Thursday, March 20, 2008

SPLIT-LEVEL CHRISTIANITY by Fr.Jaime Bulatao,S.J. (1966) - Part 1 of 2 [UPDATED]

"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

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Hi All,

It's been eons ago when I first read this enlightening essay on "split-level" Christianity by Fr. Jaime Bulatao, S.J.. Given the interest on Filipino ethical/moral values, I am posting it here.

Fast forward today, I find that the given situational samples in the essay were quite "simple" and "mild." In fact, I find them almost laughable compared to the excessiveness and gravity that characterize "split-leveling" in current times. Anyway, the bottom line is that "split-leveling" by a self-proclaimed Christian is to be unChristian (vis-a-vis what I understand as being Christian from my years of Roman Catholic upbringing).

As to the Roman Catholic Church in our homeland, it is amusing (at best) to wonder why the Catholic Church, despite its dominant influence in the homeland, seems to have failed to instill what it always claim to develop: "the whole person."

Given the prevailing social conditions in our so-called only Christian country in Asia, they only demonstrate that the church, despite its proclamation of being the "church of/for the Poor," has consistently and continually failed in its mission to teach and lead the Filipino Christians to live up according to Catholic social teachings.

  • Has our Catholic Church in the homeland been stressing something else rather than addressing our present social realities, of our illiterate, ignorant and impoverished majority?
  • How come Filipino Catholicism is more concerned about its religious liturgy and tradition and personal piety than its proclaimed concern/message of social justice? Such attitude and behavior have only made our homeland Christianity an effective and efficient nurturer of hypocrisy among its hierarchy and followers.

I would qualify however that there are Christians, i.e. more specifically evangelical Protestants (Calvinist variety), who can not be expected to care/act about social teachings or social justice issues since their essential belief system does not put value on social works; for Calvinists: "salvation" depended SOLELY on absolute faith in Jesus (i.e. good works do not count).

Here's Fr. Bulatao's essay, though written forty years ago but, still very relevant in gaining knowledge and understanding of our Filipino selves and maybe even lead to changes to better ourselves in terms of acting for social justice -- not towards empty religiosity-- and a better homeland society for most native Filipinos, if not all, and the future generations.  

(essay posted in two parts).


  1. I think and believe that ethics and morality do not necessarily emanate only out of having a religion or being a believer in a God (Christian God as traditionally or Biblically understood). There are many atheists, agnostics, pagans, non-Christians and what have you who are more ethical, moral and act for social justice than those who are supposedly religious Christians of various shades: Catholics, mainline Protestants, Pentecostals or Evangelicals.
  2. This post addresses actually touches the issue of culture, i.e. our native Filipino culture. As we know, it is imperative that we obtain a deep awareness of our native history and society/culture; our society --through our home, church and school, etc.--  which embed in the subconscious Filipino mind within each of us a culture, our native society's worldviewthe source of our values, attitudes and behaviors- which has been formed by a complex mix of geography, still primitive/traditional economic relations, religion, and long, divisive colonial history, etc.
  3. Here our native culture is looked at just from the religious point of view. Frankly, I see this point of view as limited/inadequate, based on what I have alluded to regarding source in the preceding paragraph. I will go back, try a broader and deeper look into the issue of our native Filipino culture, i.e. cultural aspects which I see as obstacles to national development sometime later.

- Bert, 9/18/2013



The following story invariably provokes a good deal of laughter from a Filipino audience:

"A mother superior of a convent was once given a talented parrot as a gift, which she received and showed off to the other nuns. she pulled the parrot's right leg and the parrot, with downcast eyes, began to recite the Our father to the end. She then pulled its left leg and, just as devoutly, it recited the whole of the Hail Mary. at this juncture one of the young nuns thought to herself what would happen if she pulled both legs simultaneously. So she went up to the parrot and both of its legs hard. Immediately the parrot cried,"Putres, madadapa ako!" ("Damn, you'll make me fall!")

The laughter that greets the cry of the all-too-human parrot stems in great part from the aptness with which it reflects the culture at large: the special behavior which people show in the presence of society, authority figures, and the occasional breakthrough of one's spontaneous self. Lumamabas ang katotohanan. (The truth will out"). 

Furthermore, the story is linking the foreign language with a formalized type of behavior and untranslatable native tongue with one's spontaneous reactions reflect too the double set of automatisms of the Filipino: his behavior as conditioned by formal schooling and as conditioned by home influences, where the conditioning links are provided by one's native tongue.

The existence of two set of learned reflexes side by side seems to be a valid phenomenon worth investigating. For want of a better term we can provisionally give it the name "split-level Christianity." While this phenomenon may also be found in other parts of the world, the Philippines with its history of simultaneous colonization and Christianization by an outside power seems to lend it a special home.


