The Sacred and the Profane by Mercia Eliade

In his introduction, Eliade puts forth an initial definition of “sacred” as that which is the “opposite of profane”, establishing early on the polarity between the sacred and the profane, the two modalities of experience, or “the two existential situations assumed by man in the course of history”. For the religious man, the sacred is equivalent to reality. Only that which is perceived to be sacred is ultimately real in both its enduringness and efficacy. Conversely, that which does not manifest itself as sacred belongs to the mundane and profane universe thus making it unreal or pseudo-real. As such, the religious man deeply desires to be real and to participate in reality, and thus tends to remain as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects, as will be discussed later on.

On the other hand, the nonreligious man of the modern world subsists in a desacralized and profane universe. The sacred realities perceived by the religious man through hierophanies (i.e., manifestations of sacred realities) remain mundane in the profane reality of the nonreligious man. However, this does not suggest that the religious man and nonreligious man live in completely opposing realities. Eliade describes the nature of hierophanies as such: “By manifesting the sacred, an object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu.” The difference merely lies in the capability of the religious man to experience reality of a wholly different order aside from the same reality experienced by the nonreligious man.

Sacred Space

Eliade first tackles the concept of sacred space or space as hierophanies. He builds on the premise that for the religious man, space is not homogeneous. For the religious man, there exists sacred space or space which significant and profane space or all other areas of space surrounding the sacred space, signifying that the sacred space, be it a country, city or sanctuary, lies at the center of the world. To quote, “In the homogenous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation can be established, the hierophany reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.”

At the center of the world also lies the axis mundi, the universal pillar, that which connects and supports the three cosmic levels: the earth, heaven and underworld. The three cosmic levels communicate through the axis mundi and this is how sacred space is revealed to the religious man, from heaven to earth. It must be noted that sacred space is revealed through the gods, and at times, even provoked by man, but it is never chosen by man himself. Sacred space is communicated to man by the gods through the axis mundi. Naturally, the religious man dwells in this sacred space, situated at the center of the world. This inhabited territory is juxtaposed against the surrounding expanse of space around it, which is unknown space. The sacredness of the inhabited territory by religious man signifies the cosmos, or the world created by the gods, a world of order and form. Conversely, the unknown space surrounding it signifies chaos, that which is foreign and formless, populated by ghosts, demons, or the dead.

 

Sacred Time

Time shares a similar characteristic with space in that they are both not homogeneous to the religious man. Moreover, similar to sacred space that exists both in the profane world and in a wholly other order, the religious man also lives in two kinds of time. The first is ordinary time, that which is linear and profane and devoid of religious significance. The second is sacred time, that which “appears under the paradoxical aspect of circular time, reversible and recoverable, a sort of eternal mythical present that is periodically integrated by means of rites”.

In this definition, Eliade highlights two characteristics of sacred time as follows: “Sacred time is reversible” and “Sacred time is a primordial mythical time made present”. This is elucidated in archaic societies wherein religious festivals or any liturgical time represents the reactualization of a sacred that took place in a mythical past, in illo tempore, or the time of origin. During this time, the religious man does not only re-enact the mythical past for he actually dwells in it. The religious man periodically becomes contemporary with the gods. This again reflects the religious man’s desire to emulate the gods, to share the characteristics of the gods, which he perceives to be real and enduring, just as the religious man desires to dwell at the center of the world, near the axis mundi, where communication with the gods is possible. Eliade labels myths as “paradigmatic models” for “one becomes truly a man only by conforming to the teaching of the myths, by imitating the gods”.

Sacredness of Nature and Human Existence

Finally, Eliade examines other hierophanies present in nature and other aspects of human existence. For the religious man, nature is never “only natural” and is always fraught with religious value. Cosmic religion reveals that sacrality is revealed the structures of the world. He elucidates this point by examining universal symbols such as the transcendence of the sky, the duality of water as a symbol of life and death, beginning and end, through emersion and immersion in water and the fecundity and fertility of the earth.

Sacred and Profane in the Modern World

In understanding Eliade’s text, it is important to make the distinction between the man of archaic societies, that which he typically ascribes to be the religious man and the man of modern society, that which he typically ascribes as the nonreligious man. To be clear, he argues that even the modern man is not completely nonreligious. Desacralization of the universe and human existence is a recent discovery, and as such, traces of religious action and thought remain in the modern nonreligious man as he is a descendant of his ancestor, the religious man of the archaic societies. He goes on to suggest that religiosity may be an unconscious aspect of being, ingrained even in those who live in the most desacralized modern societies. He writes, “The majority of the “irreligious” still behave religiously, even though they are not aware of the fact… But modern man who feels and claims that he is nonreligious still retains a large stock of camouflaged myths and degenerated rituals.” He also asserts that while the existence of the modern man is impoverished in the sense that the nonreligious modern man only dwells in his profane universe, “the unconscious offers him solutions for the difficulties of his own life, and in this way plays the role of religion.”

