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Prayer is No Substitute for Actually Doing Shit

At some point you’ve probably read an article somewhere where priests or religious people ask you to pray for a certain cause. I’ve seen bishops ask people to pray for politicians, for impeachment trials, and for victims of various Acts of God, and it annoys me to no end that of all the good things people could do with their two hands, so many people settle for doing nothing more than bowing their heads and closing their eyes instead.

Wouldn’t the world be so much better if everyone who has ever prayed used that time instead to do something good for others? Instead of praying for typhoon victims, for example, donate a shirt or two at the nearest donation box. Instead of praying for god to end corruption, speak out every time you see it rear its head. Instead of praying for the protection of children, push for the prosecution of those who have been raping them in church, and those who’ve been protecting the rapists.

There’s so much we could accomplish as a society if people only stopped wishing that a giant magic hand would come down from the sky and fix things for us, and instead replaced praying for solutions with actually doing shit. Imagine if the “Global Day of Prayer” and the “World Day of Prayer” were replaced with the “Global Day of Actually Doing Shit” and the “World Day of Actually Doing Shit.” It’s quite a stretch that anything like that could ever happen, so let me help your imagination along.

Churches are often looking for ways to encourage actually doing shit among their people. A great way to get the most people actually doing shit is to design an actual shit-doing initiative — doing actual shit on a theme for a set period of time. Actual shit-doing initiatives disciple people to move beyond fix-it shit-doing for their own needs, and instead do actual People-focused shit that seek the power, blessing, and purposes of People.

Many denominations or organizations encourage a week of actually doing shit or develop materials for a 30- or 40-day shit-doing emphasis. A church can develop its own initiative, but there are lots of good ones available, complete with People-based shit-doing guides, sermon helps, and even promotional materials.

That is what it would sound like if this article was trying to do any actual good for the world instead of just trying to get people more people to do absolutely nothing. And here’s another better interpretation of a statement from

The Year of Actually Doing Shit for Children is a project to encourage people everywhere to set aside a special time to actually do shit for children in their community and in the world.

Individuals are asked to commit 15 minutes daily to actually do shit for children. In addition, congregations and communities are invited to gather together for a “Day of Actually Doing Shit for Children” on the second Saturday of each month. “Nothing ever happens until people make a commitment”, says founder Reverend Harriett Walden. “Not everyone can physically intervene in the life of a child, but all children need our actual shit and everyone can actually do shit. In the tradition where I grew up, the actual shit of the elders kept the young people safe until they were old enough to actually do shit for themselves”.

I am of the personal opinion that the world is not short on good intentions. It is action that we are in short supply of, and it is action that we so desperately need. Anyone can pray for abused children, typhoon victims and world peace, but it is the people who get off their knees and actually do shit who make these prayers come true.

One might argue that there’s nothing wrong with imploring a deity to help the world, that a little prayer never hurt anyone, but when well-intentioned people are convinced that clasping their hands and muttering a few words actually accomplishes anything, all that good intention goes to waste. The conscience that would have driven them to action is sated by the delusion that someone up there will do all the work for them.


If all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, and idle hands are the devil’s playground, then prayer is all the world needs to go to hell.

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Is Faith Compatible With Science?

Whenever faced with the challenge that science is incompatible with faith, theists often point to their faith’s own cadre of accomplished scientists to refute this frequent atheistic claim. And they would not want of examples. Just grabbing from the Roman Catholic Church’s litany of scientists will give you many luminaries of the sciences, many with the honor of being called “father of” such and such science or their name being used as units of measurement.

  • Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was an Augustinian friar.
  • Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, named oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Alessandro Volta was a physicist who invented the battery and is the namesake of the measurement for electric potential.
  • Louis Pasteur was a chemist and microbiologist who is often regarded as one of the fathers of the germ theory of disease.
  • André-Marie Ampère was a physicist and mathematician who helped discover the link between electricity and magnetism and is the namesake of the measurement for current.
  • William of Ockham, the namesake of Occam’s razor, was a Franciscan Friar.
  • René Descartes, most famous for cogito ergo sum, was a mathematician as well as a philosopher.
  • Blaise Pascal, the originator of the Pascal’s Wager, was a mathematician and physicist, who is the namesake of the measurement of pressure, stress, and tensile strength.
  • Georges Lemaître was the first person to propose that the universe was expanding, but he is more famous for proposing what we call the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe.

This is but a smattering of all the Catholic scientists who have contributed greatly to the progress of science. Some of them had overtly pious intentions for their work—in order to more perfectly understand their Creator’s work. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the biggest patrons of the sciences dating back to the Middle Ages with precisely this purpose of appreciating the design of the Intelligent Designer. With such intellectual giants who profess faith in Catholic dogma and such explicitly religious motives, how then can the atheist even suggest that faith is in conflict with science?


Is pseudoscience compatible with science?

The existence of religious scientists only proves, as Sam Harris observes, that good ideas can live with bad ideas in the same head. The proponents of the compatibility of faith-based religion with science seem to miss the fact that the acceptance of scientific discoveries of religious scientists is because these findings have survived the rigorous testing of the scientific method. Lemaître’s Big Bang theory is accepted by scientists not due to any purported theological consistency but because it is the best explanation for our observations. That he was religious was purely incidental to the value of his scientific insight.

