Passion For Reason

‘Freedom for the thought we hate’


Mideo Cruz may have blasphemed but precisely for that reason we can only boycott but not censor him. His work “Politeismo” has been vandalized and now suppressed together with the rest of the artwork in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ exhibit named Kulô. The ensuing outrage has exposed grave misconceptions about why we offer communal protection for expressive freedoms.

The first fallacy is the view that if many people find it offensive, then it can be censored. Susmaryopsep. That’s precisely why we have the Bill of Rights! It protects, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” Robert Jackson (who was also the US chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials) also said: “[T]he freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

The fallacy puts democracy above liberty, and leaves marginalized minorities at the mercy of the frenzied mob. It forgets that human rights are essentially counter-majoritarian. Again citing Jackson: “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights [is] to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities … [T]hey depend on the outcome of no elections.”

The second fallacy is that it would have been okay if the offending art was displayed in a private gallery, but not at the CCP, “on public property and by a public agency,” “a state instrumentality [which] makes [the government] complicit to an attack on religion.”

On the contrary, my dear Watson. A private gallery is completely free to judge art according to its aesthetic biases. But a publicly-funded gallery is bound by a document called the Philippine Constitution, which requires it to respect “freedom of speech [and] of expression” (Article III, Sec. 4) and “foster … a Filipino national culture … in a climate of free artistic and intellectual expression” (Article XIV, Sec. 14). By shutting down Kulô, the government is reduced to being the henchman of the neighborhood thug.

The third fallacy is that the CCP merely “succumbed to pressure by permanently closing the exhibit.” Not so fast, amigo. Read the fine print of the CCP’s statement. One part rightly speaks of public pressure: it was “due to numerous e-mails, text messages and other letters” sent to the CCP and the artists. But another part speaks of what we call the “heckler’s veto”: due to “hate mail” and “an increasing number of threats to persons and property, the [CCP has] decided to close down” Kulô. There is a world of a difference here. In the first rationale, the censor is the CCP itself. But in the second, the censor is the bully who forces the hand of the CCP to lower the boom not on “content-based” (i.e., the irreligiosity) but on “content-neutral” grounds (i.e., the risk of violence).

The fourth fallacy is that Politeismo deserves less protection because it is lesser art, a “mere” collage, in contrast to, say, a “real” painting. What is art, after all? If you have to ask, Rambo, you’ll never know. The CCP’s curator selected only well-known artists, and this exhibit has been previously housed at two universities, the Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines.

The most potent argument against the CCP is that Politeismo is hate speech; it is “injury-specific.” “Such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.” But Philippine jurisprudence has been uneven. Look at the Philippine case involving an outright insult against Islam (a tabloid stupidly saying that Muslims consider pigs “sacred animals”). The Supreme Court threw out the case because “the hurtful speech maligned a large class of people, a group too vast as to readily ascertain who among [them was] particularly defamed.” The Court was lackadaisical when it was a minority that was slurred, and it will be finicky now that the religious majority feels slighted?

The fifth is the braggadocio by church lawyers that the Revised Penal Code provides enough basis to punish any person who publicly “offend[s] any race or religion.” Remember that the law likewise criminalizes defamatory speech, but—in order to reconcile it with the Bill of Rights—the courts have concocted the New York Times v. Sullivan test (adopted by the Philippine Supreme Court) that makes it more difficult to convict when it is a public officer who is defamed.

The sixth fallacy is to assume that by defending Politeismo, I am endorsing it or that I really like it. I don’t. The political philosopher Michael Sandel says: “Liberals often take pride in defending what they oppose …. [They] distinguish between permission and praise, between allowing a practice and endorsing it.”

The seventh fallacy is that the CCP violates religious neutrality by exhibiting irreligious art. So conversely it violates religious neutrality if it exhibits religious art? Let us dream briefly: What if the Vatican lends us Michelangelo’s Pieta? If we shun the Pieta, we are all diminished.

The deed is done: vandalism, aborted arson, threats, and the heckler’s veto. In the coming days, I urge the CCP officers to avoid the limp ratiocination that I have heard from them of late, to stand fast by artistic freedom and not resign, and to stare down a benighted public barely aware it is actually the one getting screwed when we let the hecklers win.

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  • Anonymous

    Instantly Mideo Cruz became popular. What he has done is unforgettable. In the world of art the work of mr.Cruz will be historically engraved. He dared what is forbidden and he reaped the outcome. I just wonder how does he feel for what he has done? Was he happy? Did he regret? Was he afraid because of the reactions? What lesson did he learn? Too many questions to ask which for us, too many lessons also to learn?

  • Anonymous

    So many have debated this issue but no one seems to have asked Mideo Cruz: what really is his point in making polyteismo? We should ask him so he could explain what he is trying to express by his work. Then we could judge if his is a valid exercise of the freedom of expression.

    • Rhyan Jill Baytos

      Actually, he already did. The message is a lot more decent than everyone thought it would be. The Mickey mouse painted on the face of Christ for example, is a representation of how the Filipinos worship Hollywood, Obama, and etc. That’s why it’s compared to Polytheism. Now the condoms, male organ, and etc is a symbolism that shows the oppression of the females and a lot of things like the RH Bill, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Generally, it’s not really about religion. Perhaps religious fundamentalism is one of the core issues, but that’s more on “fundamentalism” (the Filipino fanaticism) than “religion”.

