Saturday, November 01, 2008

Use of Religion in Desperate Times (Updated)

"Religion: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable." ~Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

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"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 (1909-1999)


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Hi All,

We realize the growing alienation, i.e. increased feelings of indifference, helplessness and deep despair among fellow native Filipinos when people turn solely to religion or praying as the only way to the betterment of the Filipinos in the Philippines.

This act of withdrawal gives validity to what Karl Marx has stated a century and a half ago, his famous description of religion as–though incompletely quoted and understood- “the opium of the people”.

Karl Marx’s complete statement is: “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.” (Italics in original text.)

If one reads Marx as such completely, we see that Marx meant that religion creates illusory fantasies for the poor. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, so religion tells them that this is OK because they will find true happiness in the next life. Marx agrees that people are in distress and that religion offers solace. [Just as physically injured people receive relief from opiate-based drugs, i.e. codeine or morphine.]

Marx’s statement is a critique of a society that has become heartless. For him, the problem lies in the obvious fact that an opiate drug fails to fix a painful injury – it merely helps you forget your pain and suffering] which is fine to a point, but only as long as you are also actively trying to solve the underlying problems causing the pain in the first place.

In a similar way, religion does not fix the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering- instead religion only helps the alienated forget or not want to understand and/or act on why they are suffering; and instead gets them to look forward to an imaginary future when the pain will supposedly cease rather than working to change circumstances now.

Given the Filipino predicament and in the absence of other dominant or significant factors/forces, aside from religion, i.e. Christianity(Catholic}, for fundamental changes; the task for pursuing such changes should fall on the Catholic Church, its hierarchy and followers; to lead, make a greater effort ; make 
time to promote and put into action its social teachings:
1) seeking justice for the weak and poor
[Pope Leo XIII -1891];
2) creating greater awareness and pursuit of the common good of society
[Pope John XXIII -1963]; and
3) participating in social and political reform for their liberation from the structural roots of injustice
[Pope Paul VI –1971], etc.

The immediate tasks of clerics and leaders of the Catholic Church in our homeland:

1) stop treating its followers as children,
2) stop preaching that being miserable, impoverished and oppressed in this world are good for their souls and that they will be rewarded in the hereafter. 

Their mission to themselves and their educated followers:
1) gain knowledge and understanding of the causes, not just the symptoms, of the Filipino predicament; and
2) share with their impoverished fellow citizens this acquired knowledge and understanding. The churchmen do not have to run for public office to accomplish such.

Note that this social goal for the common good is in contrast to many mem
bers of mainline Protestants, and especially religious fundamentalists (Pentecostals or Evangelicals) whose sole concern is their individual salvation [not correcting society’s ills]. 

We should not be surprised as this position is consistent with the foundational Protestant doctrine, i.e. Sola Fide, invented by reformer Martin Luther that led to the Protestant Reformation  According to this doctrine, one is not saved by his good deeds but by faith alone. If carried over to our national predicament as such, I call this attitude and behavior of indifference towards the struggle for social justice as "selfish individualism."

However, that is another story.

- Bert

Click to see also --> Our Filipino Christianity and God-concept 

"We receive and we give not to others. We praise generosity, but we deprive the poor of it. We are freed slaves, but we do not pity our companions who remain under the yoke. We were hungry, and now have a surfeit of possessions, but we ignore the needy. While we have God as a magnificent patron and provider, we have been stingy towards the poor and refuse to share the goods with them. Our sheep are fruitful, but more numerous are the people who go naked. Our barns are too small to contain all that we possess and yet we do not pity those who anguish." - St. Basil

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