It is also important to point out that many scientists are religious simply because most people are religious. Centuries ago, only those with the power and wealth of their Churches behind them had the luxury of spending their time reading and experimenting. Not to mention, atheists (often lumped by those in power with worshippers of foreign gods) have been persecuted since the name was coined.

When the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé said that the cyclic structure of benzene came to him in a dream involving a snake biting its own tail, his idea wasn’t accepted for its esoteric merits, it was accepted on the strength of the scientific evidence he presented after this strange epiphany.

One of humanity’s greatest minds, Isaac Newton, was quite the dedicated alchemist. He wrote over a million words on the topic. His work on alchemy was even integral to his work on optics. But, none of this suggests that the pseudoscience of alchemy has no conflict with science.

We find that to the extent that religious scientists are not dogmatic and employ reason and evidence, they are good scientists. That is, we expect religious scientists to cut away all semblance of religiosity from their output before we deem them credible. This does not speak well for the argument that science and faith are compatible.


A brief digression on Galileo


No essay on the conflict between science and faith would be complete without a mention of Galileo Galilei. Apologists dismiss the Galileo affair as a trial of his arrogance rather than of his ideas, which they found erroneous not just based on scripture, but also based on empirical facts.

Galileo published the first scientific work based on observations through a telescope. He saw that, contrary to the Aristotelian idea that all celestial bodies are perfectly smooth spheres, the moon had mountains. He was also able to discover four moons orbiting around Jupiter. From these, he contested the prevailing Aristotelian and Ptolemaic dogma that all celestial bodies revolved around the Earth. He further proposed, though none of his observations directly suggested it, that Copernicus was right that the planets, including Earth, orbited around the Sun.

Even scientists such as Tycho Brahe found Galileo’s endorsement of the Copernican heliocentric model to be misplaced, saying that it was not supported by the evidence. And, truly, there was a problem with Galileo’s science. Using circular orbits, Copernicus’ solar system relied even more on ad hoc mathematical corrections called “epicycles” to match observations, suggesting that planets would revolve around separate axes all the while traveling in a larger orbit around the sun. It was even more complex and unintuitive than Ptolemy’s geocentric model.

However, Galileo was censured by the Inquisition not because of his bad science but mainly because he contradicted the geocentrism of the Bible and the documents of his trial attest to this. Apologists tend to parade around his errors and “arrogance” in promoting the Copernican system as the central reasons behind his eventual condemnation and house arrest, but this is clearly not the truth.

The Inquisition in 1616 saw heliocentrism as “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology.”

Galileo went on to write Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632, which lampooned geocentrism by writing about an ignorant proponent, named Simplicio, debating with an intelligent heliocentrist, named Sagredo.

His persecutors themselves were clear that Galileo’s crimes were not of arrogance or for faulty science, but of heresy. Upon sentencing in 1633, Galileo was condemned for heresy “of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture.” He would be able to avoid penalty provided that he “abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies, and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, in the manner and form we will prescribe to you.” He eventually did so. Dialogue was banned by the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo spent the last years of his life in house arrest.


The real conflict between science and faith

At the heart of the conflict between faith and science are their contradictory value systems. Science requires evidence for any and all claims looking to be accepted. Faith holds unquestionable belief even when evidence is nonexistent.

Science relies on self-correction. Scientists must admit to their errors and argue only with evidence. This is why science is the best method of knowing the human race has ever produced. No religion has ever come close; no religious explanation has ever replaced a scientific explanation.

Faith is most visibly at odds with science when religions make baseless scientific claims such as those concerning the efficacy of prayer, the origin of man, or the nature of the mind. If science finds that prayer is ineffective, that there never was a “first” man or woman, or that free will is an illusion, someone with an honest scientific mindset can only reject their preconceived notions in favor of a better understanding of the universe. The improvement of knowledge is the hallmark of science—a feature religious faith can never share.

Faith is incompatible with science because science requires freedom of thought. In principle, science has no heresies, blasphemies, or sacred cows; the only limit is reason. Science can only thrive when scientists are not intimidated or forced to shy away from difficult answers that may contradict long-held beliefs.

The example of Galileo is often shrugged off by apologists as anti-Catholic spin or, at best, that it is not representative of the Church’s relationship with science. And, to be fair, it is true that this event is atypical. The Roman Catholic Church is not antagonistic to all science, just the parts problematic to their ideology. In order to soothe the congitive dissonance caused by their enjoyment of the fruits of science, apologists must conveniently gloss over the real conflict between science and faith. Science will always be hostile to the restraints of the religious mindset. In order for faith and science to coexist, science must be neutered, declawed, and defanged.

It is only fortunate for us who live in this day that faith has fallen so far now that it has been forced to ingratiate itself with modern secular society. It no longer holds the power to execute heretics or punish those who dare to think for themselves. We must never forget how the Churches acted when their power was more than just ceremonial.

Galileo may have been wrong (or not completely correct), but so have thousands of other scientists who have never faced the wrath of the Inquisition, whose books have never been denied to the public. It was only because Galileo had the gall to challenge scripture that he faced the consequences. Faith is only chummy with science insofar as it does not challenge core beliefs. In this way, religions are not patrons of science, but of science products. They are open to enjoying the spoils of the critical nature of science without appreciating exactly what makes science worth a damn—its complete lack of dogmatism. It is the very character of the scientific attitude that makes the clash between science and faith only inevitable.

