Sunday, December 31, 2006

Vegetables in Baguio City (Philippines)

Because of the El Nino phenomenon, the weather up in the Cordilleras has been milder than usual. It almost seems like the so-called "summer months" -- in reality, the Philippines is one eternal summer place. But up in the mountains, it can get chilly especially from December until February. This year, the absence of frost has yielded an abundant harvest for gardeners. Photo above was taken on Jose Rizal Day, December 30, 2006 at the Baguio City Public Market.

We pray this will be a precursor to the quality of life in the new year to come. That in spite of irregularities in human or geophysical events, we can still benefit from the opportunities given to us by our God.

May the Earth yield its bountiful fruits for all peoples of the world. And may heaven heed our petitions for a lasting era of cooperation and peace among nations.

Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Confessions of a Constant Adulterer and a Would-Be-Rapist

You may cringe at the thought of reading someone divulge his most loathsome desires as much as I do so in writing such a too-personal and too-honest a confession. Man as I am, there is in me that carnal desire to satisfy a basic biological desire. That is why I got married. In marriage and through the process of siring three children, the sexual desire took a vital and powerful role that I must admit I had not been prepared to properly handle. With all the academic, technical and spiritual education I’ve had, this blinding force could not be easily subdued or disregarded without somehow affecting the very essence of my own personality. I would not be who I am without my manhood and my sexuality as a man.

I guess this is true for every other person alive.

As a child, I remember my cousins and I crawling behind bushes to watch our pretty neighbor making out with her boy-friend on the balcony. The arousal created in a four-year-old was no less overpowering and titillating than the ones I would have as an adult. Kids do such things not because they understand what’s happening but because they already feel the attraction for the opposite sex. Curiosity arises not from the novelty of a thing but from the built-in appeal it has for one who also has the capacity to experience the carnal act. Hence, we all need to satisfy a desire that is there in the first place even before the mind can totally comprehend (if that were possible) the meaning of that attraction. Much less before anyone can even gain the self-control to resist the desire or at least to avoid satisfying it inordinately.

If we were to apply Christ’s definition of adultery even to such “not-so-innocent“ kids, we would have been considered as adulterers. We looked at a woman with lust in our hearts. If lust ranges from a childhood desire to ravish a woman (within the limited scope of a child’s ability to imagine what sex is all about) to that of all-out mental or virtual coitus, I was and still am an adulterer, many times over. A bona-fide violator of the 7th commandment. For even within a nano-second of the mind’s powerful ability to imagine, I could not escape or be excused from judgment. Who can I? And with movies making it so easy for us to unleash our wildest imaginations, who can withstand this plague?

Not that God is that quick to condemn a person for such lustful thoughts; or that He is ever on the guard to catch us violating the command. For we could easily fault Him for having created the opposite sex to be beautiful and desirable. Why would the natural reaction to His original design be thus considered abominable to Him? As people often say, “It is not wrong to appreciate beautiful women or handsome men.” What is wrong is to desire something that is not rightfully yours. This is the most obvious intent of the command.

Hence, even if the thing desired is willfully given, if it is not proper, then there is adultery. What is proper? Age, ability, maturity, status and propriety are just some of the factors that may come into the picture. Rape falls into that category of not only being improper but also reprehensible. What is not given and not “giveable” cannot and should not be taken. A person who thinks in his heart to sexually possess a woman not only commits adultery but also, in a figurative sense, rapes that woman. This idea will not stand legally though. However, it does have the power to produce the act. Just as Christ said that the lustful desire created the act itself of adultery, the imagination propels the act itself of rape.

One need not interview a real rapist to know that the deed committed in violation of a woman’s dignity began with the person deciding to implement what was first in the mind. A would-be rapist is not any farther from becoming a rapist in reality than a lustful person is from becoming an adulterer. If the lustful person can be branded as an adulterer, the aggressively desirous may likewise become a physical abuser.

But does this apply to those who are married? Some say so; others do not agree. A friend told me he masturbates when his wife doesn’t give in to his advances to make love with her. In the process, is he not violating not just himself but also his wife? Perhaps not but it gives us something to think about in trying to understand how our motives become actions. For we all know that there are many who rape their own wives: a case of legal rape or simply illegal entry?

Which brings us to the nagging question: Who should be blamed, the rapist or the one who led him/her to do so?

Obviously, the wife cannot cover herself sufficiently or behave indifferently in a futile effort to prevent her husband from being seduced to rape her. The mere assumption that she is his wife (though not a willing sexual partner at some point) can bring about a wild sexual drive. So it is with any single woman who may happen to be in a place or situation (whether of her making or not) where a man is throwing away his golden halo in exchange for red horns.

As with a child who has within its mind and its genitals the capacity to conjure and even produce sexual arousal (and fulfillment, if given the chance or time), much more so with a mature person who has the means to force the issue. (Pun is accidental.)

Does this mean I have had such aggressive desires that would have led me to rape someone? Perhaps I have at one time or another. But if I did so, it was not something I feel happy about. Or more precisely, it was because I was not happy about how I was being deprived or how I wasn’t able to respect a woman or to control my own desires at a moment when things were not ideal.

Yes, there may not be an ideal moment in any relationship or any situation involving sexual desires. The honeymoon stage may be the smallest window of bliss given to man and woman wherein they can experience that utopian sex we all constantly dream about from childhood to senility.