Split-level Christianity may be described as the coexistence within the same person of two or more thought-and-behavior systems which are inconsistent with each other. The image is of two apartments at different levels, each of which contains a family, one rarely talking tho the other.

So it is with the split-leveled person; at one level he professes allegiance to ideas, attitudes and ways of behaving which are mainly borrowed from the Christian West, at another level he holds convictions which are more properly his "own" ways of living and believing which were handed down from his ancestors, which do not always find their way into an explicit philosophical system, but nevertheless now and then flow into action.

Perhaps from another point of view, they may be described as two value systems, differing from each other in explicitation, one more abstract than the other, one of them coming to the fore under certain circumstances and receding to the background at other times. An example is the following incident, faithfully recorded by a participant-observer:

A group of alumni, sixteen years after graduating from a catholic high school, meet together one evening at a private home for a class reunion. Present at their reunion are two priests, their former teachers. The evening passes pleasantly, amid fond recollections of schooldays. At about 2230 hrs an offer is made to send the two priests by car back to the school. After the two priests left, the group transfers to Pasay to a certain nightclub of ill repute. Almost everyone goes along and a number end up with prostitutes. There is much joking about the fact that the wives think them "safe" in a class reunion.

Quite noticeable in this recorded incident is the allegiance to the school and to its authority figures. On the other hand, there is also an allegiance to what the culture considers to be the right thing to do for men when they find themselves together away from their wives. This second set of principles is accepted as a part of the talagang ganyan ways which are part of "reality."

A few more examples are given to illustrate this phenomenon of split-leveling:
1. a priest and a justice of the Supreme court enter a businessman's restaurant in the ermita district of manila, and sit down for lunch. Upon their entrance, the club entertainer stops singing and waits impatiently until they finish lunch. When they leave she resumes her naughty singing:
"Gusto kong humilig Sa tabi ng pu- Sa tabi ng pu- Sa tabi ng punong kawayan, etc."
(The Split" reverence for the priest and the justice versus "vulgar" signing.)

A Peace Corps girl, rooming with a Filipina at a local university, notices the following phenomenon. Her roommate on Sundays goes to a local church which has a big sign prohibiting sleeveless dresses. However, every night she brings pornographic literature with her, which she reads under a blanket before going to sleep. (The Split: submission to very restrictive rules on dress versus pornographic "inner life.")

3. A foreign priest steps into a public bus. A woman respectfully makes a room for him on the seat beside her.Immediately nasty remarks in the vernacular circulate about the bus. The priest, not knowing the vernacular, is not affected. (The Split: external reverence for the priest versus hostile attitudes towards him. Note the authority figure's "cultural deafness.'')

4. In a research seminar in a normal school, the students learn the latest methods in statistics which make for the utmost accuracy in the handling of data. they then apply what they have learned to actual research which they hope to publish in the school journal. To the teacher's consternation he discovers that his students, instead of actually gathering empirical data, have been making up numbers, to which they then apply the most modern statistical techniques. (The Split: scientific technical proficiency versus absence of scientific spirit in the search for truth.)

5. A policeman in the downtown district of Manila goes fairly regularly to mass and considers himself a catholic. nevertheless, he collects "tong'' from the small stores in the district as protection money. he feels he has a right to it because he their protector against gangsters. (The Split; the modern Catholic principles of justice versus a feudal attitude that the lord may tax those whom he protects.)

6. The Civil Liberties Union is a group dedicated to democracy, especially to academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. When a bill was presented to congress making compulsory the reading of the NOLI and the FILI (books which hurt the religious feelings of a large number of Catholics , the civil Liberties Union lead a rally in favor of the bill. (The Split: allegiance to the "Western" view of academic freedom and freedom of religion versus a conviction of the rightness of authoritarian approaches in education.)

7. In a catholic College for girls, the students in a group discussion discover that they do much cheating in class, but that most of the cheating occurs during examinations in ethics class.
(The Split: a highly refined conceptual system of ethics versus the compulsions arising from cultural expectations of high marks.)

8. An AB graduate (cum laude) from a Catholic Boys' College marries immediately after college, and takes up residence in Negros. Every time he comes to Manila he seeks out other women. Once, suspecting his wife of unfaithfulness, he hits her with his fist and drives her out of the house. When charged with inconsistency he says:"I was never serious about those other women. My wife has no right to go out with another man." When asked to reconcile the double standard with principles learned in school ("Thou shalt not commit adultery.") he answers: "it's just human weakness. In Negros every hacendero has a querida. Some have several." (The Split: catholic rules regarding marriage versus cultural norms.)

