only human suffering; even before our species walked the earth (and long before Adam and Eve supposedly committed Original Sin), countless animals had already suffered and died, some more excruciatingly than the others, like the caterpillar whose body was being leisurely eaten alive from the inside by a growing wasp larva that would soon emerge from the caterpillar’s empty shell as an adult wasp ready to mate and lay an egg on another unlucky caterpillar, and the cycle continues as the egg hatches into a larva that digs into the caterpillar’s flesh. Now unless there is a Caterpillar Heaven where all their sufferings will be recompensed, it just didn’t make sense to me to suppose that there was actually a loving Creator.

We were both lucky to be born to middle-class families in a civilized society, so gratitude comes naturally to us for all of “God’s blessings, goodness, and mercy.” But we had no idea what it would be like to live in Afghanistan, North Korea, or Africa. Gratuitous suffering exists elsewhere, and we were not constantly aware of them as we focused on our “blessings” like passing an exam when there were children who never had a decent meal or access to medical care. Our pastors have come up with sophisticated theodicies like man’s “free will” and divine punishment, but when I reminded myself that this was supposed to be a loving and all-powerful God we were talking about, I realized that the apologists were running out of excuses for God’s indifference and/or incompetence.

And so I clung back to the assurance that God has a “grand design” which is just beyond our finite minds’ ken. But then I wondered, how do we know that God indeed has a beautiful plan for His most beloved creation? Unfortunately, I only had the Bible to tell me so, the Holy Book we revered as the true Word of God. However, the Bible contains many major contradictions and divinely-commissioned atrocities that I either had to skip those verses or suspend my reason in order to continue believing its divine origin. But my biggest problem with the Bible was its lack of authenticity considering its stories were accounts of humans passed from generation to generation without the use of a printing press, and that it was only the Bible that proclaimed itself as the “Word of God.”

When I realized this, every belief I held sacred suddenly became fair game – including my belief in the divinity of Jesus. It also dawned on me how absurd is the notion of God’s ultimate “sacrifice” for the salvation of mankind: God created man imperfectly so God now plans to punish man severely and eternally because of the fatal imperfection that God caused in the first place, but because of God’s “love” for man, God bore an only Son, who was actually God Himself, to be offered as a sacrifice – to Himself – in order to satisfy God’s craving for blood and so that man does not have to suffer God’s eternal wrath as long as he believes in the Son. And even the “sacrifice” is not a sacrifice at all considering it was only about thirty years as a man and less than three days as a “dead” man that an eternal Being had to endure. That’s not even a cent to the world’s richest man, and yet Christians consider it to be the greatest gift.

Now you might shudder at my utter blasphemy and invoke Pascal’s Wager to make me reconsider believing, but all I can say is that the teachings of Christianity contradict those of the two other major religions, Judaism and Islam, and if either of them turns out to be the “true religion” then all Christians will burn in hell for believing and blasphemously proclaiming that Jesus was not just a prophet but God Himself.

And what does it mean to “believe” anyway? Is it something one can force upon himself even if every part of his rational mind screams incredulity? I don’t think so. Belief is not a personal choice; rather, it is the product of knowledge and understanding, both of which are not personal choices either.

And then I was left with the ultimate question: Where did everything come from? For quite some time after I left Christianity I considered myself a deist, believing in a Creator who simply caused the cosmos into existence but never intervened afterwards, allowing the universe to evolve according to the natural laws embodied in it. While I still do not discount the possibility of such Creator to exist or have existed, I am now equally open to possibilities that the universe – or at least the initial singularity from which it expanded – has either existed eternally in some form or another or came from nothing as an accident in nature via quantum fluctuations, negating the need for a creator. But more importantly, I highly doubt that a Being powerful enough to be able to create an entire universe would be that petty or insecure to give a damn if I believed in Him/Her/It.

While I consider myself a skeptic, I do not wish to be called an atheist mainly because of the stigma and misconceptions associated with the word, but for all practical purposes I might as well be an atheist because I no longer believe in an intervening god – loving or otherwise. While it cannot be proven without a doubt that such god does not exist, reason dictates that the Abrahamic God’s existence is very highly unlikely, and so I live my life on the assumption that this life is all there is and that the future of our world and the welfare as well as the suffering of our fellow humans – and of the ‘lower’ animals, or at least the ones we domesticate – rest mostly in our hands.