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What is the Extent of Religious Tolerance?

Religious tolerance: a string of words that has been thrown around for centuries, used and abused to justify the continuous subscription to supposed higher powers and the entire van of crazy that comes along with it. My interest in this subject stems from recent news of the U.N. General Assembly re-affirming a resolution condemning religious defamation last December 21, 2010, for the sixth year in a row now, despite dwindling support. I’ve unsuccessfully scoured the internet for a copy of the resolution, but I did find the resolution that was adopted in March 2009. Although the revised 2010 resolution presents notable differences, the general gist of the resolution still holds the same. A summary regarding the recent convention can be read here.

Sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in response to incidents such as artists drawing Mohammed and activists burning copies of the Qur’an, the resolution can be used to justify the implementation of so-called “blasphemy laws” or laws which criminalize activities deemed “offensive” by a religion. The OIC rationalizes this by alleging that believers of Islam have fallen victim to racial profiling and expresses “deep concern… that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

I do condemn hate speech (and more so, hate crimes) as much as the next guy hates the Ku Klux Klan, however, banning and criminalizing them is an all-together different story because it impedes an individual’s right to freedom of speech. Eileen Donahoe, US ambassador, explains, “We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, because we continue to see the ‘defamation of religions’ concept used to justify censorship, criminalization, and in some cases, violent assaults and deaths of political, racial and religious minorities around the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to argue that lynching fundamentalists should be legalized. However, I’m here to examine the extent of religious tolerance people are entitled to, and whether or not this entitlement is well-deserved. In other words, is religion that important to be protected at the expense of freedom of speech?

A common assumption most people (including religious moderates and atheists) live by is religion should be treated with utmost respect and reverence. Religion is not open to scrutiny and the slightest offense against it is met with fervent agitation at the least. This is exactly the mindset that the OIC and various other religious groups exploited in gaining favor for the resolution. It is also this mindset that would willingly sacrifice the values of freedom of speech and freethinking for the sake of the preservation of a religion’s undeserved infallibility.

An interesting case to examine would be that of James Nixon, a twelve-year-old public school student back in 2004, who won the right in court to go to school in a shirt that said, “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white.” The ruling was based on the principle of “freedom of religion”. Now, while I would have reluctantly conceded to the ruling had it been based on the principle of freedom of speech, there is something that simply doesn’t sit well with me because if we were to take the principle of ‘religious defamation’ seriously, then the ruling is flawed because someone of the Islam faith could have taken offense from the shirt’s message as well. However, a gay man would practically have nothing against this case. I think the problem with protecting religion is that it’s virtually impossible to do so without offending someone else’s religion. When the state propagates a principle such as this, it is not only contradictory, it also unconstitutional because we are stifling free speech.

What I’m trying to get across is simple: all religious tolerance really means is, “accepting or permitting others’ religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Basically, all this really means is that your boss can’t fire you because of your beliefs and I can’t refuse to sit beside you in an airplane, but I can disagree with you and I am free to do whatever I want even if it contradicts what you believe in and even if (and especially when it) offends you. Religious tolerance does not also legally entail “religious privileges” such as Saturdays or Sundays off. To illustrate, I found this interesting response in a thread on Yahoo! Answers,

“McDonald’s has the right to schedule you on Sundays. I don’t know of any place left that still has enforced Blue Laws. Think about how many people work on Sundays… retail employees, restaurants, anything in the entertainment industry (movies, theme parks, casinos, etc.), gas stations, athletes and so on. It’s obviously not illegal to schedule people on Sundays.

You have the right to take Sundays off. (It’s called “quitting your job”.)

If you decline to work on Sundays, McDonalds can terminate you. Realistically they can fire you for whatever reason they want, but refusing to work the required schedule is more than enough reason.

If your church and youth group activities are that important to you, you need to look for alternative employment that doesn’t ask you to work on Sundays.”

Contrary to what we’ve been taught in Catholic school, responsible freedom (and how we ought not to hurt anyone with we say and do) is, excuse my french, bullshit, especially when it stifles free speech and more so when it puts the lives of those who dare pierce the veil of religious infallibility in danger, like say, when teachers are in danger of being mobbed and lynched because they named a teddy bear Muhammad.

