I rarely read the morning paper, much less buy it. Being almost always connected to the Internet, I still haven’t found any convenience or practicality in doing so, although I do find novelty in folding my way through an oversized broadsheet. But I bought one this morning anyway.
This is the first election that I’ll ever participate in, and I’m definitely not voting for either candidate, I thought.
It will be pointless now, at least in this post, to argue why secularism should be pushed for. Thousands of books and articles have been written about it already, and I expect that there should be at least a dozen such articles in this website alone. What I would like to talk about instead is why there seems to be a common sentiment against secularism among Filipinos, and why statements like Villanueva’s may actually help him win votes.
Filipinos just don’t get it
The fight for secularism is an uphill battle. Everyone seems to have this impression that mixing God with government is harmless, and can actually yield good results. With it, you’ve got morally guided laws and honest leaders to back them up. Yet at the same time, you’ve got a population which recognizes that their leaders are all corrupt. None of these politicians, by the way, profess atheism—at least not publicly.
So what do you do about it? I would like to believe that there is no correlation between religious belief and moral governance. After all, you’ve got the Catholic Church’s millennia-old string of sex scandals and systematic cover-up of offending priests over here, and Nordic countries’ flying colors in government transparency despite the generally atheistic populace over there. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find that many people would give the answer, “Put more God in it.”
Yes, there is just not enough God in government; that’s why you need more of it! Of course, there is no statistic behind this. But who needs evidence—right?—when you’ve got faith.
It’s deeply embedded in the psyche
Let me repeat it again: I would like to believe that there is no correlation between religious belief and moral governance. After all, you’ve got the Catholic Church’s millennia-old string of sex scandals and systematic cover-up of offending priests over here, and Nordic countries’ flying colors in government transparency despite the generally atheistic populace over there.
Despite! Despite! Why does it have to be “despite?” Church apologists have successfully penetrated all sectors of Philippine society that they have managed to completely dichotomize God and evil—as if atheists and good governance are logically incongruent. Everything that is good is God, and everything without God is evil. While I may cite as many atheists who have done good things for the world as I would like, you could always claim that they could have done better if only they had faith in God. It’s the perfect trump card, and the secularist always loses the argument.
Not only did the Church manage to dichotomize God and evil, they also managed to unify secularism and atheism into one ugly bunch. It is utterly impossible to advocate secularism without being labeled an atheist, or at least someone who is having doubts with God. Whereas parading a nation-under-God slogan should be a sure ticket to Congress, clamoring for secularism should be a fail-safe way to kill your political career—unless you’re Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whom a lot of Filipinos think is borderline insane anyway.
Pinoy pride and the fear of Western decadence
How many times have we heard the anti-RH camp claim that secularism, contraception, divorce, and marriage equality are essentially an invasion of dangerous Western ideas? That with these in place, Filipinos would lose their identity? It is unavoidable for people to think that secularism—that is government without God—will make society brim with the “culture of death;” just as how contraception will make Filipinos extinct; divorce makes all couples separate; and marriage equality makes all people gay-marry.
It’s funny how the United States is always considered by local politicians and religious apologists as the paragon of secular immorality, considering how it is actually a lot more conservative than its Western peers. It’s even funnier to think how, on the other hand, religious fundamentalists in the US would argue that conservatism is a uniquely American virtue. After all, you can cry out Western imperialism all you want when it comes to reproductive health and other “foreign” ideas, especially when you’ve got a Catholic Church imported straight from the same source.
Again, the Church has outdone itself. This time, it has successfully managed to unify “the Filipino,” God and everything good into a single idea. Everything that is good is God, and Filipinos believe in God, therefore Filipino conservatism is good. Indeed, patriotism and religion share a lot in common when it comes to political exploitability.
Reason is our only weapon
As much as I would hate to admit it, Filipino society is still conservative to the core, or else majority of senatoriables should no longer be tiptoeing around the topic of marriage equality; the University of the Philippines Los Banos would no longer be giving out copies of the Bible during its freshman orientation; and political candidates would no longer have to use putting God back into the heart of government as a platform.
Many solutions can be proposed to counter this tide. Be it through progressive legislation, like the RH law, divorce bill and antidiscrimination bill; through reform of education curricula, like putting more science in it and making lessons expressly secular; or through parenting, like teaching children rationalism in words they can digest; it really just boils down to one thing—reason.
Reason is an especially powerful tool. It is an instant litmus test for bullshit in itself. Conversely, it is the only way for us to weigh the merits of any argument, legislation or what have you. Through careful examination of evidence and not through acceptance of claims because of religious grounds, can we only progress as a society.
Sadly, we are still far from there, and it will take a lot of time. But least we can use reason as easily as hot knife cuts through butter, especially when these two guys—both promising to carry out the will of God—can’t even agree among themselves.
 Thankfully, results are not as consistent. Buhay may have won seats over the previous elections, but we all know how the Ang Kapatiran slate miserably lost despite backing from a number of bishops.
 As much as I would like to delve deeper into Filipino anti-intellectualism—well, it’s not the first time you’ve heard people say, “Wag kang masyadong mag-isip at baka mabaliw ka.”—that’s another discussion altogether.
 Or at least UPLB officials in charge of the event