As long as women are women and men are men, the sexual stimulus will drive some people crazy enough to do heinous things. Our laws are there to help us subdue our minds, if not soften our hearts and other organs. Death or lifetime imprisonment may be a cruel punishment and deterrent for those who fail to do so, but it is the legally and socially acceptable sentence for the crime. Such crimes happen because some think they can cross the line between the mind and the body, not knowing that the mind overshadows the body. You violate your own mind; you violate your own body. In the process, you may violate another person’s body.

My confession serves me no purpose if I did not express my deep remorse over such evils thoughts that I harbor within me. Knowing that God hears me and that He allows me the grace to move on with a clear conscience daily, gives me enough hope that someday I may attain perfect self-control. I have responsibility for my own purity and my own perfection. A woman who wears tight or skimpy clothes may and will eventually lead me think lustful thoughts but I have no right to rebuke her for leading me to do so. I do have the right to tell her that how she dresses or behaves arouses my manhood. I do have the right to tell those who exploit women and lead them to appear and act seductively on the TV or in print that they violate my freedom. I do have the right to tell people that I am a sinner in the process of perfection by the hands of the Lord and that those who work against it knowingly or unknowingly will have to answer for it to Him.

Now, since I have made it known to all, I expect the same treatment from others that they should expect from me. Cover yourself well or behave yourself well and I will try to control myself as much as I can. This is not too much to ask from women or men, is it?

Finally, I may not totally understand how women feel and why they behave the way they do and vice versa. As such, expressing myself in this manner may be one good way that I can co-exist with women and those who may use them for selfish gains. Social norms and taboos exist to protect every person from pervert acts. As it is, society has loosed all controls and so we reap now the evil consequences.

The mind is the first and final frontier of all human experience. What we imagine or do there has a great bearing upon what happens in the real world. Letting others know who and what we really are may somehow help them adjust their own thoughts and behavior accordingly. I believe that is the only way we can achieve social harmony.

(Photo: Acacia trees and silvery clouds in UP Diliman.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

The “Gospel” of Judas Changes Nothing

Why all the fuss? Nothing has changed with the discovery of Judas’ Gospel. Jesus rightly said: People are so easily turned away from the truth.

But before anything else, we shouldn’t consider this book “Good News” for it discredits the more acceptable testimonies of four other reliable and corroborating witnesses – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – regarding the real relationship between Jesus and Judas. Why a single apocryphal document should be granted so much exposure and importance could only point to media’s inherent desire for attention and, naturally, revenue. Especially coming from a network that openly espouses the still-unproven Theory of Evolution, this latest scoop could be nothing but a relapse of National Geographic’s “sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism”. (From “A Whale Fantasy from National Geographic at

If there is anything that we find fresh in this circa-AD-300 manuscript, it is the emphasis it puts on the attention Christ has for Judas, the supposed author of the book. That He should be seen as more intimate with Judas than with any other Apostle, merely points to the writer’s intention to divert us from the more commonly accepted viewpoint. At the very least, it provides an alternative perspective which highlights Jesus’ efforts to reach out to His would-be betrayer.

However, the logic of Jesus trying to convince Judas to betray Him in order to give way to His sacrifice mimics the logic of Satan tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and offering the same to Adam in order for them to become like God. It practically pushes Judas to commit a sin, something that Jesus would not have thought of doing or teaching. This alone puts the whole idea under suspicion. It must be out of an abysmal desperation that Jesus would do such a thing as if he had not recognized Judas’ real character that would eventually lead to his greed and his act of betrayal. Why have to go through the pain and agony of sweating blood and water and the crucifixion itself if He Himself had taken the effort of convincing a dear friend to fulfill His supposedly masochistic desire to die a loathsome death? Or wasn’t it altogether because one of His disciples would betray Him while the rest would desert Him and that even His Father would “forsake” Him that led Him through such intense agony?

The romantic if not glossy picture we get from the Gnostics’ version of the Gospel, for all intents and purposes, destroys all our presumptions of God having given human beings “free will”. It makes a robot or a puppet out of Judas as it makes a schemer out of Jesus. It divests the two protagonists of any semblance of “being what they really are” – the products of all that they had been taught or destined to become: one, the sent from God and, the other, the sent from Satan. The very substance of their characters is lost in this apparently make-believe or fictional and mystical concept.

Finally, it takes away the real force of evil or wickedness that Satan portrays in Scriptures as well as in real life. With Jesus whispering to Judas what He wanted him to do, who needs Satan in the picture? Gospel of Judas? Make that “gossip spell” or “Goss-spell” of Judas.

Ultimately then, these things have not changed with the presentation of this new Judas character, namely:

  1. Jesus was betrayed by a close friend, was crucified and then resurrected and ascended to heaven. The word “betrayal” presumes a reversal or a destruction of deep trust, something that Judas actually did. Obeying Jesus’ instructions to betray Him would be “obedience” not “betrayal”.
  2. Judas made money betraying Jesus and hanged himself for his lack of repentance – an avenue he could have easily utilized if indeed he had his “marching orders” from Christ. On the contrary, Satan won him over – Satan’s ultimate intention -- when he (Judas) despaired over his dastardly deed.
  3. Judas was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1) in the circle of Apostles who would carry on the work of Christ. Had he repented, Judas could have been a better witness to people particularly the Jews than all the rest of the Apostles just as Paul -- a persecutor of Christians – was to the Gentiles. A betrayer-turned-saint could have only been a great asset to His work if Jesus had intended it that way. Perhaps, He did out of His great compassion but that Judas missed the chance.
  4. That Judas killed himself points to the reality and the depth of the guilt he experienced from betraying Jesus. Had Jesus given specific prior instructions to Judas to “do his deed”, then such guilt would not have been present at all or, in the least, would have been so easy to bear. Either way, Judas would not have behaved so violently upon himself as if he had no initial knowledge and approval from the Lord Himself. We know he never had.
  5. Finally, our faith in Jesus is not at all affected by this new twist in Judas’ character as our worship is directed to the Savior and not to the betrayer. Our attention is toward the Giver of Life and not the Harbinger of Death.

