Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh Bohollocks

After a pleasantly sunny first day in Bohol, I was woken early to find the typhoons had followed me south. I thought I'd escaped their inexplicable wrath, but like the Grim Reaper and those scary flying faces in Mario 2, they were going to catch up with me sooner or later.

The tour guide taking our depleted group around the island's sights couldn't understand it - apparently the storms don't usually reach this far below the typhoon belt. I felt guilty. Clearly I'd done something to piss off Anitun Tabu, Thor, Tlaloc or one of the other storm gods, and according to Oliver (who knows about these things), I needed to get a blessing to make things right again.

But where should I go? Which one of these obviously pretend deities was the right one?

Then I remembered - there is only one God; namely God (clue's in the name, duh). Silly me! I'd spent so long in the heathen world that I'd forgotten. Luckily for me, the Philippines was raped by the Spanish 500 years ago and they sorted things out by leaving the permanent scars of Catholicism and Colonial architecture. I just had to find me a church. Gracias, seƱores!

Tagbilaran City

When I arrived at my hotel, I found this book in my room - how did it get here?

After reading a few pages, I realised it was a bumper book of stories about God. (Though He seemed a bit more needlessly violent, spiteful, racist, homophobic, sexist, misanthropic and mentally ill than His followers give Him credit for).

Coincidence? My path was clear.

Even the taxis are covered in God graffiti.

If you're bored in Tagbilaran (and why wouldn't you be?) why not try spotting every possible scooter taxi registration from 0001 (if that even exists) to however high up they go (2999?) Sort of like CNPS, but even less rewarding.

You'll never be at a loss for ultrasound clinics here either, which might be partly due to the country's Catholic leaders making abortion illegal and trying their damnedest to restrict access to contraceptives. When you add the country's not insubstantial sex tourism to the mix, you've got a winning combination right there. Nice one, Archbishop.

Baclayon Church and a few thoughts about Christianity in the Philippines

I never had any religious faith - well, maybe an unquestioning acceptance during early childhood that comes from believing what you're told by the people who also teach you Maths and the water cycle. They wouldn't just make shit up, right?

This is a good thing, as not only do I not have to waste time with daily rituals or struggle to justify the truth of ancient fables in the face of obvious contradictory evidence, but I can also be satisfied that any good things I do are borne out of genuine kindness or at least conscious underhanded selfishness, rather than because I'm worried about annoying the boss.

It also means I can walk around nice historical religious buildings as a tourist and treat them all equally. Religious devotion is like national pride - it clouds judgement.

I noticed this especially when I was in Jerusalem, and the American tourists would rarely venture outside of the Old City's Jewish Quarter, while I felt free to explore the fascinating labyrinth. At least, until the Muslim kids starting shouting at me like self-appointed border guards. Hmm... maybe Jerusalem isn't exactly the idyll of a multifaith utopia after all (you think?)

If you're a Christian, churches are the houses of God and those pointy or rounded temples you see in the rest of Asia may be quaint things built by foreigners who got it wrong.

I don't have favourites. Though I do like my buildings old and rickety

When you've visited a number of countries in the same part of the world and seen the same couple of faiths competing for dominance in various culturally distinctive forms (Hindus in Bali eat beef - kerrazy!), it does hammer the arbitraty nature of religion home to see a different faith suddenly holding dominion over a country, as in the case of the overwhelming Catholic majority of the Philippines.

After they kicked the Spanish out, you'd think the people might have reconsidered following this doctrine that had been forced upon them and going back to their old ways. But nope, apparently Catholicism would do and is here to stay with all its Eurocentic trappings (including the white-washed Jesus - most of the time, anyway).

Cuh, imagine bending over and taking it like that. Back in the UK, we'd never let invaders destroy our indigenous belief system and condition us with some new, foreign religion, right? Jerusalem's located somewhere in England's green and pleasand land, right? You can probably see the point I'm inelegantly making: Christianity is only as out-of-place in the Philippines as it is in the UK. It was militantly forced on us there as well.

I'm not anti-religion, I just think free thinking is important, and at some point everyone should make a conscious effort to free themselves from culturally imposed doctrines and re-consider whether it's objectively still worth devoting your life to believing in one specific version of one particular faith just because of the place and time you happened to be born into in human history.

