Saturday, July 24, 2010

L2MF Post #06: How to Establish a Religious Corporation

Dear Dad,

It's been a while since I last wrote a letter. I have been busy for the past five months. The good thing about it is that I have found a job that gave me the opportunity to learn and to earn a living. In the second half of 2009, I was without what you would call a regular job. It was a time when I had to gain more knowledge, to hone my skills, and to gain perspective. The job market was not in a good condition and I was feeling desperate, even depressed.

One fine Sunday morning, while I was attending church, it occurred to me, "Even in a bad economy, these churches still thrive. They offer hope to people who feel that there's no hope in sight and that only God can help them." I also recalled that when I was in the United States, I saw at least two churches in every town that I passed through during my road trips. "Hmm... What worked for fast food restaurants, coffee shops and supermarkets also worked for churches. Those churches must have had a lot of property and tax-free earnings.", I thought. As I was churning a lot of ideas in my mind, I had an "Aha!" moment. "If I can't find a job, I might as well establish a business... *cough, cough* No, a church. Then, I'll journey to the West and propagate the bu.. *cough, cough* gospel and gain ca... *cough,cough* converts." I then did some research on how some Christian churches and denominations were founded. After hours of research, I found out that it is possible to establish a church by forming a religious corporation.

I have come up with a how-to guide for establishing a religious corporation. The procedures may vary depending on the would-be entre... *cough, cough* executive minister.
  1. Have some prior knowledge. In order to establish a church, you must first have a foundation, a body of knowledge to work with. You can gain this knowledge by joining other religions. Learn about their doctrines or dogmas. Read the Bible and other holy texts. You may have to doubt and jump ship from time to time in your quest for the true church.
  2. Do an intensive study of the Bible. This is best done in isolation. Have a pen, a notebook or two, and at least two different versions of the Bible. The more versions, the better, for you might need to refer to more than one interpretation in the future. Read and understand the book/s from cover to cover, for that will give you an edge over your would-be rivals.
  3. Look for Biblical prophecies that coincide with the events of the time (e.g. wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, widespread poverty, advancement of knowledge). Reading Isaiah, the four Gospels, and the Book of Revelation would be a good start. This step will help your church appear to be based on the Bible.
  4. Go out and preach. Over the course of a few days, you may have gained divine inspiration and you are certain that God has commissioned you to preach the gospel. Start preaching to a small audience, say, to your family, friends and community. Organize a small religious meeting. Make sure that what you preach has a strong Biblical foundation so that you can win converts. You may also train some of your converts to become ministers in your fledgling church.
  5. Register the church as a corporation sole. In order to avoid problems in the future, have the church registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a corporation sole, with you as the chief bishop, pastor, executive minister, rabbi or any other designation as a presiding church elder. (NOTE: In the Title XIII, Chapter II of the Corporation Code of the Philippines, a religious corporation is classified as a special corporation.) The registration should coincide with a historic event, something that would change the world (e.g. The Great War). Once you are in the SEC, conduct yourself with firmness of purpose. The officer who is in charge of your case may ask you if you are certain about your course of action. Respond with a steely conviction, knowing that you are doing God's work.
  6. Strengthen and expand the church. Since you are doing God's work here on Earth, you will have to edify the faith of your followers and fellow church workers. You will certainly encounter detractors, critics, skeptics, you name it. View the religious persecution as an opportunity to unite the flock. Tell your disciples that this is part of being in the church chosen by God, that they are sharing the same hardships that Jesus Christ had experienced. Keep on doing the work that God has assigned to you. You may have to travel to town after town, establishing congregation after congregation so that church membership will increase.
  7. Expand further. Once you have established congregations and built houses of worship in towns and cities, you may have to tap your pioneer spirit and journey beyond your native land. Don't be afraid to establish the church in other lands, for it is God's will that the gospel may be heard by more people worldwide. Preaching to expatriates would be a good start.
  8. Attract attention. Your church has grown and is still expanding. It's about time that you become known. Don't fight the critics and detractors, but rather use them for your purposes. The tree that bears a lot of fruit is a good target for stone throwers. Always occupy the moral high ground and lead a decent way of life. Let the people see your church members as different from the rest of society. Maintain unity in the church so that it would become a force to reckon with. Let everyone see the church as someone to be courted, especially when the elections are near.
  9. Use all available media. The 21st century is a great time to propagate the church, thanks to developments in information and communications technology (ICT). Use print media, radio, television, and even the Internet to spread the gospel.
  10. Do what other corporations do. There are corporations that not only do well in their core businesses but also go to other avenues of growth. You may establish schools, hospitals, media companies, and other ventures. Your flock is also a good source of human capital. Discourage church members from joining labor unions, for big name tycoons would prefer to hire them over union workers. Another thing that your religious corporation can do is to have corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Extend help to communities affected by calamities. Conduct medical and dental missions, community cleanups, and other worthy projects. Your church may also participate in environmental programs such as the Earth Hour. (Yes Dad, it's good to be green these days.)

