“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
In an article I came across at fairly recently, the Catholic Church as represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is preparing to draw the battle line against the Aquino government should the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill gets passed into law.1 While I do not wish to join the bashers of the Church or Christianity as a whole who insist that the Church’s involvement in the debate itself is a Constitutional violation of Church and State separation (which I do not particularly agree with), I would like to submit a critical assessment of the Church’s stand and its battle’s misplaced cause.
Critics of the Church have been rooting “delusion” on the part of the Church as reason why the Church seems to hold on to beliefs that go contrary to reason and evidence. Just yesterday, one of my Facebook acquaintances, Ms. Rish Velasco, shared an interesting link that seems to correlate religiosity and psychosis.2 While I do agree that some of the aspects of religiosity such as “hearing divine voices” or zealotry may have some psychological kink like “Schizophrenia” or “Cognitive Dissonance”, I think it is important that we be careful not to jump into the conclusion that all people of faith are necessarily deluded or psychotic. I think it is important to understand why these folks, many of whom are quite normal and rational individuals, embrace some aspects in life outside of reason.
Filipino boxing sensation Congressman Manny Pacquiao said that he is against the RH Bill because “it is against God’s law”.3 While I do admire Pacquiao’s humility, passion, and excellence in the sport of boxing and even in some cases, outside of boxing, I think that Pacquiao, like many people who support his view, just do not understand the purported “God’s law”. It is one thing to know what the Bible says but it is quite another case to understand what it says.
Of course, Congressman Pacquiao was referring to Genesis 1:28 where God was claimed to have commanded Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply”.4 However, what Pacquiao and many others do not see is the history and purpose behind the verse. Readers of the Bible need to ask what the words meant to those who wrote them. How were these words first understood? What was the human experience that caused our ancestors to express these words?
The book of Genesis was said to have been written from 922 BC to 587 BC. It is also worth mentioning that the writer of the part in Genesis where the Creation story was described lived within the period before the destruction of Jerusalem in circa 586 BC5,6, which also covers a period in the ancient Jewish history when they were under Babylonian Exile.7 Putting the Genesis verse into historical perspective, we can say that the Jewish writer was part of the generation when the Jews were captives and deportees to the foreign land of their conquerors (Babylon). So it is not too farfetched to reason that the captive Jews had dreams about returning to their sacred land of Judah and/or at least for their culture to survive and realize this dream. However, since they were merely captives, they had very limited rights (if any) and they had no realistic hopes. According to Bishop John Shelby Spong:
“To reproduce and to grow their tribal numbers so that some of them might someday return home was keenly important.”8
The words behind “Be fruitful and multiply” came out from the human experience and instinct for survival and the enhancement of life; that is the universal context from which one must understand the verse. That should be the basis for reasoning out that the verse is a testament of loving and valuing life. The Church and many of its adherents see the surface about the love and value for (human) life. Unfortunately, they fail to see the message underneath the surface.
Our instinct for survival and life enhancement has pushed us to achieve scientific and technological (even moral) advancement. Medical breakthroughs have helped increase human life longevity. Agricultural and animal husbandry sciences and technology have helped us secure food supplies so that we can prevent hunger. All of our advancement paved the way to enhance our rate of survival resulting to the exponential rise in our population.
The increase in population comes with it the increase in the demand to use more resources to ensure survival and the enhancement of life. Unfortunately, we do have finite resources and as our resources get depleted this situation brings with it a threat to our survival and quality of life. Bishop Spong states:
“So the need to “be fruitful and multiply” has over the centuries slowly but surely lost its urgency. But if you have been programmed since the dawn of conscious time by a survival mentality and are convinced that this injunction was somehow the command of God, then the power of the injunction lives on when the need to obey it is no longer relevant. That is where we are today. The command originally given to enhance life has now become a command that threatens to destroy life.
Once the supposedly divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” was seen as necessary to enable the human race to survive. Now it must be seen as nothing less than a prescription for human genocide. Once it was accepted as the “Word of God”. Now it must be viewed as a terrible and life-threatening text.”8
To give a closer picture of the issue in the Philippines, I would like my readers to visualize this situation.
Suppose you have a devout Catholic couple with very minimal means. The husband does not have a steady job while the wife is focused on taking care of their 4 kids. The husband, so overburdened with the anxieties of his life and the absence of any hope drowns his pain in alcohol and drugs. The wife, old and haggard before her time, beaten down by the combination of inadequate diet and constant pregnancies and enduring traumas that a woman in those circumstances has to confront, is unable to care adequately for her kids. A doctor’s assessment of the wife reveals a case of post-partum depression from their fourth child. The doctor urges the couple not to have any more kids because the financial and emotional resources of their family were simply not adequate to cover another pregnancy. But the couple believes that the “Word of God” must be obeyed by them – “to be fruitful and multiply”. Like many human beings and couples they do have sexual urges but they hold on to the dogma that the act of sex must be for procreation; this makes them rule out the use of artificial contraceptives because the use of such tools is a “sin” in the eyes of the Church and God. After a while the wife becomes pregnant again and gives birth to their fifth child. The depression has sunk in so low that the wife one day snapped and decided to kill all her kids.
The story above comes from a combination of stories told by Bishop Spong in his book “The Sins of Scripture”. Some of the details are inspired from the award-winning novel “Angela’s Ashes” and the true-to-life story of Andrea Yates.9,10 Stories like these are not uncommon in poverty-stricken countries such as the Philippines. We may not hear of extreme cases such as killing one’s kids much but stories of hardship, burden, and misery that come with having so many mouths to feed with very limited means and hope are very much common. Are institutions, such as the Church, responsible for expressing what they believe are divine laws, even if those laws turn out to increase or even cause enormous destruction? As Bishop Spong stated:
“Ignorance has certainly never been declared a crime. But this question does raise the issue of the responsibility of an institution that becomes obsessed with its ability to tell the gullible and easily manipulated what God thinks.”9
Can the Church, by placing its rules ahead of a woman’s health and her children’s safety, honestly say that it is acting on women’s best interest and their children’s? I do not think so.
So the CBCP is preparing to draw its battle lines against the government’s push to pass the RH Bill. The RH Bill is intended to ensure the people valuable information that may very well be life saving and enhancing – which are the very same values behind the biblical message discussed. The cause for the Church’s fight against the RH Bill is so misplaced that it actually threatens human life’s enhancement and even survival. Would the glory of the Church be worth the blood of many poor women and children? Heaven help them.
8 The Sins of Scripture, pp. 33-35, 39, John Shelby Spong (2005), Harper Collins
9 The Sins of Scripture, pp. 29-32, John Shelby Spong (2005), Harper Collins