The good news, at least, is that support for the resolution has been steadily declining over the years, with the resolution passing with merely 79 votes to 67 (with 40 abstentions), a significantly low margin of difference of 12-votes compared to previous years. These figures were preceded by a 57-vote margin in 2006 and 2007 that dropped to 33 in 2008 and to 19 in 2009; impressive for the first decade of the century. And it is with this that I end this entry with a simple greeting: Happy 2011 and I hope the rest of the century folds out quite nicely for you!

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Why Carlos Celdran is NOT My Hero

On September 30, 2010, late in the afternoon, Carlos Celdran did what most of us could only hope to achieve. He a gave voice to the growing number of secularists in the country, a voice to those who are sick of the undue influence the Catholic Church holds over society.

Arrested and detained for “offending the feelings of the faithful” after his daring stunt, Celdran became an overnight sensation. And we know this for a fact because his Facebook fan page skyrocketed to almost 15 thousand fans. On a more important note, this provided an avenue for people to actually have intellectual discourses regarding the issue.

 

Well, at least, for the most part.

 

Personally, Celdran’s feat inspired me so goddamn much (pun very much intended), to the point where I even cried my eyes out just to be allowed to go to the rally in front of UN Avenue Precinct No. 5. This, coupled with P-Noy’s uncompromising stance against the Catholic Church made me feel for the first time that maybe there is hope for the Philippines. Maybe things really are about to change!

And then, of course, Celdran had to apologize.

“I am sorry for the method I used, but my message is unapologetic.” – Carlos Celdran

Whether or not, this apology comes from immense public pressure or was sincere, I wouldn’t know. But while this statement generally appeased the people, I was, on the other hand, disappointed.

I personally think that the method was perfect. It was exactly what the Philippines needed! Think about it. The Catholic Church has the gall to threaten civil disobedience against the very own government which grants it tax exemption because it knows (or rather, believes) that the masses will back them up. No one would ever dare disrespect the Catholic Church because it is legitimized by the scriptures (READ: THE BIBLE) and a god who supposedly put them there to lead us to salvation. Of course, NO ONE would ever dare question the validity of that because ZOMG YOU JUST DON’T QUESTION THE BIBLE.

The problem, I think, is that people actually acknowledge the supposed moral unsoundness of the RH Bill, and are now morally conflicted as a result, despite seeing the necessity of the legislation of the bill. However, the problem with this mindset is that we are conceding that the Church is right. And this, in turn, makes them believe that they are empowered to prevent the legislation of the RH Bill. In other words, you give them the moral authority over you and society.  (On a side note, assuming without conceding that the RH Bill is morally unsound, does this mean the bill should not be legislated? The answer is in this short reaction paper I wrote on Holmes’ essay, The Path of the Law, regarding the congruence of law and morality, which can be read here.)

It was, however, Celdran’s attempt at moderating his fan page that got me to go cold turkey:

 

LOL U MAD?

 

Despite previous claims of standing up for free speech and democracy, here we see Celdran contemplating on killing the fan page because people are expressing their distaste for the Church, such as this:

How does one know for certain if a priest is good or bad?

Okay, I concede that the previous comment wasn’t the most sensitive or appropriate statement. Still, if Celdran is actually attempting to segregate priests between “good” and “bad”, even so far as to suggest that we should “reform them”, then he’s doing no better than the Catholic Church because he’s also imposing his on standards of morality on others.

We can’t say that a priest is “good” just because he supports the RH Bill. Conversely, we can’t say that a priest is “bad” just because he condemns it. The Catholic Church is entitled to their own opinions, just as we all are. No one can take it against them for going against the RH Bill because they’re just doing what they think is right, which is their interpretation of the scripture. It’s just the same as Carlos Celdran believing the RH bill is good. Or that I think fraternities do more harm than good to society. Everyone is entitled to opinions. What we are not entitled to are facts.

So what now? What we can (and oughta) do is exactly what Carlos Celdran did: Tell them to stop getting involved in politics and tell them to stop shoving their moral standards on other people’s throats just because they can’t even adhere to it themselves.

And why he had to apologize for that, I’ll never understand.

Posted in Politics, Religion & Atheism, Society | 2 Comments

The Less Obvious Social Costs of Fraternities

Fraternities have been making news headlines once again in light of the controversies that have recently surfaced. The first one is a tragedy involving Alpha Phi Omega (APO), whose members allegedly beat neophyte Carl Intia to death during initiation rites sometime in August. Second is the more recent hatid-salubong bombing in Taft which, well, perhaps had nothing to do with fraternities, but has however, deteriorated into childish finger-pointing amongst fraternities in a perverse effort to deflect blame from themselves.

