Tag Archive | "Philippine Culture"

Catholicism is a Country Filipinos Can’t Leave


“The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.” Church leaders, anti-choice groups, and many others have made this a mantra, some using it to ward off the specter of secularism, others to respect their religious roots, and most out of mere routine — they’ve just heard it and said it so many times that it feels unnatural to think otherwise.

A Country of Catholics

But is it true? It depends. What does it mean to be a predominantly Catholic country? For some, it simply means that Philippine citizens are mostly Catholic. In this sense, it is true: around 80% of Filipinos do identify as Catholic. But what that Catholic identity implies is another story.

What bishops and anti-RH individuals think it means — or would like it to mean — is that as a country of Catholics, the Philippines is led by Catholic bishops: the Philippines is their Church, and they are its pastors. This interpretation — or some version of it — is the reason organizations such as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are still respected even by established institutions.

Unfortunately, one of those institutions is the Philippine government. Although secularism is enshrined in its Constitution, politicians pander to the Church out of the belief that bishops are also representatives of their Catholic constituents: Pandering is the respect paid by one representative to another.

This pandering is most apparent during elections, when candidates cower in fear of the Catholic Vote. Although many have shown that it is a myth, it is true in the way that matters: politicians behave as if it were real, and the bishops get what they want: politicians who perpetuate their version of a Catholic country.

But again, the Catholic Vote is in fact a myth. Catholics generally do not vote in block, and if past elections are any indication, nor do they obey bishops when it comes to voting. This is because most Filipino Catholics are cafeteria Catholics.

Cafeteria Catholics

Also referred to as eclectic Catholics, cafeteria Catholics choose what they believe independently from Church constraints, in the same way that a cafeteria customer would order food from different stalls instead of buying everything from a single one. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t believe something that is at odds with the Church, and even those who seem orthodox or traditional (the katoliko sarado) would reveal after some conversation that their views are not completely consistent with the Vatican’s.

Filipinos tend to hold beliefs inconsistent with Catechism — karma, reincarnation, feng shui, astrology, the Secret — and this attitude extends beyond religion into politics. The most salient example is the RH Bill, supported by 70-80% of Filipinos. The percentage is even higher if we consider Catholics alone.

The Philippines as a country obedient to bishops does not exist. It would be more correct to say that the Philippines is a cafeteria Catholic country.

The Church is a Country

Despite their differences with the bishops, cafeteria Catholics, especially the most progressive ones, can’t seem to leave the Church. I believe it’s because of different views of what the Catholic Church is.

One view is that the Church is an organization for people who share the same convictions. When your convictions change, you leave the organization. This is the implicit understanding of pro- and anti-RH groups: when you start supporting the other side, you leave. Obviously, this is not how Filipinos see the Catholic Church. If it were, there would be little to no Catholic Church to speak of.

Instead, many Filipinos see the Church as the country they’re born into, and Catholicism is their nationality. Most people — not only Filipinos — do not leave the country of their birth, and most — again, not only Filipinos — do not change the religion they’re born with. Once a Filipino, always a Filipino; once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Citizens criticize public officials, Catholics criticize their bishops, but rarely is leaving, let alone changing their national or religious identity, a valid option.

Yes, it takes more money and resources to emigrate. But even if leaving religion shouldn’t cost you a Peso, it can be just as difficult, if not more. By the time the average Filipino Catholic feels disappointed enough at their Church to leave it, they’ve already invested so much — mental energy spent on stress and sacrifice, time spent on Sundays and sacraments, and for even the poorest of the poor, money spent on tithing and other religious obligations.

Rooted in Catholicism

It’s not so much that the Philippines has Catholic roots — we are as much a Pagan country if heritage is the criteria. Filipinos just routinely root themselves in Catholicism so thoroughly that uprooting seems too painful a process.

So for many Filipinos, leaving the Church is unimaginable — on one hand, because it’s so unusual that many can’t imagine it; on the other, leaving has so many negative consequences that many don’t even want to imagine it. This is especially true for those who have nightmares of being tortured by Satan for all eternity — leaving the Church is a sin worthy of automatic excommunication, which is practically a one-way ticket to Hell.

I don’t have the numbers, but I’d wager that more Filipinos have changed countries than religious identities. (In case you do, please leave a link in the comments section.) Of course there are those who do leave Catholicism, but as with emigrating, it’s usually to a place that’s not too far away: a different Christian denomination, another Judeo-Christian religion, or a spirituality that’s thematically consistent with Catholicism.

And in most (if not all) cases, what the Catholic bishops think is not a consideration. Does anyone consider their Congressman or President when they make a decision about emigrating? They do, however, consider the culture — traditions, laws, economic and political structure — of their future country, and this brings us back to our main point: Filipino Catholics treat their Catholicism as a country they’ve grown used to, a nationality they’re born with — not as an obligation to, or even a membership in an institution.

A Secularizing Country

With all this in mind, calling the Philippines a Catholic country seems to be as trivial as saying that the Philippines is a tropical country. Filipinos have no more choice in their religious identity than our 7,107 islands do their distance from the equator. Politicians should recognize that the bishops claiming to dictate Catholic behavior is just as senseless as cartographers claiming to move the islands. They might have all the maps, but the islands are moved by a more powerful force.

When it comes to Filipino attitude toward religion, this force seems to be secularization, which sociologist see as part of an ever bigger movement toward modernization. Catholics are starting to see the value of religion less in divine commandments and heavenly promises, and more in human needs and real-world benefits.

