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The Beauty of Doubt

Photo by Michael Caven

I grew up in a Christian environment where doubt was hardly encouraged. Faith was a virtue. Doubt was not. The foremost illustration of this is the biblical story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas who claimed not to believe in his resurrection unless he saw his risen body and touched his wounds. When Jesus did appear to him and erase his doubts, Jesus said, “Blessed are you because you see and believe, but more blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” And from those words sprung up an entire culture of faith, of not seeing yet fervently believing.

The first thirty something years of my life were spent aiming for this kind of faith. The urge to doubt would always be attributed to my human weakness or even to the wiles of the devil. But the deeper I went inside Christianity, the more discordant I would feel. Yes, there was always the heat of the moment in worship, and there were days when I felt that I was indeed in god’s loving arms. But these we’re also peppered by moments of doubt. I would always wonder if answered prayers weren’t just coincidences; if the faith I felt wasn’t just leveled up wishful thinking; or if the feelings I had for god’s presence weren’t just that — feelings.

Then a thought came to me: if I believe that god created me, then he must also be responsible for creating this machinery in me that makes me doubt and think and reason. And since this is so, why should I not then trust this thinking and reasoning of mine? What if all I ever believed in was just other people’s beliefs imposed upon society for generations? What if my doubts were the way to truth even if a lot of people (at least in my circles) didn’t seem to share them? Didn’t Jesus say that the gate was narrow and only a few people ever find it?

Ultimately, I was confronted with this question — would I be willing to let go of all I ever believed in my search for truth — yes, even Christianity, the bible and the concept of god that Christianity has imposed upon me? And for me, this was harder than it sounded. It was like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a piece of wood, without any land in sight, and deciding whether or not to let it go so I could swim faster to where I wanted to be. I also realized the irony of it — that it takes so much more faith to doubt than to believe. So I took a leap of faith and began my journey of doubt.

In that journey, I went to church less and less because church for me had just been a meaningless habit and the sermons were just rehashed ideas that I heard over and over throughout the years. Even the idea that “we go to church not to receive from god but to give him our worship” seemed stale because if god were everywhere, then I could most certainly worship him anywhere, even in the toilet. Conversely, I could be in church every Sunday with my mind wandering elsewhere and it wouldn’t amount to an iota of worship. So I decided to give up this false pretension and would not go to church unless I really wanted to, but not for reasons of appearances or habit or to “be a good influence” to my kids. (Yes, I got flak for this when my eldest daughter decided she didn’t want to go to sunday school also, but that’s another story).

I began to read books and listen to other teachings that were outside the norm of Christian propriety, and my horizons were widened and I realized that there were also a lot of people like me — much more than I thought there would be — and in the midst of my doubts, it was a reassuring thought. At this point, I also started my own blog ( where I compiled different stories that I found helpful, as well as my own reflections of my spiritual journey.

Of course, I could not avoid the whispers going on behind me — Christian friends, relatives and acquaintances talking about me, reading my blogs and saying that I was going astray — but I got most of this information third-hand. These people I heard about never approached me and asked me head-on what was going on with me — except for a couple of them — and I appreciated their willingness to listen and their acceptance (of me, not my way of thinking). Although hearing the words, “I’ll just pray for you,” is grating to my ears. I know they mean well but it just sounds so condescending — like “I know something you don’t. I’m someplace better than you, so I’ll just pray for you until you realize that.” I know they don’t mean it that way, but still, it does sound that way.

In the tail end of this journey (which means just about over a year ago), I discovered freethinking and a group called Filipino Freethinkers through a close friend of mine. And when I read about it, realized that this was me (I just didn’t know what it was called). Though this group has been closely linked to atheism, it actually isn’t and its members are a mixed bag of different believers and unbelievers. The basic creed of a freethinker is that you may have your own set of personal beliefs but you don’t go around imposing them on others as if it were THE truth. “To a freethinker, no idea is sacred; all truth claims are subject to skepticism, rational inquiry, and empirical testing.”

A freethinker embraces doubt as a way of life, for it is through doubt that one gets to really dig in and think about what one believes in — not just to swallow everything the church, priest, imam or rabbi says. One of my favorite quotes comes from Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, who says “to doubt is infinitely more important than to adore. To question is infinitely more important than to believe.”