And this is all that this manuscript aims in doing: To divert the focus of humans from their responsibility of trusting and worshiping the Jesus revealed in the four Gospel accounts. By diluting the import of valid witnesses to the life of Christ, this “bad news” diminishes the clarity of the picture we have of our Lord’s sufferings by incorporating false motivations and erroneous history. Mystics aim to mystify, if you haven’t heard the news.

They say that the making of this book as well as others that propose modern views of Christ, such as The Da Vinci Code, supposedlycreate history” in the sense that they supply us with new perspective with which we can reevaluate or reengineer the character of Christ and thus our attitude toward Him – that is, our faith or lack of it. In short, people simply make new suppositions or wantonly distort foundational history to destroy the faith of millions, if not to support their lack of it.

This is not a new strategy. It is as old as Satan. To destroy the hero, make the villain look good. To discredit the leader, make his followers look and feel lost. The serpent did that to God by telling Adam and Eve, “God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." And so after sinning, Adam and Eve learned how to pass on the blame to others. Eve blamed the Serpent for her sin and Adam blamed Eve for his own. Guess who the Serpent blames? Who else but God. In this case, Jesus is made to appear as a benevolent hero-villain, all rolled into one. How very clever of Satan: pointing the spotlight as well as passing on the blame on Jesus while he (Satan) lurks in the darkness.

You want to make people forget how evil you are or that you even exist? Just focus on the good guy and make him appear a bit evil or untrustworthy – no, genially manipulative -- and you just might succeed. That is the story of the “Gossip-spell” of Judas.

Good try. BUT BE WARNED: Satan will try and try again.

(Photo is that of the Fort Bonifacio War Memorial in Taguig City.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Role of a Prophet

Exactly what did the ancient prophets do?

Let us enumerate:

  1. They foretold the future. What for? To prepare people to face it or to prevent them from becoming victims of its eventualities.
  2. They told the truth. The future held certain principles or realities either present or not present today. To be aware of them is to gain a moral advantage over those who remain ignorant or do not submit to heaven’s calling.
  3. They established the past. The past contained the same principles applicable today which if we remain in them will help us face trials.
  4. They linked the past with the present and with the future into one practical reality. This synthesis once appreciated allows people to see their condition with a clearer and wider perspective and thus prevent failure or minimize suffering. In short, prophets saved people.
  5. They suffered for the people. Consider Lot who was a righteous person living among depraved people. All that time he was tortured by the sins of those people. Although not a recognized prophet, he showed how people like Elijah or Daniel might have felt living among the wicked.
  6. They suffered for themselves. To be different and to live according to a high standard of morality entails discipline and much self-denial. A prophet (or any truly committed believer, for that matter) willfully decides to accept divine chastisement for no other reason than that it is the proper thing to do.
  7. They suffered for God. Like Jesus Who took upon Himself the curses of God’s enemies, prophets ultimately knew that God was the One behind all that they went through and humbly submitted to His will.
  8. They lived very challenging and extraordinary lives. The burden of declaring things not normal to common people required almost superhuman skills and commitment. Only a few were gifted to be able to successfully bear it.
  9. They lived and died with great spiritual contentment. The satisfaction of anticipating the prized words “Well done, good and faithful servant” motivated them to do what they were told to do.
  10. They live forever. No other reward for such arduous task as that of being a prophet other than eternal life will suffice. As trailblazers, prophets showed and led the way to life.

(Photo above shows solarized UP Baguio Oblation against a natural blue sky.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Are We All Maladjusted People?

Mark 6:47-50

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Even in terrible times, God can still play a joke on us. Huh? Why should anyone claiming to be godly say such a thing?

But it’s true. If testing our faith or merely our perception of reality could be considered a joke.

Look at that phrase in Verse 48 in this short event in the life of Jesus and the Apostles: He was about to pass by them…. Seeing how they struggled against the storm and walking (probably strolling confidently) ON the water, Jesus was even intending to pass by them. Why?

He certainly did not want to insult them by waving or shouting at them. Neither did He try to come up suddenly on the boat and shock them witless. That would have probably caused some of them to suffer a heart attack. Jesus did the best and most decent thing under the situation: try to walk ahead of them. That is, to see if they would notice Him.

They did.

But they thought He was a ghost! Who else would walk on water (during a storm) but a ghost? Belief in ghosts or superstitions beats faith. Almost everytime. Historically and culturally.

Wait, they recognized Jesus finally. And they were even more scared; they screamed in terror! God must have been laughing at this scene. (Those who understand may now laugh at themselves, too.) His Son toying around with the inconsistencies of untrained disciples. It’s like watching your 10-year-old child having fun with a tiny, bumbling puppy.

Who can adjust to the reality of Jesus without going crazy? Or rejecting Him? By that, I mean the reality of His unreality. That He can walk on water or that He can stop the wind. And, need I mention, raise the dead?

