Lip service to the butcher that cleaves the tongue: a commentary on several OPM artists’ suggestions to Lady Gaga

Lip service to the butcher that cleaves the tongue

A commentary on several OPM artists’ suggestions to Lady Gaga

Marco Harder

May 2012

It has been said that being a spectator in the face of injustice is just as terrible as the crime, but the task of description becomes too slippery when, one is faced with this scenario: a crime violating ideals rooted on abstract notions of freedom and people walking that thin ambiguous line that separates the perpetrator from the accessory.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has made no secret of its disapproval of Lady Gaga’s concert tonight, under the premise that the singer-songwriter promotes ‘an attitude towards godlessness, which is offensive to many religions’. Other groups such as the Intercessors for the Philippines, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Bible Mode Baptist Group, NFS Ministry, Metro Manila for Jesus Movement and Tribes and Nations Outreach have all been reported to commit to assembling in protest of Gaga’s concert in the Philippines, using similar suppositions on which to mount their disagreement. I have a broad back, and I don’t particularly mind; fine, they can take to the streets if they want to.

This incident, however, doesn’t serve to imbue these organizations with even a slight patina of seriousness, and if anything, it has only added to the ever-growing pile of humiliating defeats they have suffered in their persistent attack on secular society and values. Malacanang, when asked about the matter, has succinctly said the most crucial point in this argument: that it is in no position to prevent the concert from happening. Say what you will about the seasonal pandering offered by public officials and electoral candidates to clerics of all colors, but this recent pronouncement is commendable as the Philippine government has made the politically inconvenient but morally sound decision to keep the Jeffersonian wall that separates the church and the state bolstered and well-patrolled.

It was also reassuring to see that the online community was quick to pick up on this. That said, online discussions on the matter have, quite predictably, focused primarily on the ostentatiously risible silliness that local godfolk have engaged in once more. I say this because while I was prepared for (and frankly quite used to, to put it rather politely) the satire and reaction pieces that this spectacle were bound to elicit, I was gobsmacked to find statements from Filipino artists and performers providing unsolicited editorial and compositional advice to their American counterpart and have found no commentary on this facet of the arguments so far.

This was more than enough for me to ask the tangential – but I daresay more important – question that seems to have fallen off everyone’s radar: can these artists be really serious about endorsing censorship through their self-pitying and clergy-pandering recommendations? To me, these were unbelievably fatuous statements to make and are a genuine affront to secular and artistic values, simply because the business of entertainment and the enterprise of art are hinged on the principle of absolute freedom of expression. To hear such suicidal, surrendering commentary from those who stand to greatly profit from this liberty is akin to seeing cattle gleefully walking into an abattoir.

The article cited above features comments from the plump, untalented, unfunny, and indisputably incurious clown Martin Nievera, who to me is barely a musical force powerful enough to ask for an opinion. In any case, he stated in Tagalog that if it were to him, he would change his lyrics if it were truly offensive and recommended that Lady Gaga ‘adjust’ them to ‘our Christianity’, with the possessive article presumably making that very common error of assuming that everyone in the Philippines identified as Christian. While this doesn’t surprise me considering his track record for revising lyrics at will, I have to say that for all the money he’s milked this industry, he fails to see the implications of his statement. Singer Arnel Pineda on the other hand seems to be sitting on the fence, but his statements make him appear to be in favor of making lyrical compromises should a situation face him as a performer and composer.

To listen to these people – who make their living through music – whimper and say these things is nothing short of infuriating. As I have said, the absolute freedom of expression is the only guarantee that can allow culture to flourish. An important corollary also needs to be considered, that it also must be noted that any form of censorship, however slight, is malleable enough to be made an excuse for censorship of anything and therefore everything. I find it very disappointing that while the article also showed that there are still Filipino artists and performers willing to uphold this fundamental principle, some are more than willing to be complicit to the crime of violating our freedom to express ideas, musical or otherwise.

In this sort of polemic, writers often make a hackneyed reference to medieval times, but one does not need to go that far to see that this encroachment on civil liberties had carried on even in recent history. This incident takes me back to my cursory reading of the US Senate hearings in the ‘80s that brought forth that black sticker on records warning parents of explicit, violent, or sexual lyrics in the record. Various musical luminaries such as Frank Zappa and John Denver made testimonies in this hearing, essentially saying one thing, that no censorship of any form should be allowed. The Washington wives’ club led by Tipper Gore [i.e. the Parents Music Resource Center] eventually had their way and the stickers now inundate practically all records but the fact that artists in the US back then knew the implications of such censorship measures affirms the argument that the fight against censorship and for the freedom of expression is a fight worthy of our time and energy. It’s a real shame that there are still these people in this country who claim to be artists and/or profess to uphold its values while making these capitulations to religious nutbags, whose audacity to try and influence public policy have only become more fortified by the willingness of some to be intimidated by the delusional, apocalyptic fanatics that form the ranks of these groups.