And so, CB, while you might be aghast with my revelation, I simply cannot bear to live in pretense just to avoid disappointing you. I can no longer force myself to suspend reason for the sake of my faith. As Daniel Dennet said, ‎”There is no future in a sacred myth. Why not? Because of our curiosity. Whatever we hold precious, we cannot protect it from our curiosity, because being who we are, one of the things we deem precious is the truth.”

But if you really believe that God is the Truth, please pray that He will reveal Himself to me in an unmistakable manner and prove me wrong before it’s too late. With all His power and mercy, surely He will make a way.

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Divine Revelation

When religious leaders endorse political candidates, there is an implied underlying assumption that they are ‘merely’ announcing the will of God to the people. And underlying that assumption is the unstated premise that these leaders are true recipients of divine revelation, hence, they appoint themselves as “Messengers of God”.

Although I have already quoted it before, I guess it doesn’t hurt to revisit what the deists have to say about ‘revelation’:

Revelation: The act of revealing or of making known. In the religious sense, revelation usually means divine revelation. This is meaningless, since revelation can only be revelation in the first instance. For example, if God revealed something to me, that would be a divine revelation to me. If I then told someone else what God told me it would be mere hearsay to the person I tell. If that person believed what I said, they would not be putting their trust in God, but in me, believing what I told them was actually true.

Unfortunately, a lot of people do not seem to appreciate this. They take their leaders’ words in good faith – as the true word of God – because who would dare use the name of God in vain?

Now I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the candidate a certain minister is endorsing does not win. Will this undermine the will of God – or just the preacher’s status as recipient of divine revelation?

Possibly neither. Just as the Problem of Evil never really succeeded in sowing skepticism in the minds of people who believe in an all-powerful and loving God, unfulfilled prophecies will probably do little damage to these evangelists’ credibility – at least among their followers. If they were able to come up with sophisticated theodicies whose logical fallacies escape even the supposedly smart people, it doesn’t seem like a leap of faith to imagine that they are already crafting “divine answers” in case their endorsements do not fare well on election day.

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

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Why God Allows Pain: The Barbershop Theodicy

Whenever believers try to defend their faith in an intervening God using reason (or more precisely, pseudo-reason), the critical thinker cannot help but point out the fallacies. There is this email being circulated that tries to explain the problem of evil and why God allows pain and suffering:

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the customer. “Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.

Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.” “How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!” “No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.” “Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! That’s what happens when people do not go to Him and don’t look to Him for help. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.” * * *

Let us try to dissect the logic here:

Barber does not believe a loving and all-powerful God exists because of the presence of suffering and pain as manifested by sick people and abandoned children

Customer – does not believe barbers exist because of the presence of people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards

Barber – explains that these people are unkempt because they do not come to him for a haircut and shave

Customer explains that people experience so much pain and suffering because they do not come to God for help

I cannot even begin to pinpoint the logical fallacies in there because they seem to jump out all at once.  It is faulty to compare barbers to God because whenever you go to the former,  you’ll surely get your hair cut (if that’s what you want); when you seek help from the latter, your prayers are not always answered. Now if the faithful even dare to say that the barber is not there all the time to give you a haircut anytime you want – maybe he’s sick or attending some important event – it must be noted that unlike God, barbers are not omnipotent or omnipresent. And what exactly does it mean to “come to God for help”? If God is omniscient, he knows what we need (and deserve) long before we pray for it – even before we can think of praying for it. And if he is a loving God, he will grant these needs without waiting for our prayers, not to mention there are children dying a slow and painful death due to starvation and disease who are too young to understand the concept of God, much less to pray. But I guess the most significant difference between a haircut and an “answered prayer” is that you can be sure that your hair had not just gotten shorter because of pure coincidence and no external deliberate force.

I must say that while I often criticize religion, I deeply respect the faithful, as many of the people in my innermost circle are themselves believers.  As I often tell them, I respect your right to your beliefs. If you say that you believe in God because of personal faith, I respect that. Even if you say that you believe in God because the Bible (or any other holy book) tells you so, I would still respect that. But once you try to assert the validity of the Bible’s claims by spewing fallacy passed as reason, your beliefs become fair game.

The problem of evil had been an eternal bug up the theistic ass, and countless theodicies (attempts at reconciling belief in God with the perceived existence of evil) have been written, their answers ranging from almost-but-not-quite satisfactory to totally absurd. Among those I’ve read, I think the only one that gives the slightest hope to the faithful and prevents those in No. 6 in Dawkins’ spectrum from ‘falling’ into No. 7 is that God has a purpose too grand to be comprehended by our finite minds. Perhaps I can respect that, but only because I cannot scientifically disprove it. Just make sure you don’t get too cocky as to proclaim that you can actually prove it.

