Filipino atheists give atheism a bad name

It used to be debated among people who possess real insight and was marked by intellectually stimulating arguments being lobbed back and forth from one camp to another. Now this whole “debate” between “atheists” and the religious has all but gone old. It’s like a hit track that was once played in trendy clubs suddenly becoming standard fare for dance numbers performed in noon time variety shows in front of a crowd of screaming jolog fans.

Now every schmoe and her dog has an “opinion” about religion and its arch-enemy, the “atheist” movement. Trouble is, the quality of said opinions have become suspect, and the reasons for certain people advocating them brought to question. In the tradition of the way Filipinos’ embrace of Western fashion, sexual permissiveness, or even democratic principles have become case studies of what is now a clearly evident reality that Filipinos are bad copy cats, the atheism-vs-religion debate has come of age in Philippine society.

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Allow me to digress a bit to cite an article I wrote back in 2005 where I highlight our renowned talent for perverting otherwise noble ideas

It is ironic that we self-righteously fancy ourselves the “victims” of foreign perverts when we ourselves have so effectively perverted many of the noble ideas of the “imperialist” powers. While other Asian societies have built on ideas adopted from the West, we applied them straight out of the box only to undermine them later; true to the form of our uniquely Pinoy passive-aggressive approach to excercising personal liberties.

The relevance of the above observation becomes clear when we note how the atheism-vs-religion “debate”, like most subjects tossed around in the greater Philippine National “Debate” has degenerated into a spectacular showcase of a sparring of mediocre minds that are clearly out of their depth. Atheists who supposedly pride themselves in applying independent, free, and spontaneous thought to the propagation of their ideas have all but encapsulated, packaged, and branded their “movement” into shrinkwrapped forms — slogans, catchphrases, badges, and the like — that less insightful folk can run with, wear on their sleeve, and add as “avatars” on their social media profiles.

So when I say the atheism-vs-religion “debate” has “come of age,” I mean the fad has come full circle in the same way a tired music hit does — the subject and its “debate” has all but overflowed from the circles of the truly insightful elite and has now entrenched itself as a mere commodity amidst the lame chatter of the mediocre majority.

You’d think that “atheists” who see themselves as having the better command over modern thinking faculties would be aware enough of the utter pointlessness of arguing with the zealously religious. And yet we see them doing just that, the irony in the way they maliciously choose the most zealous and tunnel-visioned among the religious to lob their high-horsed “arguments” escapes their supposedly superior intellectual thinking systems. Indeed, there may even be such a thing now as atheist fundamentalism. The sheer amount of energy wannabe “atheists” spend debating on what are really the most inconvertible of the lot is astounding. The important principle that these wannabes seem to miss is quite simple:

You need a an advanced and curious mind to routinely seek logical explanations behind the apparently magical.

People who lack some background in science, mathematics, and philosophy simply will not get atheism and will always stubbornly go down the easy path of explaining away life’s vicissitudes with magic, superstition, and religion. But then to appreciate that reality also requires a bit of brain. That says something about “atheists” who continue to “debate” with religious zealots.

If Christians give Christianity a bad name, the same thing can be said of the sorts of “atheists” who tromp around with their bullhorns and trite slogans:

Atheists give atheism a bad name.

Richard Dawkins will have one hell of a cringe if he comes around to take stock of the Philippines’ “atheist” scene, specially if he checks out the latest circus buzzing around Mideo Cruz’s “blasphemous” exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

I’m all for freedom of expression, the triumph of secular thought, art for art’s sake and all that jazz. But there’s something not quite right about this whole CCP Mideo Cruz fiasco. Surely there is a whole universe of possibilities out there to tap in the name of artistic expression. So I find that having to be explicitly – even offensively – anti-religion in one’s art kind of manifests a fundamental lack of imagination, specifically an imagination big enough to find a more profound or more sublime (as opposed to blatantly in-your-face) manner of expressing something that may go against the grain of religious sensibilities.

Compare the screaming slapstick humour of, say, Ai Ai de las Alas, to the deadpan understated dryness of comedy legend Bob Hope and you might get what I am saying. The humour in Hope’s style is revealed in its being enmeshed in the irony of the way he delivers it. In the case of de las Alas, it simply sticks out — a perfect style of delivery for the lazy style of thinking of her audience.