      Personally, I don’t like his style in portraying things although I admire his guts to do so. On the other hand, the detractors just proved the art’s message. Mideo’s not the only one who noticed the widespread religious fundamentalism in the Philippines either. The topic’s been a hot issue all over the net, and the deep net. In facebook for example, you can expect to see heated debates even on walls everywhere when you look up the terms atheist/agnostic Filipinos. The most common issue being thrown against the pro-religion is always the RH BIll, same s e x marriage, and divorce law.

  • Anonymous

    Art is very much like the Rorschach – the viewer
    sees himself in a looking glass, mirroring him in the face – showing him
    either his own inner glorious self or his own despicable vile
    reflection . . .

    Catapulted into an arena that challenges his thoughts and emotions, the viewer will unwittingly attribute to the artwork qualities that are actually descriptions of himself.

    A piece of art will be seen differently by many different viewers as the viewers will see it not as it is ,but rather, they will see it as they are.

  • Erwin Villa del Rey

    Whatever happened to that case between INC and Dating Daan? Did’nt that involve freedom expression too? How come that case came out the other way and Can you discuss the Supreme Court’s decision on the case?

  • Anonymous

    In response to all the self-righteous religious fanatics:

    What is so big deal with a picture of a western looking supposedly jew with
    blue eyes and with a spanish name….? It sounds more like a confused
    caricature  than something real. Are you saying delusion takes on a more
    important role than reality?

    The christian bible’s commandments
    includes the command  ‘thou shall not worship idols and graven images’ ,
    so why are the catholics offended? are they not christians ? What’s the
    big deal with the penis on the face of that Jesus something?

    At first glance it looked like another god Ganesha or Pinocchio who just told a lie and whose nose just got longer…

    you considered those who abhor and find despicable religious idols and graven images  when
    they are paraded in the public government funded streets and shoved
    right into their faces even while they are at home? They just shrug it
    off and have a good laugh respecting your freedom to practice a

    After all the many centuries of this hypocritical
    religion committing injustices even murdering those who do not share
    their religious views and demonizing everyone who do not believe in
    their imagined ‘one and only true god’  – 
    now has the nerve to complain
    that their faith is being blasphemed ( by the way it is a human right to
    blaspheme according to the United nations which the Philippines  is
    part of ) and their religious images laughed at?

    We do respect your belief in your religion
    and your belief in your god in the same way we respect your belief that your wife is
    beautiful and your children smart. But we don’t have to agree of course
    that what you believe in is real and true.

    Do you not condescend on others who belong to other faiths by claiming that your ‘god’ is the one and only true ‘god’ ?

    Do you not insult the sensibilities of others as you evangelize and spread the word of your god, assuming that the other does not have a ‘god ‘ of his own or does not believe in a ‘god’ at all and thereby inferior and needed to be saved by you and your faith ?

    Do you not mock and ‘demonize ‘ those who do not believe in ‘gods’ ?

    So why all the fury when someone does not share your belief and reverence in your imaginary god?

    just asking.

    …. and get real.

    We live in a secular country. We are a democracy. We are not a theocracy.

    • Anonymous

      religious sensibilities should never be offended, whatever religion they may be. That’s why its freedom is guaranteed… Secular democracies maintain their balance when god is acknowledged, however imaginary, and turn into chaos when god is absent. The United states of today is such an example. It has deified money and personal  freedoms to the point that then such things are absent, the nations congress cannot even agree on a budget, and people are scared.  That is reality, and research bears that out. Nations cannot exist without a sublime idea, and the existence of god is one such thing. No wonder you sound so chaotic, as it seems to me that you don’t have one. Im sorry but i consider the freedom of religion higher than the freedom of expression. The use of Hurtful language or expression is not an absolute right and is subject to limitations, especially when vulnerable sectors are affected, like children, indigenous peoples and their “imaginary gods.” They may not be as intellectually sophisticated as lawyers or atheists, but they are citizens of this secular democracy as you and me. Why should we allow mideo cruz to trample upon their “primitive beliefs,” because they are stupid? Mideo Cruz’s work expresses an arrogance against those he sees as lesser than him.
      The fury of those like us who defend our freedom of religion is therefore understandable, as we are defending a right which others have expressed a desire to destroy.

  • Simon Jaring

    even if it is the picture of someone else or with or without a picture of someone else, showing a sex organ in public is a disgrace. God covered adam and eve with clothing when they were driven out from eden. noah cursed his son for not covering him while he was uncovered. Jesus was according to the bible exhibit to public disgrace because he was uncovered. 2000 years ago people knew it is a disgrace. today people does not discern it because of freedom.

  • john nono

    when did it happen that those threat was true?  it was simple scapegoat if not cowardice ;-))

  • Anonymous

    A response against the indignation towards the artist free expression:

    tell you what you did with Atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed
    them from the universities, or any teaching careers, besmirched their
    reputations, banned or burned their
    books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated
    them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy.

    dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their
    eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore
    off their breasts if they were a woman, crushed their scrotums if they
    were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hung them,
    burnt them alive.

    And you have the nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.”

    -Dr. Madalyn Murray O’HairFounder “American Atheists, Inc.”

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