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 â€œtrue artistic beauty is a product of depth in structure and meaning and not just of chaotic expressionâ€. 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 â€œartâ€, 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 â€œplace his penis in her vaginaâ€, 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.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.