This how-to guide is a product of months of research and observation. It was conceived during a time when I did not have a regular job. Now that I am back on track in my career, I may not be able to use this guide. Maybe in the future, someone will find this guide useful.

On a final note, I am not of the religious kind, for my spirituality is personal, meditative and nondenominational. If I would be a member of a religious corporation, I don't want to be an executive minister or a Sunday school president. I would rather become the Chairman of the Bored.

(J) The Freethinking Geek

Sunday, December 27, 2009

L2MF Post #05: On the Non-Consumption of Pork

Dear Dad,

The holiday season isn’t complete without food and of course, the pièce de résistance of the noche buena would be the ham. In some cases, there’s also lechon and pork barbecue, which can also be served in birthday parties, wedding receptions, and other gatherings. But wait, those tasty food items are not just cholesterol-laden but also have some taboos associated with them.

I remember back in December 2005 when we had a family reunion in Iloilo, that you, me, and grandpa  were having breakfast. I can still recall what was served on the table that morning: fried rice, fried fish, hot chocolate, and pork longganisa. When I opted not to partake of the longganisa, you made a joking remark that I should convert to Islam. I was of course not taking it seriously, yet my response was that “pigs are friends, not food” (sounds like a PETA ad). Also, if I were to convert to another religion, I would just be like a product which is moved from a box by one manufacturer to a box of the competition.

Back in my first few years in college I had a dialogue with a Muslim friend about the non-consumption of pork. Out of curiosity, I asked him why they do not eat the flesh of pigs. He told me that it is haraam (forbidden), as written in their holy book, the Qur’an. We did not have a copy of the book at that time but he explained to me that the reason why they do not consume pork is because pigs are unclean. He also gave me non-scriptural reasons for avoiding pork consumption: trichinosis, foot and mouth disease, high cholesterol, swine flu, etc. I was satisfied with his explanation and left it at that.

I have researched further on the taboos about food and stumbled upon a verse from the Qur’an which states the prohibition of pork consumption:
“He has only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and any (food) over which the name of other than Allah has been invoked. But if one is forced by necessity, without willful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits, – then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” — Qur’an 16:115
I have not heard about a similar prohibition taught in Mum’s religion and in the Roman Catholic church (except for the “no-meat on Fridays and on the Lent” teaching). However, I have stumbled upon a few verses in the Judeo-Christian Bible which state the prohibition of pork:
“And the pig is unclean to you, because though the horn of its foot is parted, its food does not come back. Their flesh may not be used for food, and their dead bodies may not even be touched; they are unclean to you. — Leviticus 11:7-8 (Bible in Basic English)
Now that’s a clear instruction. The spirit of that prohibition can also be read in Deuteronomy 14:8. There are also other verses that state God’s disapproval of His people’s consumption of pork:
“All day my hands have been stretched out to an uncontrolled people, who go in an evil way, after the purposes of their hearts; A people who make me angry every day, making offerings in gardens, and burning perfumes on bricks. Who are seated in the resting-places of the dead, and by night are in the secret places; who take pig’s flesh for food, and have the liquid of disgusting things in their vessels.” — Isaiah 65:2-4 (Bible in Basic English)
I fully know that Mum’s religion follows the Bible to the letter, yet they don’t have this prohibition in their fundamental doctrines (which includes the taboo in blood consumption). I am not expecting them to ban the consumption and sale of pork, rather I am expecting them to be consistent with their indoctrination materials. They proclaim to be the true followers of Jesus, yet not all of the laws are being observed. This is what Jesus has to say:
“Let there be no thought that I have come to put an end to the law or the prophets. I have not come for destruction, but to make complete. Truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth come to an end, not the smallest letter or part of a letter will in any way be taken from the law, till all things are done. Whoever then goes against the smallest of these laws, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the laws, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-19 (Bible in Basic English)
I have been training myself for the past five years to abstain from eating pork as much as possible. I don’t see the need to follow a particular religious dogma in order to perform such abstinence. I have personal, medical, and practical reasons for doing so. (Well, not Practical, the pig who built a brick house in Three Little Pigs.)