We all are well adjusted to nature and its seemingly fixed laws but not to God and His creative ways – some still call it mysterious after centuries of revelation.

Oh, when will we ever adjust our eyes and our minds to the reality of God?

(Photo on top: Fresh footprint on the sand -- ordinary fisherfolk have no need to wear shoes while they work; Photo above: Fishermen of San Juan, La Union pulling a net from the shore. Safe method for humans but perhaps not so for sea life being crushed and dragged along.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's a World Wild Web

They are able to have a more stable social structure that prevents them from being aggressive….” The American woman’s sound-byte on TV partly caught my attention as I coaxed water from the fountain in the public dining hall. Ah, US elections: even in the Philippines, or especially in the Philippines, people are interested to know what issues the Democrats and the Republicans talk about. I thought, “Why should we be so concerned about social or political issues in the US when we choke from those of our own here?” The dilemma tossed in my mind as the glass filled up. Looking up at the TV screen, I then saw this gigantic elephant and its tiny baby enveloped in the swirling African savannah dust. Elephants on Discovery Channel! They were talking about elephants and not Americans! Not even Republicans!

Is it possible that people have reached that point in human development that we have somehow applied our own social dynamics to those of animals? Or is it merely an evolutionary extension (pun definitely intended) of our dependence or adherence (following Darwin’s thinking) to our origins in the lower life-forms? That what we are simply could not be detached from what we were before when we were supposedly eons away from even contemplating such complex ideas as elections or electronics, things which are even beyond ordinary human, let alone animal, comprehension.

Or perhaps, we condescendingly try to force upon animals a logical pattern of behavior akin to that of humans. I don’t really know for sure how zoologists think but in recent times, the various academic disciplines have crossed barriers in the effort to attain a more holistic view of life.

The socio-biologists, for instance, claim that humans are biological organisms. Others argue that “No, at the beginning of the day, we are an evolving animal species, but by the end of the day, we're something else again. We're human beings…. (T)he Yanomami Indians of South America is one more instance of that fierce philosophical fight over the nature of human nature. Are those head-hunting Yanomami warriors acting out a universal human urge to dominate or die? And are we doomed, if that's so, to tribalism, sexism, racism, ethnic cleansing and war without end?” <Christopher Lydon at>

Perhaps some people study animals or prefer dealing with them as pets or as virtual friends to better understand themselves. I have a friend who, before she married a bit late in her life, had so many pet cats and after marrying even adopted stray cats. Sure, animals need care as much as humans or husbands do. They need, like humans too, understanding and to be understood in emotional, social and scientific terms. (Or do we merely reflect ourselves upon them? Seeing something that’s not really there?) How much effort one puts into such a pursuit depends on one’s passion for it. And how much we gain from it determines the level of happiness we attain in life.

In a sense, the world has become less and less of a wild, unexplored and untamed world. Even society has become less and less exciting and less useful for so many people who have gone on to explore other worlds such as the virtual realm of the Internet and that of outer space. (Still for so many, TV remains the window to a visually-managed wilderness whose ways seem to awaken our own primal instincts.) Whereas before people went to Africa or the Amazon River to hunt wild game or explore nature, today the excitement dwells in the inner reaches of the human psyche or the human mind. In this still uncompleted chart, many spend money, time and effort to unravel the secrets that may one day bring the Utopian era of harmony, peace and understanding. But is that really possible on this Earth?

For now, we study animals and ourselves, propose hypotheses and theories, seek out social and political leaders and scour books and the Internet in search of conclusive answers. In search of the perfect knowledge that will set us finally free from the wildness within and around us. All because we have lost that perfect affinity we once had with one another and even with animals in a long lost place we call Paradise.

[Top photo: My foster-sister, Jodi Hottel, at 4 and her pet cat, Blackie (from a Kodachrome slide taken in 1980, Texas); Photo above: At the butterfly farm in Club John Hay, Baguio City]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The History of Unbelief

Why are there atheists? Or for that matter, why are there believers? Let’s apply Socrates. (In my meditation, I asked these same questions and was led to further questions that gave some suitable answers.)

Yes, why would a person reject evidence of God’s existence? Why would that person say, for instance, that God does not exist because you cannot prove something that does not exist? But that is getting ahead of our selves. Presented with the proposition that God Whom we cannot see (not necessarily that He does not exist) does exist might be difficult for some people but easy for others? Why?

We think according to how we were taught to think. We make judgments or evaluations according to how we learned to reason out. If we lived in a culture or an environment wherein the emphasis is on science or logic and not on suppositions, naturally we will use these astute methods to draw conclusions. However, if you ever grew up in a family that fed you with superstitions, you will learn to fear the dark and constantly beware of creatures lurking around you. Things you do not see will make you act as if they were real and vicious enough to do damage. On the other hand, those who believe in the benevolent presence of guardian angels feel safe and in ample grace. Some of the most respected people we know bear some weird ideas or taboos that defy objective reason. Efren “Bata” Reyes, for instance, does not take a bath during his billiard tournaments for good luck.

Which makes us wonder: Were we meant to be creatures of accidents or chance or of purpose? If we came out of pure chance, is goodness or excellence something we can choose and enjoy as we please or something we can merely disregard and still live merrily on?

