Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Our Filipino Christianity and Our God-concept (UPDATED)

"I helped the poor and they called me a saint, I asked why they were poor and they called me a Communist’" – Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that's my RELIGION.” - Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865, Sixteenth President of the USA

"Many Filipinos are what I call Sunday-religious, that is they go to church every Sunday, take in confession and communion, but the rest of the week they bribe and do corrupt deeds..." - Dr. Pura Santillan-Castrence


Hi All,

I do not consider myself religious in any way - lest someone charge me as riding the high morality horse; here-under  I only want to highlight many, if not most, believers' inconsistency to their professed Christian religion or belief system. 

I address all Christians, though Roman Catholics are the majority, our homeland. Not our Muslims who generally see their religion as a way of life and internalize their beliefs, and therefore not comparable to the "split-level" or compartmentalized Christianity exhibited by native Filipino Christians, i.e. Catholics and/or those of Protestant varieties..

Sometime ago, I attended a wedding ceremony. I normally do not attend such happenings but can not say no this time. During the Mass, I guess it's part of the churchy game plan, the officiating priest talked about what is labeled as the two greatest commandments of God, that is, love of God and of neighbor

I will not elaborate on the first love though I believe many so-called/professed Christians concentrate on that. God is supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, etc. (as I remember my grade school Baltimore Catechism rote); therefore God must be so self-sufficient and thus should not want more love and attention.

My interest is in the second love, the teaching of loving one's neighbor. This exhortation refers to loving in the Good Samaritan-sense, per one of Jesus' parables. This parable teaches and encourages Christians to be helpful or charitable (to total strangers that is, beyond family, relatives, friends). It is on this account that many self-proclaimed Christians, native Filipino Christians, fail.

One sees inconsistency or outright hypocrisy when people, especially those who have "made it," i.e. attained material success or wealth and thus ability to help, claim that they love their God, but at the same time not really care about their neighbors, most importantly, the neighbors in need.

It seems many native Filipino Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelicals/Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, etc. varieties) spend so much time on God trying to buy their "salvation" by saying "Praise the Lord", "Love God", "Jesus is Lord", mouthing special prayers or incantations, etc. Such exercises remind me of the biblical Pharisees and Sadducees.

Our so-called Christians seem to remember their God when they feel the need to directly ask for more favors; or appeal for intercessions by their favorite saints,  praying -for more financial "blessings," to be free of sickness, etc. (such impressions remind me of the Bruce Almighty movie character which made me really have LOL). 

Native Filipino Christians see their God as a sort of granddaddy or Santa Claus and their saints as facilitators (when saints should be seen as role models to be emulated). Essentially Filipino Christianity as escape from reality.

Thus, if our so-called Christians are materially successful or other, they attribute it to their being "blessed," same if they are physically normal, unharmed in an accident, etc. It makes one wonder about those who are sick, harmed in accidents, born physically abnormal, killed/murdered, etc. Are these latter ones, not blessed? And those Africans, young and old, dying of hunger or being massacred; are they not blessed that they therefore suffer or die prematurely? All those victims of natural disasters, i.e, earthquakes, floods, etc.

With these mindsets, those who have become wealthy or have attained upper middle class or higher economic status, seem to profess, knowingly or unknowingly, a sort of "prosperity theology." They think God loves them because they are successful in their material pursuits. 

Those who have "made it" are oftentimes enthusiastic supporters of Globalization or Neoliberalism in the homeland, and often suggest or imply that the poor are poor either because these latter folks do not work hard enough, or are sinners; or at best, deservingly destined to be impoverished and to suffer. I have personally heard this sort of statements from people I know who are either Catholics or "born again.".

Such claims exaggerate and twist the Bible's teaching on blessings by God, affirming and upholding the rich --without analyzing systematically why in our kind of society some are rich and many others are poor. This individualistic and self-centered distortion of beliefs soothes the conscience of the affluent, but poses radical challenges in the articulation of social and economic justice.

Overall, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) hierarchy and its lay leaders in our homeland to date, have failed to properly send the Christian message -- called the "good news."  Remember, the RCC as an institution has historically been identified as a chief defender of the status quo and as part of the Establishment. It has been and is mainly a church of, for the rich and educated elite and left the impoverished to bear it.  While being very influential as a cultural and sociopolitical force, potentially for good or bad. 

However, I qualify that it is not equal to or as powerful as the Catholic hierarchy during our Spanish colonization or vis-a-vis Spanish Catholic Church during "El Caudillo" Generalissimo Franco's 37-year fascistic rule in Spain (whose legacy and memory are still controversial since his demise in 1975; and present-day Spanish dislike of the Catholic Church as an institution, in sharp contrast to its historical prominence.).

The Church teaches its starving faithful that they will inherit the kingdom of God via the "beatitudes". I see that teaching as disgustingly cruel, a perpetuation of the God-concept that is cruel and narcissistic, of creating and expecting humans to spend their time praising God and asking for salvation while they suffer in their existence.

I do not think the present church leaders and ministers conspire to mislead the poor. But it appears these men-of-God learned erroneously or inadequately themselves and therefore taught badly throughout the centuries.

It is only after Vatican II in the 1960s (and thanks to then Pope John XXIII a saintly priest with an authentic, simple peasant background) that some in the hierarchy became concerned about social realities, especially the predicament of the poor and tried to impart social consciousness for the ignorant masses and social action, e.g. through Basic Christian Communities in the Philippines and even more radically, Liberation Theology as widely preached and practiced in Latin America in the late 1960s-1980s. 

Unfortunately the long reign of Pope John Paul II and now succeeded by his former "dogma-hit-man" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) Pope Benedict XVI,  turned back all these enlightened beliefs or interpretations of Christianity and the gains of Vatican II

Thus, the Roman Catholic Church in general and the hierarchy in our homeland is back to being for the status quo, more a church for the rich despite its lip-service of being the church of the poor.

