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Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Quote from Rizal the Freethinker

We are entirely in accord in admitting the existence of God. How can I doubt his when I am convinced of mine. Who so recognizes the effect recognizes the cause. To doubt God is to doubt one's own conscience, and in consequence, it would be to doubt everything; and then what is life for? Now then, my faith in God, if the result of a ratiocination may be called faith, is blind, blind in the sense of knowing nothing. I neither believe nor disbelieve the qualities which many attribute to him; before theologians' and philosophers' definitions and lucubrations of this ineffable and inscrutable being I find myself smiling. Faced with the conviction of seeing myself confronting the supreme Problem, which confused voices seek to explain to me, I cannot but reply: 'It could be; but the God that I foreknow is far more grand, far more good: Plus Supra!...I believe in (revelation); but not in revelation or revelations which each religion or religions claim to possess. Examining them impartially, comparing them and scrutinizing them, one cannot avoid discerning the human 'fingernail' and the stamp of the time in which they were written... No, let us not make God in our image, poor inhabitants that we are of a distant planet lost in infinite space. However, brilliant and sublime our intelligence may be, it is scarcely more than a small spark which shines and in an instant is extinguished, and it alone can give us no idea of that blaze, that conflagration, that ocean of light. I believe in revelation, but in that living revelation which surrounds us on every side, in that voice, mighty, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, universal as is the being from whom it proceeds, in that revelation which speaks to us and penetrates us from the moment we are born until we die. What books can better reveal to us the goodness of God, his love, his providence, his eternity, his glory, his wisdom? 'The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork'.

- Epistolario Rizalino: 4 volumes, 1400 letters to and from Rizal, edited by Teodoro Kalaw (Manila: Bureau of Printing,1930–38), p. 36. [source]

Monday, December 24, 2012

Call for Entries to the 13th Iyas CWF


Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Shifting Sands of Literalism and Fundamentalism

"Cultures or societies that are literalist or even fundamentalist in one generation can in later years become liberal, if not highly skeptical of all forms of faith; and that pattern occurs frequently—though not inevitably—across faith traditions."
- Philip Jenkins,The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006), 15.


Samuel Seridio (08.06.1956 - 12.01.2012): An Ex-Preacher's Salute to a Lifelong Preacher

RELATED POSTS: "This Preaching Business," "A Brown Man's Burden: Critiquing an American Restorationist Discourse," "Deconverting from Sectarianism 3: A Culture of Hate," "Attacking Other Religions"




Another good friend is gone. I first met Samuel Seridio in a hospital during a MARCH for Christ campaign in Cabanatuan City in 2003(?). His wife was then recovering from a delicate operation. Shortly after that, we found ourselves working together in what was then known as the Baguio Mission Team (BMT).

We would part ways about five years later when I left the (Stone-Campbell) Church of Christ. I went on to establish my academic career while he continued preaching, willing to be assigned anywhere and to mentor anyone.

But we remained friends, for to us friendship transcended sectarian or ideological boundaries. And even though we had many occasions to talk and eat together long after I bade his religious group farewell, we never engaged in dogmatic disputations although he knew about my "liberal" leanings. He never tried to win me back to his cause nor did I ever try to usher him into my growing skepticism about religion. Somehow, deep inside we knew that a verbal tussle between us on such matters would only end in a stalemate or hurt feelings. We knew each other enough to respect the fact that in this life, each one will have to walk different roads in the name of enlightenment and fulfillment. But for friends, the bond of brotherhood ties you together even when you are headed into opposite directions. He would say to his churchmates in reference to me, "Ano'ng magagawa natin kung yun ang naabot ng kaniyang pang-unawa." Whenever we met, he would always greet me with a heartfelt smile. Always, I was his younger brother, comrade-in-arms, although I did not share his religious convictions anymore. He was our manong, the elder/est. Which was why we used to call him obispo, and although we would say that in jest with his receding forehead in mind, we were one and serious in our high regard for his wisdom.

One big thing I learned about deconverting from religion is that you will know who your real friends are among those who claim to be children of God the moment you tell them you've lost faith in their faith. Many, if not most, will start avoiding you like you had leprosy or AIDS. Others will quickly condemn your lack of "simple faith" and preach to the faithful against the dangers of "worldly wisdom" and "fellowshipping with apostates." Still, others will attempt to psychologize your departure from the "One, True Faith" and tell others about the causes of your loss of faith: sinful living, personal hurts, intellectual pride, and others ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The soul-shattering and mind-wracking experience of religious deconversion is compounded by the ostracizing, judgmental gestures of those who once embraced you as a fellow saint when you still subscribed to their creed. This happened to me when I left the Baptists. The same thing happened when I left the Church of Christ.