Image credit: Ies Dionisio Aguado

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Missing the Point By a Mile

A false notion of secularism is that it prohibits any form of public religious expression. At least that much I can agree with on John Pesebre’s recent article. Where he chooses to go from there, however, is an entirely different train wreck.

First and foremost, he states that Red’s recent article exhibits the false notion stated above. Nowhere in the article was it stated that the act was an outright violation of the separation of church and state. All it did was express valid concern over how this prayer was done in poor taste.

Let it be clear that we know how secularism does not prohibit any form of public religious expression. If we’re going to delve strictly into legal terms–“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”–there was no violation as no laws were made that pass the criteria for one. As some would incessantly insist, it would appear to be “just another prayer”. Well it would not have been a problem if our dear senator had said the prayer in his bed, or with his family, or before his meal, or before eating his family in bed. Heck, he could have even prayed in senate on his own and you wouldn’t have heard as much as a squeak from us. The clincher, however, is how the obviously Christian prayer was broadcast on a pedestal that is the highest legislative office of a country to its pluralistic people. If that does not send a message of Christianity dominating as the pseudo-official state religion, then I don’t know what does.

In the end, Pesebre even suggests that we just let it go, arguing that there are many more important things to speak up about. True, there are many other important things that we could speak up about, but that in no way stops us from speaking up about something seemingly small in society that we find wanting correction. Non-participation would be a valid option in most cases, but this is the Senate we’re talking about, and unless you’re willing to boycott the national facade that we call a democracy, I would suggest you speak up when there’s something you want to change about it. And it’s not like it will take tons of effort to fix this one problem. Pesebre’s suggestion of spending effort on other things implies that not praying would take lots of time away from other more important things, when the truth is all that has to be done by each senator to solve the problem of expressing religious favoritism during government time is not praying.

There are some of us who are sick and tired of being told to just deal with it, as if it was the most harmless thing in the world. It gets even worse when we see our taxes paying for time wasted on fancy words that don’t work. Yes, our taxes. Session time is secular time is precious time. And I can’t think of a worse way to defend secularism than to argue in favor of accommodating all forms of religious expression altogether. If the members of senate were diverse enough to belong to 10 different religious sects, I wonder how many would still be in favor of hearing each and every one of their prayers before settling down to finally do what their constituents are actually paying them to do.

In a nutshell, we contend that there should be no prayers or sectarian practices in any government-sponsored event. Whether or not this is legal is open to much discussion, but it is clearly an ideal that some of us seek to achieve, not only for our wish that religious influence in government affairs be lessened, but also for the simple courtesy of being considerate to people of other (or no) faith when engaging matters concerning our common government. If you say that you’re going to talk about something that concerns all of us, don’t go ahead and talk about something that doesn’t concern all of us. That is, unless you’re passive-aggressively hinting that we don’t matter. But c’mon, senators wouldn’t do that.

Would they?



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My Life as a Minority in Asia’s Vatican City

Years ago, I needed to go to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) to file something-or-other. It pains me to have to go through this country’s bureaucratic, uhm, processes, but some things are just unavoidable. I remember going mid-afternoon because of the stifling heat, and wanted to minimize my exposure to it.

The guard directed me to the main office where the general transactions are filtered. I forget now if there was a queue or a number system, but I was waiting to be served. Suddenly, there was an announcement over the PA system, saying “It is now 3 o’clock. Please stand up for our midday prayer.”

Dumbfounded, I searched for the insignia that said “Republic of the Philippines – Bureau of Internal Revenue.”

I was in the right place, at a government office that I needed to be in.

Why was I suddenly in the middle of a prayer meeting?

This is my life as a non-Catholic, in what has long been touted as “the only Catholic nation in Asia”.

Back at the BIR, most everyone stood up, and recited what seemed to me like a rehearsed prayer. It was apparently something they’ve been doing all their lives, because even as they “prayed,” some were combing their hair, some were passing snacks around, still others were fiddling with their computers or documents on the table, all while “praying.” Talk about multitasking.

There were two other people in that area who also remained seated, like me. Our eyes glanced at each other, and I remember the older gentleman shrugging his shoulders as our eyes met, as if to say “Wala tayong magagawa.” (“We can’t do anything.”) We obviously were the non-Catholics in the room, and saw no reason to pray – certainly not a prayer that wasn’t one of our choosing or one we didn’t even know the words to!


This exclusion from the religious majority is something that I have had to deal with all my life. I have never been a Catholic, nor had the desire to be one, even though we lived in a village that had their more-than-plain-pious Catholic badge stamped all over. The village church would always broadcast its prayers so that the entire neighborhood could hear them, and when the announcer always came to the part that said “pray for us, now and in the hour of our death,” my mom would always cast a frown, because in the religion that we were taught, once you’re dead, no more intercessions can be made, you will be judged on how you lived, period. She would always say that if we could “pray our way into heaven,” then there really is no point in doing/being good, because people on earth could still “pray” for you to get into heaven anyway, which made a lot of sense to me back then, and even until now.

I was pretty much shielded from the exclusion up until my high school years, because we went to a conservative Protestant school, and boy, was religion pounded into us rigorously. We had Sunday school, church services, one of our required subjects was Bible class, and every school activity started with prayers, invocations, and a smattering of Bible readings and verses. As you can tell, I was never a stranger to religious indoctrination or preaching. So I am well aware when a religion is trying to extend its influence on my life.

