Religion

Suffering and Living

“If Jesus came back today, and saw what was going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”
-Max Von Sydow

“You think if Jesus comes back, he ever wants to see a fucking cross?”
-Bill Hicks

Masala_Skeptic just sent me this link to an article about hard-core Catholics in the Philippines who will be celebrating Good Friday tomorrow by nailing one another to crosses and flagellating themselves with whips. The Catholic Church has expressed disapproval over the custom, and local health officials have urged participants to sanitize their nails and whips in order to keep the crucifixions as safe as possible. Yeah, I just wrote that: “in order to keep the crucifixions as safe as possible.” We wouldn’t want anyone, you know, dying or anything. And then, god forbid, climbing out of a grave three days later to feast on the brains of the living.

I suppose the idea is to suffer for Christ, but not die for him — they’ve been doing this for about 40 years now, and apparently no one has died yet. And, the event attracts curious tourists (and their wallets) to the area. Because of that, I’m not really sure what to say about it all. If people like getting together to endure severe discomfort in order to experience some transcendent feeling, who am I to complain? I certainly wouldn’t complain if they were doing it at an S&M convention. A lot of people get an incredible amount of pleasure from pain and humiliation, and I bet you get even more pleasure out of it if you really believe that doing it is somehow getting you closer to the god of your choice.

So, I read the article, and I did some Googling and found many more articles and photos of the event from years past, and in the end the best I can do is shrug my shoulders and think that this isn’t the stupidest thing I’ve seen people do for an unsubstantiated belief. Maybe in the face of deadly beliefs like snake handling, and exorcisms, and faith healing, I’ve become jaded. I’ve become a weird-belief snob.

Still, though, there is a little part of me that cries out for these people to drop the whips and nails and belief in a god who delights in their suffering, and go do something useful. Stop focusing on death, and start focusing on the life you have. The death part, and maybe the afterlife, all that will come soon enough.

A few days ago, a fellow skeptic was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and is sharing his thoughts and fears on a skeptical forum. He’s 37, married, with a family. I won’t pretend to know exactly what he is feeling, but it strikes me how difficult it must be to suddenly be forced to focus on that horizon, and how difficult it must be to then tear your eyes away from where you’re inevitably going and refocus on where you are right now.

He’s already picking himself up. In April, he’ll participate in a Walk to Fight ALS, and you can help by donating to the cause in his name (his name is Michael, by the way), or by joining him on the walk if you live near Philly. I don’t even know Michael very well, and I’ve never met him in person, but I’ll toss some money his way, for the following reasons (and maybe a few more):

  • Funding ALS research and patient care is a great cause.
  • Skeptics and heathens don’t have churches with bake sales and collections. We do have this community.
  • Giving away money to a good cause gives me a little jolt of happiness.
  • It beats the hell out of getting nailed to a cross.

By the way, today is the first day of Spring. I hope all of you spend it thinking about sunnier days, budding flowers, little bunnies getting it on in the underbrush . . . you know, life and stuff.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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14 Comments

  1. I was stationed in the Philippines for a couple of years in the 80’s. The traditions you mention are quite the spectacle. And yeah, dumb.

    I shook my head and went back to drinking.

    I’m sorry about your friend.

  2. This doesn’t seem all that surprising in a country where a majority of rurual residents are unaware that sex leads to pregnancy (they believe that God just gives them a baby when He feels you’re ready)

  3. I knew you’d do this piece justice, Rebecca.

    I read about Michael’s ALS yesterday and I just talked to my best friend from college who is fighting soft tissue cancer. She’s 34 and has been going through 72-hour-long chemo sessions which make her constantly sick and exhausted. Plus, the tumor that started all this has left her with a wound that won’t heal.

    It just warms the cockles to hear about perfectly healthy idiots flagellating themselves to honor an invisible, imaginary old man in the sky.

    I’m going to go sit in the Atlanta sunshine now and try to be happy I’m alive.

  4. Here in Mexico we not only welcome Spring and (not-so-much-welcomed) Easter, we celebrate something less mystifying: the birthday of Benito Juárez, strong advocate of secularization, who later caused the Vatican to severe diplomatic relationships with Mexico for over a hundred years, which were restarted only 15 years ago.

  5. “And then, god forbid, climbing out of a grave three days later to feast on the brains of the living.”

    Actually, I’m thinkin’ that Christianity would’ve made a much better movie had Jesus rose from the dead to consume the brains of the living.

    …Though, in a sense….

  6. Zombie Jesus rules!!!

    I saw my first Volunteer Christ picture from a project that our fourth grade class (Catholic school) did on The Philippines. The guy looked like John Lennon- long black hair, granny eyeglasses. I remember very little blood, but it was obvious that there really were nails in his hands. Catholics luuuvvv to suffer needlessly.

    I was 9 when I realized- something ain’t right here.

    BTW…article in USA Today that caught my eye:
    Headline: Is Sin Dead?
    No, not by a long shot.

    Go sin go!

  7. An article in the manila times today stated that when flogging yourself make sure that your flooging whip (I don’t know what it’s called) is clean so you don’t get an infection. the same article said to bring your own water and food to the event to save some money-I guess for the medical bills.

    Unfortunately the Philipines adopted the religion of the Spanish (Catholic), and before that Muslims (Mostly in the southern islands) and currently western mega malls-there are hella. It is also the capital of faith healers, the people that pull disease, errrr, chicken guts from you body for a handsome sum and martial artist that can read your thoughts upon entering the tournament/stadium to kick some butt.

    The Philipines has a tremendous amount of rainforest and beautiful white sand beaches (boracay), the local fishermen are buffed, brown and have hair down to their waist (just like me, I’m not bragging, I’m just saying) and they are the most polite people and friendly-they will call you sir or mam, but…

    The currenct U.S. occupation, constant political turmoil, the faith healers (huge tourist money) and now the flogging (flogging? floging? to be said in the voice of allen iverson) make me shake my head at my beloved islands.

    Side note, beer on a white sand beach, where the water is just as warm as the air is about 40 cents.

    Heart Kriss

  8. I just hope David Icke will be self-flagellating for the rest of his days. He started as a goal-keeper for a football, sorry, soccer team. Then became a sports commentator. After having a massage at a spa, he then decided he was the Second Coming in 1991. Now he’s best known for not being a turquoise wearing Jesus, but a lizard fearing conspiracy nut.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nMq6gc1yMg

    Send him to the Philippines for me please.

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