Tag Archive | "Religion"

FF Podcast (Audio): Darrel Ray (Conversations for a Cause)


Darrel Ray

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Darrel Ray, psychologist and author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. We discuss polyamory, how religions use guilt, and curing the “God Virus.”

Darrel Ray is also the founder of Recovering from Religion.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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A Conversation with Darrel Ray


Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Darrel Ray, psychologist and author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. We discuss polyamory, how religions use guilt, and curing the “God Virus.”

Darrel Ray is also the founder of Recovering from Religion.

You may also download the video file here.

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The Government That Prays Together Steals Together


Senate Prayer

How does one know that a politician accused of plunder is a devout Catholic? Don’t worry — they’ll tell you. One even put a Bible quote on a shirt — Bong Revilla’s had the following on his the day he surrendered:

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

This kind of religious gesture is usually shorthand for, “I’m not corrupt, I’m Catholic, for Christ’s sake!”

But a recent study concluded that if you’re a Catholic politician in a predominantly Catholic country, you’re probably corrupt. I had read several studies that confirm the correlation between religiosity and other signs of societal dysfunction.

But this most recent one, titled “A Cross-National Investigation into the Effects of Religiosity on the Pervasiveness of Corruption,” went a bit further. It argues that religion, instead of just being correlated with corruption, actually promotes it.

Secularism and Societal Health

A few weeks before Revilla’s surrender, Alex Gonzaga, a celebrity contestant of reality show Pinoy Big Brother, preached about the virtue of theism and the vice of atheism. She said that while believers solve their problems with God, nonbelievers “deteriorate,” trying to solve their sins with yet other sins.

But such statements can only come from someone who doesn’t know about Scandinavia and other secular societies. Study after study has shown that when it comes to countries, a strongly religious population is rarely a good thing. The more religious the population, the higher the incidence of, among others, poverty, crime, corruption, inequality, infant mortality, inability to access education and a decent standard of living — the list goes on. The least religious countries are better at most, if not all, of these measures.

However, correlation does not mean causation. Just because strong religiosity usually coexists with high crime rates does not mean one causes the other. When it comes to causation, I share the conclusion of the sociologists at the World Values Survey. They argue that what causes both high religiosity and low societal health is existential insecurity. When you live in a society where you can’t count on your government for survival, you’re more likely to pray to God for help or to get the help yourself — regardless of the legality of the means.

But this doesn’t quite explain why politicians — particularly those who are rich enough to own private jets — would plunder millions, especially while professing belief in a God that sees and judges everything they do.

Hamid Yeganeh & Daniel Sauers of Winona State University, USA, provide an explanation.

Corruption By Catholic Privilege

Even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic development — making sure that how developed a country was didn’t significantly influence the outcome — they concluded the following:

“Considering the variety of corruption measures, the reliability of data, and the large number of included countries, we have to conclude that religiosity not only does not impede corruption but tends to promote it… The fact that religious denominations did not have considerable effects on the level of corruption suggests that religiousness inherently increases the occurrence of corrupt business behavior.”

But isn’t religion supposed to make people more moral and less corrupt? Yeganeh and Sauers argue that “while religiosity provides guidance on morality, some of its characteristics practically promote corrupt business behavior.”

The first of these characteristics is the creation of “a hierarchical socio-cultural structure promoting the elites’ discretionary power that ultimately endorses corruption.”

Consider clerical child abuse. The abuse of children and adolescents had been happening for centuries before it was brought to public awareness. Then it was discovered that systematic cover-ups and cleric shuffling made it difficult for the proper authorities to get involved.

I emphasize “proper” because the Catholic Church claimed that abuse cases were handled by their internal courts. They thought that whether the abuses should be handled by external authorities were up to their discretion. Because they could ensure the victims’ silence with threats of excommunication, they alone could decide whether to report the crime to the police. And the decisions usually favored the priests over their victims.

Now consider the psalm on Revilla’s shirt: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This sentiment was shared by Vatican and its bishops when it decided that their authority alone was enough. What can man (the law) do to one with the Lord on his side (Catholic official)?

Thus bishops and politicians see themselves as privileged. But they wouldn’t have any power if the population didn’t actually share this perspective. Unfortunately, this is the case. The more religious a country, the more faith citizens have in both priests and politicians. These privileged people deserve more special treatment, more respect, and more trust.

On the other hand, secular societies are more skeptical of authority. They realize that there’s nothing special about priests, politicians, or any other person of authority. The more power they have, the more scrutiny and skepticism they are subjected to. Because the idea of faith is more foreign to secular societies, reason and evidence hold more currency. In the researchers words, “rationality, without too much emphasis on morality, wordlessly and effectively hinders corruption and supports ethical behavior.”

Religion: Sedation, not Solution

Another characteristic of religion that promotes corruption is the doctrine of forgiveness. In the researchers’ words, “the function of religion with regard to corruption is to provide sedation rather than a solution.”

If the allegations of plunder are true, then condemnation should be the least the people could do to ensure that justice is served. Yet CBCP President Villegas found it necessary to ask Filipinos not to condemn the alleged pork scammers.

You may think that there’s no way the public could be that stupid. Surely Filipinos would never forgive, never forget. But what kind of country would make Revilla consider running for president right after his arrest? What kind of country would elect a president impeached for corruption as Mayor of Manila? What kind of country would have so many of its people forget the atrocities of Marcos and elect his family into power?

A country that can forgive a corrupt politician seventy times seven.

The Government that Prays Together

To this day, the supposedly secular Philippine Senate starts every session with a prayer. Most, if not all, of them are implicated in either the PDAF or DAP scandal. A lot of Filipinos ask, “How can a government that is so religious be so corrupt?” If you’ve read up to this point, I hope you’ll agree that the correct question is, “How could it not?”

___

Image source: kickerdaily.com
Author’s note: This article was previously titled, “The Government That Prays Together Plunders Together.” “Preys” was also suggested, but “steals” sounds better (and sounds closer to “stays”).

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FF Podcast (Audio): Russell Blackford (Conversations for a Cause)


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This week, for Conversations for a Cause, we talk with Russell Blackford, philosopher and co-author of 50 Great Myths About Atheism. We talk with him about misconceptions about atheism. Then, we discuss his views on theology and the ethics of human enhancement.

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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A Conversation with Russell Blackford, philosopher and author


This week, for Conversations for a Cause, we talk with Russell Blackford, philosopher and co-author of 50 Great Myths About Atheism. We talk with him about misconceptions about atheism. Then, we discuss his views on theology and the ethics of human enhancement.

You may also download the episode file here.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 27: MMFF and Fired for Trying Out Atheism


We return for our first podcast of 2014! This week, we talk about the Metro Manila Film Fest and the quality of its films (or lack thereof). Then we talk about Ryan Bell, the pastor/professor who was fired for “trying out” atheism.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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FF Podcast (Audio) 025: Do Believers Give More to Charity?


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This week we talk about believers giving more to charity than atheists. Then, we discuss what encourages charity and altruism.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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FF Podcast (Audio) 018: Iglesia ni Cristo’s Medical Mission and the Bohol Earthquake


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This week, we talk about Iglesia ni Cristo’s Medical Mission that caused the cancellation of classes throughout Metro Manila as well as massive gridlock along major roads. Then, we talk about the Catholic response to certain statues surviving the terrible 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol.

Support relief efforts in Visayas by donating to the Red Cross.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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The Progressive Church That Will Never Come


Imagine this hypothetical situation:

The progressive Catholics have split from the Vatican to form their own church. They’ve called it the New Catholic Church.

A handful of progressive bishops have taken the place of the Pope as its leaders, and none of them call themselves infallible. Completing the clergy are progressive priests and theologians, mostly Jesuits, who feel exhilarated by the freedom to openly air their opinions without fear of being censured, excommunicated, or fired.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the New Catholic bishops are in constant dialogue with their priests. Theologians thrive as their expertise is sought sincerely. Best of all, the laity are also given a voice. They’re invited to pastoral committee hearings on relevant social issues such as contraception, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and freedom of conscience. It seems like for the first time in centuries, progress is possible.

Progressive Church

Because most Roman Catholics were progressive, the New Catholic Church now outnumbers the Roman Catholic one significantly. And because the Roman Catholic Church is no longer the predominant religion, few politicians pander to them. The drop in donations has forced them to start using their billions in investment, which they have also been using to settle clerical abuse cases. More families are pressing charges with the New Catholic Church urging and supporting them to speak out.