Only when I entered college did I slowly but surely start feeling that I was a very small part in the religious mix of this country. As is the case with most freshman classes, they usually assign “blocks” which made sure that you would have the same classmates subject after subject. When they started introducing themselves, they were all from Saint something-or-other school. And there would be the ever-present “preachers” who would ask if I wanted to join them in Bible study or some prayer meeting (I don’t really know what it was called). Whenever the block would meet socially or for homework/assignments, there would be a rosary and a corresponding prayer present. One of them asked why I didn’t seem to be praying, and when I said that I wasn’t Catholic and I didn’t know what they were praying, she said, “Oh…that’s right. You’re a Protestant.” Then she looked at me with a mixture of pity and ridicule.

Outside of school, in other social gatherings like parties of our relatives, the same thing would happen over and over. Most of my relatives are Catholics, and we would be forced to go along with whatever rituals it was that they did.

The biggest observation I’ve gathered,  based on what I experienced in my formative years in school, and what I experience now that I have become the minority, is that the Protestant indoctrination happens in a private setting, either in a church or a school that was clearly affiliated with that religion. And my parents chose that school – children don’t really have a say yet where to study in the elementary and high school years – it was chosen out of their own religious convictions.

It was, therefore, a big surprise that even in a supposedly non-conformist and secular environment such as UP (the University of the Philippines), the Catholic influence is so pervasive and intrusive so as to force people to do things that are clearly counter to one’s religious convictions or preferences. True, it wasn’t a police state situation, where there were armed guards ready to beat the daylights out of me if I failed to pray a rosary. But the ensuing judgement and pressure to act Catholic – in appearance only, which is what truly matters – is something even more potent than if it were a stick threatening to beat me for not conforming.

A well-meaning (Catholic) friend did listen to me harping on this point, and her response was something that I have heard countless times as the “bleeding heart” response: “I know it’s hard, pero ano ba naman mawawala sayo kung mag rosaryo ka, o magpakitang tao ka na nagdadasal ka din? Ilang minuto lang naman yun, tapos back to regular programming na, diba?” (“I know it’s hard, but what will you lose if you do the rosary, or just show people that you are also praying, just for show? After a few minutes, we’re back to regular programming, right?”)

I suppose I could let it slide, but what about the concept of freedom of religion?

Last I looked, we have a Constitution that guarantees that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion” and “no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.” (Section 5, Article 3, Bill of Rights, 1987 Philippine Constitution. See for full entry.)

Which is what has been weighing on my mind as a response to that: Why should I be forced to do it? Why should I be forced to follow Catholic doctrine when I am not a Catholic by faith nor choice?

In the current debates about the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill, it is rather clear to me that despite all the secular arguments that the anti-RH camp has come up with, the “fire” that keeps them burning with the intensity to oppose the RH Bill is because their religion (and religious leaders) dictates to them that artificial contraception is “immoral.” Note, however, that they are not against contraception per se – withdrawal, rhythm method, abstinence, these are all forms of contraception. (For those foaming at the mouth at this last sentence, kindly check the meaning of the word “contraception,” because it includes any method that prevents the sperm from meeting the egg.) So, as long as the kind of contraception has the “Catholic-approved” seal stamped on it, they see nothing “wrong.”

This intrusion has gone far enough.

The “fire” that gives me my intensity to fight for the RH Bill is because this is symptomatic of what I have had to fight for all my life: The freedom to choose my own religion, and be free from attempts to undermine that choice by clerics who would have their religious doctrines – Catholic, of course – be inscribed into law, subverting the concept of freedom of religion. This is essentially what the battle lines have become: Which side will you be on? One which honors and respects everyone’s religious preferences, and even the absence of one, as not everyone needs religion to have a fulfilling, meaningful life? Or the side that forcefully abrogates a singular religious doctrine, so that all will be forced to follow, regardless of religious preference?

I was never against Catholicism. I still am not. (Even though I find its mysogynistic and homophobic stances horrible.) Most of my friends are Catholics. This doesn’t hamper our friendships because they have never sought to forcefully induct me into their religion. Neither do I wish for them to change their religions because I don’t share the same one as theirs. We live and let live.

But when my rights as a non-Catholic are being readied to be trampled on, you can expect me to be uncompromising in defending my rights to the last. Stay out of my life, religious or otherwise. Why can’t we learn to respect each other’s preferences? Are tolerance and respect such alien and difficult concepts that men who claim to be the arbiters of morality cannot comprehend them on any given level?

Until the day that we officially turn into a Catholic theocracy, I will not be silenced.

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Another Prayer

The following was published in Manila Standard Today on August 27, 2011

If you respect the separation of church and state mandated by our Constitution, you can find better ways to start Senate hearings than saying a prayer. Yet this is just what our senators do, and the start of the debates on the reproductive health bill were no different.

What bothers me more than the fact that a prayer was said in a supposedly secular setting was what the prayer implied, politically.

The prayer was supposed to be led by Senator Panfilo Lacson, but because of problems with his voice, he asked Senator Vicente Sotto to do it in his place. Considering the content of the prayer, I’m sure Sotto was more than happy to oblige.

The prayer was originally delivered in 1996 by American Pastor Joe Wright to the Kansas House of Representatives. Legislators, including the House minority leader, criticized the prayer for its “extreme, radical” views. At least one legislator walked out. When the same prayer was said in the Colorado House of Representatives later that year, more legislators were angered; several walked out.