See what I mean?

If you’re wondering if I will be dwelling on the culture of violence that persists in fraternities, let me get this out of the way by saying, no, I won’t be. Despite sharing the sentiments of those who frown upon this subject, too much has been said on the matter and I would contribute nothing new to the discussion. Furthermore, despite the obvious social costs this issue presents, I respect the individual’s right to bodily autonomy. Should one consciously choose to subject himself to such brutalities for the sake of everlasting brotherhood, then, by all means, let him do so! (Obvious by now, I guess, is my bias against these organizations. Admittedly, this bias stems from personal encounters with the less desirable faction of the fraternity system, but I digress.) Joining a fraternity for this reason alone, however, seems too surreal.

So why do boys join fraternities? The most commonly cited response in an informal survey I conducted (By that I meant random sampling on Facebook chat!) is “establishing connections”, presumably with the alumni who will ensure their successful careers. From a Machiavellian perspective, there is nothing wrong with this. What is one week of physical and psychological harassment if this means an assurance of getting a job after graduation or, say, business connections? For those with an interest in the political arena, fraternities are also known to provide awesome backing to their candidates. Simply put, the lasting benefits of joining a fraternity outweigh the temporal costs entailed in the week-long initiation rites most fraternities have. From this perspective, boys should be eager and readily jump at invitations to join fraternities.

However, I think the biggest problem with fraternities lies exactly in that same mindset. Fraternities enforce a culture of reliance on connections. We see UP students of law, medicine and business readily stomach physical beatings and humiliation because of the promise of joining the ranks of esteemed men who are now big names in their chosen careers, as if going to best university in the country (and graduating with honors at that) is no assurance of career stability.

Wala kang mararating kung wala kang kakilala sa Pilipinas,” they say. Sadly, I guess this holds true even against our country’s cream of the crop. I use the term “cream of the crop” loosely because of fraternities’ supposed exclusionary nature, although this is also contestable.

 

Okay, just kidding. This is not a frat.

So what is there left to do? The following suggestion put forward by sociologist Randolf David, in his essay The Functions of Fraternities, dated August 23, 1998:

“Fraternities persist because they serve a function; they respond to the real needs of students. They flourish when they are able to prove their value to the student inside and outside the school milieu and long after graduation. They decline when the needs that gave rise to them and sustained them are better served by other associations. They die when they are unable to reproduce themselves, when the total costs of frat membership grossly outweigh the benefits…

The challenge is not how to kill the fraternity system, but what alternative affiliations, far more fulfilling and less damaging to young bodies and spirits, to offer our students.”

In other words, we have to realize that no matter how much the media attempts to villainize these organizations and no matter how much apprehension is expressed over the subject by families and other parties, fraternities will continue to persist, serving a function in response to a need. As long as society accepts this kakilala culture and actually thrives on this, fraternities will lounge around until then. And at the end of the day, all you can really do is admit it: it works.

 

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Respect, not Prayers

The FriendlyAtheist just posted a link to a blog entry written in light of the death of Pat Tillman in 2004,

Speaking at the funeral service for Pat Tillman, both Maria Shriver and John McCain dropped their insensitive god bombs; ‘he’s with god now,’ etc.  In his emotional speech at this same service, Pat’s devoted younger brother, Richard, spoke from his heart: “make no mistake, he’d want me to say this, he’s not with god. He’s fucking dead.  He wasn’t religious.  So, thanks for your thoughts but, he’s fucking dead.” Explaining his statements to Bill Maher in an interview on Sept. 25, 2010, Richard said that he found Shriver’s and McCain’s statements to be offensive.  “I don’t go into a church and say ‘this is bullshit’ so don’t come to my brother’s service and tell me that he’s with god.  He’s simply not with fucking god.”

Pat Tillman was known first as a football player before enlisting in the US army

 

The rest of the post can be read here.

This post reminded me of a time I told a friend in university that I was atheist, to which he responded, “This made me sad… I’ll continue praying for you. I hope you change your mind about god someday.”

Another friend in a different conversation responded by saying, “Oh, Char, not god, please.”

