This article is posted with permission of AJ Perez.
A lot of people had been been up in arms because of the “shock art” compilation by Mideo Cruz which is showcased by no less than the Cultural Center of the Philippines itself, and people from both sides of the argument have expressed their disgust; on one side are conservative Catholics who decry Cruz’s art as blasphemy, and on the other are Cruz and his cohorts of Church haters who are clamoring for ‘freedom of expression.’ Many journalists and media men who have given their two cents on the issue have also thrown their support for this ideal called freedom of expression, which has now become the national pastime of this nation, following a less-than-brilliant move on the part of a certain Christopher Lao to drive his car on a flooded street which caused his car to float like a raft and will cost him thousands of bucks for repairs. No amount of money, however, can ever buy back his besmirched reputation, as he now has the whole nation’s hecklers targeting their crosshairs on him. He now has a fan page on Facebook that has more than 60,000 likes and a Hitler parody to boot. Two very different people, both dramatis personae in this play we shall call “freedom of expression.”
Before we even try to understand what ‘freedom of expression’ means, let us try to understand what true freedom means. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just” (1733). Now before we think that it wouldn’t be any fun just to do what is good, and therefore defeat the purpose of defining ‘freedom’, let us remember that doing what is NOT good and doing evil also brings forth the exact opposite of freedom; you will have murder, rape, theft, and wide-spread violence and chaos, things that do not bring forth true freedom. In light of this knowledge that freedom is doing what is good and just, we also know, as we were taught in school long ago, that one man’s freedom ends when another man’s freedom is compromised because of what the first one did. Our teachers have tried to teach this to us from the very beginning: at kindergarten, we are told that we are free to eat our snacks, but only during recess. We are free to eat snacks during recess, but not to take someone else’s snack away from him. We are free to make merry and have fun, but making fun of others and bullying are not good. Later on, as we grow older, freedom is taught together with its twin virtue: responsibility. You are free to play all you like, but give time for your studies too. You can use the money your parents gave you for buying toys, or spending it on your lunch. Even later in our life, we feel the pinch of responsibility even more. You are free to go out with your friends, but be home by ten – and don’t do anything stupid that will get you grounded. Finally, in our last years in college, you realize that you are free to do anything in college – just as long as those things help you pass and eventually graduate. The ever-growing reality of having to find a job hits you one day, and suddenly you feel that you have to be more responsible in your studies and in your life. For many, this feeling is a burden, and they turn to vices like alcohol, drugs, and sex. But there are those who recognize that every day counts – they are those who take responsibility and finally graduate from school and land a good job perhaps. They are the people who are most free.
In light of this knowledge, is it right to ridicule Christopher Lao and make judgments about his character, a man whom most of us do not even know from Adam?
It is surprising and disappointing to learn that a lot of us go through 14 or 15 or 16 years of school and still grapple with the basic tenets of freedom. Those who support Mideo Cruz’s art and say that our religious bias should give way to ‘freedom of expression’ are badly mistaken. First of all, there is no freedom here, because people were scandalized and offended; Cruz’s freedom of expression fizzled out the moment the first person cried ‘heresy!’ Second, they are wrong to glorify an artist’s freedom of expression and consider it higher than people’s sensibilities. If one person can do something in the name of ‘freedom of expression’ and trample other people’s right in the process, and get away with it, what else is to stop the rest of the world from doing something equally appalling, and justifying it in the name of ‘freedom of expression?’ You see, if we follow their logic:
1. What’s to stop me from portraying your mother or your wife in a despicable fashion, if I can do it in the name of freedom of expression?
2. What’s to stop me from bashing your head and spraying your blood and brains in a canvas and call it art?
3. What’s to stop me from writing a novel about someone’s dirty little secrets? It’s still freedom of expression, right?
This is what many journalists and people who support Cruz over this issue fail to understand. But I am hardly surprised. These are also the very people who are pushing for the passage of the RH bill, the same ones who dressed up as bishops and mocked the ‘SUV bishops’ on their way to the senate, and now I am hardly surprised that I saw their faces on the pres con regarding this issue. Of course they’re free to show up where ever they like, but in the case of the SUV bishops, where these guys taunted the poor old men and spread lies about them, only to have the senate exonerate the bishops from the unjust accusations, were they responsible enough to go on air, or go online to issue an apology?
Some sectors of the society have begun sowing the seeds of impunity against the Church, and they are always at the forefront of any movement that will undermine the Church’s authority and influence over her flock. Of course, they are free to do so where ever and when ever they like, but if I may give unsolicited advise to these friends of ours, this is what I have to say: as much as you are free to think, it is also your responsibility to think CORRECTLY.