The reaction of our own senators to the same prayer was apathy—it was just another prayer. But senators who respect secularism, especially those who support the reproductive health bill, should have reacted at least as strongly as the American legislators did.

Not only is the prayer sectarian, it’s also anti-choice, and therefore, anti-RH. Here it is in full:

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.

We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.

We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our fore-fathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

What do these words imply?

“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.”

Right from the start, the prayer privileges Judeo-Christian religions over non-Abrahamic ones. It implies that talk on good and evil should be done in religious terms, and it precludes the possibility of secular morality.

“We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.”

This implies that the Christian Bible is the basis for truth, and that pluralism —respecting the beliefs of many religions instead of just one—is bad.

“We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.”

So belonging to religions other than Christianity is wrong?

“We have killed our unborn and called it choice.”

Although our senators do not support killing the unborn, this statement frames the discourse by associating choice with abortion, a tactic frequently used by anti-RH legislators and advocates.

“We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.”

This part is more relevant to a previous Senate hearing on the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ “Kulo” issue. Just the same, it privileges the Christian perspective as the arbiter of what’s profane and pornographic.

“We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.”

This implies that the “time-honored values” criticized by the Enlightenment —theocracy, anti-rationalism, clericalism, etc.—are better than Enlightenment values—democracy, rationalism, secularism.

“I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ.”

Although most senators are Christian, the content of the prayer promotes a particular brand of conservative Christianity. What’s worse, the prayer completely ignores the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other non-Christian Filipinos our legislators are equally obligated to represent.

After Sotto concluded the prayer, not a single senator walked out. As far as I know, none have criticized it. Instead the other senators reverently made the sign of the cross and raised their bowed heads—like they always do. After all, it was just another prayer.

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God Writes a Letter to Andy

Dear God,

Please heal my mother’s cancer. Please, please heal her. We can no longer afford her chemotherapy treatments. I had to sell our house. My wife is very unhappy. She wants to leave me because our son, Johnny, had to stop school for a bit. I trust in you, God, but I have to ask why this is happening to me. Am I being punished, God? Did I do anything wrong? Is this a test? Please send me a sign.


Dear random human person,

How’s this for a sign? I have a couple of questions for you too starting with…

Didn’t your pastor ever tell you that God had a divine plan? Andy, in the grand scheme of things, it’s all for the best that your mother dies a horrible death and that your wife leaves you for your richer cousin (I’m sorry for the spoiler). I could try to explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand, and I don’t really have to explain anything because I’m God. I’m supposed to be mysterious. If I explain how things worked, then life’s mysteries wouldn’t be so mysterious anymore now, would they?

What’s with this prayer thing, anyway? Do you really think that I would change my “divine plan” because you have a “better idea” as to how things should turn out? How much do you know about running a universe, Andy? Do you have any experience in magically conjuring life and matter from nothingness? No? I thought so.

Andy, listen. If I wanted constructive criticism on how I should run the universe, I would have created a universe management constructive criticism criticizer. But I didn’t, did I?
I mean, hello? On which day did God make a suggestion box?

On the first day, I made light. On the second day I separated water from the skies. On the third, I made… Oh wait… I remember now. I didn’t make a suggestion box. But I almost did. It was Sunday and I was thinking, “Maybe I should make a suggestion box.” Then I decided, “Fuck it. Human beings make dumb decisions. I’ll just rest.”

You just don’t get it. See, people like you like to talk about God, and having a relationship with God, and getting signs from God. You talk about “God and the problem of evil.” Whining and whining, asking stupid questions, “Why would God create evil?” “Why is there suffering?” “Why is my daughter retarded?”

Oh God! Dear Me! Make it stop!

Andy, you must understand that I’m making art here. A universe needs conflict. Otherwise, it would be a boring universe. I mean, go to a French Film Festival and you’ll see how boring life is when amateurs try to do it. With a healthy mother and a loving wife, you wouldn’t have problems and your life will be boring. I’m actually doing you a favor here.

See Andy, to create conflict, you need a problem. That’s what evil is for. For all the pretentious literature concepts humans have made up, it’s amazing how they still don’t get it.

Get this: Satan? I created him. Plagues? Check. The Egyptian pharaoh who took “my people,” I made him too. Then, I made a dude to set “my people” free – Moses. I made Jews and then I made Hitler. See? It’s all very exciting!

With regard to your mother, here’s what I have to say: If I wanted your mother’s to be free of cancer, I wouldn’t have given her cancer to begin with. It’s just the machinations of the divine plan I made eons ago.

Also, if you’re wondering about punishment Andy, yes you’re being punished. You’re being punished because your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather Adam was a douchebag. I, God almighty, told him not to eat from the tree of knowledge. A naked woman told him otherwise. Guess who he listens to? Human beings, man in particular, make horrible decisions like that. That’s why you’re being punished. That’s why I don’t take “suggestions” from you.

But, am I punishing you for something you did?


I’m not sure if this should come as a surprise, but I don’t give a shit.

Do you think I have the time or the desire to pay attention to every little thing you do? Do you expect me to keep score on the number of times you masturbate to “unholy” porn every week? Wake up, man. I’m God! I have better things to do – cool stuff: plagues, diseases, earthquakes, you know? I’m into the epic, shock-and-awe, apocalyptic, God stuff. That’s my thing.

