Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Code, the Mohammed Cartoons, and Being Consistent

Lots of people ask me why I am so hard on the Philippine Daily Inquirer when for eight years they dutifully and unfailingly published every weekly article I produced (for which they paid me a tiny pittance compared to the shock and awe value of my excommunicant ideas in religion and politics.) Am I a disgruntled former contributor of the newspaper? (Ha he hi ho hu!) Truth is, no one can ignore PDI. It is about the best one will find in the Philippines, as newspapers and media go, because it has published more than its share of the consequential writers and thinkers in the Archipelago (Naturally that is a biased and self serving view!). Also, PDI has a generally coherent (if leftist) editorial policy. Moreover, the paper has destabilized at least two previous Presidents and may be working on a third. Although threatened by the Manila Bulletin in reader popularity, PDI has far surpassed the crony newspaper, the Philippine Star (which isn't worth linking to as they don't understand, or utilize, the concept of permlinks.)

So I am hard on PDI because they are a cut above the rest in the Main Stream Media's demagagosphere, and therefore its memes exercise a vast influence on the blogosphere, even when they get things wrong! Especially when they get things wrong! As in the Art Bell fiasco.

I am hardest on PDI on three general occasions, all involving a form of rhetorical or moral inconsistency:

(1) when they engage in ideological victimology, such as in the so-called cause celebre over fork and spoon in Canada, and the Subic Bay Rape Case here and here.

(2) when they take inconsistent stands on important issues of principle and politics such as on the issue of the role of the Military and the Supreme Court in the matters of mutiny Mutiny, Judicial activism and Regime Change; and

(3) when they take paradoxical or inconsistent stands on religion and religious issues in the democratic sphere, such as in the Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy and the present Da Vinci Code phenomenon.

On the Separation of Church and Press was my reaction last February to this PDI Editorial on the Mohammed Cartoons controversy, entitled Indivisible Freedoms, which you may wish to compare with today's Sunday Editorial, Da Vinci Decoded.

Both are thoughtful, complex essays, but here are two crystal clear examples in which blasphemy against a great world Religion is claimed by some of its most devout adherents in both Islam and Catholicism, yet PDI takes two very different positions.

In today's editorial on the Da Vinci Code (a film by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks, as if you didn't know!) PDI gets it right (almost):
Let’s talk principles.

Religious freedom, in the modern context of our constitutional democracy, must mean not only the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs, but also the freedom not to believe. It is a right that protects both the devotee and the skeptic, the orthodox as well as the heretical.

Thus, in a predominantly Christian nation like ours, religious freedom must include space even for those beliefs or practices that Christians will find blasphemous. If we were to hold otherwise, then the privileging of the Christian religion would violate both the letter and spirit of our Constitution. It would lead, again, to “an establishment of religion.”

Caveat: I say almost because the "privileging of the Christian religion" does not just "lead to" but IS an "establishment of Religion" in the well understood sense that Separation forbids the State from promoting "Religion" by law or policy, just as much as it forbids the State from prohibiting the free exercise of "thereof". One does not have to actually establish an Official State Religion, to violate this great principle in the bill of Rights:
Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
I otherwise agree with PDI's stance the Da Vinci Code controversy. But here are several passages from back in February regarding the Mohammed Cartoons:
Excesses such as rioting and complications such as some irresponsible provocateurs inserting two cartoons (the most offensive ones) among the real cartoons circulated among Muslims aside, the Islamic world has been adamant about its belief that the Western press crossed the line. Non-Muslims have also observed that what the Western media attempted to paint as purely a question of freedom of expression was not that at all; it was a question of secular contempt for religious conventions.
Caveat: The emphasis is mine, because this is a kind of coded message itself that tells the editorial reader (all 3 of us in the metropolis!), that this is PDI's own position and take on the matter. Who else could they be referring to as "non-Muslims" and "non-Western" journalists? PDI continues:
While the Philippines adheres to the principle of the separation of Church and State, and indeed, the Philippine media are heir to a tradition of anticlericalism dating to the Propaganda Movement, as a whole, Filipinos are profoundly respectful of religious conventions. Even the bigotry of certain Filipinos toward their Islamic countrymen does not extend to flagrantly heaping contempt on their faith. There are lines Filipinos do not cross, and rightly so (if only we did not cross more of them than we already do).
Caveat: Actually there is practically NO adherence to the Principle of Separation of Church and State in the Philippines, contrary to this amazing claim of the editorialist. Just ask any Muslim, lumad, Protestant, Buddhist, skeptic, atheist -- anyone who is not Romano Catolico cerrado. The claim that religious freedom reigns in the Philippines is utterly laughable when one thinks of the ostentatious display of Catholic religious idols, altars and sectarian symbols in government buildings and offices. We have already seen this risible claim contravened directly and its opposite amply demonstrated by the Executive Secretary, Ed Ermita calling for the banning of a Hollywood religious thriller and blockbuster in order to protect those of weak faith in "our predominantly Catholic country." Further proof that Spanish-style Talibanism is alive and well in 21st Century Philippines comes from the Manila City Council, which unanimously disgraced itself as no better than that provincial burg, Lucena City, which likewise 'banned' the film. Now it is not enough for me that these clumsy attempts at censorship have the entirely opposite effect on the movie's box office numbers. It is not after all, my goal to promote the film. But it should be the concern of all citizens, including the guardians of its opinions like PDI, to be sensitive to attacks on Democracy and culpable violations of the constitution, which these acts represent.