It is a slow yet steady process, and sociologists have found it as inevitable as the drifting of the islands. But as with any movement toward progress, the Catholic bishops will try to stop it, doing everything in their power to remain representatives of their constituents, repeating, like a mantra, “The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.”

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Image sources: 1, 2, 3

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On Being White in a Brown Nation


Although I am a New Zealander with Maori ancestry (kayumanggi), my Scots-Irish genes predominate and I am thus cursed with white skin. I say cursed, because in New Zealand being white is not an advantage. White means sickly, unattractive, and a possibly genetically problematic mate.

Thus, whenever the sun shyly and coquettishly re-emerged after winter, we university students would find a good place to lie naked under its heathen embrace and encourage its  life affirming touch to rekindle our chances of getting laid with our new healthy tan. Brown was beautiful. White was…well, the pallor of death.

It was not till I arrived in the Philippines and started work in the English Department at UP Diliman that I discovered how misguided I had been.

The sun was the enemy to be avoided at all costs. Whenever it came out, up went protective umbrellas. People routinely insulted one another by observing that the other had gotten darker (“Umitim ka.”).

What had been the ultimate compliment in my previous life was now the ultimate curse.

Everywhere I looked, there were skin whitening products for sale. The harmony of ebony and ivory was now the promise of ebony to ivory. Before and after billboard posters showed what appeared to me to be a gorgeous morena girl frowning on the left who miraculously transformed into a grinning mestiza version on the right.

I felt perverse. I preferred the left.

Yet, remorselessly, every second ad showed miserable brown girls touched by the fairy god mother of whitening products to become happy, fulfilled white versions. Even their noses grew and their hair straightened, it seemed.

This white thing was no joke. It was serious business. A simple equation was evident: brown equals misery = white equals happiness.

I began to feel better about myself. Hell, I was white. My nose was long. Those very things that had caused me great angst were now an asset. Shit. Why didn’t I come here earlier!

Then I saw Jesus on the side of a jeepney. I saw Jesus on billboards. I even saw little baby Jesus in a million cradles at Christmas. And he was white too!

It was getting even better! Even God was white! Now you couldn’t get a better endorsement than that for a complexion! Staggering! A man born and bred in the Middle East was somehow a Brad Pitt lookalike!

I grant you it makes no sense. He should have looked more like Osama Bin Laden, but maybe he was an albino or maybe Mary had this Filipino obsession with umbrellas. In any event, here I was in a country where white was automatically beautiful. Why fight it?

I therefore, secretly of course, cast off my foolish liberal sentimentality and embraced my new status. I silently thanked the Spanish invaders and the Yanks for managing to so brilliantly infect the minds of 100 million people.

Thank you, Magellan. Thank you, President McKinley.

Although I continue to publicly rail against the obvious insanity and obscenity of all this, deep down, in some Neanderthalian recess of my brain, I thank the invaders and I never forget to give a begrudging nod to the white saints that front Quiapo church as I pass it.

It’s almost enough to turn this atheistic Buddhist, Catholic.

Almost.

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Philippine Historians' Dilemma: What is Philippine Culture?


Bourdaine’s episode in No Reservations about the Philippines quite adequately describes the reality of the culture.

Culture is described by, quite simply, “how we do things” (and all the existential iterations of the idea). Philippine culture is highly stratified by its economic classes, regions and the way different cultures (western, Chinese, and Muslim) affects each of these classes.

You can even say we are the Asian equivalent of America, where you have the largest variety of race, ethnic cultural variety living in one nation. We were malays, impregnated by the Spanish, the Sepoys (Rape of Manila by the British), the Dutch (dutch colony what now is in River Side Marikina), the Japanese (19th century colony of San Miguel, and the Japanese Occupation), and America.

The same traits that make Filipinos so easy to get along with foreigners are the very traits that make Filipinos cultural versatile, and this is the lack of a strong dominant culture. Although, you can make that leap that our “Meta-culture” is not having a culture at all.

In my opinion of what constitutes a Culture can be found in origins in History. Culture is formed over time and practice. It is a method of transmitting values and ways of thinking. Seeing the evidence in our cultural versatility- Philippine Culture is about having No strong commitment to any particular Manner of Living.

Unfortunately, the adaptive culture idea doesn’t really count because there is no active and conscious effort to make it a practice and tradition. By tradition, the Philippines is a Western (Spanish/American) Christian Culture derivative. Unfortunately, Spanish culture only affected the Upper Class and the Lower Class was left to develop its own servile culture based on what the Spanish Aristocracy wanted out of them. (to be humble, servile, conscious of saving face and appearance, and with a strong sense of debt to what ever scraps their masters saw fit to give them).

Actively Filipinos try to work within what their parents think their tradition should be (most of the time based on the Spanish’s familial culture) and try to make it work with what Modern thought and practicality. This is where things get very messy, because the line of “cultural evolution” is heavily interrupted by technological innovation.  Religious and family traditions that cannot some times adapt to these barrage of alien ideals.

I want Philippine culture to actively play the game General Antonio Luna intended: to Adapt, Pander, Innovate and Push forward (his strategy of playing off all the Empire builders). If Philippine culture were to learn its foundation in its diversity. If we could embrace our Bastard nature, then we will not hold on to tradition merely on merit of sentimentality, instead we will create and innovate traditions based on their merits, effectiveness, ability to communicate and connect all generations.

Such a culture will share the Ideals of the past and adapt them according to the revelation of the future. Creating an unbroken chain of growth and identity for generations to come.

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