The whole Ten Commandments concept was actually Moses’ idea.

Moses was at the mount bugging me about how humans should behave and I was like, “I don’t know, man. Do what you want. You have free will… It’s just that I already made all your future decisions for you because I also have a divine plan. I mean, I don’t want humans to mess up my divine plan with their poor decision-making. So, whatever.”

Moses was confused. He’s a little slow. So he made up his own rules. But they are irrelevant because following or not following them is not up to you. I already decided before hand what you’ll do with your life – divine plan, remember?

And no, it’s not a test of your “faith,” Andy. I don’t need to test your faith. I’m omniscient. Do you know what “omniscient” means? That means I know everything. EVERYTHING. I already know how faithful you are. No need for all that Sunday ass-kissing.

Honestly, the only thing I want from you is to leave me alone. Stop flattering me, begging for things, and making “suggestions” on how to revise my “grand design.”

In plain human language, “Fuck off.”

Completely Indifferent,

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Pacquiao: Petitionary Prayer plus Painstaking Preparation

Perhaps only the most fundamental of theists actually believe that it was Manny’s prayers that got him to win fight after fight from one weight division to another. The moderate theists, on the other hand, probably believe that prayer has at least some bearing on his game, complimenting his hard work and preparation, so if he ever should come face to face with an equally skilled fighter, prayer would tip the balance to his favor.

Now what if the opponent – as well as his mother and millions of fans – prays just as hard as Manny, Aling Dionisia, and the millions of Filipinos who support Pacman? What would God do? Would God just sit back and enjoy watching one hell of a fight?

A friend recently expressed his joy that his relatively new business has finally taken off. He of course acknowledged the role of prayer and divine blessing, but I just let it go. I did not bother to ask him if he didn’t think it could be because of the fact that he is a hardworking, talented and conscientious businessman that the odds are on his favor.

For as long as believers live by the words Nasa tao ang gawa, nasa Diyos ang awa – roughly God helps those who help themselves – I guess it really doesn’t matter whether God intervenes or not because the pertinent part for man is the gawa or work.

Which leaves one to wonder, what’s the difference between living your life on the assumption that God exists and living it on the assumption that God doesn’t exist if you’re going to have to work your ass off either way? I guess the difference is, believing in God boosts one’s confidence, which should have been a good thing except that it’s probably baseless; it’s one thing for a boxer to be confident because of the amount and quality of training he endured or for a businessman to be able to act decisively after years of experience – than for either of them to be cocksure because God is watching over and doing them divine favors.

Well I am confident that Pacquiao, despite his deep religious faith, has taken his training as if it’s the only thing that dictates the outcome of a match. I couldn’t care less about whoever he gives credit to after the fight. But if he ever gets beaten by Antonio Margarito on Sunday, I’m sure it must be God’s will.

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Livin’ on a Prayer

As in-house copywriter for a large hospital, I interview patients and write about their ordeals for PR and marketing purposes. I am happy to say that the hospital’s branding is strictly secular; I can’t, for instance, quote a patient as saying, “Doctor X is truly a blessing,” nor can I say that “the hospital’s devotion to quality health care is exceptional.”

Nonetheless, almost every patient I interview ends up going on a 30-minute homily on how their having battled cancer or stroke or what-have-you was ultimately God’s doing, and would then ask me to pray for them as they face their last few sessions of chemo or their final MRI. At moments like these, of course, I just throw them a smile and get on with my questions.

My dream patient interview, then, would be with the very vocal atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has esopheagal cancer and is likely going to croak any second — but not without spewing a few hundred thoughts or so beforehand.

Fortunately he’s said enough in this recent Vanity Fair piece.

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On Prayer, Purpose, and Prosperity

Even back when I was still a very spiritual person I already had some reservations regarding prayer. Well I did sometimes pray to ask God for things, but deep inside I somehow figured that if God is good and he already knows what’s good – what’s best – for me, I’d rather tell him, “Your will be done” and use prayer as an expression of my overflowing gratitude for all the blessings.

I remember this episode in House, MD where Dr. Cameron was explaining to Dr. House the purpose of prayer:

Cameron: “Do you know why people pray to God?”
House: “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
Cameron: “I don’t.”
House: “Well, then you better be making a very good point.”
Cameron: “Do you think they pray to Him and praise Him because they want Him to know how great He is? God already knows that.”
House: “Are you comparing me to God? I mean, that’s great, but just so you know, I’ve never made a tree.”
Cameron: “I thank you because it means something to me. To be grateful for what I receive.”
House: “You are the most naive atheist I’ve ever met…. People pray so that God won’t crush them like bugs. I’m not gonna crush you.”

Much as I am generally able to relate more with House’s cynicism than Cameron’s naiveté, as far as prayer goes I’m with Cameron. I guess gratitude comes naturally to some people, and the English poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti even remarked that “the worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank”. It just doesn’t seem very satisfying to thank Blind Luck or Pure Chance for a desirable turn of events; people need to thank someone who willed these events into happening.

This sense of prayerful gratitude is often harmless and nothing more than foolish at worst, but the problem is that the same people who have a strong desire to give thanks to a sentient Being also tend to believe that they can actually influence the will of this Being. And this attitude reeks of arrogance, as explained by fellow freethinker Garrick Bercero in his comments on another post:

I do not deny that most Christians believe that they are being humble in passively accepting the will of a higher power…What I am talking about is that the belief that some people have access to this will is arrogant.