The same goes for national pride, something that's thankfully not such big business in Britain these days (outside of sport) but still seems to be instilled from an early age in many other countries as diverse as North Korea and the USA, where school kids are relentlessly taught that their country is 'number one.'

Come on guys, there are around 200 countries in the world - you can't all be number one. Let's put aside our differences and bash out a league table detailing the objective order of which countries and religions are best, then we can relax. Yes, there's no way that would cause more problems than it solved.

"Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe..."

See, I was right. It's only a model.

Epilogue: Magic Jesus face

Even if these bleeding atheist ramblings have pissed you off, I think all rational people can at least agree that believing you've seen a magic Jesus face in some rock or bread by falling victim to pareidolia (the psychological phenomenon of seeing faces in random patterns, due to a habit of the human brain developed during infancy) is complete Bohollocks.

Still, optical illusions are always fun, and the tour guide helpfully took this photo for me (below) of Baclayon Church from an angle that's supposed to reveal 'a face' in the 400-plus-year-old structure:

I couldn't see anything at the time, but increasing the brightness of the area by 150% (that's what God intended us to do, right? That's why He gave us Adobe Photoshop), it does bear an uncanny (i.e. desperately contrived) resemblance to a certain carpenter's son.

That's right, Quincy Jones (or, the first person I could find to make that rubbish joke work).

I assume this is the 'apparition?' (Eyes between the windows, nose and mouth beneath).
Let me know if you see anything else that's clearly not there



  1. This is a big one!

    1) Did you get a blessing?
    2) How far have you got in CSTRS? Don't pretend you haven't started.
    3) The first photo underneath the heading "Baclayon Church and a few thoughts about Christianity in the Philippines" clearly has a face in it, you can see the blues of the eyes and the outlines of the teeth perfectly. Can't believe you haven't mentioned this. Shoddy journalism.
    4) At one point I thought you were going to do a 'Which religion builds the best structures?' deathmatch. I'm a little bit disappointed that you didn't go down that path, but I hold hope that you've got that planned for a future post.
    5) This page ( ) helps countries prove what they're best at, so everyone (possibly) can be number one for something. Afghanistan would have a good tourist brochure: get your opium and hash here, Burkina Faso will need someone to read the list to them, come to Burundi and seem comparatively happy with your life and maybe some countries that come after B in the alphabet could have things too.

  2. 1) I got too distracted by the trinkets of Catholicism to remember to get a blessing. I'm fleeing the country tomorrow anyway, in a plane during typhoon season, so WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? (I figure if I say that often enough, there's a good chance that when I do die people will be able to quote it and make my death seem more mysterious).

    2) I didn't even spot 0001 (lowest was 0037 or something), so instead I tried to spot significant/meaningful numbers. I got 1812 and 0666.

    3) There are about 7 faces in the picture if you count the statues of angels, virgins and other graven images.

    4) The religious people I really don't get are those who sign up for modern-day versions that worship in regular brick buildings and converted offices. Surely one of the perks of religion is getting to sit/kneel uncomfortably in a musky-smelling, nice old building?

    5) All Britain has to show for itself is sport, which doesn't matter. I like how some countries have surprising or eclectic achievements, while others like North Korea serve to paint a picture of a completely insane place to live.

  3. lol you guys are funny, but well, its true these things i call fancy tales are just ones i keep questioning.

  4. People can believe anything they want to, i just think it's important that they take time to decide for themselves and don't automatically subscribe to a faith because their parents/teachers told them to.

    I remember realising Christianity wasn't for me in a school assembly, aged five, when a teacher asked me 'where is God?'

    I said 'in heaven' (which is what someone else had taught me).

    She said 'NO! What are you, an idiot? He's everywhere!'

    I said 'but if he's everywhere, that includes heaven, surely? Anyway, didn't you read the Lord's Prayer earlier, which opens with the line...'

    Okay, so everything after 'NO' might be made up. But I realised that if these peoples couldn't even agree on that point, they might not be so sure about the rest of it. Now I listen to Carl Sagan talk about the cosmos if I want a spiritual epiphany.

  5. you got a good point there! very well like like!