PDI concluded on the Danish Mohammed Cartoons as follows (but try reading this passage as if they were referring to Da Vinci Code film and novel!)
Islam and Christianity both pay the highest tribute to martyrs. Even secular societies consider martyrdom possible in defense of country or ideology. The question is whether any kind of creed, including secularism as understood in the West, calls for provocations that make it inevitable for people to become martyrs, whether unintentionally or by design. While we do not counsel self-censorship arising out of fear, we do believe that a proper recognition of the central role faith plays in the lives of millions would go far to avoid undue provocation against people who take their religion seriously. After all, since World War II, the world has rallied to defend the Four Freedoms: of speech and expression; of every person to worship God in his own way; from want; and from fear. They all go hand in hand, and to raise one over the other diminishes them all.
Well, which is it folks? Secular contempt for religion or freedom of religion and expression? Do they mean to imply that Islmists "take their religion seriously" while "Catholicists" do not? Are religious liberty and freedom of expression to be made a hostage to the most serious fanatics in the world. More serious, more respect?

In The Responsible Journalism of Conrado de Quiros, the irony is lost on PDI column writer of note, when he says,
I join those who say this is not an issue of freedom of the press at all, it is one of basic decency and respect...
This of course is not Mr. de Quiros' take on the Da Vinci Code's blasphemous attack on the Catholic faith. Another case of inconsistency enforced by an anti-American ideology.

Of course, in the case of the rioting Islamic fanatics, the Danish Cartoons were a case of CAPITAL blasphemy against their religious proscription against idolatry. So it is a matter of some interest to many that there are apparently no Catholicist crowds burning down the American Embassy or calling for the beheading of Tom Hanks for apostasy and "disrespect" toward Jesus Christ. Strangely enough, in the Philippine archipelago, it is secular authorities who've acted most like the theocrats of the bygone times of the Spanish Taliban. No less than the Executive Secretary Ed Ermita called for banning the film, the Da Vinci Code. So did a unanimous resolution of the Manila City Council and another troglodyte mental barrio called Lucena City.

It is of course entirely possible that the level of CORPORAL MORTIFICATION will change among the ranks of the so-inclined. (Up or down, who's to tell?)

A sampler of the Mohammed Cartoons postings and great Reader Comments here at Philippine Commentary:

Freedom of Religion IS Freedom of Expression

Danish Cartoons Broke the Muslim Taboo On Idolatry

It's Capital Blasphemy Just To Describe the Cartoons

Democracy Saves Religions From Each Other

Bitter Herbs and Purple Flowers



Dean, I honestly don't think you are hard on PDI... You are providing the counterweight, a kind of "check and balance" (God, how I appreciate that phrase!)to some of PDI's demagogical pieces, which if you don't who will?

So, I say keep it up Dean and YEEEEEHAW!

Amadeo said...


I suppose these are just signs of the new times, when kinks in the armor of the powerful MSM are starting to chip away at their credibility and patronage.

I know that the New York Times, and even the WaPo, continue to captivate and spellbind ardent readers from around the world. Many seek solace and comfort in them to ease their confusion or clarify their questions and doubts about issues affecting the world, and many even take their views and reportage as faithful mirrors of what is happening here in the States domestically. And many others, of course, seek affirmation of their own views from these sources.

But domestically, they are in much more trouble than just declining readership, and plummeting stock values. And they are being assaulted from all sides. The left considers them stooges of the right, and the right swears the overall liberal bias of the MSM is going to do them in. And the majority in the middle may simply believe that they have lost touch of their realities.

Their once-revered opinion pundits are now regularly being subjected to criticism and even ridicule. There are actually sites that gleefully highlight and track the number of times, for example, the New York Times has had to issue corrections/retractions for sloppy reporting and even lazy logic. Thus, no sooner than a Paul Krugman or a Maureen Dowd opens his/her mouth, when scores of bloggers are already burning their keyboards pointing out the errors of their thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I think there will always be some form of "liberals" and"conservatives" anywhere,anytime.

