Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the following,
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
Yesterday, when further explaining his earlier remarks on religion, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his own right and the right of all Filipinos to worship however they choose or indeed their right to not have any religion at all. Duterte stated that while he believes in a universal being, this is his own choice and not one that any other person or institution could force upon him or anyone else. He explained further,
“If I choose not to believe in any god, what’s the fucking thing about it? It’s about freedom to choose one”.
While Duterte’s language is more colourful than that in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Philippine President is actually saying the exact same thing that is inscribed in the Declaration. Just because certain religious institutions would like a monopoly on people’s beliefs, it does not mean that they are legally or ethically entitled to such things. Rather than acknowledging Duterte’s right to believe in a universal being as a matter of conscience, Catholic leaders criticised Duterte using language which itself is offensive at a secular level.
Philippine Bishop Arturo Bastes did not respond to Duterte’s remarks by calling for dialogue, by stating that his Church believes in the freedom to worship however one chooses or the freedom for someone to not have a religion, instead he himself produced a tirade of insults against Duterte. The Bishop stated,
“Duterte’s tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation”.
Bastes also called The Philippine President a “madman” while Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo called Duterte a blasphemer – so much for turning the other cheek.
First of all, one cannot blaspheme something that one does not subscribe to in the first place. Duterte did not insult the universal God that he believes in but insulted an institutionalised concept of a deity as promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church, while also blasting clerics for their numerous scandals and hypocrisy. Indeed, like many others around the world, Duterte was a victim of molestation at the hands of a priest when he was a child and as such, Duterte has every right to criticise the institution that brought him misery at an innocent age.
What’s more though is that Duterte should actually be thanked by church leaders. Whereas religion in many countries, including in The Philippines is often something of a rote activity, Duterte injected fresh dialogue into the question of religion while himself proclaiming that his God has “common sense”. Duterte has actually stirred peoples hearts and challenged their thoughts more widely than any contemporary Philippine theologian has done. In short – people are talking about God, religion and spirituality more today than they did a week ago and it is not because of what a priest has said but because of what Duterte has said.
Instead, the Catholic Church has called Duterte insane for essentially restating a clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while adding commentary based on his own spiritual journey. This proves that it is not Duterte who is afraid of opposition or disagreement but that instead Roman Catholic leaders in the country are afraid that Duterte’s words might inspire others to find God, peace, solace and comfort somewhere outside of a church as is one’s legal and inalienable moral right.
Just as corrupt politicians should not stand between the people and a better economic future, safer streets and a more uplifting society, why should corrupt clerics deprive people of freedom of conscience? Are the church leaders lambasting Duterte so afraid of losing their power over society that they are willing to take the side of an ideology that deprives people of freedom to find peace in their own way just to retain their own economic power and social privilege? This is certainly what it looks like and given the historically documented record of Church corruption in The Philippines and elsewhere, it ought to be clerics who do some profound soul searching rather than throwing stones from a position of sin, to paraphrase a well known Bible story.
Those criticising Duterte for statements which have not caused a single child to be molested or a single bribe to be extorted ought to re-read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, part of the Bible which itself became familiar outside of churches when the verses were sung by the American pop group The Byrds in 1965.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace”.
Today is the time to criticise dogmas, institutions and flawed expectations derived from a blind loyalty to both. Tomorrow may be a time for further silent reflection. In any case, people do have the right to criticise Duterte, but while Duterte criticised ideas, criticised the hypocrisy that many display in following ideas and criticised those who would take away his own right to follow his conscience, Church leaders are merely criticising Duterte and by extrapolation others whose own relationship with the profound has led them away from the Catholic Church.
Since it is becoming increasingly common to accuse one’s opponent of being a “dictator”, I would suggest that it is not Duterte who displays dictatorial tendencies but rather, it is the Church leaders who are concerned only with people finding themselves in a position to be dominated by the clergy, rather than focused on a desire for all people to attain spiritual enlightenment.