I once had a classmate who got into trouble when he wore a shirt to school with the words “God is dead—Nietzsche” in front. Not exactly the kind of message welcomed in a Catholic boys’ high school. Many of us (including teachers and administrators) were stopped by, and responded to, the provocation in front. But, in fact, his shirt was an elaborate joke. At the back of the shirt was another message. It read: “Nietzsche is dead—God.”
I remembered this slice of life from 40 years ago when I heard about President Duterte’s latest outburst against the Christian (and Judaic) God. Among (many) other lies and half-truths he said last Friday, he gave a critique of the Creation story in Genesis.
He recounted the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden (comparing it to government employees: “Pareho diyan sa—karamihan diyan sa gobyerno ganun man”), and embellished it with his trademark vulgar language and his own jokes (the apple the serpent gave Eve, he said, was wrapped in “parang foam na net,” and was labeled—wait for it—“Made in China”).
Then he tore into the story. “Who is this stupid God? Estupido talaga itong p***** i** kung ganun. You created some—something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work. How—how can you rationalize a God? Maniwala ka?” (Quotations are from the official transcript prepared by the Presidential Communication Operations Office.)
He wasn’t done. He continued to use the time allotted for his keynote speech at the opening of the 2018 National Information and Communications Technology Summit to critique the Christian belief in original sin, then repeated (yet again) his set piece about his unwanted encounters with the crucifix in his ancestral home (“when I wake up, Christ was there, already nailed to the cross,” he said in Filipino; “up to now, he is still nailed to that cross!”—and unaccountably, the transcript records the audience as laughing). Then, yet again, the wounded child in him told stories about his beloved mother’s cruel punishments.
He told many other tall tales and retailed many more jokes, but I would like to stop at and respond to his provocation about the God of organized religion. (He said, in English, that he actually had “this faith and abiding thing.”)
President Duterte’s criticism of the Creation story in Genesis is jejune. It is immature, not because it questions the very notion of a wise God (for the record, that’s a good question), but because it understands the story in literal terms, and then proceeds to ridicule the literalness of it. In other words, it’s a straw man (or a straw God) argument. Who in the second decade of the 21st century believes in the literal meaning of the Creation story?
Early enough in the Catholic education system, students are already taught about the deeper truths of faith accounts. These Bible stories are to be understood from the perspective of a believer; they are a testament of one’s faith.
But Mr. Duterte’s comment, about a “stupid” God who puts his perfect creations to the test, is also insulting because it is in fact nonintelligent; it is itself stupid. It mistakes its readiness to raise what were formerly taboo questions as proof of wisdom, when in fact the questions are… elementary.
Perhaps Mr. Duterte should read Nietzsche, who railed against the slave mentality of the Christian. Or perhaps he should read the New Testament, which is the only way Christians and Catholics can make sense of the teeming turbulence of the Old. Or perhaps he should read some of the great theologians, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Jurgen Moltmann among them. Moltmann, for instance, asked the fundamental question about human suffering: Where is God in all this?
Now that’s a question to test one’s faith—especially if asked by the author of the killings.
Where was God, Br. Armin Luistro asked at yesterday’s forum on “Emerging Data and Evidence” involving the administration’s antidrug campaign, when Kian
delos Santos was killed? That’s a hard question (the kind that can be solved only with prayer and fasting). But it’s a necessary one. Precisely because we are not perfect creations, but imperfect creatures. The testing is the way of perfection.
To Moltmann’s (and Brother Armin’s) question, we can only offer our own personal answers. Moltmann taught a generation, including me, to realize that “the Crucified God” is exactly right where the suffering is. When Kian delos Santos told the police officers not to kill him because he still had to study for a test, the God we believe in was right there with him.
“You know,” President Duterte said last Friday, “I cannot picture Him as a human being in the image of God.” That, precisely, is the problem. And our tragedy.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:05 AM June 26, 2018
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