Philippine Star: Rizal on religious relativism and perspective painting

From the Philippine Daily Star’s Second Wind by Barbara C. Gonzales, June 18, 2011:

Rizal was an amazing thinker. It’s a pity not all of us can get our hands on books about him and read his words. He wrote in his second letter to Pastells:

When I see so many diverse beliefs and persuasions, when I listen to followers of diverse sects holding in contempt each other’s beliefs; when I hear of marvels, miracles, testimonies with which each religion claims to prove its divinity or at least its divine origin; when I see people – intelligent, distinguished, studious; born and bred in the same climate, society, and customs; possessing the same desire to perfect and save themselves — when I see them profess diverse religious beliefs; I recall a certain comparison which I shall put down here so you understand the way I think. 

People in pursuit of truth I imagine to be like art students gathered around a statue, which they try to draw. Some are near the statue; others far from it; some look at the statue from above; others see it from below. Each one sees the statue from a different angle. The harder they try to be faithful to the original, the more the sketches differ from one another. Those who copy directly from the statue are the original thinkers or the founders of schools of thought who differ from each other by their different fundamental principles. A good many — because they are so far away or can’t see well or are not so skillful or are just plain lazy or for some other reason — are satisfied with a sketch of a sketch of the sketch nearest the statue. If they have goodwill, they copy the sketch that they think is best.

These copyists are the active followers and supporters of an idea. Others lazier still dare not draw a single line for fear of committing a blunder and buy a ready-made copy. . . and they are satisfied with that. These are the passive followers, those who believe anything because they do not think.

Then who can pass judgment on the sketches?…He would have to place himself at the very same spot and judge from the very same point of view as the other person. . . He would have to place his eyes at exactly the same angle as the other. He would have to have the same curvature in the retina of his eye and possess the same artisitic sense as the other…

One cannot appeal to precise measurements because of the contraction of the figure in perspective. And if in the world of space it is extremely difficult to place oneself at the same point of vision as another, how much more difficult it is to do so in the world of moral values where things are so mysterious and complex!

For me that is a beautiful metaphor for organized religion. In other words, how dare one religion judge other religion’s beliefs? How dare we question? How dare one religion claim to save lives better than any other religions can? We should just leave each other alone to follow our beliefs.


Even though there are many perspectives in viewing a statue, it does not mean that the actual dimensions of the statue cannot be known.  This is a problem in projective geometry and computer vision, and algorithms are now being developed to solve this problem.  Similar methods are used in 3D or 4D imaging of babies in the womb using ultrasound images from different perspectives.

Like the 3D dimensions of a statue or a fetus, natural law is an invariant: though people come from different cultures, it is still possible to deduce moral law through natural law.  One can do this through philosophical analysis as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had done.  The other way is the most unthinkable: God Himself intervened in human history and defined His Laws through the Ten Commandments and spoke His commandment of love through His Everlasting Word, Our Lord Jesus Christ.



About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

One Response to Philippine Star: Rizal on religious relativism and perspective painting

  1. That’s an awesome reply to Rizal, Dr. Sugon. Too bad I can’t hear what Rizal would reply to your post. But that’s not a problem. Rizal lived and died as a devout Catholic. May God have mercy on his soul.

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