Sunday, November 20, 2005

Religion and Philippine Society

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us a hierarchy of values: man comes first, and the Sabbath second. Public, social and ecclesiastical institutions exist for man, and not the other way round. We, like the Samaritan, must first of all see the man, his status in society notwithstanding, his splendid clothes or pauper's rags notwithstanding.” – Fr. Victor Potapov, Rector, Russian Orthodox Cathedral

“There is no higher RELIGION than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.'' - Albert Schweitzer, 1875-1965, German Born Medical Missionary, Theologian, Musician, and Philosopher

I always find it amusing to read or hear about fellow Filipinos proudly proclaiming that our homeland is the only Christian nation in Asia ... or Catholic to be more precise.

Do we self-confessed Christians know exactly what Christianity is all about? Cory Aquino is supposedly a very religious/pious Catholic Christian, what has she done for the impoverished? What has her family-owned Hacienda Luisita done to its tenants and farm workers other than have them shot and killed? The diminutive kolehiyala-graduate and current President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo gets her photo ops praying in public, spends public money to bring a coterie of relatives and friends to John Paul II's funeral, etc. what has she done for the impoverished? Many goons and scoundrels in our homeland are so-called Catholic Christians.

Multiply all these among the rich, the powerful and the middle class in the homeland and abroad; then ask ourselves: Is there anything a Filipino Catholic can really be proud about in terms of fundamentally working for the poor?

Those of us who were nurtured and/or studied in so-called exclusive catholic schools have learned by rote (thanks to the Baltimore Catechism or to its newer spins, the priests and nun-teachers we had, etc.) that the Church's essential task is to bring the glad news of salvation. The Church is supposed to bring to the human race, to all men of good will, the message of spiritual salvation through adherence to Jesus Christ (let's call him JC), the Son of God, who is equal to his father in the unity of the Trinity, but is also a true man, the son of Mary. Thus the essential role of the Church is obviously not an economic one.

However much it may be concerned with the divine, JC's message is also deeply attached to humanity since it contains the commandment of love (am not referring to sexual love which we normal people like anytime of day): "Love one another as I love you." This is the supposed message of JC, who loved his own people and all humanity to the point where he died for them. Catholics and Protestants preach and believe so.

We all hear this line, day in, day out, year in, year out, ad nauseam. The Lenten Season with the "Pasyon" and the Easter Sunday have come and gone each year, a yearly routine for Catholics and all Christians in general; starting with abstinence -no meat, the church-going followed by barbeque and great shopping sprees during the Easter Sales in the malls. All these religious observations and symbolisms have become routine that they all have lost real meanings to supposed Catholics and other Christians.

We so-called Christian Filipinos seem not to know authentic Christianity. Religiosity, the appearance of religion without its substance or consequence, has long been accepted as a part of the national culture: signs of the cross, prayers at social gatherings, at the Rotary Club and at presidential inaugurals, "God bless the Philippines" at the end of every politician's speech.

Thanks to our mostly and similarly ignorant clerics/priests, we seem to concentrate and seem to equate the church edifices, the hierarchy, the Catholic traditions - the symbols and/or rites of Catholicism, i.e. going to Mass on Sunday, baptism, holy communion, etc, the institution as defining Christianity, as making us the compleat Christians. After we step out of the church on a Sunday, we have done our obligation to God; thus we drink and party, we screw around everyone, the ordinary people, we fool out of greed. Thus, we Christian Filipinos end up being "split-level" Christians, as Fr. Bulatao SJ wrote about us in the 1960s.

Because of our deep ignorance of our declared religious faith and/or deliberate unconcern, we Christian Filipinos are divided on solutions to social problems. There are just a few who take to heart the encyclicals/social teachings of the Church, which has continued to evolve and expound -from Pope Leo XIII to John XXIII, from Paul VI to the present, recently deceased, John Paul II- and endeavored to put them into practice. See:

It is sad to realize that throughout the generations only a few do so and these few come from the more progressive religious orders of nuns and priests and some laymen; hopefully beyond the current fad of the generation. As to the religious orders, it is said that in our homeland, "the Jesuits are prudent and wise, Dominicans are servants of the hierarchy, Salesians are conservative and CICMs are rebels." I can only agree. Majority of the so-called Catholics claim that it is hard to be a Christian (seriously speaking, this is true), to be a true follower of JC, and therefore see no need to lift their fingers to help the less fortunate while they go their own merry ways.

The Christian message, authentic Christianity, through its great commandment of love, has a great potential for a civilized society to be realized in our homeland. When a group of people understand this, that group can become fraternally united. When the people who claim to embody a Christian society put it into practice, it can probably straighten itself out.

At the same time and all these times, in our homeland, there is a rear guard which is deaf to the appeals of certain members of the Catholic hierarchy where more equitable division of land, i.e. land reform and sources of income are concerned, where appeals to disseminate the principles of social justice are involved. This rear guard believes that the preservation of the status quo, of the established social order of things is absolutely necessary; as well as the retention of its privileges.

This rear guard is comprised mostly of the ruling elite: the aristocratic families, bureaucrats/technocrats, businessmen, military, politicians, foreign investors and chinoys, majority of whom are self-proclaimed Catholics or Christians. And this rear guard harass, intimidate and even contribute, directly or indirectly with its indifference, to the recent assassinations/murders/woundings of journalists, peasant-labor activists, and most recently activist priests, e.g. Aglipayan priests from Tarlac: Fathers Tadena and Caparro.


There is an urgent need for our Christian Filipinos, enlightened Catholics, who can draw from their sacred texts and traditions and direct their efforts towards the realization of a truly decent Philippine society, where respect for man, an active respect and care for the poor majority. There is an urgent need for our Filipino Christians understand what being "servant of the poor" or for clergymen to truly practice, what "church of/for the poor" is all about; to integrate into themselves social responsibility; for true Christians to work, not just for the avoidance of evil, but for the establishment of the "common good". There is an urgent need for so-called Christians to exhibit a genuine, real Christianity that is divorced from every form of greed.

“There is no higher RELIGION than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.'' - Albert Schweitzer, 1875-1965, German Born Medical Missionary, Theologian, Musician, and Philosopher

‘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“

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