It seems then that how we were brought up or educated has so much to do with the way we perceive ourselves and the world we live in. It further determines our appreciation (or lack of it) of things we refer to as out-of-this-world, things we do not see and hear.

Take this case: Will a blind man believe there is such a thing as a vivid rainbow? Not unless someone told him so. How would you describe colors to such a blind man? How do you tell him that what you see is a mere illusion itself of raindrops playing around with the light to make out a dazzling display of hues? Whatever tools you may use, you might end up convincing the man. You are a valid and direct witness to the reality of a rainbow.

Was the writer of the Genesis account a valid witness of creation, of God and everything he wrote about? If he was, then we can believe his words. We can believe there is a God. We can then go directly to the source of the testimony about God. We bypass those testimonies of our teachers, our parents, of all of human history pointing to the existence of God and His many interventions in our affairs to make our task easier. However, we tend to believe only what we were told or taught to believe. This in itself is an acquired habit but a dangerous one. For with all the evidences available, we can just as well believe primary or first-hand witnesses.

In some cases, of course, people form their beliefs from what they see in nature. The pagans worshipped nature or the Spirit that moves in nature as they saw power at work and beauty displayed. Only a truly blinded person will see creation and not see the Hand behind it. The “savage” may not clearly perceive the nature of Deity but he or she goes through rituals that express that sublime acknowledgment of divine existence. Atheists, on the other hand, do not, as a rule, make as much as a nod to any supernatural being. It is a case of a human spirit denying and rejecting its own existence before and beyond the present. Why so?

“Lack” of evidence does not necessarily mean the “absence” of evidence. Oftentimes, it means the evidence is recognized (obviously, for atheists are mostly intelligent people who have read a lot) but not accepted as valid or real evidence. At most, the proof is taken as “unscientific” or “illogical”. A thing that does not exist cannot be proved. Granted that that is so, let us then apply this statement upon the atheist’s own existence.

We know and accept that the atheist – let’s call him Joe Flash -- exists. We see Joe and hear him and can even touch him. We can converse with him. Does he have a body? Obviously, he does. Does he have a spirit? We think he does. But does he accept that he does? If he does, then good. But does he believe that his spirit will survive his body? If not, then that is one opinion. If he does, then he has destroyed his position as an atheist. For an immortal spirit would mean that it came -- as it really did – from somewhere else, perhaps from God.

Hence, if the human spirit disappears with the body, where did that spirit come from in the first place? From matter? Obviously not, because we were born not of mere matter but of living beings. We are not animals either so we cannot compare ourselves with animals. Besides, the so-called history of evolution is just another form of atheism or at best a theory wearing the convenient clothes of faith. The main point, however, is the question of where human and animal spirits originated. Birds can be trained to talk but not to think. The human spirit has that advantage of sentience. We know because we were meant to know things. Why? Because we are beings with a purpose, not products of chance. The main purpose for plants and animals is to help humans survive. Our main purpose as humans is to find out why we need to survive and why we do survive.

Nevertheless, there are things which, even if we could, we will not know because we do not want to know. A monkey, if it could, would want to know how to make a crunchy pie out of banana or coconut. But humans can make all kinds of recipes out of anything under the leaves of plants and skins of animals. Why? The spirit in us is an image of the One who created us. We see ourselves or we see creation, and we see the reflection of Divinity. To some it is obvious; to others it is not. Why? Because of what we know and how we were taught to know. If atheists only knew what they are capable of knowing, they would believe, too. Alas, for lack of desire, they cannot see the evidences of God’s reality.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve didn’t have to look for evidence. God spoke to them face to face in the Garden. We might exclaim, “Good for them!” But who wrote about Adam and Eve? It was Moses. Did he speak to God? He claimed he did. How do we know he really did? He had tablets of stone to prove that God even wrote the Ten Commandments He gave to the Hebrews. Come on, a guy raised in Egypt where sculpting with metal tools was common could have easily written on stone! Right. What about the light that glowed in his face after he talked to God? People did see him, didn’t they? How sure are we? Well, how sure are we that Hitler commanded the Jews to be gassed? Because somebody saw it and wrote about it. How sure are we that Moses parted the sea? Because somebody saw it and wrote about it.

Where lies the difference? Not in the testimony but in the one who receives the testimony. Testimony is recorded history. Whether written or spoken or seen with our own eyes or heard with our own ears, evidence is always based on human experience or history. Whether direct or not, it will always require belief or faith. If a person is raised to believe in ghosts, he or she will grow to be a ghost-believer. Until such time that he changes his/her mind to believe otherwise.

In the beginning, all people believed in God. At some point in time, people forgot that God exists. Why? Because they forgot (this must be possible) or someone told them there is no God. This statement is most intriguing and deserves our attention.

How do people forget something? When their attention shifts to another thing. I forget to bring my keys because I was busy cleaning my shoes. Or I forget to turn off the light because someone called me on the phone. Can a person forget God? The Pharaohs who came after Joseph’s time forgot that he ever existed or that he saved Egypt from starvation. How was this possible? Did they not erect a memorial for Joseph? Did they not put into their records his deeds? Or if they did, did they pull the memorial down or burned the records? Perhaps, by accident, Joseph was forgotten. Can we accidentally forget God? It is possible. If we try hard enough, we can probably find people who did.

But what about the idea of telling people that there is no God? Is this possible? What would motivate a person do so? If someone else said there is a God. Yes, someone who has forgotten or does not believe in God simply responds to the question: Is there a God? In short, one person is led to atheism as much as another is led to belief. The answer depends on how we think out the conclusion.