Sticking the likeness of a penis on a crucifix can, using the most literal interpretations of tenets of “freedom of expression,” of course be considered an inviolable human right in the free and secular society that the Philippines aspires to be.

But is it art?

I wrote in my book how I believe that “true artistic beauty is a product of depth in structure and meaning and not just of chaotic expression”. One thing that jumped out of Cruz’s art straight away was chaos. Collages are tricky artistic devices. It takes artistic brilliance to embed subtle or sublime structure in collages. The chaos in a truly artistic collage somehow conveys meaning through an underlying structure that becomes progressively evident as the viewer immerses herself in the exhibited work. This process for the viewer is invested time and the decision to invest said time on a work of art reveals the investor’s taste. More importantly, a decision to invest even more time to critique a work of art is an endeavour usually reserved for even more discerning consumers of art.

Unfortunately the attention — and the circus coming out of this attention — attracted by Cruz’s art is an indictment of Filipinos’ collective taste. More importantly it speaks of the bankruptcy of both taste and intellect of both defenders and critics of said “art”, many of whom had crowned themselves champions of one “truth” or the other.

Lance Clayton (played by Robin Williams) in the excellent film World’s Greatest Dad, after gleefully telling his girlfriend that he was coming over to her place to “place his penis in her vagina”, followed up with the remark:

“[…] and that is a single entendre.

If you do not get the humour in the above — i.e., are unable to peel away the layers of meaning that together make the above funny — then count yourself as a typical critic — and defender — of Filipino contemporary art and a mainstream garden-variety commentator on the ethical framework of Philippine society.

30 Replies to “Filipino atheists give atheism a bad name”

  1. For Cruz’s interpretation of arts as I’ve commented in

    The question I’m always asking myself is “why liberals have to mock religions (except, of course islam, the liberals’ religion of peace)?” Cruz, is a liberal as he claimed. Anti globalist.

    The thing I’m against with, his “modern or contemporary art”, is the place where it is presented. It should be in a private place where viewing his arts is by his invitation.

    Let’s have this thing as a two-way street. How would he feel if somebody publish in the internet a graphically naked photoshopped photo of him and his graphically naked mother giving him a head and titled it “Mideo Cruz Mother’s Wisdom”? For the sake of contemporary art, of course!

    I won’t hold my breathe. I’ve got a feeling that he would like it. He is as an artist. He would be very proud of it.

    1. I suggest you enlighten yourself on the issue of “art on trial”

      the difference between hate-speech and art is intent and effect. what is your HONEST intention in creating a naked picture of someone’s mother?

      Seriously, I can’t believe how totally ignorant people are about a subject that has already been discussed to death over and over and over before. Shock-art is NOTHING NEW. Freakshow artists and activists have been doing in for decades. The NYC art scene has had that same shit done, what? ten gajillion times before… and none of it were shut down.

  2. Your normal provocative self is back, I see.

    I presume the CCP is open to the public.

    Art covers a wide range of sensitivities from the elegant to the horrific. But public art centers have an obligation to be attuned to what is deemed obscene by its visitors. It would be offensive to show child pornography, and it is offensive to demean the religious sensitivities of a lot of fine people for the shock value of some ideological principle of freedom of expression.



    Show that stuff in your own home but keep it out of my son’s playground, thanks. I want him to learn to enjoy art as a refined expression, not a gross representation of all the ugliness that the mind is capable of when it chooses to challenge.

    I for once side with Imelda Marcos. Whoever permitted that perverse display need to be replaced by someone with a lot more intellectual grace. I and my dog may be schmoes, for we are loaded with opinions. And we have no trouble with someone calling any individual expression “art”. But we have a real problem with where it pops up. Rather like I don’t like a pile of dog shit in the middle of my living room. And even my dog has the intellectual reach required to grasp the concept.

  3. I’ve always found it mildly amusing how a group of people can attach a dogma to what is an individual perspective based on a lack of a belief in a particular concept. There are atheists who are exactly that – atheists – who concern themselves with other things since, by definition, thoughts of the Almighty or spirituality are just not part of their programming. The rest of them seemed to have turned it into a religion.