There are people who would still buy, sell, and consume pork, and I’m not against that. If they find that ham, lechon and other pork foodstuffs are tasty, then let them enjoy their meals. Dad, I know that you still eat pork on occasions and I’m not going to give you a lecture every time you do so.

I have to go now and tell Mum to revise her shopping list so that she would sin no more during food preparation.

(J) The Freethinking Geek

Friday, December 25, 2009

L2MF Post #04: Happy Holidays!

Dear Dad,

Happy Holidays!

In this letter, I will take a break from reading the Bible and from discussing a particular doctrine from organized religion, and be a nice Recovering Christian. As you know, this is the Christmas season and this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Friends and relatives have greeted me “Merry Christmas” since last week. Well, I see nothing wrong about that. You know that I had exposure to both Roman Catholicism (which celebrates Christmas) and to Mum’s “Non-Trinitarian, Restorationist Christian religion” (which does not celebrate Christmas). In return for their cheerful greeting, I say, “Happy Holidays.”

You may ask, why not say “Merry Christmas”? Well, “Happy Holidays” sounds neutral and is much more inclusive. You know that not everyone in this country is a Roman Catholic. There are other Christian groups who celebrate the holiday, while there are those who don’t. I have atheist, agnostic and humanist friends who also celebrate the holiday.

On another note, I say “Happy Holidays” because it not only covers Christmas Day (Dec. 25) but also Yule/Winter Solstice (Dec. 21), Rizal Day (Dec. 30), and New Year’s Day (Jan. 01).

(J) The Freethinking Geek

I wish you all a peaceful, prosperous, and a well-connected holiday season.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

L2MF Post #03: On Church Offerings and Charitable Donations

Dear Dad,

I listened to the sermon in Mum’s church two weeks ago and the topic was about giving offerings (i.e. tithes) to the church.

According to church doctrine, one of the duties of a church member is to give offerings. Though this is a feature that is common to all Christian denominations, I would like to concentrate on the giving of offerings within my Mum’s church.

You know that in the early years of your marriage, Mum persuaded you to listen to the doctrines of the church through regular Bible studies. However, you have decided to stop attending those studies because you found that her church and its doctrines were not to your liking.

In one of our family dinners, you have mentioned your opinion about the church’s finances. (I’d rather not mention it here.) Thanks to you, I have felt the urge to question church doctrines and take them with a grain of salt.

In this letter, I will mention the Biblical bases of giving offerings (according to how the sermon was delivered).

Why give offerings?
"Therefore, through him let us always bring God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

 Do not neglect to do good and to be generous, for God is pleased with such sacrifices."

— Hebrews 13:15-16 ISV

But isn't it just a doctrine written by man?
"For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin.

For I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that person be condemned!"

— Galatians 1:11-12, 8 ISV

How should one give offerings?
"Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.

Each of you must give what you have decided in your heart, not with regret or under compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver."

— II Corinthians 9:6,7 ISV

Where do the collected monetary offerings go?

1. To provide for the needs of the ministers
"In the same way, the Lord has ordered that those who proclaim the gospel should make their living from the gospel."

— I Corinthians 9:14 ISV

The ministers are not allowed to have other means of earning money (e.g. job with a salary, business) except through preaching and other church work. In local church jargon, it is called “tulong” (financial assistance). It was based on a law made by Moses.
"For in the law of Moses it is written, 'You must not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' God is not only concerned about oxen, is he?

Isn’t he really speaking on our behalf? Yes, this was written on our behalf, because the one who plows should plow in hope, and the one who threshes should thresh in hope of sharing in the crop."

— I Corinthians 9:9-10 ISV

However in the next verse (which was not mentioned by the minister during the sermon), I have read:
"If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you?"

— I Corinthians 9:11 ISV

It was then backed up by another verse:
"For everyone must carry his own load.