Conviction of Fitness

Often, the following of the second set of principles is rationalized as "human weakness," "ako'y tao lamang." But split-level Christianity is quite a different phenomenon from that human weakness which presupposes an allegiance to only one set of principles and, simultaneously, a temptation to diverge from those principles. hence human weakness still involves a sense of guilt a discomfort with oneself for loss of integrity.

But split-leveling involves the absence of a sense of guilt, or the presence of only a very minimal amount. There is a conviction "in one's gut" that the thing one has done, while something to be shielded from society's gaze like defecation or urination, is nevertheless not wrong. This sense of fitness while noticeable in the examples given above is brought out clearly in a case study by Dr. Jocano (1964) regarding the drinking habit of the Christians of Malitbog in the province of Aklan, where the Christians look on drinking as an "adult game," a thing which adults do in their playtime after work. In fact, drinking is seen as necessary for work. A parishioner is quoted here:

"Look at it this way. I will not say that these "vices" are right. You, as a pastor, an educated man, know that. But to us here in Malitbog, i do not think these things are vices nor are they as bad as you have described them. these are part of what you are supposed to do when you become grown-up. when we were young, our parents admonished us not to drink tuba or any liquor from the Chinese store. These are drinks of adults, we were told. we were supposed to drink soft-drinks and water. 

But now that we are adults, I do not see any reason why we should not drink tuba. Moreover, let us be practical. If I want my field plowed and I offer no tuba or liquor, who will come up to help me? None. Furthermore  if drinking tuba or liquor is bad, why does not the government prohibit the sale of these liquors? because there is no prohibition, then this is not bad. The government is not stupid.

Let us take cockfighting. This is, according to you, a vice; a form of gambling. But doesn't San Pedro bring along with him a cock? he must have been playing cockfighting too --and look at him now, he is a saint. Let us be serious. when we were small boys, we played hole-ins, balinsay(jacks) and blowing rubber-bands  what would you think of us if you see us adults still playing hole-ins or blowing rubber-bands  

You see, what i am trying to say, pastor  is this: each age has its own games --cockfighting and cards are adult games. each occasion has its own social requirements. To have your field plowed you have to offer tuba or liquor or no one comes to help you. Do you understand, pastor?"

There is a conviction that drinking, even though inconsistent with the Christian teaching, is nevertheless right.

Because of this sense of the rightness of both systems, the inconsistency, while at times noticed, is not felt keenly. Thus the Christians of Malitbog believe firmly in spirits and enkantus, and in the baylan (witch doctor) who has power with them.

(Roman Catholic saints) are conceived in Malitbog to have been elevated to their present status because they possess powers similar to those of the enkantus and that they could be manipulated for personal gains....many of the details of knowledge of powers and how an individual can avail himself of their powers...are known to specialists...the priests....On the other hand, knowledge concerning the enkantus and other environmental spirits are known to another group of specialists...the baylan or mediums.

We have two theological systems, side by side, the Christian and the pagan exisitng within one man.

Unconscious Conflict

Thus one characteristic of the split-level type of Christianity is the conviction of the fitness of each of two objectively inconsistent thought-and-behavior systems. A second characteristic is the fact that the inconsistency itself is either not perceived at all, or is pushed into the rear portions of consciousness. at the most, it is taken for granted and simply "forgotten." 

Thus the feeling of inconsistency does not arise. neither is there a feeling of hypocrisy. consequently, there is no particular drive to make one system conform to the other either by a change in behavior or by the elaboration of a conceptual system, of somehow reconciling both. Both systems are left to coexist without disturbance and without guilt.

There are however, special cases in whom the unconscious has become conscious. Usually of the better-educated class, they are quite aware of the inconsistency between their philosophical system and their actual way of life. nevertheless, they use their superior awareness deliberately to manipulate their environment. These are politicians, modern Machiavellians, who allow themselves to be photographed in church receiving Holy Communion while at the same time they are blackmailing some business firm into making "political contributions" to them. One may debate whether to apply such individuals the name "split-level Christians" or not call them Christians at all.

Nevertheless, in most cases, the inconsistency remains unconscious or only semi-conscious, so that the individual within himself remains at peace with himself. The only possible source of upset is when the authority figure should "discover'' the existence of the split. Such a piercing through of the masking surface level is capable of arousing hiya to an intense degree, a calamity which must be avoided at all costs. accordingly, there arises a third characteristic of the split-level, namely, a need to keep the authority figure at a distance.

Distance making

This mechanism of defense against hiya consists of removing the self as far as possible from the gaze of the person in authority, since, as representative of Christian level, he might blame and criticize the ego for consisting with another level. hence the attempt is made figuratively and, at times, literally to push the authority figures as far away from oneself as possible. In the examples given above, the priests are sent home early by the alumni who look forward to a night on the town. 