    As far as the CCP thing goes, I agree that it was art in only the most contrived sense, and poor judgment on the part of the Center to display it.

  4. This just shows the lack of critical thought on you people. A close mind will interpret things negatively, always.

    1. Explain where in this article can I find the “lack of critical thought” and I might not prejudge you based on your apt-enough username.

  5. If you go to the Art Gallery Museum in Florance, Italy. You can see the Art Sculpture of David, by the great artist: MichaelAngelo. The statue is completely naked; with David’s Penis sticking out…Art is in the eyes of the bweholder…if your mind is dirty…the statue is obsence…if not, it is a work of art…It is sad that we are still in the Dark Ages, due to our Theocracy…we have to go to our Age of Enlightenment…to appreciate the work of good artists…However, we encourage artists, to be sensitive to the religions of other people…please don’t offend people, with your art…we have not yet reach the time/level, where people are open minded…

    1. I think sometimes people think being open minded means allowing anything at any time. I think that is a form of blindness, actually. To me, a mind that is open to the sensitivities of others, and therefore able to curtail certain expressions in certain forums, is truly open.

      1. Very well said…being provocative with and about one’s belief and opinion but responsible to not offend other people’s way of life.

  6. I read somewhere that an atheist group is suing a Christian group for defamation. According to the atheist, it’s a defamation claiming that atheist will never go to heaven once they pass away.

  7. ‘Put simply, the artwork only crosses a line if one assumes the divinity of the subject. Since this is an argument about what can and cannot be displayed in a state institution, we should ask if the state can assume the divinity of the subject “defiled” in “Poleteismo.” It cannot, because doing so would entail the state supporting a Christian take on what is sacred and what is not.’

  8. can somebody enlighten me, when did genitalia became associated to rudeness and inappropriateness.

    art is pure and is innocent. interpretation of art is subjective to each audience’s frame of mind.

    genitalia can also be interpreted as tools of reproduction and creation and hence, life. putting a dick in christ’s mouth might be intrepreted that his words are life-giving.

  9. This is what i can’t understand, Jesus Christ is depicted in almost all prints with a blue eyes, long curly hair, white skin, oblong face shape, he has more of a white’s man feature than being a middle eastern, he lives in a desert, a hot and humid place with tones of sand dunes and that should suggests that jesus christ facial feature should be more of a middle eastern and probably with brown or dark skin.

    is the Christian’s impression of Jesus Christ face could be correct? I highly doubted it since there’s no solid evidence to confirm JC’s facial feature, therefore, the man on the photo is not jesus christ, it’s probably someone else from a Caucasian stock.

  10. I will not contest that genitalia has something to do with rudeness or inappropriateness. This is the same contention that the porno publishers has put up to legalize their business.

    If medical books can explicitly present human bodies, why can’t they. It’s the US first amendment right in living color.

    It follows also that if somebody put up the photoshopped photo of Mideo Cruz and his mother graphically naked in the internet while the latter is sucking and licking his penis can be considered as his arts. A politically correct arts.

  11. I read above arguments of reason in search of a truth. But the truth that eludes the rationalists is that one can choose to be sensitive or one can choose to be insensitive, and it is rare, in the Philippines, to see the choice come down on the side of sensitive. Rationalizations abound as to why it is okay to be offensive to others.

  12. at the end of day, I’d still rather prefer the complete absence of old men in robes dictating what I can’t be allowed to see, do, or say.

    The minute rabid atheists start knocking on my door bringing me the good news of his holy highness Dawkins the Almighty, I will slam the door on their faces like I do with annoying bible thumpers

    Why cant everyone be apatheists, sigh.

  13. you say that the majority have mediocre minds (93% of the population happen to be Catholics); exactly why Mideo Cruz’s “chaos” works and exactly why it needed to be at CCP. Eh puta napaka in-your-face na nga, andami pa ring nakamiss nung punto. Pano pa kaya if the exhibit was made with subtlety? it would have been only noticed and understood by a select few. Remember Art Appreciation Class, third-world version?

  14. It is fund and hilarious, every time I order coffee at star bucks, they ask for my name, depending on my mood, I will use: Satanists”. Infidel, Taliban, crusader, atheist, Mr., Gay and whatever comes first to my mind. I love watching their reaction…

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