The person who is taught the word should share all his goods with his teacher."

— Galatians 6:5-6 ISV

2. To provide for the needs of the church and the ministry
"For this ministry you render is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but it is also overflowing with more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God.

Because of the proof that this service of yours brings, you will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else."

— II Corinthians 9:12-13 ISV

According to church doctrine, the monetary offerings are used to provide for the needs of the church, for the administrative expenses, and for evangelical missions. In this era of technological advancement, the church uses print media, radio, television, and the Internet to spread the gospel, and that needs money. (Yes Dad, they have a radio and TV station.)

3. To build houses of worship
"Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, says the LORD."

— Haggai 1:8 UKJV

The church buys an area of land where a building (or buildings which include offices and houses for resident ministers) will stand. The church also buys building materials, pays the laborers, and provides for the maintenance of the buildings and the things used in the church.

I asked myself, “Why would God, a being who had the power to create planets and galaxies, need a man-made house here on Earth?” There are a lot of homeless people due to poverty and natural and man-made disasters. They do need houses.

The “carrot and stick”
"For he will repay everyone according to what that person has done:

eternal life to those who strive for glory, honor, and immortality by patiently doing good;

but wrath and fury for those who in their selfish pride refuse to believe the truth and practice wickedness instead.

There will be suffering and anguish for every human being who practices doing evil, for Jews first and for Greeks as well.

But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who practices doing good, for Jews first and for Greeks as well."

—Romans 2:6-10 ISV

The “good” being referred to is, again, the duty of giving monetary offerings.

And finally, the last reading of the sermon:

How to show devotion?
"Never be lazy in showing such devotion. Be on fire with the Spirit. Serve the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, and persistent in prayer.

Supply the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers."

—Romans 12:11-13 ISV

This only means that church members should always do their duties, which includes the giving of monetary offerings.

My Conclusion

Being a cheerful giver is nice, but I’d rather give to those who really need the money. God does not need money and houses, people do.

There are a lot of people who lost their homes and livelihood to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng and they are in need of help. For me, helping them through donations and volunteer work is the way to go. The church can thrive even if I choose to divert my charity pesos or dollars to worthy causes.

(J) The Freethinking Geek

Sunday, October 18, 2009

L2MF Post #02: On Courage, Industry, and Honesty

Dear Dad,

I am already in my mid-twenties and still searching for meaningful things to do. I can still recall the things that you have told me during my childhood.

Do you remember when you gave me some advice on having courage? I got involved in a fight with a classmate of mine when I was in grade school. It was when you have arrived from a team adventure in Utah. You told me that courage is not just about using physical strength in resolving conflicts, nor is it about ostentatious displays of power. Rather, it is about resolving conflicts with the least amount (or without the use) of force. Courage is also about facing your fears and overcoming them. You even used your team’s adventure in Utah as an example. You guys have traversed the rough terrain and even faced the rapids.

Now in my mid-twenties, I am facing my fears of not being understood by a few people who still hold on to Iron Age ideas that are no longer in tune with my thought processes and practical spirituality.

When I was a small boy, I wanted to have what other kids had (e.g. toys, ice cream, etc.) and even asked you to buy me this and that. Well, you gave me some of them but you also told me that I should not just wish for things to be given to me. When I grow up, I have to work to get what I want in life.

Dad, I still believe in that advice, and I can now mention my netbook as an example. I did not ask Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or The Old Man Upstairs to give me a netbook. I worked hard for months, saved just enough money and bought it at a discount from a supplier.

Another important thing that you have shown me was honesty. Though you did not give me a lecture about the matter, you have shown it to me through your career as a military serviceman. In a world filled with so much deceit, I have found hope that there are still a lot of people who hold on to their principles and do a great job without getting involved in something unethical or immoral. Though you are not well-known or influential, I am still proud for having a father who is honest.

Right now I am having an issue with honesty and deceit. Oftentimes, I have to lie to myself just to please somebody or to avoid being scolded for not conforming to some religious dogma. I kept on asking myself, “How can I be honest to God when I can’t be honest to myself?”

Dad, I am soulsearching as I write this letter. I am still building my identity and I need to excise some of the not-so-useful ideas crammed into my head by those who want me to become “one of the herd”.

Thanks for the guidance.

The Freethinking Geek