There will be times when the two extremes will meet halfway and unite but most of the time they go their separate ways.


I do not think that you are sour graping when you notice PDI..
Since PDI has many readers and many readers might overlook certain issues, and thanks to you such oversights are corrected.

The blogosphere has been noticed recently like the instance when the Hill Blogger was quoted by Belinda Cunanan...good thing that her assistants read blogs.

Jego said...

Hi Rizalist. Great post.

The claim that religious freedom reigns in the Philippines is utterly laughable when one thinks of the ostentatious display of Catholic religious idols, altars and sectarian symbols in government buildings and offices.

Quick question: Say I were a government employee, can the government prohibit the display of religious ornamentation like altars and idols on my desk without violating my right to free exercise?

Rizalist said...

No it may not do so. As long as your use of them truly is "personal" and not as a result of being say the Main Guard or the Dept Head. I think the practice of most Cabinet Secretaries of having altars in their main office areas is definitely a violation of the principle. Some cities and states in the US have even banned Christmas displays in public squares. Naturally one could go over board. Either way. I think we have gone overboard in one direction, judging from the Catholic altar for example in the Main Lobby of the Comelec Office in Intramuros!

Or the Holy Mass at the Main Hall of the Deped most noontimes!


Hi Dean, hi Jego,

Altar in a government office? Displaying what? Santo ninos, statues of angels or what?

Good gracious me...If I were a Moslem, I wouldn't enter a government office with a Catholic looking altar. I wouldn't trust any government office with an altar at all.

Isn't a government office a public domain and should at least, show a semblance of neutrality in in terms of religious beliefs?

Altars in a government office, indeed! Practice of superstition or mendacity (to require the visitor to "give" alms to the guys in that office) BAH! Disgusting.



Re: " ...Catholic altar for example in the Main Lobby of the Comelec Office in Intramuros!"

Would be good to have a pic of this insanity and publish it your blog. Gosh, this is worse than the CENACULO - Comelec office with a Catholic altar in the main lobby?

How eerie and how so backward, resembling practices in the medieval ages in Europe where you'd see religious parphernalia, statues, etc in every nook and cranny of a house, a bedroom, kitchen, ministerial offices, brothels,etc (except they didn't have Comelec)! Bah - doubly disgusting!

Rizalist said...

There is a "consecrated chapel" in Malacanang Palace at which the President DAILY attends Holy Mass (first thing in the morning, as is the practice of many devout Catholics, including many in my own clan and family, to this day.)

Almost all Cabinet Secretaries' offices have altars, usually of the Virgin Mary, but also in tandem with the Sto. Nino, which by the way is not an official Catholic Saint. There is no "Saint Niño" -- So that is PURE IDOLATRY! pagan, non-RCC idolatry.



I suppose, the visitor to a Cabinet Sec's office is expected to leave a "brown envelope" by the altar as a gauge of the visitor's Christian charitable intent and appreciation of the "holiness" of the said member of Cabinet... also a way of praying to "Vishnu" to grant the visitor's wish...

Now, I see or can picture how things are done right there in government offices and by members of cabinet.

No wonder, they deny, never admit that they ever receive bribes. The envelopes that are left by visitors are actually "alms".

Dean, you must admit, it's clever way of 'em government officials to do things the alms way.

Yuck, real, absolutely filthy muck these guys are...! Bah! Triply disgusting.

Rizalist said...

The one in the Speakers office used to be bigger than him. It is a very complex situation though because I think the top officials allow it as a way of sanctifying themselves, or at least where they work and what they do there. But it is also for the convenience of many who really are religious and like doing the Mass, even daily, usually at lunch. It has to do with that bit about being predominantly Catholic.

I think it DEMEANS the Catholic Religion that it should be so unconstitutionally practiced in Alibaba's Den.



You are being a softie on these Filipino crooks but you are right, it demeans the Catholic religion.

My guess is that there is a subliminal purpose for these altars and huge statues of saints in these cabinet ministerial offices - to call on visitors to empty their pockets and to "donate" their cash contents as in an "alms box" in a church("drop your 'alms', your 'brown envelopes with a wad of euros or dollars' in this box here") sort of thing.

Anyway, don't you think those huge, gigantic statues of saints displayed everywhere you go are hideous coz they look so cheap just like the picture of Leo da Vinci's Last Supper displayed prominently in lots of homes in Pinas between an enormous fork and a knife? Hihihih!

Re Predominantly Catholic:
France and Belgium are predominantly Catholic countries but you don't see statues of saints in cabinet ministerial offices to pray to or to say mass with or to genuflect to before you meet a minister. If you find them, it's more of an adornment coz of the antique value of the pieces.

