Tag Archive | "spong"

Battle Line for a Misplaced Cause

“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.


Background References:

1 http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl110094.htm

2 http://www.bharatvani.org/books/pp/ch1.htm

3 http://www.usnewslasvegas.com/national/cbcp-elated-over-manny-pacquiaos-pro-life-stand/

4 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

5 http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/genesis.htm   

6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_captivity

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

10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Yates

Posted in Politics, ReligionComments (13)

Is Santa Bad for Christmas?

gonna find out who's naughty or nice...

Bishop Teodoro Bacani recently blamed Santa Claus for stealing the “true spirit of Christmas” as revealed in a news article in The Daily Tribune.

The Bishop is apparently peeved at the fact that Santa is more popular than Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. He said:

“Santa Claus helps promote consumerism because he is the symbol of shopping and gift-giving. Christ symbolizes the sacrifice of life for man. But Santa has more commercial draw… Let us keep Christ at Christmas. Let us project Christ at Christmas.”

While the Christian fold may argue that Christmas has its roots on Judeo-Christianity, I submit that it is a mistake to look at Christmas merely under the Judeo-Christian light and I submit that Santa Claus should actually be deemed as a Christmas hero instead of a villain.

The shift of looking at Christmas from celebrating the birth of the “Redeemer” to celebrating the season of peace, hope and kindness, is a positive thing. I would even argue that the present spirit of Christmas, even with Santa Claus being more popular than Jesus Christ, reflects its true spirit more than from strictly a Judeo-Christian perspective.

But let’s entertain Bishop Bacani’s assertion for now and let’s critically analyze the light of celebrating Christmas strictly on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Christmas, in its true spirit, is not merely a birthday celebration of Jesus Christ. Christmas, together with Easter, is really a celebration of the theology of atonement and salvation. It is a mistake to look at the picture starting from “Mama Mary’s” and “Papa Joseph’s” journey to Bethlehem. We have to look at the whole picture to get a sense of the significance the birth of Christ and why Christianity celebrates it.

Most of the backgrounder on the Judeo-Christian faith tradition and theology that I am about to share comes from Bishop John Shelby Spong’s book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. Most of the views of Jesus Christ I embrace that I will share in the end come from Spong’s book “The Sins of Scripture”. Some of my readers already know that I am an avid reader and a fan of Bishop Spong and I really recommend Bishop Spong’s books, without any reservations, to anyone who is open to looking at Judeo-Christianity under a light different from the current mainstream. Anyway, here it goes…

The Bible starts with the story of creation. The Bible asserts that it was a perfect creation and God announced His creations good (after His divine labors). Then came the Adam and Eve story. Adam and Eve were supposed to have a perfect relationship with God in Paradise. According to the Bible, however, boundaries were set in this Paradise; that Adam and Eve were not to partake of this “forbidden fruit”, for it was said that if they ate it, their eyes would be opened and they would know good from evil. This is actually quite fascinating and most Christians take this quite literally.

Of course we know from the story that a serpent seduced Eve into eating the “forbidden fruit”. Upon Eve’s enticement, Adam also partook of the “forbidden fruit”. From that moment on, the perfection of creation has been ruined. God has been disobeyed and human life has fallen into sin, and of course, the penalty for this disobedience was death. The immortality that had been in Adam and Eve (humans) as theirs as creatures of God’s image was gone.

Because of this original sin, all human life thereafter, it was asserted, would be born in sin and suffer death – the ultimate consequence of sin. The universality of human mortality was interpreted to be a sign of the universality of human sin. So life stood still in need of “redemption”.

So God started the process of redemption by choosing a particular people through whom God would work out the entire divine process of salvation. Salvation began in a small scale with the call of Abraham. Now we know from the Bible that Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. Jacob was chosen over Esau, Judah and Joseph were chosen over Reuben. Through Joseph, God’s people went to Egypt to avoid famine. Unfotunately, in time, they fell into slavery. The story of salvation began some 4 hundred years later with Moses and the exodus.

Once free of their bondage from the pharaoh, the people were led by God, through Moses, to Mount Sinai, where the law of God, called the Torah, was given to the people. The law was to serve as the guideline to lead the fallen people back into a state of grace. But the children of Israel didn’t follow God’s laws so the search for salvation in history goes on.

A sacrificial system was developed in the ancient world to help overcome this supposed separation between man and God. Israel developed in its liturgical life a day called Yom Kippur, dedicated to that sense of human sinfulness and designed to be an occasion to pray for atonement and restoration.

Two rituals are involved; one was the public confession of people’s sins, which were ceremoniously heaped upon the back of a goat. Laden with people’s sins, this goat, called the “scapegoat”, was run into the wilderness and was believed to have carried away with it, the sins of the world, thus purging them (Lev. 16).

The second ritual was the sacrificial offering of the lamb of the atonement (Lev 23:26-32). This lamb was inspected carefully, for it had to be perfect in the eyes of God. In other words… no scratches, no blemishes, no broken bones, etc. Human life, so alienated from God, so fallen into sin, had to come before God under the symbol of something perfect. The lamb was also subhuman, therefore incapable of being immoral, since morality requires the ability to choose evil. So a morally perfect, physically perfect, but still subhuman sacrifice was offered to God to atone for, even pay for, the sins of the people. The assumption was that to be human was to be sinful. Paul would later write this in his epistles “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

It was the conviction that humans were sinful and in need of redemption that enabled guilt and religion to be so solely tied together. The power of western religion has always rested on the ability of religious people to understand and to manipulate the sense of human inadequacy that expresses itself from guilt. This religious system assumes that the purpose of life is to be whole, free, and at one with the Creator. This is what gives the sense of alienation its power.