And while I could have launched a tirade against what they said, I deferred because, no doubt, my friends meant well. However, what most religious people fail to realize is that atheists, (Well, okay, fine, let’s not generalize.) — is that I am not unhappy with my situation. Should this come as a surprise to you, my life does not feel incomplete nor does it feel devoid of “purpose and direction”. There is a distinction between hating god and not believing in one. I hope you don’t mistake me for the latter because one can’t hate what one does not believe to exist in the first place.

What makes encounters like these worse, is that I always sense a tinge of pity in their voices, which I find offensive. I mean, you don’t see me go around saying, “I’m sorry you still believe in fairy tales”. On bad days, this angers me to know that I am being pitied for a belief (or lack thereof) that I consciously chose to stand up for and that I am actually proud of.

The most noteworthy incident, however, is the time I received a letter from a family friend. She gave me an article arguing that “atheists” don’t exist because we can’t ever prove that god doesn’t exist, so therefore that makes me agnostic, which is derived from the Greek words, “without knowledge” or “ignorant”. And, well, no one would want to be called ignorant, right? The conclusion: I must now repent and believe in god. I won’t even start pointing out all the things wrong with the article, but maybe I will someday when I’m have more time in my hands.

Reading it made me want to laugh, but I didn’t because my parents were already upset enough as it is. If you don’t know this, I was brought up in a religious environment by my parents. I went to mass on Sundays, studied in a Catholic school, and joined bible quiz bees and even won them. I was a devout follower and I remember watching a documentary on the prophecies of Nostradamus, among which, it says, that the Pope would lose the support of women and this would consequently lead to the downfall of the Catholic Church someday. It terrified me to the point that I hoped and prayed that I would be dead by the time this prophecy came true, should it come true.

Of course, I see things differently now, but the point of that anecdote is show you that I did care. I didn’t lose faith in the existence of a god because I wanted to stop going to mass or because I was too lazy to read the bible. My reasons and my story would take too long to discuss here, but I will write about it sooner or later, when I am not as harassed with school work. I cared enough to examine my faith and to scrutinize it and to question it because I didn’t just want to blindly follow my religion. I wanted faith with substance. I realize now that thinking does bad things to your faith.

That said, to all my religious friends who care enough to pray for me and who attempt to sway me back into faith, thank you, but no thank you. Religious freedom and freedom of speech compels me to respect your choice, but don’t forget that this liberty works both ways.

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A Century into the Path of the Law

In the first part of his essay, Holmes asserts two supposed misconceptions regarding law. First, he argues that law and morality are not necessarily congruent to one another. He juxtaposes “malice” in the moral sense, “as importing a malevolent motive” to “malice” in the legal sense, as the “tendency of conduct… to cause temporal harm”. He further proposes that in the study of law, one should look upon the subject from a bad man’s perspective, that is, one who cares only “for the material consequences which such knowledge enables him to predict, not as a good one, who finds reasons for his conduct…”

Second, he debunks the notion that “the only force at work in the development of the law is logic”, asserting that despite the logical framework of law, attitudes and other societal externalities affect a judge’s decision.

Instead, he asserts that it is history that constitutes the greatest influence in the development of law. He argues that history plays too big of a part in the present condition of law to the point that some laws are merely “the blind imitation of the past”, devoid of purpose, reason or the view of the end. As to what “end” he hopes law would subserve, readers can only assume it to be utopian.

Holmes’ essay’ forward-thinking approach to the subject (so much so as to refer to laws as “prophecies”,) was juxtaposed against the traditionalist perspective that persisted in his time. And while his writings have sparked a revolution in legal thought and study, it is evident that this major pitfall in the theory of law still persists despite the Path of the Law being written more than a century ago.

That said, this essay sounds the alarm as our country still has history and tradition up on a pedestal. This is evident in our history whose politics and laws are intertwined with the Catholic Church. There is danger in this primarily because the Church seems to be victimized by the first fallacy, that is, it insists on shoving morality down our throats and the law’s. Even worse, they are imposing their own standards of morality, which are based on nothing but outdated dogmas. Ironically, the Church shouldn’t even be meddling with affairs of the state to begin with.

Sadly, despite the recent societal backlash on the Church’s actions this week, the majority’s refusal to question the legitimizing factor of the Church, that is, the scriptures, prevents us from ridding the country of this undue influence. What people fail to realize is that as long as people do not question the outdated dogmas that chain us to the past, the Church retains its stronghold on Philippine society. In other words, the monarch remains in power because he has subjects to rule over. I find my sentiments similar to what Holmes had written,

“It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.

So now our society is at a junction: do we continue to tread the path of history or do we dare to diverge in hopes of reaching the “utopian end”?

Posted in Law, Religion & Atheism, Society | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments