The CBCP and the Roman Catholic Church: In Search of Relevance
The Roman Catholic church’s hegemony on ideas in the Western world and its vassal states started to break down after the reformation. The social movement abruptly ended the centuries old ideological domination by the Vatican of the Christian world. It first started as a brush fire in Germany, that quickly spread throughout Europe as a response to corruption and abuses in the church – administrative, sexual, political, economic and what have you.
The rise and coming fall of the church however, is just part of the evolution of memes. Prior to Christianity, there were other religions practised by the Romans, Greeks and the ancient world.
The Rise of Christianity
To understand the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, we need to look back at its beginnings. Allow me to recycle electrons and quote from Explorethemed.com.
Christianity began as a tiny sect of Judaism during the life of Jesus, but in just 3 centuries it had become the dominant religion of the entire Mediterranean World. How did Christianity achieve this tremendous feat?
In the first few centuries of Christianity, the Roman establishment was threatened by the Christian reverence of a single God and Christians were severely persecuted under Roman rule. However, the spread of Christianity was only possible because of the stability and unification of the Mediterranean achieved by the Romans. The Romans had successfully unified the entire Mediterranean into a relatively peaceful and prosperous trading system. Communications between the various peoples of the Mediterranean had become streamlined into two major languages: Latin in the Western Mediterranean, and Greek in the Eastern Mediterranean. This prosperity and unification assisted early missionaries such as St. Paul in getting the word out about the new faith. The early centers of Christianity were the largest cities and the most urbanized provinces on the major trade networks of the Mediterranean.
Rodney Stark’s book, the Rise of Christianity, argues that one of the main reasons for the success of Early Christianity was the Christian emphasis on caring for the sick. During the late Roman period there were a number of devastating plagues: the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD), the Plague of Cyprian (251-270 AD), and the Plague of Justinian (541–542 AD). These periods coincide with some of the most prolific growth of Christianity. Stark contends that Christian communities would have had better survival rates during these plagues because of the healthcare they provided for one another. Christians also cared for the sick in non-Christian communities, which would increase the likelihood of their conversion, especially in times of death and uncertainty. The old religions offered no explanation for why these epidemics were occurring, the ancients had no real understating of micro-organisms and why communicable diseases spread, Christianity acted as a salvation.
By the 4th Century AD, Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Mediterranean. Constantine I, who reigned from 306-337 AD, was the first Roman Emperor to be converted to Christianity. Shortly after, in 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius I established Christianity as the official state religion, outlawing other faiths.
Christianity in Rome
It is widely known that the early Romans disliked the Christians.
Unlike Hinduism and Buddhism which were founded rather early, Christianity was only founded perhaps in 4 BC (as historians predicted), the year when its founder, Jesus Christ, was born. It is a religion that stresses on doing good to others and developing in oneself qualities such as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. It is also important for every Christian to be able to forgive and forget. It is as we know today, a religion that is excepted by most and widely practised by people all over the world. It was not exactly the same case as in the past, however, especially in ancient Rome. The following is a story of how and why this was so…
Forty years after the death of the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar, the new emperor Nero came to the throne at the age of sixteen. He was a wildly extravagant leader, taxing the people heavily to support his personal projects. He was also a wicked man.
In the year 64 A.D. a terrible fire raged for days in the slum districts of Rome, killing thousands of people and leaving thousands more homeless. Nero is thought to have started the fire as a sinister way to rid Rome of both the slums and their occupants. However Nero used the young community of Christians as his scapegoats, saying that they had started the tragic fire. He ordered many of these Christians to be massacred in -the amphitheatre and elsewhere.
The official Roman dislike of Christianity was surprising, for the Romans were usually quick to adopt the gods of other faiths into their own religion. For instance, when Rome conquered Greece, the Romans readily accepted the Greek gods and goddesses and their myths, and altered many established Roman deities to resemble their Greek counterparts. The Roman god Jupiter, for example, took on many traits of Zeus, the Greek god of the heavens. Thus, why then could they not accept Christianity??
The reasons were because…
The Romans also declared their emperors to be gods, beginning with Augustus Caesar. However, the Christians refused to take part in the worship of emperors and were as a result, so disliked by the Roman State!
Christians were also seen as subversive enemies of the state in their fervent desire to make converts. Despite the persecutions, particularly under the emperors Nero and Diocletian, the number of Christians increased and, in 313 A.D., the emperor Constantine granted the Christians freedom of religion.
Thus, we can now understand why Christianity was not well received by the Romans. The Christians refusal to follow the rules of the Romans definitely angered the Romans much. Christianity was even considered to be an illegal religion and Christians were even alleged to practise black magic and even cannibalism!
Even in ancient times, Christianity was trying to impose its ideological foundations and marry it with the state.
After finally succeeding with Constantinopole – the Roman Catholic Church plunged the world into the dark ages. That culminated in the reformation.
For the Philippines however, the story had just begun when the first Spanish friars arrived in the galleons in search of gold, spices, and tribute to the spanish crown. The rest if I may say so, is history.
Professor Susan Russell, Anthropologist wrote a very lucid piece on Christianity in the Philippines. The article explains “how a small number of Spaniards converted the bulk of the Philippine population to Christianity between the mid-1500s and 1898–the end of Spanish rule. It also discusses some of the variety of forms of Christianity practiced today in the Philippines.” Here is an excerpt:
In little more than a century, most lowland Filipinos were converted to Roman Catholicism. There are a number of reasons why Spanish missionaries were successful in this attempt:
1. Mass baptism – the initial practice of baptizing large numbers of Filipinos at one time enabled the initial conversion to Christianity. Otherwise, there is no way that such a small number of Spanish friars, or Catholic priests, could have accomplished this goal. It is said that many Filipinos associated baptism with their own indigenous ‘healing rituals’, which also rely on the symbolism of holy water–very typical of Southeast Asian societies.
