“Let us bow down our heads, and pray to the Lord. … In Jesus’ name, we pray amen.”
That was how the leadership seminar that I attended the other day started.
Apparently, every student organization seeking university accreditation had to send a representative to the said seminar, and since the Filipino Freethinkers-University of the Philippines Los Baños was one such organization, I was made to attend.
Having studied in the university for more than two years now, it was no longer surprising for me to see a university-sponsored event started with a prayer. However, none of my experiences so far prepared me for what was to happen next.
By my standards, citing Nehemiah, the Old Testament prophet, as the ideal model of a good leader is acceptable, since he might have existed in real life, after all. Giving out the verses in the Book of Nehemiah to back up the speaker’s claims is valid somewhat—at least, she tried to prove her claims with historical (?) documents. But telling the students who attended the seminar to be “godly leaders,” to pray every time, and to read the Bible was just too much.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the Bible or the claims of Christianity, at least for this article. But claims of a religious nature should not be presented as fact inside a secular university.
And these were not the only breaches of secularism made by the speaker, Dr. Leticia E. Afuang, the Dean of Student Affairs. Her whole speech was infected with misplaced evangelism. She even stressed the importance of godly leaders in paving the way for national development.
Thankfully, she sort of saved us from any further Christian drivel when she told the students to read the Qur’an instead, in case they happened to be Muslim—but I highly doubt that she would have made such a clarification (?) in the first place if she hadn’t noticed that one student wearing a hijab, who most probably was Muslim.
Which makes me wonder: what does she think of non-theists, then? What does she think of Nordic and former Eastern bloc countries, which happen to be composed mainly of atheists? Following her viewpoint, these countries must be rife with poverty; corruption must be widespread; and crimes rates must be pretty high since many have no god to fear.
Or perhaps my extension of her logic is flawed. Maybe, she didn’t mean those at all. So let us give the honorable dean the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that what she actually meant was that Christian-led (or at least, theist-led) countries fare better, with no negative implication to nations populated by a majority of non-believers. Then how about war-torn Ethiopia or drug cartel-dominated Mexico? Does that also mean that the Philippines is not godly enough to reap the divine blessings of national development?
So before I continue any further, let us read a passage from the Holy Book:
“Members of the teaching staff enjoy academic freedom; Provided, however, that no instructor in the University System shall inculcate sectarian tenets in any of the teachings, nor attempt either directly or indirectly, under the penalty of dismissal by the Board of Regents, to influence students or attendants at the University System for or against any particular church or religious sect or political party.”
— University of the Philippines System Code Article 177 (emphasis mine)
Or as I would like to shorten it: “Thou shalt not preach inside the university.”
Yes, I do believe as well that the dean’s intentions were in good faith. However, they were also in poor taste. And while the rest of the program was fairly more secular thanks to other speakers, waking up at 6:00 AM for a seminar clouded by religious propaganda is something that I will never really look forward to.
This reminds me of the time when a friend of mine asked me why a secularist student organization would be still needed in the already-secular university. My answer remains the same.
Secularism in UP is a joke. Nobody respects it. Nobody cares about it. Religious evangelism inside the university is alienating, divisive, and self-serving. That is why there is a need to safeguard secularism from elements that would otherwise prefer it gone. And that is the Filipino Freethinkers’ mission.
Note: Between the time of writing and publication, it has come to my attention that Dr. Afuang committed yet another breach of secularism when she gave out free Bibles to attendees of the 2012 UPLB Freshmen Orientation. Yes, that surely is the best way to orient students on what UP is all about!