Perhaps a fitting close to this piece would be to take the argument further, since Nievera and Pineda seem to have aborted it prematurely in their heads, at the point just where they conclude that they’re willing to yield and allow censorship if a religious group cries foul. In light of their toadying, I’d like to give them the challenge that has prompted me take an absolutist position against anything that treads even with the lightest step on the freedom of expression. I happen to think that as elementary as its formulation may be, it still is the most persuasive counterpoint to any support of censorship: name me someone who is good enough to make these judgments as to what is good and otherwise. I don’t hear any names cropping up now, and I don’t expect to soon.

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Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Marco Harder

May 2012

It has become a ritual of sorts for me to actively seek out material that would allow vinegar to foment in my person, but it has become quite a luxury to find something that could prompt me to write a proper, and in a way formal, response to the matter at hand. This morning proved to be one of those fortuitous days, and what you see in the meretricious glare of your screens is the resultant riposte.

Andy Uyboco’s piece titled Middle Ground posted on the Filipino Freethinkers website is, to say the least, doggerel from someone who appears to have not educated himself well enough in the diverse pool of faiths, as well as arguments for non-belief, from all over. Inevitably, this leads to another point of ignorance from his side of the street, which is failing to see the firmament of the atheistic position: that it is not just the rejection of a belief or the existence of deities. Rather, this is a consequence of the idea that there has been no evidence adduced so far that has demonstrated the existence of one, and therefore suspending the hypothesis [i.e. an extant deity] is absurd, irrational, and most importantly, unnecessary. I sure hope this illuminates a lot of things for the author, as I suspect that his incomplete understanding of the position us nonbelievers have taken may have a lot to do with the inchoate drivel I read this morning.

To his point regarding the challenge he put forth to atheists to imagine the possibility of having a higher [and presumably sentient being], I can’t help but wonder: can this person really be serious about what he’s asking, as if it weren’t easy enough to realize that god, being a hypothesis, is in itself an exercise in conjuring what could otherwise be only be inscribed using ontological methods? That said, I can easily imagine all these things he mentioned [i.e. a being that ‘…does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have…’] should he wish to impose his persistence on the argument: there could be a being that kick started all of this matter into motion, but has either refused to intervene or has sublimated altogether post hoc, i.e. the deistic position. There could be a being that exists, cares for what we do, and positively enjoys watching us suffer [a sufficient explication of this possibility concerning an evil god and its implications was done by Stephen Law, and does deserve your reading time, if only to provide an alternative, though not necessarily more plausible, argument known as maltheism]. There could also be an afterlife, if he insists; only that in my proposal, there will be no one waiting for us when we get there.

Clearly, I could come up with all of those and more but the question remains whether we should maintain the notion that such statements stand up to the same intellectual rigor that we subject all other claims to. If they don’t, we simply should move on from the question, form the best conclusion given the evidence, and only return to it when developments in the evidence or arguments in favor of it present themselves. I’m not quite convinced that the Pyrrhonic principle which imbues all assertions with equal and equivalent probability [which the author seems to espouse] still holds water in the face of the ever-growing mounting evidence that further bolsters the atheistic argument.

Another laughable claim that he makes is that ‘most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity.’ This is pardonable, if only for the fact that he readily admits that he has only known nonbelievers who have come from that group, but this does not acquit him of the charges of misrepresentation and the lack of mordant insight. Misrepresentation because to imply that the recent rise in the prominence of nonbelievers is largely a phenomenon in Christendom is nothing short of fatuous. Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali come from Iran and Somalia, respectively – both of which are highly dense with Islamic fervor both in society and government. Want of insight because the author has failed to see that the opposition to religion comes from the fact that most acts of hatred, bigotry, and abuse – slave trade, parochial racism, capital punishment –that we know have all been motivated, endorsed, or tolerated by most faiths, and thus to say that attacks are primarily Christian-centered is absurd. Anyone with a decent internet connection can easily validate and research these facts, a privilege we have which leaves us no elbow room to make sloppy claims like those made in the piece.

Uyboco also mounts a challenge to believers, presumably to evince an air of balance and fairness. He puts forward to theists the dare to question themselves and see whether the deity they believe to exist ‘could ever be accurately described in ancient texts — and open your mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you have put your god inside a box too small to contain him, or her, or it.’ The statement you have just read clearly does not lie diametrically against the corresponding challenge given to nonbelievers like myself. The distinction that he fails to make is this: the question for theists presupposes that such a being already exists and the question is merely a matter of expanding the working definition and adumbrating the idea more precisely, while the atheists get handed a question that cannot be falsified and therefore sketchy to begin with. Why can’t the author spine up and ask his fellow believers the fundamental question to begin with:  where is the evidence for your assertion? It’s quite a lot to ask for middle ground when one party can’t even be trusted to be intellectually honest.

Frankly, I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss as to how to end this essay, as much as I am confounded by the odd reference to a Zen saying involving one’s digits and the moon. While its conventional exegesis has its merits, I propose looking at the aphorism from a mildly obtuse angle: is it not true that the observer changes the observed and is incapable of measuring two values simultaneously with any relative accuracy? By going for the moon, ’Middle Ground´ totally misses checking the instrument of its observation which, as shown by its arguments, is far from being perfectly true and tempered.