The naughty singer waits impatiently for the justice and the priest to leave the dining club before resuming her singing. The girl reading the pornographic books hides under the blanket from her peace corps roommate. The drink-loving citizens of Malitbog try to keep the teetolating Protestant minister from intruding into their lives, and upon failure, to do so return to Roman cartholicism, as can be read in the following account from Dr. Jocano:

"And why did you re-embrace Roman Catholicism?" I asked.

"I am not satisfied with what took place after I was converted to the Protestant Church. I mean with the church activities. it demanded so much of my time --anybody's time for that matter. I really can not keep up with the restrictions and teaching of the church!. How about Roman Catholicism?"

"Oh the priest does not have so many restrictions. he lets you alone, that is, to do what you like. he does not come here often and tell "don't do that," "don't do this" and so on. he does not live here, you know. But the pastor? he keeps coming to your house calling your attention to whatever you do. Sometimes it is embarrassing because the neighbors talk. They know what you have done because the pastor preaches about them during Sundays."

From the above account one can see how the catholic priest is preferred to the protestant minister precisely because he is at a distance from these people who love their evening tuba.

One can see the same distance-making trend in the insistence, especially in the provinces, that the priest should stay in the convento and not mix with the people. A priest who visits his parishioners is bound to arouse talk. Sometimes the interdiction affects not only the social visits but even "official" visits in the exercise of ministry. parishioners are often left to die without the last sacraments because of the in-congruence within peoples' minds of the picture of a priest entering their own home.

This distance making need is socio-syntonic that even the priests themselves and the bishops enjoin their own separation from the people, usually for ascetic or moral "reasons." Distance is the socially accepted thing, and is the actual social effect whether the conscious reason is "reverence for priests," "self-protection," "prayer" or anything else.


It may be interesting to enter into the dynamics of this situation and study the forces that bring about such an unconscious splitting of the ethical psyche. Where do the two levels come from? What keeps them apart? What keeps their in-congruence unconscious? Such questions obviously call for speculation and hypothesis formation.

Sources of Content

A study of the two levels may bring out the following analysis. the top or surface level is the more "Christian" part. it is made up of rules and beliefs picked up in school or in church. In large part it is conceptualized, or at least verbalized, usually in a foreign language like English, Spanish or Latin. Much of it is learned by rote, from the catechism or from books. It is the side which is presented to the authority figure in much the same way as a conductor plate in a condenser presents its positive charge on its surface to another conductor plate bearing negative charges.

The lower or deeper level is made up of the rules, beliefs, attitudes and action tendencies which are more common in the environment, which are picked up at home and in the street rather than at school. A large part of it is never verbalized, but acts as a sort of unspoken philosophy, spontaneously flowing into action when the occasion calls it forth and the inhibitory forces are removed. Thus in Malitbog the beliefs are drinking is an adult game spontaneously found expression in the evening when work was done and as long as the priest was away.

to be is Part 2 of 2, Click -->  Split-level Christianity, Part 2 of 2 

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Hi All,

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Thank you for reading and sharing with others, especially those in our homeland.

- Bert


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"Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country." - Karl Kraus, 1874-1936.

"We shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know..." – SOCRATES

“In the long-run every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their WISDOM and UNWISDOM; we have to say, Like People like Government. “ - Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author


"Beware of the yeast of Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops." (Luke 12, NRSV)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing

Anonymous said...

split-level that's the term for it, at last.. i have another example of S.L.C., Philippines is a Catholic country while even after its national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal himself, wrote clearly(in his 'a letter to the women of Malolos') that Catholism isn't the true religion. He even wrote two books about it Noli and El Fili. Either Filipinos don't understand what they read or their wrong in choosing their national hero... is this a good example or it's better called SLL, Split-level Living, bcoz its about how we live our lives.. but u cant blame us, this phonomenon is already part of our culture.. attached to it is corruption, yes, catholism is the reason why corruption is already in our blood. we dont feel guilty anymore, we dont do what we say, and we dont care why should we, even our religion, though despised by many back then during Rizal and kaipunan, is believed by our great great great ancestors, setting a negative precedence making us think that we can always justify our wrongdoings.. sila nga ok lng, alagad pa ng Diyos yan ha, tayo pa kaya??? ok lng yan para sa pamilya mo yang pagnanakaw ng kaban....ok lng yan para sa pamilya mo nman yang posisyon na yan...then corruption is justified, with the help of our religion
this SLC

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate you posting this. Bulatao's article is still quoted (e.g., and "Split-Level Christianity" even forms organizing idea of Hiebert et al's book "Understanding Folk Religion"

Anonymous said...

This blog is so educational. Mr. Bert, congratulation and keep up the good works.

Charles Van Howard of Iloilo