But the saving grace of sectarian Christianity are those whose humanity shines

through the dark clouds of their celestial visions. Manong Sam was one of them. I had known a lot of preachers in his church, and he is one of the handful I have come and will continue to fully respect and fondly remember. Preachers can brag about their expertise in Greek and their familiarity with Thayer's lexicon, but if they cannot speak the simple language of love they are, in Paul's words, but brass instruments, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Manong Sam knew his Greek, an ancient tongue so foreign to the ordinary churchgoers' ears, but the language of his soul was no Greek to me.

Another thing I learned from and about religion is that even in what is called the Kingdom of God, inequality and injustice prevail as they do beyond the borders of the communion of saints. Manong Sam was not one of the privileged few among his preaching brethren. Some got rich out of preaching (or, as enterprising men of God, established profitable business ventures like treasure-hunting and whatever so-called "ministry" they could think of), while others like Sam Seridio toiled on and on despite their financial insecurities. I was thinking if he had the money to sustain a daily maintenance medication and a regular visit to St. Luke's or Makati Med, he would have lived to his eighties. But well, maybe God didn't see it fit to give him the bigger share from his bounty which He had graciously poured on others -- Sam just didn't make the cut. Or maybe he wasn't just born to the right family, with the right name, and in the right place. Or maybe he just didn't have the right network of gracious friends. I will never know. I do know though that, just like what some of his own churchmates say, there are other preachers who are overstaying on earth and have given religion such a bad name already that they ought to have kicked the bucket years and years ago. But well, such is life -- oftentimes, it sucks and there's nothing we can really do about it but take things as they come as graciously as we can.

Manong Sam committed himself to a lifetime of preaching, something that not everyone in his church would and could do. And it is but proper that at least in death he got a gesture of his own people's gratitude. And to his church's credit, they did. There was an impressive outpouring of moral and material support for his family. The privileged ones in his denomination are to be commended for their generosity, for making sure that the ones Sam left behind won't have to despair all the more worrying about wake and burial expenses. An educational fund was even collected for his daughter Trypaena, a very smart kid who can easily become an architect or a medical doctor within the next 10 years. It was heart-warming to see members of his church joining hands together to ensure that they at least give him a decent burial, that they honor back a man who honored them with his often unacknowledged but invaluable services to their cause.

As an ex-preacher and a former hyperactive member of his group, I could say that in my 12 years of stay with this Christian fellowship during which I had come to know preachers from Abra to Davao, Sam Seridio was one of the best representatives of this/their faith, one whose character I wish some of his fellow preachers had or will eventually emulate. His church is poorer without people like him and I hope there will be more like him among them. The simplicity of his life, the passion he had for his vocation, the hardships that he endured, and the genuine friendship he offered made him a gem, a jewel among them.

Sam Seridio left his wife and child a good name, something they should wear like a great badge of honor. I do not care much about what he thought about this life or the afterlife, but I do care about how he lived this life, how he strived to keep his integrity intact despite his human frailties. Character -- a good name--  is far more glitzy than the most flashy clothes and cars, far more eloquent than the best sermon, far more memorable than a thousand Bible verses quoted from memory, far more awesome than a dozen successful business ventures, and far more enduring than a metal casket.


I first met him at a hospital. I was to see him for the last time in another hospital. We were there during the last three or four hours of his life and it was saddening to see the face of death in a friend, painful to realize that yet another good friend has passed on, whose welcoming smile and warm handshake I will never see nor feel again. It was heart-rending to see his wife Lolit, another great friend, so devastated as she helplessly watched her husband reluctantly breathe his last. I told her that Sam was fortunate to have had a wife like her, she who was there with him to the very end of his short, short journey. They loved each other dearly, and they shared each other's pains as they bravely faced life's trials. I told her that is more than enough to look back to to inspire her to keep on going and finish her own journey down the years.

Conrado de Quiros on Religion and Pacquiao's Loss

I had wanted to give my one-centavo on this nonsense about religion having to do with Pacquiao's humiliation dealt him by his arch-rival JMM, but when I read my favorite columnist's article on the issue I thought he just articulated what I had in mind -- only that, it was in the unrivalled Conrado de Quiros' way. Here's an excerpt from his 18 December write up, "Postscript":

Well, we’re free to debate the wisdom of Pacquiao’s conversion to the born-again fold to our heart’s content, but as an explanation for his defeat it’s rather embarrassing....

