Over at ProPinoy.net, blogger Doy Santos presents a comprehensive statistical picture of religious fervor in the Philippines. According to Santos’s figures the Philippines counts itself among the Top Ten countries with populations that have the highest rated “confidence in their church”. This Top Ten is predominantly Islamic. Tanzania is reckoned to be 50-50 Christian/Islamic and, while India possesses a sizeable Muslim population, 80 percent of its population practices Hinduism.
The Philippines and Zimbabwe are the only pre-dominantly Christian country in the Top Ten list of countries whose people seem to find the most comfort in the embrace of religious practice.
If we are to take a bit of generalisation license to interpret “confidence in religion” as meaning religiosity, we could then say that the Top Ten most religious countries according to Santos’s data are…
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(2) Saudi Arabia
… and the most non-religious countries in the study are:
(2) Czech Republic
(7) Great Britain
Interestingly, Vietnam comes in after Belgium as 11th among the non-religious covered in the study.
I have better things to do than be bothered to gather data to highlight the obvious. Any schmoe will most likely see the obvious strong correlation between religiosity and the per capita incomes (average individual citizens’ wealth) of the countries listed in the the study Santos cites. This correlation will most likely be strong across most measures of development levels and quality of life — personal security, health, crime, political stability, justice, equality, etcetera, etcetera.
Perhaps this frames the touchiness of the Philippine Roman Catholic Church when it comes to issues that threaten it at the very core of the belief system it has been shoving down people’s throats (or driven through their hearts with steel swords) for centuries. If we search our personal experiences dealing with people, we will find that those we know who have achieved the least tend to be the ones who are most defensive, the most easily roused to anger when challenged, and the most likely to lash out with arms flailing when asked innocent questions.
The Philippine Roman Catholic Church seems to be exhibiting behaviours consistent with such a character profile. An institution that is bankrupt of contribution to measureable achievement that yields clear outcomes along most measures of human development may actually be predisposed to throwing temper tantrums.
Philippine Reproductive Health and the proposed passing of a Reproductive Health Bill for Filipinos? Broach the subject and you get an army of men-in-robes snarling, teeth gnashing, and sicking their wrathful God upon their hapless congregations.
Compare the way Filipino officers of the Catholic Church think with the way their counterparts in more progressive societies think. In the article “Philippines bishops’ contraception conundrum” published by EurekaStreet.com, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia, author Fatima Measham highlights what can be used to describe the stark difference in the way Catholics in more progressive societies think compared to their counterparts in the Philippines…
The 1968 Winnipeg Statement, the Canadian bishops’ response to the papal encyclical against artificial contraception, accommodates such exercise of faith, declaring that ‘the unity of the Church does not consist in a bland conformity in all ideas, but rather in a union of faith and heart, in submission to God’s will and a humble but honest and ongoing search for the truth’.
This open-heartedness to a continuing understanding of God’s truth was echoed by Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner at the time:
‘Bishops should not act as though the encyclical were irreformable or as though everyone who dissented were guilty of contempt of authority or were separating himself from the church. They should refrain from imposing canonical penalties on persons who respectfully and discreetly propose another view …
‘If no one could voice his opposition to reformable doctrines, the development and correction of the Church’s official teaching would be seriously hampered.’
Philippine bishops, as well as others in the Catholic leadership, would do well to reflect on his words today.
Indeed, perhaps at the risk of contradicting the title of this piece, we could highlight the clear possibility that this may not, after all, be a strictly Catholic thing and more of the Philippine Roman Catholic Church simply acting (as it keeps asserting is the license it holds to do so) like typical Citizen Filipino — exhibiting that chronic lack of perspective, that renowned penchant for missing the relevant points, and the bizarrely banal rooting for the wrong argument, we’ve all become so sickeningly familiar with.
Then again maybe I have my causal relationships mixed up and therefore this question begs to be begged:
Is the behaviour of the Roman Catholic Church (A) a cause of or (B) caused by the Filipino’s lack of ability to apply modern thinking to sorting out their critical national issues?
Most likely a bit of both, I suppose. The key then, it seems, to resolving the issue of Reproductive Health, winding down the circus that surrounds it, and avoiding any future dramas brought about by a disproportionate input of sloppy thinking into the National “Debate” is to disentangle primitivist religious zealotry from Filipino civic life. Fact is, religion (or at least the type espoused by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) no longer holds the old lofty place it had been accustomed to occupying for centuries in a modern secular evaluation of state issues. This is not an easy path to take as most of the concepts that would underpin such an initiative is completely alien to the Filipino mind. Measham further observes how…
[…] in the Philippines, where Catholicism is woven through the culture and language, the teaching against birth control permeates even its politics. Electoral ambitions live and die according to the candidate’s stance on contraception.
The Philippine Roman Catholic Church is making complicated what should really be a straightforward ethical call by the average Filipino…
The reality is that people do want to act morally within their desire for a better life. That is why they would prefer to avoid getting pregnant than have an abortion. Many Filipino women are already making this choice but now feel stigmatised by the public brawl over the RH bill. What is lost is the idea that the decision to not have a child can be made in good conscience.
In short, take away the “teachings” on “morality” of the Roman Catholic Church, and we are left with a straight and true ethical path to take.
Shorter still but more comprehensive in scope is the obvious conclusion: The sort of Catholics the Philippine Church wants Filipinos to be is a notion that can be described with two words:
Perhaps it is high time that we chuck the old baggage and the even older bags that fill it into history’s crapper and start looking for a (or better yet developing our own) alternative way of regarding the personal choices we need to make to secure a better future for us and our kids.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.