Meanwhile, the New Catholic Church, being the biggest religion, has a steady flow of donations that has allowed them to build simple churches, unlike the luxurious Roman Catholic ones. Most of their funds are spent on charity instead of partisan political campaigns and causes. And none of it is used to settle abuse cases out of court; they report the rare offender to the police and fully cooperate with the authorities so that justice is ensured.

Having learned from the dangers political meddling, the New Catholic Church focuses on the well-being of its flock, avoiding partisan politics and fully respecting the separation of church and state. This has allowed legislation to proceed more smoothly, with the blackmail and fear mongering of the Roman Catholic Church falling on the ears of few conservative politicians.

New Catholics are thriving in their new religion, where they agree with the moral position of their priests and bishops, never again having to withhold tithes or walk out of sermons. Their personal views no longer conflict with their Church’s teachings, and educating the youth is now a cooperative effort between parents, teachers, and priests, each lesson based on scientific evidence and humanistic ethics.

Now. In this hypothetical future, if you are a progressive Catholic who still belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, would you join the New Catholic Church? Remember that the progressive priests and theologians who have made your religion bearable have already left to join this new one. Most of your progressive friends and relatives have also converted.

Would you remain a Roman Catholic when your views on so many social issues are at odds with the clergy? Would you tithe and pay for sacraments in a conservative church when you could so easily get the same experience in its progressive counterpart? What good reasons are there to remain Roman Catholic?

Hans Kung, one of the most prominent Catholic theologians today, has long urged progressive Catholics to revolt, but to no avail.

Stalemate

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most progressive Catholics would convert to this New Catholicism in a heartbeat. I believe that this is the ideal situation every progressive Catholic hopes would happen inside the Roman Catholic Church. The only problem is, this is not going to happen.

The conservatives in the Vatican are in full control, and because they’re a dictatorship, the opinions of the majority don’t matter. The only way progressive Catholics can get their ideal situation is by forming their own institution outside the Roman Catholic Church.

And this is precisely the problem. To make the New Catholic Church possible, they have to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Every person has to leave on their own. And someone has to start it. But who would begin such an exodus?

The youth would probably be the most willing. But their youth might be a turnoff to those who are so used to getting guidance from more mature men.

The older progressives are more authoritative, but they’re probably too settled into their Roman Catholic routine, with careers and families taking up most of their time, that taking on such a big change would be too much to ask. Not to mention they still wouldn’t be authoritative enough for those who look for a sense of the sacred in their leaders.

Progressive priests and theologians would have this holy authority. But compared to the laity, they would be risking their careers, their livelihoods. They would need to rely on their savings because while starting a new religion they wouldn’t have a source of income.

Bishops probably have enough saved up. But the way the Vatican has been screening bishops since Vatican II, finding even one progressive bishop is a challenge in itself, and such a person would be risking the most in terms of the wealth and influence he would have to give up.

That leaves no one.

Conservative Church

I believe that every individual needed for this New Catholic Church is already here. Majority of Roman Catholics who now have more progressive views than their conservative counterparts and clergy. A group of dissenting priests and theologians who have been expressing their progressive ideals more and more publicly. Enough ideological and theological conflict in many core beliefs to make forming a new religion necessary. And enough shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church to make leaving it, ceasing to further support its bigotry, an ethical necessity.

But progressive Catholics have to start somewhere. Each of them would join this New Catholic Church if it is ever formed. But few, if any, of them would be willing to leave the Roman Catholic Church to start it.

Progressive Catholics will be content to bear their burden together, comforting each other with their shared dissent, hoping for change but knowing in their hearts that it will never come. Meanwhile, the Vatican thrives with power, arrogance, and impunity, never having to worry about the progressive church that will never come.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament


In our very professional podcast that is also a video, Red, Pepe and Margie talk about Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino’s withdrawal of HB 6330, or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

You may also download the podcast file here.



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FF Podcast (Audio) 007: Lady Gaga vs Bigots and Fundies


Filipino Freethinkers Podcast #7

Our newest podcast (that’s also a video) is up! Here, Marge, Ria and Red discuss the current protest of some Christian groups against the Lady Gaga concert, the difficulties of satire in a country where the news reads like stories out of The Onion, and how beauty queen Miriam Quiambao’s courage in defiance of popular opinion has contributed to the awareness of LGBT rights.