In the end, forgetting is a temporary thing. So is believing. Today, one may believe in God and may not after a while. Or one may remain an atheist or a believer until death. In the process, others may be influenced to believe our testimony or not.

This brings us finally to the very root of the history of unbelief. At one time, some Greeks acknowledged an Unknown God. For centuries, the Greeks, without a revealed scripture, concluded that a God exists and honored Him accordingly. The ancient pagans also acknowledged a Divine Presence in nature or adored the many gods of their ancestors. The great liar, Satan, who could not prevent people from believing, sought to confuse the issue by inventing idolatry. When finally he thought of a way to make people not believe in God, he grasped the opportunity, using science and philosophy to make a strong case. With his success at weakening Christianity through greed, divisions and wars, he further strengthened his success at bringing more and more people away from God. Today, some nations legislate against belief in God, against praying in public places and against carrying and reading the Bible. If there is really no God, why the paranoia? Why the repression? Is this an overreaction to the hegemony of the Crusaders or the excesses of modern faith? Or is this merely an expression of the insecurity of atheism?

The greatest lie in the world comes from the greatest liar of all, Satan: There is no God. When Jesus called the Jews “children of Satan”, He was simply calling them liars. Why? Because they did not believe the testimonies of His words and His miracles. Christ came to bear witness to the truth but humans rejected it. Can we now appreciate how powerful unbelief can be? Why? Because this world is ruled by Satan and so the children of God suffer as they did in ancient times. As it is, their testimony of God is overwhelmed by the onslaught of so much unbelief around us. The Book of Revelation had predicted this. Even the early assemblies of Christians came under intense attack from God’s enemies. Faith is under attack and yet it thrives because it has the power to save those who truly seek light and salvation. This spiritual battle may seem subdued or quiet to many but it is a real battle and the intense engagement rages on. Atheism is just one of the many protagonists.

Like it or not, we do not make perfectly independent conclusions in our beliefs. We will always be subjected to the opinions and beliefs of others. Our parents’ upbringing of us, our teachers’ guidance in school and the world’s influence on us will color our thoughts and ideas. And everything else passed on to us may contain the lies invented from the beginning of history when the serpent deceived our first parents. But we can counteract the effects of other people’s stained minds by going directly to the testimonies of those who talked to God or to whom God spoke. This is the only sure way.

Granted that God does not exist in this world or, put in another perspective, if God is beyond human scrutiny; how does one try to prove He exists? Is it really our problem? No! It is God’s problem. To take that as our problem would only make us appear very proud. That’s what atheists do. Instead of assuming something does not exist, why not ask: What if it exists? Isn’t it better to have an open mind and say: Alright, if I were God, what would I do? Will I keep myself hidden from people who think I don’t exist? Will I not do something to try to show them that I do exist? But an atheist may not even care to ask such questions and simply say, “There is nothing to prove for a person who needs no proof.” (Something a believer may also say.) Pride is the greatest obstacle to learning.

Ultimately, unbelief is as much a choice as belief is. Every believer faces a wall when confronted with another person’s unbelief for it is literally and figuratively a dead-end. A deep emptiness besets a believer upon acknowledging that some people do not believe what he believes so earnestly. He even wonders how atheists must feel about people who believe in God. Do atheists feel the same pity or regret? Perhaps. For we take only what we see and act thereon. We feel only what we feel is natural or normal for finite humans to do. Whether we believe or not, we will still be frail creatures on this planet. For now, we all share the same world and experience the same things humans go through in the body. For now, we can only await the final resolution of things.

Why are there atheists? Why are there believers? I don’t think it is because there is no God.

There are no shadows in the sun,
As there is no darkness in heaven;
There are no winds above the clouds
As there is no doubt in a true believer’s heart;
There is no death where there is no sin,
As there is no sorrow in eternal life.
Darkness, doubt and death
Are the fruits of unbelief.

Light, love and everlasting life
Come from belief in God.

(Photo on top: Morning surf in San Juan, La Union. Photo above: Clear day on the beach when sand, sea, sky, sun and soul unite.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Testing the Limits

Engineering science gave us skyscrapers, suspension bridges, nuclear submarines and supersonic planes. Imagine how much humans have accomplished since the time of the Noah’s Ark, Babel Tower and the Egyptian Pharaohs’ Pyramids. Endowed with plain human curiosity and advancing through sophisticated technology, we have learned to harness the use of materials and the forces of nature to create durable structures.

Until concrete and steel became common tools for builders, we had not truly understood how to respond to forces such as gravity, earthquakes, cyclonic winds and water pressure. With a combined steel-and-concrete design, civil engineers have been able to maximize strength and space through economical construction designs and methods. A building can now go up to more than 400 meters using steel or reinforced concrete frames. This beneficial use of material strength applies to many other fields we often take for granted: in dental care, in furniture design, in toy manufacturing and in the design of sporting goods.

Testing the limits of a particular material such as lumber can be as simple as bending it with one’s hands until it breaks or using precise gadgets that will measure how much flexural or bending stress it can withstand before reaching its Ultimate Strength limit. Such know-how allows engineers to design structures that contain all the benefits of economy, aesthetics, strength and durability. In short, engineers determine the allowable limits and work within them. To exceed them is to court disaster.