Some time ago I took a step of faith into doubt, and have never regretted it since. I feel more spiritually and holistically in tune with myself, my thoughts and my emotions than I have ever been before. There is less fear and guilt, and more love and compassion for me and for everyone around me.

Such is the beauty of doubt.

Posted in Personal, ReligionComments (2)

If Catholicism is true, then the PCSO scandal really is trivial

By far, the most entertaining part of the PCSO debacle is watching Catholic bishops perform the most skillful mental gymnastics in order to justify their possession of luxury SUVs at the expense of the State. Well, more so than their usual fare of theological ass-pulling. From crying persecution and pointing the finger at other bribed religious groups (no other sects are known to have been bribed) to the latest non-apology of “we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you”, the CBCP will stop at nothing to prove to the world that having God on your side rarely ever means you have the facts on your side.

While the bishops promise to return the SUVs, as if that would solve everything, Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus has argued in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the illegality of the “gift” vehicles depended on “the purpose and uses” of the cars. The rationalization is that churches provide a service to society that the State cannot. Thus, the government can legally provide money to religious organizations (as with other not-for-profit agencies) for this end, most significantly in the form of tax exemptions.

Atty. Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, questions this reasoning, saying that it doesn’t matter that public money was supposedly used for charitable causes. The Establishment clause, which states that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion…” is not the one trampled on by the PCSO gifts to the bishops, according to Pangalangan. It is a different section in the Constitution which states that “No public money or property shall be appropriated… for the use, benefit, or support of any church….” This, he explains, is specific and prohibitory language denying clerics from entangling their private vows of poverty with public money.

Despite a ringing endorsement from Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the expectation that it’s perfectly fine, even desirable, to fund sectarian charities for as long as they avoid proselytization has been the cause of much grief and it is fundamentally unfair, especially to the religious groups themselves. Christianity, and other religions to some extent, received a mandate from God himself to spread the faith. Asking churches to “take our money but, please, don’t spend it on religious knickknacks” is naive. Insinuated in every publicly-funded recollection, religious idol, invocation is the blessing from the State for the belief that beyond our material world, there is an immaterial one, of which a special few have knowledge.

There can never truly be a separation between the sacred and the profane. If it is indeed true that the God of Abraham pervades all things, then social conservatives all over the nation are perfectly in the right when they protest against the RH Bill, divorce laws, and equal rights for LGBTs. These advocacies are undeniably against Catholic teaching and could lead to eternal supernatural torture even after death. Even starving to death is nothing when compared to the hell of the Christians.

Though the Catholic Church abuses the principle of the separation of Church and State to protect itself from penalties while meddling in public affairs, the doctrine itself enshrines doubt. Doubt in the truth of any religion. It says that religious claims are inferior to other kinds of truth claims. For, if any belief about the nature of reality, so long as it is couched in religious terms, is valid in public discourse, then the wall of separation implicitly declares that religious truths aren’t really true. Contrast this with FDA policy on the medical aspirations of alternative medicine that have to be apologized for with the blanket statement, “no approved therapeutic claims.” Despite the lack of empirical evidence, there is no such legally mandated disclaimer for Fr. Suarez’s faith healing masses in Trinoma.

If prayers worked, no thinking atheist could ever argue against state sponsorship of a provably effective process that could save lives and provide resources literally out of thin air. That is why the separation of Church and State reveals the lack of confidence of a society in religion. And when the Church enjoys secularism’s benefits, they unwittingly support skepticism in their own religious claims. It is unimaginable for a nation to adopt the separation of science and State. But, if religious truths are really true, why is it acceptable to separate religion and government?

If the CBCP is right about Catholicism, then it cannot be denied by anyone that the best use of our time is to surrender to their demands, given that eternal life hangs in the balance. There is no in-between. It is either we subject their pretensions to moral and metaphysical authority to the same standards we apply to other truth claims or we reject all notion of objective truth.

This whole SUV situation is “a drop in the bucket” when you take into consideration from whom the Catholic Church receives its marching orders. For the service of guiding souls towards everlasting paradise, it is impossible to exaggerate how important their service is. That is, if the Roman Catholic Church is indeed the One True Faith™ among thousands of false ones. If they are not, then their service is beyond useless and priests are nothing more than state-subsidized professional liars.

Without questioning the Church’s religious beliefs, it is pointless to criticize the Church on its purported moral authority.

(Image taken from Sharing Our Spaces)

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (2)