What are your thoughts on these topics? Please comment on this page.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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FF Podcast 007: Lady Gaga vs Bigots and Fundies


Filipino Freethinkers Podcast #7

Our newest podcast (that’s also a video) is up! Here, Marge, Ria and Red discuss the current protest of some Christian groups against the Lady Gaga concert, the difficulties of satire in a country where the news reads like stories out of The Onion, and how beauty queen Miriam Quiambao’s courage in defiance of popular opinion has contributed to the awareness of LGBT rights.

What are your thoughts on these topics? Please comment on this page.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Bigotymology: What it Really Means to Be a Bigot (Like Sotto, Pacquiao, and the CBCP)


Whenever I listen to Senator Sotto on the RH Bill, Manny Pacquiao on homosexuality, and the CBCP on pretty much everything, one word uncontrollably comes to mind: bigot. The impulse is almost as strong as God bless you! follows a sneeze.

In Catholic Philippines, it seems that some people can’t help sneezing, the most recent being former beauty queen Miriam Quiambao. And always, freethinkers everywhere can’t but say bigot! in response.

Recently, some conservatives have gone on the defensive, because intolerance is no longer as fashionable as it used to be back in the good old Dark Ages. Conservative cohorts of the CBCP are arguing that anti-LGBT Christians are being called bigots just because “it’s so cool” (it’s actually so mainstream that it’s not) and that their accusers are equally deserving of the accusation:

But you know, it’s so ‘cool’ these days to call Christianity bigotry… It’s funny, though, how those who scream and call for tolerance are the very same people who are the first to call ‘foul’ when their own beliefs, behaviors and/or lifestyles are challenged…

Let’s face it, anti-Catholicism/anti-Christianity is the last acceptable prejudice. Tolerance is only real when it goes both ways. The LGBT crowd have their own beliefs, let Miriam have hers.

In other words, calling out Christian bigotry is just as intolerant and prejudiced as being anti-LGBT in particular and anti-conservative-Christian in general. Thus, the critics themselves have become the bigots.

But is this true? Is harsh criticism of the Christian perspective a form of bigotry? If both progressives and conservatives can correctly call each other bigots, has the term bigot become meaningless? What does it really mean to be a bigot?

These questions are important to me because I’m guilty of being one of the first to call bigot! — sometimes even before whole sentences are formed — and I belong to an organization that recently gave out a Bigot of the Year award.

To answer them, I studied the word bigot: how it is defined, how it was formed, how it was originally used, and how related words clarify its meaning. By the end of this post, you’ll know who you can call a bigot and whether doing so makes you one.

Bigotefinition

The dictionary defines bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

No one can be faulted for being opinionated, but bigotry lies not merely in having opinions but being devoted to them. Obstinate devotion means you believe something “in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion.”

You might think that we’ve finally hit the nail on the head, but reason is another problematic word: everyone has their own criteria for what is rational, so it’s easy to accuse anyone of bigotry simply because you cannot persuade them with your reasoning.

When it comes to the second half of the definition, conservatives can deflect charges of hatred and intolerance with the usual excuses: “We hate the sin, not the sinner.” (Although there’s absolutely no excuse for inciting violence, the way Pacquiao recently did.)

At this point, some might think that “obstinate devotion” can equally apply to progressives, but this won’t be the case if you understand what it means to be devoted.  Devotion is more than mere commitment; it implies “religious fervor,” an act of “private worship.”

A bigot isn’t just passionate about an opinion — holding the opinion is a form of worship, a prayer to God. And as you’ll soon find out, it’s by God that we’ll separate the merely opinionated from the blatantly bigoted.

Bigotymology

There are three theories about bigot’s origin. The first is that it’s based on Visigothus, the name of a people in southern Gaul. The second is that it’s from the Germanic oath, “by God.” The third — my favorite — is that it came from the Spanish, bigote or mustache.

There’s not much evidence to support any theory, but they think the third is the strongest “by virtue of it not having any evidence against it.” (Maybe I’ll send them some articles on Sotto and pics of his signature ‘stache to cement the third theory’s position.)

Anyway, without no clear origin, we can focus on its original usage. Bigot was first used in the late 16th century to mean “sanctimonious person, religious hypocrite.” Bigotry (based on the French bigoterie) came in the late 17th century to mean “sanctimoniousness.”

A sanctimonious person is “hypocritically pious or devout” — he projects a righteous image through religiosity, a self-righteousness that is contradicted by his own actions. As hypothetical examples, consider an outwardly pious politician involved in the rape of Pepsi Paloma or a Bible-thumping boxer involved in an affair with Krista Ranillo.