If one is to believe that man was created in the image of the christian God, then that God in the preceding must be discarded since it is a cruel and distant God -inasmuch as many of his supposed creatures are left to suffer. 

It is therefore the urgent and primary task of the Catholic Church in the Philippines to emphasize and demonstrate the "love of neighbor," of the neighbor in need; to teach more fully this critical or major part of Christian teachings.

It behooves the RCC hierarchy to stress the need for internalizing this teaching so that each native Filipino Christian, and especially those who have power to change or influence the direction of the homeland will actively lead with honest, utmost social concern and moral ethics in their governance and business dealings, but most especially towards the poor native majority.

The world is not just a stage on which man works out the eternal salvation of his "soul." Forget the emphasis on loving God with incantations and formulas or staying within the confines of otherworldly or afterlife concerns, or spending most time protecting the church as an institution. 

Instead the Catholic Church in the Philippines and its members should be responsible and put emphasis on loving one's neighbors, that is, by seeking and fighting for social justice, by informing themselves and teaching the ignorant mass about their rights for a just society.

For no social system is just if it deprives its people of those earthly goods which are necessary for a truly human existence, whether the system is market-driven capitalism or socialism or Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-what-have-you communism. It is by teaching/informing. striving and acting for a just society can believers demonstrate their love of their christian God.

Oftentimes in the history of man, cults or movements led by great men with their great teachings/ideas are revolutionary. But as they proliferate and become a major part of society, of the Establishment, those movements become reactionary and pillars of the status quo, if not moribund. That is how Christianity since the 4th century started to gradually change, that is, when Constantine made it the official religion.. 

To me, much of the authentic Christian followers were from that long past earlier era.

- Bert

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Anonymous said...

Dear Bert: I appreciate your humanism. But it is useless to appeal to the Catholic Church to practice what it seemingly preaches.

The Church in the Philippines is interested only in power, authority and riches. It has not changed since the Spanish rule over the Philippines. It aligns with and supports the elite. It pretends to criticize the rich and the powerful, but if you watch its actions and listen to its words when catering the elite, then you will see that it is utterly hypocritical.

Our failings and sufferings as a nation are due in great part to the power and influence of the Catholic Church. Our country will progress only if it cuts off this power and influence as one would cut off the tentacles of a monster.

- Manny

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for most wealthy and affluent and even the middle class Christian Filipinos, what this writer stated may indeed be sadly true!

We, and I emphasize 'we' since Filipinos abroad are part of that same fabric and community, have forgotten or have chosen to conveniently ignore
Jesus' second greatest commandment to " our neighbors as ourselves" because it is a burden and a more difficult yoke to carry. The popular culture and media are greatly focused on self aggrandizement rather than on giving of oneself!

This brings to mind a deep conversation I had with B..O.. who was a very close friend back in high school. Butch told me that he never expected anyone to say "thank you" for any good or favor that he might have extended because by being thanked or having the favor returned, then he thought his good deed had been rewarded accordingly. He said he preferred to do good
mostly to those who cannot return the favor, then his deeds will be rewarded (by God I thought, but he never mentioned so).

There is also a related Gospel passage wherein Jesus admonished the Pharisees about "tooting their horns and ringing bells" to let all aware
that they gave alms, which meant their good deed had been rewarded here on earth!

In our Filipino-American association here in Camarillo, we have held many food sales and other fund raising events to fund certain church activities,but mostly related to feeding the relatively affluent churchgoers after
Filipino-flavored liturgies, such as Simbang Gabi.

During one such fiesta after last November 1 All Saints Day Mass, I actually had a sad thought that we were feeding the satisfied and amazingly, an engineer friend AA.... approached me a few minutes later and voiced the same concern - what reward from heaven are we receiving if we feed those who can afford
rich food and are not hungry or needy?

I explained to Amauri that during biblical times, the truly devout Jews and early Christians who were affluent may have had huge feasts for special occasions, but leftovers were always gathered to be distributed to feed the
poor and hungry in their community. I mirrored those good acts against the current Filipino tradition of giving leftovers to the same party goers who enjoyed the feast!

Sadly today, most Christians from all nations also somewhat tend to give lavish and expensive gifts during Christmas to family and friends who
actually can afford those same gifts, sometimes or often expecting a return in kind during our commercialized and corrupted form of celebrating

Hopefully from recent urgings by yours truly and Amauri Agoncillo, I think we may have convinced the association's leaders to reflect on our
practices. Rather than using food sales and fund raising proceeds to conduct a sumptuous Filipino fiesta for well-heeled Filipino, American and
Hispanic parishioners, we hope to find ways to establish a means to feed the poor, hungry and homeless of Ventura County! Not an easy task to
undertake but these thoughts and plans are the proverbial "mustard seed"!

This also makes me recall the admonitions of St. James the Apostle in the Bible's Book of James wherein he emphatically stated "Faith without good works is dead faith!" to those in his time, and ours as well, who only wanted to believe that faith alone can lead to salvation! Surely we need to believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior but we also must follow His lead to
be servants rather than be masters!

Be blessed this Christmas with inner joy and peace.


Bert M. Drona said...


Thanks for the feedback. I am not really appealing, just putting some fire on their ass.

I think the church in the homeland, i.e. the hierarchy and the faithful who compose it, is simply ignorant of its beliefs (thus faith) and therefore falters.

Under a dogmatic institution, that's what we usually get.


Bert M. Drona said...


I do not normally go to Church but when someone I like invites me to tag along, I go as an observer, really. That's what I do.

Anyways, what you said is very true; I have seen these events.

I do not know what you can do, we native Filipinos tend to simply go along, the "pakikisama" way - no rocking the boat.