The religious leaders of the ages learned that controlling people’s behavior rested upon controlling these human feelings of guilt. So religious empires were built on helping people live with and to some degree, overcome their sense of guilt. How could guilt be overcome? How could our broken humanity be repaired? How could human life be rescued from its fall? Those were the questions that Christianity organized itself to answer.

The experience of Jesus was captured in this mind-set. The linkage between our sense of inadequacy and the role of Jesus happened very quickly and was apparent before the first generation of Christians died. The initial step was to see the death of Jesus in terms of sin and salvation. By the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians sometime in mid 50 AD, that step had been achieved. Christ died, Paul said, “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). Our sins somehow required His death, He was the sacrificial lamb on our behalf.

The first Gospel, Mark, was the first to set the narrative of Jesus’ death in the context of the “Passover”, so Jesus was quickly and immediately identified with the lamb who was slain to break the wages of death. That story written in the book of Exodus formed the center of the Jewish liturgy of their founding moment. God had enabled their escape from slavery by sending the angel of death to slay the first born in all the land of Egypt.

The Jews were spared this slaughter when they killed the lamb and placed the blood of this lamb on the doorsteps of their homes. Of course in the Christian interpretation, the blood of the lamb was replaced by the blood of Christ. All we have to do is to come before the Lord through the blood of this sacrificial lamb.

Now we come to St. Augustine (354-430). Augustine believed that Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings. Their banishment from Eden resulted in the ultimate punishment of man. Death was not natural, but rather, punitive, for Augustine. Now as he worked out the theological understanding of life, the virgin birth tradition became crucial to him. He asserted that the virgin birth had to be absolutely necessary for salvation.

The reason was that since the original sin was passed on from generation to generation, for Jesus to be the lamb, Jesus had to be free of this inherited blemish – sin. His formulation goes, that Jesus did not come from Adam’s lineage because the Holy Spirit of God was supposed to be His father. But at Augustine’s time, it was believed that women do not contribute genetically or materially to the birth of a child. The belief back then was that women merely nurtured the male’s “seed” to maturity. So the fallness of the woman’s humanity was not an issue.

In time, when the woman’s role as genetic co-creator was understood, Augustine’s theology came in question. The Catholic Church handled this by declaring the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That Mary too was miraculously delivered from the corruption of Adam and Eve’s sin. By “Divine Intervention” Mary was prevented by her Immaculate Conception from passing onto Jesus, the Saviour, the effects of Adam’s sin. Salvation was thus assured. This makes Jesus, the sinless one, to be qualified by His origins to make the perfect offering.

So if we really look at the spirit of Christmas solely on the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition, Christmas is nothing more than a celebration of the coming of the sacrificial lamb or the “scapegoat”, in the person of Jesus Christ, who will take away the sins of the world so that you and I can be spared of the wages of sin (eternal death) as decreed by God Himself as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Original Sin).

So really, in Judeo-Christian terms, celebrating Christmas would be celebrating God’s master plan involving the perverted notion of inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on person X (whether this person is His son or not) so that person Y (you and I) can be “saved”.

I’m sorry but I choose not to look at Christmas and Jesus Christ this way.

The Jesus Christ who I know lived in a world where stereotypical prejudice separated Jews from the Samaritans. They would not eat together, they would not worship together, they would not inter-marry, etc. Yet Jesus in the Gospels was said to have taught that the Samaritan was worthy of healing (Luke 17:11-19) and that a Samaritan who acted out the claims of the law in terms of showing mercy was more deeply a child of Abraham than the Jewish priest or Levite (Luke 10:29-37). These were radical statements of barrier-breaking inclusion, which expanded rather dramatically and in a new way the meaning of love.

Jesus, as well, broke the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. Back then Gentiles were even considered as unclean by the Jews, they weren’t circumcised, not bound by Kosher dietary laws, and ignorant of the demands of the Torah. Association of Jews with Gentiles was a big taboo back then. Yet Jesus was portrayed in the Gospel according to Mark as going to the Gentile side of the lake to repeat the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness story.

Jesus was also said to have reached out to the Syro-Phoenician woman, another Gentile, and to have healed her daughter (Mark 7:24-30). The Gospels also tell of Jesus healing a slave of a Roman centurion and even commending his faith as greater than he had found in Israel (Matt. 8:5-10; Luke 7:1-10). He also defended and forgiven an adulterer – a crime back then was punishable by death (John 8:1-11). We also note that he touched the rotting flesh of a leper (a sickness considered a curse and of the lowest form back then) and brought him once again into human community (Mark 1:40-41).

Beneath the God claims made for this Jesus was a person who lived a message announcing that there was no status defined by religion, by tribe, by culture, by cult, by ritual, or by illness that could separate any person from the love of God. If love is a part of what God is or who God is, then it can surely be said of this Jesus that He lived the meaning of God!

In the book, “The Sins of Scripture”, Bishop John Shelby Spong tells that perhaps that is why those believers wrote that human life could never have produced the experience they found in Jesus. They were so moved by this man that they thought he must have been of another realm! Perhaps his birth was said to have been announced by a star because a star does not shine just for a single nation, it shines for the whole world! His life drew all nations and all people beyond their limits.

The celebration of Christmas, for me, is not a celebration of a testament of a particular religious faith but a celebration of an all-inclusive love for one and all. Santa Claus, just like Jesus Christ, is a representation of the celebration of love, kindness, generosity and goodness for humankind.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!


Background References:

  • “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”, John Shelby Spong, Harper Collins Publications (1998)
  • “The Sins of Scripture”, John Shelby Spong, Harper Collins Publications (2005)

Posted in ReligionComments (23)