Compared to its current usage, the earlier one lost this sanctimonious sense of hypocrisy, while retaining, however subtly, the sense of religiosity. In the original usage, a bigot projects a religious image through behavior; in the current one, he does so using belief.

It is this strong sense of religious belief that characterizes a bigot. This becomes even clearer when we examine bigot in relation to words with similar meanings.

Bigotesaurus

Searching Roget’s International Thesaurus (1922) online returns three words strongly-related to bigotry: credulity, certainty, and obstinateness. These words — and other related ones — illuminate how a bigot believes. As you look at the words below, think about whether it applies more or less to progressives or conservatives. I highlighted ones that are particularly revealing.

CREDULITY, credulousness &c. adj.; gullibility, cullibility [obs.]; gross credulity, infatuation; self-delusion, self-deception; superstition; one’s blind side; bigotry (obstinacy); hyperorthodoxy
BE CREDULOUS &c. adj.; jurare in verba magistri [L.]; follow implicitly; swallow, swallow whole, gulp · down; take on trust; take for -granted, – gospel; take on faith;

CERTAINTY; necessity [See Necessity]; certitude, sureness, surety, assurance; dead -, moral- certainty; infallibleness &c. adj.; infallibility, reliability, reliableness; indubitableness, inevitableness, unquestionableness.
gospel, scripture, church, pope, court of final appeal; res adjudicata, [L.], res judicata [L.]; ultimatum.
FACT; positive fact, matter of fact; fait accompli [F.].
BIGOTRY, positiveness, dogmatism, dogmatization; fanaticism.

OBSTINATENESS
BE OBSTINATE &c. adj.; stickle, take no denial, fly in the face of facts; opinionate [rare], be wedded to an opinion, hug a belief;
creed-bound; prepossessed, infatuated; stiff-backed, stiff-necked, stiff-hearted; hard-mouthed, hidebound; unyielding; impervious, impracticable, impersuasible, impersuadable, unpersuadable; untractable, intractable; incorrigible, deaf to advice, impervious to reason; crotchety [See Caprice] BIGOTRY, intolerance

A bigot is credulous: he believes things strongly, even superstition, to the point of self-deception because he takes things on faith.

A bigot is certain: he believes with such sureness the infallibility of his chosen authority to the point of dogmatism and fanaticism.

A bigot is obstinate: he believes even in the face of contradictory facts because he is married to his opinion and bound by his creed.

To a bigot, it’s not the opinion itself that has power; it’s the authority figure from whom the bigot received the opinion. Whether you believe by authority — especially religious ones — is ultimately what determines whether a believer is a bigot.

Bigotefinition Revisited;

I actually made a mistake and checked the thesaurus too early, entirely forgetting that the dictionary also provided related words: synonyms and antonyms, which can better define the boundaries of a word’s meaning. My dictionary lists the following related words:

Synonyms: dogmatist, dogmatizer, partisan (also partizan), sectarian
Related Words: doctrinaire, fanatic, purist; jingoist, nationalist; racialist, racist, supremacist; chauvinist, sexist
Near Antonyms: freethinker, latitudinarian, liberal

There’s so many here that we can use, but the first synonym and near antonym are more than enough.  A dogmatist takes dogma as fact, forming opinion based on it; A freethinker denies religious dogma, forming opinions independent of authority. Both form opinions; what differentiates them is whether they’re based on dogma. A bigot is a dogmatist, not a freethinker.

If the Bigote Fits

Let’s go back to our original question. Is harsh criticism of the Christian perspective a form of bigotry? If the criticisms are based on reason and not infallible dogma, then no. Criticizing Christianity, however harshly, is not a form of bigotry.

The term bigot has not lost its meaning. When examined closely, it correctly applies to only one side of the debate: the right (conservative) side.

Although both sides hold their opinions strongly, only one side does so because of their credulity, certainty, and obstinacy to believe the Bible and every authority that claims to represent their God.

Yet it’s not enough to call someone a bigot and just leave it at that. It’s better to explain why you think certain people are bigots — or at least hold bigoted beliefs. Doing so raises awareness not only of bad opinions but also of better opinions and the ways in which they are formed.

And who knows? Maybe someday Sotto or Paquiao or the CBCP will finally listen and learn. Even bigots deserve compassion. Remember: hate bigotry, not the bigot.