In sports, testing the limits has allowed athletes to endure stress and overcome great obstacles on the road to breaking Olympic records. Extreme sports – as an exciting new field -- is all about breaking through perceived human limits of endurance, courage and credulity. Certainly, it has become a great source of profit for the networks and of compelling entertainment for people. However, it has also stretched human sensitivity to a point of fatigue itself – a kind of Ultimate Strength limit. In fact, engineers use the term “fatigue” to refer to the failure of a structural member to carry load, thus leading to collapse.

Nervous breakdown is a common occurrence now, perhaps because we subject ourselves to so much stress physically, emotionally as well as mentally. And even kids have been mercilessly utilized by the networks to act like mature newscasters, comedians, entertainers and program hosts as if their presence could give a semblance of innocence and freshness to otherwise unwholesome and hackneyed shows. As if that were not enough, business rears its ugly head and bankrolls shows and activities that all but defy all limits of decency, virtue and common sense. We need to promote a new line of underwear. Bring in the best-looking hunks and babes and let them wear the skimpiest undies. As a finale, let them take them off. Watch how the crowd will howl with glee!

There is really no limit to human depravity. Testing the limits is the oldest but the most enduring game in town.

The Tower of Babel was nothing but a story of how city-people tested the limits of human ingenuity and ended up testing the grace of God Himself. They simply wanted to build a tower to reach heaven, a totally innocent goal if you look at it. But in their hearts, those people harbored the chronic sin of pride. In God’s words, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6) In Job 38:10-11, we read how God “fixed limits” for the sea and “set its doors and bars in place” and said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt.”

Only up to this point!

In same manner, God had set a limit to humans. As early as the time of Adam and Eve, this became obvious. Everything else was allowed, except for the forbidden fruit. I grant you a million choices but one singular prohibition. I give you one million things but do not choose something else that will destroy you. Sounds fair enough, isn’t it?

But, no! As adventurous or foolhardy as humans are, they end up testing even the limits of God's moral standards. Monogamy was once the originally prescribed limit but polygamy broke through. Marital fidelity used to be the rule until adultery and divorce came into fashion. Laws – whether divine or human – were precisely conceived to set limits to human behavior and yet now there is no end to the promulgation of laws as there is really no end to human ingenuity to impugn the rule of law. Sophisticated security measures and financial controls against embezzlement, fraud, bank robbery and corruption have become standard jobs for monetary institutions. Even the simple task of securing one’s domicile against break-ins has spawned a big business for security agencies and high-tech security-alarm manufacturers.

Complete peace and security has become a wistful dream today, thanks to unlimited or unabated criminality and violence. In a much larger scale, military adventurism has become a fashionable career move for our officers in uniform. Lured by the promises of businesspeople and politicians, some of these officers become easy prey for people who wantonly test the limits of democracy. Add to this deadly, armed component those who stretch the limits of our so-called freedom of speech and assembly and we have the formula for bringing a nation to the brink of collapse. Like a building that has structural members with limited capacities, so with a nation where peace and order can break down under abnormal and intolerable conditions. Hence, the danger of anarchy will always remain as long as there are those who resort to nefarious ways to test the limits of our institutions.

When will it all end? How do we arrest the ultimate downfall of order in society?

Simply by living within the limits of society’s norms. As Aristotle and Confucius said, “Walk the middle path.” Yes, do not go to the extreme left or right. Do not go to the extreme height or the extreme depth. Stay within the liberties given to us by God and society and we will do well. There is so much we can do and enjoy in that space “within the bounds” without feeling bored or confined. Without feeling that life is unjust or unkind.

Only the abnormal or the eccentric feel compelled to cross the lines to unnatural behavior. Were you born a male? Then, behave like one. Who said it’s all genetic? “God made them male and female.” How can He make a mistake? Homosexuality is merely another convenient way to test and break the limits. Sodom and Gomorrah -- just like Babel -- were heaven’s judgment calls against going to the extremes. A fair warning we should heed for our own good.

But we cannot stop people from testing and breaking the limits. They believe they have unlimited rights and freedoms. We can only expect society to strengthen the institutions that will help people gain control over their inordinate passions before they totally destroy themselves and others. Prisons were designed to do that but, as it is, more people who should be in them are out there wreaking havoc. Government was designed to promote law and order but at times the people in government themselves violate the law and create discontent. Churches were meant to provide us with spiritual guidance but oftentimes the behaviors of pastors and bishops repulse us.

Going back to what is essentially required of each individual must be given emphasis in homes and schools. Wonder why we see societal breakdown? Because we no longer teach “Good Manners and Right Conduct”. If kids today do not know how to throw trash properly, it comes from a simple lack of basic training. Eventually it grows to become a case of disrespect for authority. We, in general, have become too soft in disciplining children. They have learned early on that if they can cross the limits, they soon gain confidence to do things we used to abhor ourselves but dare not forbid them for fear of their rebellion. The neglect escalates until we reap the whirlwind.

Women now drink beer and wine as openly as men. Not that they don’t have the equal right, if that is what you think this criticism is all about. But it’s not that; it’s about men having broken through the limits first a long time ago and then being followed by women now in full force. Baby come lately! Everybody’s doing it now for sure. Good for business and everyone. Let’s drink to that! Everybody’s welcome to the party!