2. Reduccion policies – in areas where Filipinos lived scattered across the landscape in small hamlets, the Spanish military employed a resettlement policy that they had used successful in Central and Latin America. This policy was called reduccion, and essentially meant a forced relocation of small, scattered settlements into one larger town. The policy was designed for the convenience of administration of the Spanish colony’s population, a way for a small number of armed Spanish constabulary to control more easily the movements and actions of a large number of Filipinos. It was also designed to enable Spain to collect taxes from their Christianized converts. Throughout Spanish rule, Christianized Filipinos were forced to pay larger taxes than indios, or native, unChristianized peoples.
The reduccion policy also made it easier for a single Spanish Catholic friar to ‘train’ Filipinos in the basic principles of Christianity. In reality, the policy was successful in some areas but impossible to enforce. Spanish archives are full of exasperated colonial officials complaining about how such settlements were ‘all but abandoned’ in many cases after only a few weeks.
3. Attitude of the Spanish clergy in the early phase – Spanish friars were forced to learn the native language of the peoples they sought to convert. Without schools that trained people in Spanish, the Spanish friars had no choice but to say Christian mass and otherwise communicate in the vernacular languages of the Philippines. There are over 200 native languages now; it is unknown how many existed in the beginning of Spanish rule.
In the first half, or 150 years of Spanish rule, friars often supported the plight of local peoples over the abuses of the Spanish military. In the late Spanish period, in contrast, Spanish priests enraged many Filipinos for failing to a) allow otherwise ‘trained’ Filipino priests to ascend into the higher echelons of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the Philippines; b) return much of the land they had claimed as ‘friar estates’ to the Philippine landless farmers; and c) recognizing nascent and emerging Filipino demands for more autonomy and a greater say in how the colony was to be managed.
4. Adaptation of Christianity to the local context – Filipinos were mostly animistic in their religious beliefs and practices prior to Spanish intervention. In most areas they revered the departed spirits of their ancestors through ritual offerings, and also believed in a variety of nature spirits. Such beliefs were central to healing practices, harvest rites, and to maintaining a cosmological balance between this world and the afterlife. Spirits were invisible, but also responsible for both good and bad events. Spirits could be blamed for poor harvests, illness, and bad luck generally. Yet Filipinos believed that proper ritual feasting of the spirits would appease them, and result in good harvests, healthy recovery of the ill, and the fertility of women.
In the rallies in Manila that are broadcast throughout the Philippines by the media, vast numbers of Filipinos seek redemption or a better life by listening to what is essentially ‘Filipino’ gospel. Filipinos of all walks of life attend these rallies, sometimes to have their passports blessed so they can more easily attain jobs abroad that will help their families, and sometimes to have their bank books blessed so they can more easily save money. In any case, they, like many Americans who become enamored with t.v. evangelists, are looking for messages that promise not only salvation in the afterlife, but a better living standard in this life.
Religion, the State, and Secularism
The medieval dark ages demonstrated the catastrophic repercussions of imposing religious dogma on secular matters. The case of Galileo being the most celebrated case of the church’s hypocrisy, bigotry, and ignorance. Emperors, kings and princes shuddered at the thought of excommunication and eternal damnation by an old man in the sky who wants his arse kissed every Sunday.
The ridiculousness of the dogmatic impositions eventually led to the reformation and the wider acceptance of Secularism. As defined in Wikipedia,
“Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. (See also Separation of church and state and Laïcité.) In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on evidence and fact unbiased by religious influence. (See also public reason.)
Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus, medieval Muslim polymaths such as Ibn Rushd, Enlightenment thinkers like Denis Diderot, Voltaire, John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, and modern freethinkers, agnostics and atheists such as Bertrand Russell and Robert Ingersoll.
Religion as a way of life.
I agree with Prof Russell’s statement that “Religious belief, as always, is based on the ability of a religion to offer answers to the questions, concerns, and needs of people in different cultural and economic circumstances.”
This becomes more striking as the current national debate on the Reproductive Health Bill comes to the fore. We need this bill badly – and the Catholic Church is being obstructionist.
Clearly, the CBCP and the Roman Catholic church is in search of relevance as it dips into the debate on population management and jueteng. The church points towards having a Catholic morality as a solution to the economic problems. I beg to disagree given that you can’t remove protectionism and its debilitating impact on the economy by going to church. You actually need to get the charter changed – a position which the Church has been campaigning against. Old tired solutions proposed by the church are not only ineffective but irrelevant and trivial as well.
The “rock” upon which the Catholic Church stands is apparently, made of sand stitched together by mud.
It does not help that the Church had Carlos Celdran jailed. In fact, it has outraged more Filipinos. The monsignors better be ready, next thing you know – you will have the entire cast of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo attending mass.
I respect other people’s religious beliefs and disbelief – it’s about time the Catholic Church woke up to the fact that it does not have a monopoly of the truth – and has in fact for a long time become an obstruction to the quest for truth. It has substituted truth with lies and dogma.
Clearly the God of the Gaps, the Roman Catholic Church, and the CBCP has much to learn about humanity. For the most part of recorded history, the RC has been doing much of the talking and getting the people to serve its ideologues – the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, priests. Isn’t it about time they actually started fulfilling their vocation of serving the people and not the other way around?