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False Balance: A Rebuttal to “Middle Ground”


I often facepalm hard whenever I see news outlets try to present “balanced views” on their programs. Usually they pit expert and scientific opinion (by giving them 5 minutes) vs the views of the Average Joe (and giving them the rest of the program), and then ask the viewers to “decide for themselves”, as if all opinions are of equal merit.

Unfair as it may sound, not all opinions are equal. When you want to build a house, do you ask a random guy on the street, or do you ask an architect? How about when you’re sick? Or need to have a contract checked? Do you ask the experts or do you ask random people?

It’s called “False Balance”. It may sound good and egalitarian, but giving airtime to those who have very little understanding about a specific subject is a great disservice to the rest of us. Not all views and opinions are valid, and some are more valid than others.

When Fox News (surprise!) gives moon landing hoaxers or anti-vaccination nutjobs a platform to spread their inanity, it gives them false credibility as an equal and valid opinion. When Larry King gives UFO conspiracy theorists airtime, the general public will likely perceive that both sides have equal merit.

I’m sorry to say, Andy, that when I read “Middle Ground”, I saw False Balance written all over it. Inadvertently or not, you used False Balance as a crutch to support theistic views while appearing to be “neutral”. The fact is, your views fall squarely into the Theist side.

I’d like to take a few minutes to point out where I disagree.

But if atheism is defined as “ the rejection of belief in the existence of deities“, I don’t think I’m quite there yet. So far, the atheism that I have seen is first and foremost, a rejection of the Christian deity (or the Christian definition of god as portrayed in the Bible). So far also, most of the atheists that I know who are actively espousing their non-belief come from some sort of Christian background. I do not know of any prominent atheist who started out as a muslim, a jew, a hindu, or a druid.

Atheism, in the broadest sense, is simply “a lack of belief in deities”. It’s not necessarily a “rejection” of belief in deities. Newborn babies are technically atheists, because they are incapable of forming a belief in deities. They can’t reject what they can’t even conceive of yet. There’s a simple question you can ask to determine if someone is an atheist. Just ask them: “Do you believe in the existence of a supernatural deity?”. If one cannot answer “Yes”, then one is an atheist.

Andy, I find it quite disingenuous of you to lump us all as just “Atheists” as if that word alone is enough to describe us all. You can only glean one thing when a person says that he/she is an atheist: That the person does not believe in deities. That’s it. Atheism says nothing about my personal beliefs, wants, hopes, and dreams. It says nothing about my attitudes towards other people. It says nothing about my views about myself and the world we live in.

Most atheists (not all mind you!) are skeptics, humanists, naturalists, secularists or a combination of them. It is from this point of view that I am responding to this article of yours.

My friend, the biggest reason most atheists you know come from a Christian background is because you live in a country that is predominantly Christian. The second reason is probably because you haven’t done much research on atheists and atheism. Maybe that’s why you’ve never heard of Salman Rushdie, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sanal Edamaruku. (Atheist Jews are a dime a dozen, if you care to do the research)

Because of this, most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity. Once that is done, this disbelief in god is expanded in a less hostile fashion to other religions (Islam is probably next in line in terms of getting atheist flak).

“Less hostile fashion”? How so? I am just as critical of Islam as I am of Christianity or any other religion that wishes to force itself upon all of us. It’s just that we almost never hear about non-Christian fundies here in our country.

However, just because an atheist has written off the existence of the Christian god does not automatically mean that there is no god of any sort. What is “god” after all, but just a word people use to represent and define some unknown higher power? People have tried to define this god by using words such as creator, source, omniscient and omnipotent. They have tried to characterize this god by attributes such as loving, kind, just, merciful, and so on. But these are just words,

I agree with much of what you say here…

and I believe in the possibility of a being that exists beyond these words.

…but I’d have to ask for proof here. Just because it’s “possible” doesn’t mean we should entertain it, much less assume it to be real, especially when facts and evidence point the other way. It’s much more possible that a ten meter asteroid would suddenly crash on your head right now, but will you bet on it? Will you hide in a bunker for the rest of your life just because it’s “possible”?

There is a lovely zen saying that goes, “When the sage points to the moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” The words and concepts we have for god are just parts of the finger pointing to something possibly out there, possibly greater than ourselves.

Lovely quote Andy, but we have proof that the moon exists. We have no proof that gods exist. Your analogy fails in this regard.