Prayer is inherently arrogant because this is what it says: God built every single galaxy among trillions in the universe… and Christians have a hotline to this God and he cares about what they think and he wants to know their thoughts on what else he can do for them.

Now this arrogance is sometimes compounded with self-absorption when one is being showered with trivial “blessings” while conveniently turning a blind eye to the great miseries existing elsewhere. But what is even more arrogant is the propensity of these grateful believers to assert that all these sufferings are just part of God’s grand design. And if they are divinely justified, that leaves less reason for humans to be dissatisfied with the undesirable states of affairs happening all around the world and somehow eases the pressure to try do something about them.

On a personal level, one of the salient differences between those who believe in an intervening god and those who don’t has something to do with purpose. For the believer, everything that happens – including the unpleasant things – has a purpose set by God. This brings about a cozy sense of security because our lives are in God’s hands and in the end everything will fall into its rightful place. But for the nonbeliever, purpose comes after the fact; we make a purpose for whatever happens to us so that whenever we lose, we do not lose the lesson. More importantly, we take it as our responsibility to fulfill that purpose.

I remember Poch Suzara‘s rants about how the Philippines, being the only Christian nation in Asia, has become the Sick Man of Asia because its people, instead of taking responsibility for the betterment of their lives, keep waiting for a Sky Daddy to do it for them. And I couldn’t agree more. According to Gallup, “a population’s religiosity level is strongly related to its average standard of living”. Let us take a look at the list of the most religious and least religious countries in the world:

The poll indicates that 8 of the 11 countries in which almost all residents (at least 98%) say religion is important in their daily lives are poorer nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 10 least religious countries studied include several with the world’s highest living standards, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, and Japan. (Several other countries on this list are former Soviet republics, places where the state suppressed religious expression for decades.)”

In fairness, religion never really promised earthly wealth (or did it?); it assures one, rather, of an afterlife where everything will be all right – forever. Such concept of eternity easily renders insignificant a couple of decades of life on earth. And for such, many people live on prayer, expecting everything to happen according to God’s plan.

I admire the theists who live by the words “Nasa tao ang gawa, nasa Diyos ang awa” (roughly “God helps those who help themselves”). At least they do not look onto God as a sky daddy or fairy godmother. Up to this point they are no different from the nonbelievers. However, they still expect God to be a protector. And this often leads to a certain level of carelessness because one may get overconfident in the “knowledge” that God will always protect him.

When driving, for instance, a devout Catholic may tend to focus more on the prayer he is reciting for protection while his right hand releases the wheel and reaches out to touch the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and his eyes leaves the road for a few seconds to glance reverently at the crucifix. But the most convenient part of this “divine protection” is the insurance that if he gets into an accident and dies, it is still part of God’s plan, and he will go to heaven.

Now compare that to the nonbeliever who takes his safety as his own responsibility and keeps both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel and sets precautions for mechanical failure and reckless drivers. When one lives on the assumption that this life is all there is, he tends to take a little more care of it. After all, it seems the sensible thing to do when one doesn’t have much of a prayer for protection.

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On Prayer

Our imagination is within our mind, and it is infinite. Our conscious dwells in our mind and is finite. We are only aware of the imaginations that are within the limits of the abilities of our conscious capabilities, and those are our capabilities that we are aware of and can be performed consciously.

When the conscious desires something it doesn’t have, it becomes a necessity for it to seek that thing which it wishes to have in the area beyond it, which is the imagination, and to actualize it by its abilities. However, it is a very hard task to search the entire imagination, and the abilities of the conscious are very limited for doing this task. Therefore, it is necessary to bring the entire imagination within the limits of the conscious, so that the conscious may have a glimpse of what it wants and for it to figure out how it can realize this desire by its own capabilities.  Imagine that we would like to get ourselves a pearl. For us to get a pearl, it is a must that we search the sea for one. But the vastness of the sea makes it quite hard for us to do so. Furthermore, the efforts required for the search can be beyond one’s abilities. To make our search easier, we can put the sea within our reach. We can cultivate oyster beds that we can approach and harvest pearls within our abilities.

Imagine that one desires a specific mental attribute, like intelligence. His desire exists in the conscious, and what he seeks is found in the imagination but can only be actualized by his conscious abilities.  If he tries to search in his imagination, I doubt that he would get what he wants, knowing its vastness and the limits of his abilities. It is then necessary that he bring his imagination within reach of his conscious abilities by symbolizing it with such a thing that can be grasped by his conscious abilities, and when he sees knowledge in his imagination and that it is within reach of his conscious abilities, he can now start working to attain it.

I consider prayer as a form of mental conditioning like meditation. Prayer at its vaguest definition is asking some supernatural being for favors. When someone prays for mental attributes that don’t exist in his conscious, he searches his imagination by personifying it and enters into dialogue with that personification. The God of prayer is a personification of a person’s imagination having those untapped attributes which a person desires and having the personality and intellect of the one who conceived it portrayed as a superior existence of that person. By giving his conscious a glimpse of his untapped attributes, and by seeing himself as possessing those attributes, he realizes the potential for the actualization of his desired attribute and up to what extent he can attain it by his conscious abilities and is emotionally inspired by the image of seeing a portrait of a superior self having what he desires.