Like in my drawing room here, I've got a small, very old statue of a saint standing on a sideboard but I display it (along with a statue of pretty and old Buddha which I picked up in somewhere in Malacca) coz not only is it pretty but also because it is old and precious but certainly not to pray to or to genuflect to or to ask priests to say mass and to use them as his altar adornments ... Bah! Quadruply disgusting!

Rizalist said...

Actually, I love statuary of all kinds, and of course there is just naturally more of the religious kind.

Now that means the lowest quality and the superb sculptures are bound to be religious.

Got nothing against idolatry even!

But as it is, there just isn't any appreciation of the Law.

Since the general interpretation is that what is forbidden is for churchmen to meddle or particpate in politics, the violations of GOVT officials in this regards are allowed to go on exploiting Religion.

Like I said it demeans Religion, but also the Constitution.


Same here Dean, got nothing against idolatry except when government exects use idolatry to "awe" people into subservience.

I've collected a few nice ones.

Got a statue of a Templar carved in stone some 100 years ago but would not put him side by side a wooden santo nino statue (which sadly, a friend got at great expense and gave to me as a present), coz I don't think this particular santo nino is pretty at all so it remains in the garage along with a Bulul that I don't like anymore (but I have one pregnant Bulul that I like and is on display).

Jego said...

Hi Rizalist. More questions. The AFP has a chaplain paid for by the taxpayers. In your opinion, does this violate the non-establishment clause of the Constitution?

Rizalist said...

Good question. I think such personnel are expected to offer spiritual aid and comfort of a nonsectarian kind, usually in emergency or life-threatening situations. One would hope they are not trying to convert dying men and are primarily there as a kind of psychologist. Such persons appear to be in the service of many democratic armed forces with this in mind: they are there not to promote Religion, but to give aid to men in extremis.


Agree with Rizalist there. They act as a therapist or soul therapist...

Reminds of Patton "ordering" his chaplain to write a prayer so the weather would change next day.

But truly, many of these guys are very good people.



This is beyond belief: 06:29pm Manila vows to padlock theaters showing ‘Da Vinci Code’

Atienza's gone bonkers!

Rizalist said...

Someone needs to sue him. Any citizen will do. STraight to the Supreme Court. It's a slam dunk. But strangely enough we don't have an ACLU when we need one. Now of course the American AcLU has gone bonkers too. Which means excesses on both sides are possible.

But you are right Manila has gone bonkers! STrange, the ordinary folk seem to think it's all pretty hohum actually. There's a kind of cynicism, or wisdom that morality is really quite independent of theology so these stories are acceptable without losing one's good behaviour.

The irony is, a lot of people don't realize this is precisely the kind of behaviour proscribed by the principle of separation of church and state. The State may NOT promote Religion or "respect an establishment of Religion!"



Another journalist killed in the Philippines was killed on Monday in Puerto Princesa, Palawan according to an Agence France Presse report published by The Philippine Star under "Journalist in Puerto Princesa killed in ambush"

The report said that Fernando Batul, a 36-year old broadcast journalist was ambushed on his way to work. Batul survived an earlier attack on his life when two grenades were tossed in his home but failed.

Sad, terribly sad! Manila gone bonkers, Palawan becoming hell...Lapid will run against Binay upon piggy Mike Arroyo's instructions!

Ano ba naman 'yan? What on earth is going on? The world has become upside down in the Philippines.

Rizalist said...

These killings have become a matter of grave concern. No one seems to know who is responsible, if in fact only one party is. NSA Norberto Gonzalez even reported today on mass grave of CPP victims, but the report seems to be in doubt because the local Congressman there denies it, saying he would have known of any incident such as described.

Anonymous said...

Speking of statues at the office...
When I was working for a port operator, i got the chance to assist the representatives of shipping lines when gthey have problems with their manifest...Their is an assitant to the district collector of POM who has lots of status of catholic saints and always prays the rosary before and after work attends the noon time mass just look at his drawer full of hundred peso bills,the guy made an everyday living of deleting certain bill of laaings and declaring cargoes unmanifested unless the shipping lines expedites it.

Yet,this man is supposed to be a prayerful man......

On that killings...I hope to beg your indulgence for I might have commented this for the nth time...

i hope Senator dick lugar's noticing RP's media killings is not mere lip service and asks gloria to cut it and cut it clean!

Marcus Aurelius said...

I am of the conviction the separation clause has gone nuts.

First off in our nation the constitution does not talk about separation but instead the Fed are not to establish a state religion and the practice of religion is not to be restricted.

The meat of the blog is to be addressed at Blogger Beer