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Come Into The Light

light1Last night I watched Creation, a film about the life of Charles Darwin and how he came to write On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. What I found especially moving was his own struggle against the authority of religion and the beliefs of his religious wife. With religion he had no qualms, but the fear of breaking his wife’s heart almost stopped him from finishing his book.

In one of the scenes, Darwin described to his friend, a reverend, how some caterpillars never become butterflies because parasitic wasps lay eggs into them. Once the egg hatches, the wasp larva will feed on the flesh of the caterpillar, leisurely devouring it from the inside, killing it slowly and painfully until all that is left is an empty shell. And then the larva will emerge as an adult wasp, ready to mate and repeat the cycle. When confronted with such cruelty in nature, the reverend simply said that it was really not for them to speculate on the mind of God.

How convenient it was for the reverend to say that they had no right to second-guess God’s reasons while religion has eternally claimed to have the ‘revealed’ word of God and stubbornly holds on to this ‘revelation’ amid contradicting evidence, insisting that it is the truth.

Ah, Truth. A word not to be taken lightly. How do we know the truth? That is a very hard question, but we can ask an easier one: How do we know if something is false? For starters, we could shed the light of science into claims asserted from behind the dark shroud of ‘authority’. If there is a God, he/she/it gave us eyes to see and minds to interpret what we see. Science isn’t asking us to believe anything; science is merely asking that we open our eyes.

Religion’s authority is derived solely from what they claim to be ‘divine revelation’. Who indeed would dare question an instruction or doubt a story if it was God Himself who said it? To answer that, one simply has to look at the deists’ definition of ‘revelation’:

Revelation: The act of revealing or of making known. In the religious sense, revelation usually means divine revelation. This is meaningless, since revelation can only be revelation in the first instance. For example, if God revealed something to me, that would be a divine revelation to me. If I then told someone else what God told me it would be mere hearsay to the person I tell. If that person believed what I said, they would not be putting their trust in God, but in me, believing what I told them was actually true.

Now the lack of credibility of this hearsay revelation is not as sinister as the supposed message from God. Religion is basically telling us that this life is infinitely less significant than the next. And because of this, a lot of people fail to live their lives fully in terms of time and freedom, and some don’t get to live a life at all. And for me that is the ultimate wrong.

If religion is this influential in the Information Age, just imagine how powerful it must have been at the time of Darwin when knowledge could only be found in a few books held by an elite few. One of this few is religion of course, and they even have their own brand of ‘knowledge’ which they gladly publish and distribute.

Fortunately, science is steadily keeping up. Religion has practically let go of the literal creation story, shifting to a metaphorical translation disguised as Intelligent Design, but this too is losing ground to natural selection. Then there is the question of the origin of life itself, to which abiogenesis, although not yet a scientific theory in the strict sense, is offering plausible explanations.

With these significant grounds being conquered by science, religion is desperately holding on to its last bastion of authority in its claim for holding the truth: the origin of the cosmos. And with this I remember what Richard Dawkins said in a debate with John Lennox:

“Cosmology is waiting for its Darwin.”

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Humility: Reason vs. Faith

I often hear religious people say that freethinkers are proud people, leaning on their own human understanding. The faithful claim to be humble, acknowledging our limited wisdom and thereby surrendering mind and will to the Almighty, the Supreme Being of the universe.

At first it seems they have a point, but if we look closely we’ll see that it’s actually the other way around. While theists may appear humble before their God, they are actually quite contemptuous towards people who do not share their beliefs. I could not explain it better than a commenter named Pecier Carpena Decierdo:

Reason is humble, faith is not. Reason is open to the possibility that its claims are wrong, faith is not. Faith is cock-sure and certain, scientific reason is not. Faith makes claims to super-human knowledge, scientific reason does not.

The only knowledge human brains can contain is human knowledge, that is, limited knowledge. Because all we have are human brains with limited human knowledge, we cannot claim to be certain about everything. Yet faith, that archenemy of reason, makes people believe that they can be certain about things they actually know nothing about.

I just watched a one-hour video on how the universe could have literally come out of nothing by accident, negating the necessary first cause or creator. The speaker remarked that this shows just how insignificant we really are. And it is a humbling thought indeed.

