Faith, science and the RH debate
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 19, 2012
The reaction was visceral on both sides of the RH fence when a wannabe senator, a sprinkling of congressmen and a writer declared that the flooding we experienced the other week was caused by the vote in Congress to end the discussion on the Reproductive Health bill. God was punishing us, they intoned ominously.
While the rain poured down relentlessly, on the net, the Pro-RH camp reacted with disbelief, anger and total disdain plus a dollop of ridicule. The “Anti” side waxed apocalyptic with Old Testament-style doomsday warnings of floods, floods and more floods damning the Filipino nation for having turned away from godliness by inching toward the possible passing of the RH bill into law.
It was really quite bizarre in its childishness and stupidity.
While on the surface, it would seem that the great divide in this issue is purely religious, I sense other levels of conflict at play. There is modernity versus ultra-conservatism, change versus inertia, logic and rationality versus fear and hysteria. There are egalitarianism and democratic ideals of individual freedom and fairness versus an authoritarianism that seeks to be in control and demands blind obedience. There is church dictation versus secularism. And there is also openness versus dogmatism. But most importantly, I sense the clash between faith and science that looks like it’s leading to a showdown in this country.
I could not believe my ears when I heard Congressman Bagatsing suggest the postponement of the vote to end the RH debates last Aug. 6 to the next day because 6 is the “number of the devil.” How could a fully-grown, presumably educated man, an elected lawmaker in the 21st century, possess such a medieval, superstitious and irrational mind?
But there it was, in its full, radiant idiocy parading before us. In the world of Bagatsing, Mitos Magsaysay, et al, the ending of further discussion on the RH bill had angered God who then unleashed His wrath on us sinful Christian Filipinos who have chosen to behave like heathens by not following His wishes.
I could not identify with the God they know who behaved more like an Ampatuan than the God of Compassion and love Jesus introduced to the world.
Did it not occur to them that it is the rainy season, and with global climate change, this kind of weather is scientifically explainable? Do they truly believe that God punishes people by sending them days of destructive rain? If so, isn’t it rather insensitive and stupid for God to be sending rain of this magnitude that punished those who do not practice birth control more than those who do? Look at who suffered the most. Wasn’t it the poor with the most children and the barest of resources to rely on when disaster strikes who were most adversely affected by the floods?
The superstitious, irrational mind will always look for an explanation to phenomena that often can neither be proven nor disproved but has a ring of authority to it because God is invoked. “God is angry and is punishing us.” “God has appeared as the dancing sun,” etc. How many times have we heard of so-called visionaries who have claimed that Jesus, Mary or some saint supposedly appeared to them warning of disaster? Or saying that we are the Chosen People? And always after the fact. It is amazing how many people actually fall for it, quite often with hardly any question.
There are those who will say that I talk like this because I have no faith. That would be their judgment. But I do not dismiss the argument that one must have faith to see God, or God’s hand. And this leads me to ask the following questions: Is faith necessarily irrational? Is it always dogmatic? Is faith the same as religion? Can it co-exist with reason and scientific facts? These are questions that the greatest of minds have tried to answer through the centuries and my attempt to do so is not anywhere close to the brilliant answers of learned men, but hopefully, it will provoke the reader to think on this Sunday morning.
Faith can be irrational, mythical and even magical, which can make one believe in divine intervention no different from the Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy experience. I am not saying there are no real cases of divine intervention. There were times in my life when I felt that divine intervention saved me from myself. Am I being irrational? What proof do I have that these were divine interventions? I do not have empirical proof but I have experience of its trueness. I have faith.
I believe that faith is not necessarily irrational when it is anchored not on immutable dogma but on an openness to everything. It can even be trans-rational, or transcending reason going into the mystical realm. Who was it who said that belief is not the start of knowledge but the end of it? Faith in the modern world need not start with a definition of who or what God is, but an openness to the God experience as it reveals itself. God is not static. No one, no religion, can have a full grasp of God. The Deity manifests to each person uniquely, individually.
Are faith and science compatible? God need not fear science, since God made science. In fact, a mystic can see the hand of God in mathematics, logic and all other sciences. The idea is not to fit everything into one’s fixed concept of God but to be open to experiencing God in all things and in all ways. Otherwise, one gets trapped trying to “defend” God who does not need defending.
Science and faith need not be adversaries; they can remain compatible although they have their own domains with parts that may never intersect. A scientist may explain how the brain as a thinking apparatus works but will be hard put to measure or fully explain consciousness. As the physicist Freeman Dyson put it, “Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.”
What is lacking on the Anti side of the RH debate is an appreciation of scientific facts. In its effort to protect the faith, it denies science. Even the Pope who has said many times that condoms do not prevent HIV, has partly conceded his position after seeing how AIDS is decimating hundreds of thousands in Africa.
I am not surprised to know that many on the Anti side have relied mainly on the opinions of the CBCP in their defense of this bill. After all, how many really want to read through the entire bill when it is already “understood” and decided upon for them by the Bishops? Also, a lot of people would rather follow “authority” rather than think for themselves on such an important issue. And they reason that it is faith that makes them do that.
While I respect their faith, I find it difficult to accept their denial of facts and their invention of new ones to justify their ideological stand. They continue to insist that the bill promotes abortion but they cannot cite any part of the bill to prove it. In fact, the bill condemns abortion.
If the God whom they invoke in this discussion cannot embrace or accept scientific facts, then that, to me, is a small God. Throughout my life, every time I have encountered a complex situation, my understanding and appreciation of both the situation and of God has grown in complexity. I often feel the presence of a Divine Force who is not constricted by dogma nor pre-judgment of what is good or evil but driven more by compassion to understand and help me find oneness with what is going on.
Lastly, there is the argument on the Anti-RH side that knowledge about reproductive health — which is what the bill calls for — will lead to promiscuity, abortion and a decaying of morals. I find this argument to be quite hysterical, and not well reasoned out. There are many countries where RH services have been available for years and experts do not see runaway statistics on rampaging rapists, violent sex crimes or prostitution because of it. If at all, the availability of knowledge has lowered the abortion rate and maternal deaths.
We must avoid thinking so lowly of humanity. It might help if, instead of focusing on man and Original Sin, we focus more on the Original Blessing (as Reverend Mathew Fox calls it) that God has given to us simply because we were born into the world.