Again, you don’t have to be a disbeliever or cynic to see what’s wrong with it. At the very least, what does that view of earth, or heaven, make of Providence? That he (or she) is a boxing fan who watches fights eagerly and decides to bestow his blessings on those who worship him more ardently or more according to his prescribed rules of worship? Or who picks favorites, favoring Filipinos more than other nationalities (with the exception of the Jews who like to think of themselves as his absolute favorite), for no other reason than that they are Filipinos?

Rather like the Olympian gods, brilliantly depicted in the original “Clash of the Titans” who had favorites, quite apart from lovers among mortals, and decreed the latter’s fates by their individual partialities or whim. The title is ironic: It wasn’t just a clash of mortals, of heroes versus villains, it was a clash of the gods, of Zeus versus the other gods or goddesses jealous of his love for his mortal son, Perseus. Except that in this case, there is only one deity who is believed to be exceptionally partial to the champion of his second favorite people, until the day that champion scorns him by this act of unfaithfulness.

At the very most, what does this view of earth or heaven make of Providence? That he approves of boxing and moves in mysterious ways in the ring, finding in its goings-on a way to extol divine grandeur? When I first heard the theory about Pacquiao’s crushing defeat being God’s punishment of a scale of an Egyptian plague, I thought of my friend Nandy Pacheco and wondered what he thought about it. Nandy is as devoutly religious as it gets and is as averse to boxing as it gets. His philosophy, which has extended to Kapatiran, being that God cannot possibly condone violence, and boxing is nothing if not violent. Perhaps on a scale less than guns, but violent just the same.
I was about to say rather like the times of the Crusades when the Christians imagined God to be on their side and the Muslims imagined Allah to be on theirs. Except that the same thing continues to this day, the American Tea Party thinking God to be on their side and the al-Qaida thinking Allah to be on theirs. As though God or Allah approves of wars, or wholesale carnage, and bestows his blessings on one side or the other depending on how loudly they pray to him.

Best to keep earthly matters to the earth. Best to keep mundane matters to the mundo. By all means let’s be religious, by all means let’s turn to prayer and supplication as much as we want, or need. But let’s not turn religion into some kind of anting-anting, or talisman, the better to win wars, to win fights, to dodge the bullets of the police in a running gunbattle with them. Let’s not turn God into a whimsical deity or a bored one with all the time in the world and nothing better to do, and raise all sorts of questions about whether God created us in his image and likeness or we are creating God in our image and likeness. With all our flaws, with all our foibles, with all our pettiness.

***

But come to think of it, religion may really have something to do with Marquez devouring Pacquiao. While it is true that his new faith had led him to become the "new" him, his religious addiction may have caused him to focus too much on the hereafter that he lost sight of the here-and-now. And so he failed to train harder for the sport that gave him his millions of dollars, his multitude of fans, and the luxury of offering evangelistic platitudes to millions of Filipinos whose lot is to live in places where natural and man-made calamities abound with no millions of pesos to draw from the bank with which to rebuild their lives. Perhaps, too, like many fresh converts to evangelical or pentecostal sects, he had thoroughly bought what can be called a "personal exceptionalism" -- which is to say that since he had become a "true christian" he is now the apple of God's eye like David was, and like David his prayers are going to be heard well and God will give him power to destroy the Goliaths he will be pitted against. But just like in David's case, disaster strikes even those favored by the gods. Prayers do not and cannot clothe any human being with the cape of invincibility.

If Pacquiao intends to return as King of the Ring soon, he first needs to recover the respect he once had for the sport that built him and the respect he had for the people who had been rooting for him and idolized him long before he ever became Pacquiao the Politician or Pacquiao the Preacher.

But if this shocking bout marks the end of his boxing career, there's no shame in it really. We who have lived in the glorious Pacquiao Age of boxing will always count it a great honor to have lived at a time when a scrawny southpaw from the South of our country once became boxing's North Star to and from whom hordes of people from all over the world gazed in awe and drew inspiration.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

End of the World (for the nth time)

Related posts: Of Quacks and Quatrains, Marquez & Mythicization

Gullibility is no respecter of persons, and knows no past. After all the failed predictions of doomsdaysayers and preppers in the past centuries, one would think we today won't be easy prey to the speculations of end-time nuts. But no. Unbelievably, some -- including supposedly smart folks -- are actually buying the misinterpretations of Mayan myth and hallucinations over Nostradamic quatrains that supposedly peg the world's incineration on 12.21.12. Great. Let the world that began with a creative Big Bang now end with a destructive Pfft.

Meanwhile, let's sip our coffee and do some leisurely reading while Tutankhamen joins the sun in one last ride and Quetzalcoatl appears on the horizon on his white horse to the sound of a thousand atomic explosions, Gangnam-style: