Filipino Spirituality Needs To Evolve

When the hundreds of thousands of devotees of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo have long since finished their often dangerous and fatal attempt to touch their icon, one could ask the question: why have the individual spiritual transformations that have taken place in this mass devotion not translated in the collective transformation of Filipino spirituality as a whole?

black nazarene procession

It need not be stated that monotheistic religion (Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, et al) saturates Filipino culture right down to the very core. Its pull is so powerful that entire congregations (with memberships in their millions) can influence secular politics, create civil chaos and nearly partition the country. Regardless of their denominations or their motives, there is a commonality that prevails when these large-scale long-term events happen: they all involve action only at the behest of their leaders.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

In the Philippines, it seems, when it comes to matters of religion, the devoted won’t do anything unless their priest, minister or imam says so. (Ironically, this apparently also applies to certain Filipinos who profess to no religion at all, with action on certain issues by higher-ups attempted only when legal ramifications are imminent.)

Again this goes back to Filipino culture. If we take the theoretical framework of the Lewis Model of behavior and culture, the entire nation is lumped with its neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia as more or less halfway between being “Multi-active” (emotional, impatient, people-oriented, etc.) and being “Reactive” (polite/indirect, patient, non-confronting, etc.), with a slight skew towards the latter. In the model, such a position is opposite that of the United States, which is generally “Linear-active” (factual, logical, organizational, etc.). Though this model does not take into account the spiritual beliefs of the cultures and nations it has detailed, it nevertheless can in a way explain Filipino spirituality: it is a universe where the devotee is at the lower rungs of a seemingly infinitely ascending hierarchial ladder that cannot (and should not) be defied; its highest rungs are unreachable, and those at the bottom must wholeheartedly plead to intermediaries for favors.

True to the Philippines being a blend of the East and the West, Filipino spirituality is a unique combination of the feudal system of medieval Europe and the caste system of Vedic India: both are inhumane, antiquated, and obsolete in a rapidly transforming world.

I don’t have faith (for all it’s worth) that it would happen in my lifetime, but a gradual evolution of Filipino spirituality is sorely needed, for the following reasons.

RELIGIOUS INFANTILISM. The Sinulog is perhaps the other large religious  festival that Filipinos celebrate at the beginning of the year after the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene. At the heart of the Sinulog is the devotion to the Santo Niño or the Child Jesus, a phenomenon that is perhaps unique in modern Christendom. Psychologically, the Filipino can be said to be fixated on the perceived “innocence” of children, especially babies; this can manifest in how Filipinos often keep images of the Child Jesus in their shrines. Not to mention that in the secular world, Filipinos love “cute” children, from child entertainers on TV, to tweens who for some reason act younger than their age on the internet.

There is an undercurrent of belief among devout Filipinos of a childlike Jesus who symbolizes eternal innocence. Devout Filipinos often take that perceived innocence into their own and in effect personalize it; however, this takes the form of infantilization, a sense of an extended childhood — or, in the case of Filipino spirituality, a carefree childhood that lasts for eternity. This phenomenon has actually split many philosophers and theologians within the Catholic Church itself, with many of them postulating (for good reason) that a paternalistic church hierarchy only contributes to the spiritual retardation of the laity. Spiritual growth in Filipino religious environments is inhibited and sometimes vanishes altogether, resulting in a community totally dependent on its (often) male leaders for religious guidance.

MARIAN EMASCULATION. An infantilized spirit will undoubtedly yearn for a spiritual mother; for Catholics in particular, this comes in the form of a white-hot devotion to Mary, the all-graceful, all-gentle, spiritually immaculate Mediatrix of All Graces between the suffering dukha and her Son the stern King of the Universe. The Marian devotions that begun in Renaissance Europe and climaxed with the apparitions of Fatima in the past century have never really receded in Catholic Philippines, in part because the political crises that the Vatican faced in the 19th Century still affect religious doctrine in the country today. Prayers to Mary often supersede the conventional paternal Holy Trinity: the Mother is often seen as more “approachable” and “merciful” than the Father and/or the Son, the mediator between the highest and lowest rungs of the ladder.

Despite the reformations of Vatican II that put Mary in a more assertive apostolic (missionary) role, Catholic Filipino spirituality is seemingly stuck in the preference for Mary as the perfect mother figure. It’s no wonder that the largest statues and most popular religious shrines in the Philippines are of Mary, similar to how medieval Europeans constructed giant Gothic cathedrals in the name of Notre Dame. It then becomes rather unusual that non-Catholic denominations gather under Marian shrines to protest government intervention.

By itself, Marian devotion can be seemingly harmless. But coupled with spiritual infantilization as mentioned above, this combination has already brought about among Filipino devotees a sense of submissive conformity.

SPIRITUAL FATALISM. This is manifested predominantly in the popular Filipino euphemism “bahala na,” which in its most primitive semantic form means “leave it all up to God.” It has its benefits, but it becomes a form of fatalism that allows the Filipino to disengage from potentially everything, leaving control to external forces he or she couldn’t probably understand. Then there’s it’s more vicious cousin, “bahala ka,” which is more of an affirmation of giving up on something, absolving whoever said it from any action. “Bahala ka” became fashionable in Philippine politics during an awkward disaster management meeting after Typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013.

Bahala na/ka” is therefore a conscious and pragmatic decision to lose control, to leave everything that comes afterwards to the pre-Christian concept of Bathala, or God. Combined with the two other factors presented above, spiritual fatalism leads to spiritual stasis. Thus, Filipino spirituality becomes subservient to the whims of its superiors who perpetuate the doctrinal cycle of “innocence” and “purity” while stunting actual tangible change. Even Filipino atheists, mental innovators supposedly free from the shackles of religion, still perpetuate this cycle by sticking to secular dogmatics of supposed experts without actually creating new and “freethinking” ideas of their own.

So what’s the point here?

When for example a Filipino Nazareno devotee finally reaches the statue after fighting tooth and nail in the million-strong crowds that surround it, he or she might only feel for the moment but might not actually carry the spiritual experience long afterwards. So what strikes the devotee more: his/her suffering in the throng, the moment of contact, the euphoria of success, or the transformation that might follow? What if nothing happens at all after contact?

When a Filipino penitent crucifies himself in an imitation of Christ every Good Friday as a vow to the Blessed Mother, what lessons does he learn and what does he teach to those who he welcomes to watch him? If on the off chance he breaks his vow for any reason, can he do something about it?

When a Filipino churchgoer hears his minister’s exhortation to vote for a certain candidate this coming election day, what could he ask himself about the Godly values (or otherwise) that candidate possesses to deserve the vote of the congregation? Can he vote for someone else, or can he NOT vote for anyone at all?

When the nonreligious Filipino man is allowed the freedom and given the impetus by the most outspoken of his polemicists to freely and publicly mock the religious, does he have the courage to profess in tangible form that this might not be a rational recourse to sustain his  lack of belief? What affirmative actions can he do to divest himself of the dominant male privilege that prevails in his system?

When a certain doctrine states that all peoples of all nations are equal under God, can a Filipino adherent question the validity of the potential creation of a sub-state that would more likely incite religious violence rather than promote peace, as that same doctrine supposedly promotes?

These questions, hypothetical as they are, all seek to elicit answers other than the usual mindset of “just because it is.” All the great spiritual traditions of the world eventually had to go through this dynamic process of questioning and reinterpreting to adapt to the times and places when and where they existed, while keeping their hermeneutical traditions intact. Hinduism in the long run gave rise to Buddhism, the Abrahamic religions gave birth to to the Age of Reason, and even the Chinese traditions (Confucianism and Taoism), which were banned for a while during the Cultural Revolution, were eventually accommodated into the Chinese Communist Party’s state-sanctioned system today.

What matters here, though, is that most of the questions should be answered by the adherents themselves who live and pray and worship and speak rhetoric within that system. The new (and hopefully more empowered) direction that they wish to take their spirituality into must contain emic solutions to the problems that have arisen within them, meaning it must have answers that reflect their own identity, their own language and must be decided upon in their own terms, and must benefit everyone within that system (not just its leaders). That way, collective transformation does happen.

If Filipino spirituality should (and it should!) evolve, the process must begin with a Filipino.

All this is inextricably intertwined with culture, and perhaps one of the ways that a Filipino could better herself (and to her nation, if the nation still offers significant import to her) is to develop the ability to openly question the prevailing norms of her most deeply-held spiritual beliefs.


[Photo courtesy of]

19 Replies to “Filipino Spirituality Needs To Evolve”

  1. how can we boost tourism in the Philippines if these NPA’s and islamic terrorism can roam the country with their illegal guns? how could pnoy banned guns on pilipinos? how would they protect themselves from those terrorist???

    1. Yeah, good luck with that, jeni. Four “terrorists” hold you up at gunpoint and demand money. What are you going to do? “um, for a while sirrrr, just wait one second while I get my gun out to defend myself”.

      I didn’t know there was a gun ban – I deliberately avoid reading the news because it makes me despair for the future of the human race. However, if there is one, the country has taken a small step towards becoming civilised.

      The next step, of course, would be to have a functioning police force so that the population don’t live in fear of criminals (and the police).

    2. It is hard to boost tourism in the Philippines when there is no universally agreed upon standards among the population, because they are too engaged in doing their own thing, instead of working together as one nation and one people.

      1. Correct: Philippines is a complicated place to visit. Full of risk and unpredictable. As opposed to Thailand which has 32-35 million tourists a year.
        Thailand is also a business hub with many foreign businesses thriving there. In the Philippines it always a worry – who will be trying to steal your business. How much will the Mayor ask from my business? How much will the BIR officials come and ask for even if I pay my full taxes. How much will the local senator or congressman want and can I survive if I pay them this.