Imagine that a student needs to study for his exam. This student begins to pray that God adjust his mental configurations in order for him to pass the exam. What I see is that this student does not know how to organize his thoughts, or how to get his mind in the right shape for his exam.  In the conscious mind of that student there exists a desire for the organization of his thoughts and to get in shape for his exam. Now, his conscious seeks to attain that attribute of his thoughts being well-organized and of him being in shape for his exam by seeking it in his imagination. However, what he seeks in his imagination is beyond his conscious abilities. Therefore, it is a must for him to bring his imagination within sight of his conscious by personifying it in such a way that is within his conscious abilities of understanding that he may get a glimpse of what he wants. When he invokes God, which is a personification of a person’s imagination bearing those untapped attributes that he wants, he sees a superior self that understands him and has what he wants- that said attribute of being in shape for the exam and having organized thoughts. Now that he has a clear picture of what he wants, he can now start to learn how to attain this attribute by what abilities he has. Furthermore, the experience of seeing a superior self having those attributes he desires emotionally motivates to actualize what he has seen.

In the end, it is still us who helps ourselves. Nobody helps us but ourselves. We ourselves make and walk our own paths.

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Eliseo Soriano’s Imaginary Argument

broelisIf you’re a Christian or to be specific, a member of Eliseo Soriano’s “Ang Dating Daan” or ADD for short, chances are you’ve already read Soriano’s triage against atheism.

Using Soriano’s blog post (The Claim That There Is No God Is An Escape From All Realities), well what can I say…maybe instead of making a rebuttal I think it would be fitting to make an article about “How not to debate an atheist” instead. Using Mr. Soriano’s article we’re going to talk about poor methods employed by amateur apologists in dealing with atheism.

If we read the entire article there really isn’t any argument presented. Most of his blather doesn’t embark upon the issue of atheism and believe me, quoting Bible verses is really a poor tactic when dealing with atheism. Remember, to face an atheist Mr. Soriano should gave us a good reason why atheism is not a rational position.

So if we remove all the useless Bible verses in the article that tell us nothing about atheism, we are left with…eh nothing to talk about.

Stalin, Pol-Pot and Hitler?
After writing nothing about atheism, Mr. Soriano then included some infamous character to enhance his so-called argument.

So may I ask, “What’s the connection?”

Ah…these people were “atheists” so they killed a lot of people. Is that it?

But Joshua and Samson also killed a lot of innocent people? In fact, if you read the Bible, God’s generals also find it irresistible to do wanton killing of women, old folks, children and even cattle and live stocks.

Those Islamic terrorists that crashed jumbo jets in buildings, they believe that a god exists. Jim Jones, Mussolini, Franco and Saddam Hussein, these people also believe in a supernatural Supreme Being as Baise Pascal quoted, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

But unlike Mr. Soriano, I will not say that since some theists are capable of killing, therefore all theists are killers. Guilt by association is a poor way to male a valid point.

How About Hitler?
What does Hitler got to do with atheism?

Did Mr. Soriano know that Hitler is also a believer like him?

There is no evidence whatsoever that Adolf Hitler was an atheist. In fact, on his book Mein Kemp and his speeches, Hitler always mentioned God. Not only was Hitler a Christian, but he used Christianity to justify his acts against the Jews.

Here’s an example taken from one of his speeches:

My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.

In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…. And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people…. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited.-Adolf Hitler, in his
speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

[Note, “brood of vipers” appears in Matt. 3:7 & 12:34. John 2:15 depicts Jesus driving out the money changers (adders) from the temple. The word “adders” also appears in Psalms 140:3]

I hope I’ll find better arguments on Mr. Soriano’s continuation of his article, but for now, all in all, his first part was rather dull and boring. It seems Mr. Soriano is just a beginner when it come in dealing with atheism.

Remember, when a God believer face an atheist or plans to disprove atheism, the issue is not to slander the atheists but to show that not believing in a god or gods is unreasonable.

Until next time,

John the Atheist

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Surely polytheism is not an option, right?…

Surely polytheism is not an option?

…Especially for Christians. Or is it? 🙂

Originally posted at

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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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I Just Want Him Safe

I call to you to keep him safe
Are you listening to me?
I want you watching him
Because I can’t
I’m just a helpless girl
Who doesn’t know a thing
About prayer
Well, I’m praying now

I call to you to keep him safe
Are you listening to me?

Do I have the right to pray
So doubtfully like this?
There’s no one else to turn to
And I’m afraid
Please make him strong enough
To be alright
Please get him through the night
While I pray in half-belief
To the one he trusts completely

Do I have the right to pray
So doubtfully like this?

Allow me to pretend
To believe and trust you
That’s the best I could attempt
To fight the haunting thoughts
Of his body on the pavement
Lifeless, breathless, cold
Imagination unfolds
And I’m trembling
I’m afraid to lose him

Please allow me to pretend
To believe and trust you

Allow me to embrace
This flicker of faith
There’s this hollow feeling
Of not knowing
And I can’t find someone else to run to
So pardon me if I call you
I mean no disrespect
I’m just a helpless girl
Who’s so afraid

So allow me to embrace
This flicker of faith

I just want him safe.

(This poem was written in September 2003, when I was struggling with being an Agnostic. Photo was taken by me on one of my trips to Japan.)

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