Which leads us to ponder, what then, is the purpose of our existence if we came out of nothing by pure chance? I guess my answer will be that the purpose of our existence is to find a purpose for our existence. Existence precedes essence, and if we indeed came out of nothingness because of pure luck instead of being created by a deity, then I guess that would be the greatest and most generous and most humbling miracle of all. And since we are lucky enough to exist at a point in time and space where conditions are suitable for life, it is wise to open our eyes to the world around and not waste our finite days haughtily holding on to some eternal “truth” that demands suspending our reason. Surely we have better things to do here.


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What Makes Us Special

I would like to thank Wes for his invaluable contributions to this piece.

Imagine a single-celled organism. Longing for life, it tries to split itself, and succeeds. It repeats the process a couple of times…A few billions years later it develops the ability for locomotion, and it begins to swim with fins and breathe underwater with gills. A couple of million years after that it leaves the ocean to walk on land, at first on all fours, and then upright on two legs. It develops a level of intelligence unlike any other creature on the planet, giving it vast superiority over the biggest, strongest, and fastest animals.

Aside from bigger brain capacity, opposable thumbs were one the biggest advantages we got too, enabled us to use tools. Creating and using tools were our biggest ace in the hole compared to other animals which were faster, stronger, and bigger than us. It helped even out the playing field by allowing us to manufacture crutches to make up for our physical shortcomings. Without our toys, we wouldn’t stand a chance against a hungry predator. We were lucky that in the greater scheme of things, turns out that it weren’t the biggest or the fastest jocks that made it big, it was the nerd that was handy with a wrench. (Wes)

In the movie Amistad, a slave was invoking the strength of his ancestors when he was about to appear before the US Supreme Court on a case that would greatly determine his fate: “…my ancestors, I will call into the past, far back to the beginning of time and beg them to come and help me at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me, and they must come, for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.”

What we are now, we owe to the struggles of a long line of forebears who fought tooth and nail to maintain their precarious perch in the evolutionary ladder. Nature is not a kind referee, her laws of the jungle dictate that the weak fall prey to the strong. Our lineage had to duke it out with the rest of nature to earn the right to carry on their genetic heritage. It would be a great disservice to their memory to even suggest that what we are here today because we were lucky to have been the favored children of an invisible deity. (Wes)

We are the present culmination of billions of years of evolution and hundreds of years of our ‘modern’ ancestors’ struggle in a world where the animal on top of the food chain belongs to the same species but with a lot more money and power – and how every one of them survived long enough to pass on what would eventually become every one of us. A great majority of our ‘peers’ have already died – became extinct millions and even billions of years ago. Yet here we are. And that makes us more special than being some creation of an Intelligent Designer, in the same way that a self-made millionaire is definitely more special than a very rich man who merely inherited his wealth from his infinitely richer family.

But while evolution highlights us humans as the most highly evolved creature in terms of intellect, we are far from being the most adaptable. Viruses mutate faster than we can develop vaccines for the original strain. Cockroaches are never totally exterminated from our homes regardless of the various ways we try to kill them. And I guess this is a rather humbling thought.

And though at first it may sound like we are not so special after all, what it really means is that each of us is special in his/her/its own different way. For every creature – from the tiny bug that tentatively crawls out of its hole and hides at the first sign of danger, to the alpha male lion who walks as if it owns Africa, to the single working mom balancing family and career – each of them represents a few billion years of the struggle for life.


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Will to be Whole

Oh you being of the heavens, I am praying
In the middle of the battlefield of my soul
I am crying, can you hear me?
Can you see me in pain?
Holding on to the will to be whole

I’m not asking for mercy or forgiveness
Or to help me out of the darkness I’m in
I’m not asking for strength
Or for some kind of courage
Not even to deliver me from sin

Here I’m standing proud like the sun
Hidden behind the gray clouds of rain
I am standing to show you
That despite all my tears
I am willing to endure all these pain

I don’t blame you for the fire that I’m treading
For the evil companions serving guide
Save me if you wish to
Yet I shall not praise you
But I’m grateful that you’re always by my side

Watch me, I shall show you I am worthy
Of the friendship you endlessly give
It might take a while
But someday I shall smile
Not afraid to continue to live

Oh my friend in the heavens, I am saying
I’m standing on the battlefield of my soul
While I’m crying and bleeding
While I’m drowning in my pain
I shall hold on to the will to be whole

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