I cannot explain it other than saying that there is a feeling, an inner sense of something more profound than words can express.

Then what is the difference between your inner sense and the inner sense that tells Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc that THEIR religion is real? What makes your inner sense more valid than theirs? Because that is EXACTLY the same thing they will tell you about THEIR beliefs. It’s EXACTLY what they will use to say why YOU’RE wrong, and THEY’RE right.

You see, that is the reason why we atheists do not believe in gods. There is no evidence other than anecdotes. And the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.

When Christians and atheists fight over doctrines and belief systems, it is like watching them fight over the pointing finger. It is briefly amusing and I won’t deny deriving a bit of satisfaction seeing my former belief questioned. However, this can’t go on forever. If we keep fighting over the finger, we will never get to see the moon.

Again, this presupposes that there IS actually a god of some sort. I suppose you feel a bit smug and superior watching us “fight over doctrines and belief systems”, but we atheists/agnostics don’t fight over doctrine and dogma. We fight against it.

For the atheists, ask yourselves whether it is possible to have a being higher than yourself. This being does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have. If you think about the universe and what we yet don’t know about it, you’d have to at least consider the possibility of such a being, else you would be as close-minded as the fundamentalist you so despise.

You’re working under the assumption that all atheists ” believe there is no god”. The truth is, the vast majority of us only “disbelieve in gods”. Even the so-called militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens allow for the small possibility that there might be a god. We realize we don’t know everything, unlike many devout believers.

And what do you mean by “being higher than ourselves”? In terms of what? Technology? Physical or mental capability? I think it is likely that aliens exist somewhere in the universe (and no, I don’t believe they’ve visited us already). Maybe they have greater technology, or greater mental and physical abilities, but they’d still be governed by the laws of nature. Also remember, we call ourselves A-THEISTS,not A-ALIENISTS. If you broaden your definition of “god” so much that you include mortal beings from other star systems, then you have rendered the term “god” meaningless.

As for your suggestion that we open our minds to the possibility that there might be a god, we’ve already done that. Give us solid proof of your god, and we’ll believe. However, worshiping him/her/it is another matter and I assure you, a far more difficult one to get us to do.

I believe in a middle ground, a place of mutual respect, where acceptance triumphs over bigotry, and where love triumphs over fear. After all, if we humans don’t get our act together, who will do it for us?

And so we go back to my original point. What you’re espousing is False Balance. In the Science vs Religion debate, one is supported by facts, reason, and evidence, and the other is backed by dogma, faith, and ideology. There is NO BALANCE there.

No my friend, yours is not the middle ground. Yours is the ground that enables the theist to make ridiculous claims without fear of backlash because it gives religious opinion equal weight vs scientific fact. Yours is the ground that enables extremists to commit horrible acts because it minimizes the efforts made by saner heads to expose extremism for what it is. Yours is the ground that enables Creationists to scream “teach the controversy“, “teach both sides”, and “evolution is just a theory” and actually be taken seriously. Yours is the ground that is smugly amused and snickers equally at both the side that brought us modern technology, medicine, and the Green Revolution and the side that upholds bigotry, fear, and blind obedience.

No, the middle ground isn’t yours. The middle ground is atheism/agnosticism/secularism. You are free to believe whatever you want so long as you do not force it upon everyone else. The only reason we are vocal and sometimes angry is because religion repeatedly tries to force itself upon our daily lives, when we just want to be left alone. If religion did not impinge upon our freedoms, you wouldn’t hear from us about it at all.

And no, the enemy of Theism isn’t Atheism. The enemy of Theism is Theism itself. What greater enemy does a religion have than other competing religions? Nothing incites a mob better than telling them that “Our God wants them destroyed”.

Besides, since when has religion ever fought for “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”? Slavery, misogyny, bigotry, infanticide, genocide and all the other evils of the world are espoused in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is being used today to block the Reproductive Health Bill in our country (and the Quran used to justify misogyny in Islamic countries) the same way it was used back then in the United States to try to keep slavery legal.

In the words of UK Labour MP Jamie Reed:

Seven years as an MP. Still waiting for a Christian to send me a letter on child poverty. Plenty on homosexuality and abortion.

So go on, be amused as we atheists/agnostics/secularists fight against dogma and ideology, but if you really want “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”, I invite you to check out Humanism (not necessarily atheism) as a position, instead of your imaginary Middle Ground.

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