With parents steeped in “extreme” tendencies or “deficient” morals, can the children be far behind? We now reap the fruits of this overweening culture of deviant and inordinate human behavior. Notice how bored kids are nowadays? They used to be so playful and slept when they got tired of running around. But now they never get tired of sitting down and playing PC games. So what? What’s the difference? Playing outside made them strong and normal. Their bodies told them to rest when they needed to. Playing PC games makes them physically weak, socially inept and emotionally dull. They don’t even know the meaning of tiredness or hunger once they sit to play. (Their parents have to tell them so!) They no longer interact with people or with themselves but with a machine. They no longer see the world but a fictitious realm. They have broken through the mist of unlimited imagination and away from the real world. Caveat: The mind never gets tired; it only goes insane.

But don’t take my word for it. Look closely at your own children, nephews and nieces. Or better still, find out for yourself what they are going through. Only then will you find out for yourself what kinds of adults they will become.

Do they – or we, for that matter -- live within the limits or are they/we constantly testing the limits? The answers are there right before our eyes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Out in Space, Out of Place

(I Dreamed that Google Said “Godspeed to Atlantis!”)

For those who think browsing the Internet has become one boring past-time, consider this: It now allows you to monitor space exploration in real-time via NASA TV. (Visit and download the TV player to access it and other channels for free.)

As a kid, I remember the excitement of listening to the transistor radio – an amazing portable and personal portal to global programs and music. Today, the PC has become a virtual, personal window with a much wider and higher scope. The landscape, no, the land-sea-space-scape (whichever direction the camera points) is breathtaking. You swing silently around the globe inside the space-shuttle Atlantis hundreds of kilometers above the Earth, dwell with astronauts inside the gravity-free International Space-Station and lose all earthly sense of burdensome concerns as you float along. Unlike birds who must feel the rush of the wind or the sting of the cold wind on there faces, you fly in total security and comfort. Everything moves in slow-mo. This is the ultimate stress-free environment! It’s so hypnotic you wish you could just enjoy the ride all day long. But then Houston and its horde of scientists crackle in the speakers and put you in your place. It is after all just reality TV plus a lot of science.

The virtual experience, however, can be surreal. Up there, the world visually becomes smaller and smaller. And awkwardly out of place. And why not? If flying were all that liberating and exciting, why go back to Earth and be again limited or finite? Why suffer if you can have joy beyond imagination. Yet, the induced dream is fleeting. Afterward, you find your butt numb from all that sitting motionless (except for your agile mouse-friendly finger) before the PC.

And if that did not give you enough divine-prerogatives or powers to literally control what to see and where to go, there is GoogleEarth ( to give you exactly that. Whereas NASA only shows you misty views of Africa or the silver-lined, blue atmosphere that cloaks the Earth, GoogleEarth lets you hover to a hundred meters above the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and clearly see people and their shadows as if they were lifeless, immobile ants. Move the mouse and the monitor takes you across the Atlantic as you fly over the Statue of Liberty and down to Washington DC, where you see US government buildings masked in 3D graphics to hide structural details. What for? Who knows? Even before they put out those maps, the terrorists already knew where and how to land those deadly suicide planes. Besides, all you need are the coordinates to target any place you want on the map.

This awesome power to conjure for our minds once improbable acts could be the newest level in human achievement that will either bring us to glorious heights or to ignominious depths. For how can such contrasting ideas as boundless freedom and global destruction emanate from these two parallel activities which auspiciously remind us of those innocent games we did on the globe as kids? We would never have dared throw a dart on the library globe or map or felt ecstatic being able to see where we were located on the map. Abstraction (such is a map) did not really help our imagination that much as kids. But the Internet has given imagination a giant leap. No, it seems it has provided us with an almost divine ability to see the world as God sees it. And as with all good things put to bad use, also the unnerving capacity to encroach or impose ourselves upon the lives of others.

Today, we no longer consider the world as the infinitely inscrutable environment that ancient peoples used to do. We no longer fear the terrifying forces that appeared to bring diverse judgments upon human civilizations – the floods, the storms, the plagues and the cataclysms. We no longer worry about what we will be and what we are able to accomplish for ourselves. Superstition has given way to super-VISION. We know more and we can see farther than ever before. In short, we have become like God. For better of for worse, we have removed – if not totally and effectively, at least conceivably and potentially -- the limits to what we can do. Alas, like the people of Babel, nothing can stop us from reaching higher and higher! So it seems.

As so, like God Who dwells not on the Earth, we no longer feel really at home in this world. It has become out of place. Obsolete. Used up. We have gradually put ourselves out of it. Someday, too, it may no longer support human life. Not knowing fully what is out there, we leave the Earth not knowing fully what is here. Or why we were put here in the first place.

The old nightmares we had of looking down the world and flying farther and farther from it brought cold sweat to our brows and woke us up terrified. But with technology and the accompanying freedom brought to our imaginations, we merely turn around and face other worlds never before conquered. We have jettisoned our fears and ignorance and directed our spaceship to the much, much wider, deeper and higher reaches of the Universe. Or perhaps, to Heaven? Is it really out there or is it merely one of the possibilities of the Universe? An imagined place in an infinite space? Could there truly be such a happier space and a better place?

I must be crazy to think that people would actually see and reach for Heaven using only cold, lifeless technology. The moon or Mars, perhaps. But Heaven? Either I’m still floating out in space or I’m out of place. Time to put my feet back on the ground. Or shut my mouse.

(Top photo: Blue Earth seen from the International Space-Station, courtesy of NASA TV; Photo above: UP Oblation in Baguio City looking up and reaching out to Heaven naked and innocent as Adam.)