President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has offered to resign if anyone can take a selfie with God to prove he exists.
His comments came just days after he called God “stupid”.
The latest outburst shows Duterte, aged 73, increasingly at odds with the Church in which he was raised and to which most Filipinos belong.
In the last few days, Duterte has also said he does not like the “creeping influence” of the Catholic Church. In addition, his presidential spokesman has accused the Church of working with Communist rebels to overthrow the government in the Philippines. The spokesman said the Church “sometimes runs counter to what the government believes to be good for the people, at least in this temporal life”.
In his latest speech on Saturday at the inauguration of the Malayan colleges in Mindanao, Duterte invited everyone “to become agents of hope and catalysts of progress”.
He urged all sectors of our society to keep supporting his administration’s development agenda, especially in pursuits that would educate our young and empower more Filipinos, and his government’s ongoing campaign against illegal drugs and criminality.
“This will be helpful in ridding ourselves of the social ills that have shackled our growth and hindered our country from achieving its full potential.”
After describing his own progress through the education system and then his career in law and politics, he said he believed in God, but did not believe in a God who intervenes in the world. “Otherwise there would be no widespread injustice: hunger, killings, and all.”
If any one of the many billions of people on earth can go to heaven, talk to God, and take a selfie, “I will step down tomorrow. No question,” he said.
The Catholic bishops in the Philippines have been highly critical of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.
Two priests have themselves been shot this year, one only last month. In the last few days the bishops have called for fasting and prayers after Duterte called God “stupid”.
The president said in his latest address: “Every Filipino is entitled to criticise me as a matter of right. A general, a school dean, the academe, the students.”
If he falls short of expectations they are right to criticise because he will have failed them in his promises. “But certainly not a foreigner, however holy, he said. He will not allow foreigners to attack him, just as he is not allowed to attack leaders of other countries.
Referring to the priests, and the Church, and everybody connected with any religion or whatever, he continued: “When you criticise me, criticise me with all the heart’s content. Do it. I’m even asking you to do it.” However, the separation of Church and state is a principle of the republican system of government.
“So when you criticise me, do not use the platform of God, that God will send you to hell, that God will never forgive you, hell is waiting for you. Do not do it. Do not take God — God’s name in vain. It’s fundamental. It’s almost basic. There is really a clear cut between religion and governance. You cannot use God to criticise me.”
He has never said he does not believe in God. “But something terrible happened when we were young… while confessing, we were fondled.”
So when he graduated, he decided he no longer believed in the Catholic God and created his own God instead – a God of justice and fairness. “My God is my service to the people. Period.”