The only way to ensure that Christians can exercise freedom to proclaim the message of the gospel is if they are willing to grant that freedom to those religions whose teachings they detest. The president’s blasphemy makes my blood boil. But I believe in freedom of expression – alas even a blasphemous expression!
“Who is this stupid God?” Thus, challenged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the opening of the National ICT Summit in Davao City last June 22, 2018. There is no graceful way of evaluating it. The president is guilty of blasphemy.
Blasphemy is defined as “expressing through speech or writing that which is impious, mocking, or contemptuous toward God.” That is what Mr. Duterte did. It was uttered in the middle of his ranting against the idea of original sin. His remarks were riddled with his usual cuss words. But what made them obnoxious was the gross ignorance that characterized them. He obviously did not know the story of the Fall of Man in the Genesis account, but he proceeded to narrate it anyway. His narration was colored by his patented risqué, telling his salacious version of a grave biblical story.
What compounded the whole spectacle was the arrogance of Mr. Duterte’s pretentious conclusion. He ridiculed the whole subject of the Fall and original sin as not worthy of any belief. And that a very sensible man like him can pronounce on such stupidity. The president is, of course, not aware that original sin is a theological concept that has exercised theologians, philosophers, and biblical expositors for many centuries. And they are not a bunch of insensible people. Many of them were geniuses, and I am sure, possessed more integrity and morality than this president.
The fact is, the concept of original sin gives better sense of the condition of man – his propensity to evil and why human life, in its natural condition, as the Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes puts it, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But with the concept of original sin is the message of redemption. For if Adam is the one man by whom “sin entered into the world” (Romans 5:12), there is a second Adam by whom there is righteousness – the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:18-21).
It is not my intention in this piece to explain and defend the Christian doctrine of original sin. That will have to wait for another post. My intention is only to show that Duterte’s comment was way beyond his mandate as president, and certainly, very short of his personal qualification.
I know many Christians were deeply offended by the president’s blasphemy. I was. I can understand why many are calling for radical measures to call the president to account. The president should apologize to those he offended, if only because that is the mark of humility. Probably the president does not have it, and he will not apologize. I am sure that he would have, if his insult were directed to the Islamic religion. He might have had to deal with what happened to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo just for making a caricature of the prophet Muhamad. Duterte calculated that Christians are easier to insult because of their commitment to freedom of religion.
I rest in the Lord for the accounting of the president’s dishonoring of God. Daniel’s rebuke of Belshazzar, the regent of Babylon, fits this president: “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (Dan. 5:23).
I also happen to believe in freedom of religion. We do not live in the days of Oliver Cromwell who had King Charles beheaded in 1649 for being on the wrong side of a Civil War of religions in England. The only way to ensure that Christians can exercise freedom to proclaim the message of the gospel is if they are willing to grant that freedom to those religions whose teachings they detest. The president’s blasphemy makes my blood boil. But I believe in freedom of expression – alas even a blasphemous expression!
He is also a lost soul that must evoke compassion from Christians. His was an arrogant and ignorant blasphemy. Because of his blasphemy, may God have mercy on his soul. But because of his arrogance and ignorance – and he is our president – may God have mercy on us!
 Donald McKim (ed.), The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Westminster John Knox Press): p. 34