        Then each Filipino is as you say trying to gain their own benefits from anything that comes along.

        Your country has been raped of money by the succeeding presidents since Marcos with the absolute worst being the Aquino family followed by Aroyo.

        Presidency, congress, senate, judges, prosecutors, Court Staff, Wardens, Jail Guards, Policemen, Barangay Captains and Government officials are all guilty of extreme corruption and are responsible for the nation of GREED the Philippines really is

    3. You cant boost tourism in the Philippines while you have so much corruption in the government. Bullets in peoples luggage and charging people for it. Same bullets, always 2, no guns. Clearly obvious it is a scam but innocent people were put in Jail

      This is not the NPA who in fact do not harm foreigners. They will protect a foreigner more than the government. The Islamic terrorists on the other hand will kidnap foreigners for money and have been free to do so for many years because they pay the presidents.

      Why do you think there was no action against the killers of the 44 fallen policemen. How do you think the Magindenao masacre of years ago was viewed by the Foreigners.

      Philippines is listed as a high risk country to visit. The people and government need to change their ways to bring back confidence from Foreigners to visit the Philippines.

      Philippines has so much to offer but only produces corruption and risk that affect the visitors.
      Business cannot develop in the Philippines until you change your way. There is an abundance of labour there and resources but the greedy Filipino families and Government officials see that only they benefit from it

      So it is not the NPA that is the problem, I will happily go into NPA country and sit and talk with them, and enjoy their company but not the government or Islamic Terrorist organisation territory.

      Having a gun will not save you. You are one they will be many when they come to get you

  2. There is nothing wrong in professing, practicing or even inspiring by our faiths regardless if we are Catholic, Protestant, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhist, etc.

    However, the Filipino Spirituality that I was trying to pertain here must be in the context that one is inspired and motivated through the scriptures and inspiration from the God Almighty, and must not let such belief be misinterpreted as radicalism or anything related, for those were are false in teaching.

    Hope that one’s life goes in balance.

  3. ‘Evolve’ is the wrong word. As a Christian, I find Filipino rituals and beliefs to be classically Satanic. I’m not sure what it is they worship, or what it is they entrust their fates to with ‘bahala na’, but it sure isn’t the Christian God or Christ. It’s something dark and malevolent.

    Jesus had a lot to say about “religious” people and crooked priests:

    1) By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

    Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

    Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

    Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

    Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

    Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’

    Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    2) But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.

    And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

    Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.

    3) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

    THIS is the ‘spiritual’ filth that pollutes the Philippines. No evolution is possible. This is a country that worships fallible men, idols, demons, and other things it doesn’t understand; and the results are exactly what you would expect.

  4. I would say many so-called Christians actually practice their own version of Christianity, or don’t practice it at all. Whatever teaching you put up there, in practice, people will always be doing their own thing, what they want.

  5. There is even a religion, where they worship Satan, as their God.

    In the ancient world, having sex with the High Priestess, was a form of worship.

    Whatever people want their way to worship God…I don’t mind.

    1. So what if the religion celebrates stealing, murdering, killing, raping, sex with little girls?
      Is that ok with you for a religion so long as they worship God?

  6. Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment.

  7. It is very hard for Filipinos to keep their feet on the ground because of their aristocratic (hambog) attitude and way of life, that prevent them from letting go of their useless “Pinoy Pride,” and learning to humbly cooperate with each other to rebuild their nation.

  8. I’m a linear active person, once i attended a seminar cultural connections, unbelievably china and philippines are in the same cluster being reactive.

  9. The only significant difference between the Chinese and Failipinos is the former is willing to set aside personal interests to join forces and build businesses; the latter is not willing to forego self-interests and prefer to go their separate ways to become maids for Chinese and foreigners.

  10. The Filipino nation is one of mostly devoted Catholics or Christians.
    Yet they are the most corrupt people in the world. They have no issues lying to foreigners to gain benefit for themselves and they do the same to their own people – especially politicians, government officials and people with power.

    They go to Church, to confession and immediately go out and break all the 9 commandments and follow the one thou shalt not take any other god than me” believing that the confession absolves their crimes against the commandments. It does not. What you do in your life time cannot be removed by a mere man. Priests are no more than men and many in the Philippines are guilty of crimes, have children and steal from the church. Yet they are held in such high esteme.

    The Filipino cannot be trusted in business or with money.
    The very lives of foreigners are at risk if they go there. The legal system allows false cases to proceed so Prosecutor and judges can gain benefit from stealing the charged persons money. No bride then you linger in Jail indefinitely.

    Why do you think so many foreigners to to Thailand. 32 Million a year and how many go to the Philippines?

    This is because the system cannot be trusted, the costs are overly inflated, food, accommodation especially and the risk of false cases is high, running business in the Philippines is risky and you cannot have control of your own business – It has to be handed over to a Filipino who you cannot trust.

    If you really look at the Philippines objectively you will see all the problems
    Thankfully you have a new president who sees all this an maybe he can fix it. We will see

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.