A Journey into the Roots of Christmas
It’s the holiday season, particularly Christmas – and what better way to spend the holidays (other than shopping and partying) than to attempt to understand its roots – and my journey to a bigger and deeper understanding of “goodwill towards all men (and women)”.
Understanding in this sense means having the curiosity to explore information sources OUTSIDE the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church
I don’t claim to know the truth – never have. However, the least I can do is to whittle down the untruths – or at least place these factoids into a hierarchy that ranges from the verifiable to the unverifiable – and proceed accordingly.
Christmas, the holiday under scrutiny, obviously has its roots in Christianity. This in turn leads to more questions – the roots of Christianity.
Having been born in the Philippines, I was baptized Roman Catholic. Studied in a Jesuit School – the Ateneo. Was a sacristan, won medals as Best in Religion, soaked the catholic literature like a sponge. Read the bible, cover to cover, knew it by heart. Even had the illustrated comics. I was a good Catholic, a good Christian, I strived to emulate St Francis of Assisi because trying to emulate Christ was seen as “trying to be like god” according to a priest – it didn’t make sense but whatever na lang, I told myself.
I grew up in the heart of downtown Davao City – the Montelibano Apartments, Anda Street, now known as Inigo street – infront of Terraza Milleza, CAP, and BIR. Last time I visited Davao in 2008, I saw that the former apartment we used to live in is now a karaoke joint – Clappers.. WTF – is this a karaoke where we get the “clap”. What the hay was the owner thinking obviously he had no idea that among Westerners – the clap is a Sexually Transmitted Disease – Branding 101 gone askance, But I digress.
The apartment also housed the office of the Montelibano coconut estate in Mampising, Davao Norte. Yup – the Montelibanos of Bacolod bought land in Mampising, grew coconuts and had lots of tenants. There were lots of people in that office next to our apartment. They also had a library – a collection of books and magazines of my friend’s grand-dad. One afternoon, I was just chillin in the office, there weren’t too many people and I asked if I can read something. The clerks pointed me to the cabinet. I walked to the shelves – and saw my first glimpse of the Kabala. My eyes looked at the titles – the Rosicrucians, Theosophy, Fate Magazine. I grabbed a book – and I was hooked. Every day I would sneak in into the library and read voraciously – the tales and ideas were incredible and challenged my Roman Catholic beliefs. For one wicca, sorcery, astral travel, parallel dimensions isn’t quite a topic in Sunday school with its sock puppets and adults speaking in sing song pandering rhymes.
Then I came across another friend who lived in the Villafuerte apartments next to us. His mom had a collection of books by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa.
Then I got hold of Erich Von Daniken’s book “Chariot of the Gods” and Immanuel Velikovsky’s books. These guys were labeled as “nuts” but what struck me was their curiosity to tackle ideas that my grandma considered as Satanic and anti-Christ. I never discussed these with my aunts fearful that I will rot in hell or so I thought then. I couldn’t find an adult who I can discuss the topics with so I just did what I knew best – read. I read pro and anti views. I let the books do the debating – weighing whether the views made sense or not – and cross reference it with the encyclopedias in the Ateneo grade school library.
The thing is that after class, while waiting for our ride to come pick us up, my clique of geeks – lemme recall their names – Luigi Allado, Joseph Cruz, Alex Galvez, Rodolfo Aquino, Randolph Taylan, – and at time James Vergara and Vince Garcia – would gather in the Ateneo yard and talk about this stuff. We kinda liked Erich Von Daniken – and yes, that was in Grade 4. It got me thinking – what if the dude was right? Can’t tell my Catolico Cerrado relatives or I will be an outcast. My mom though, I noticed, was a bit resentful about the hypocrisy of Catholics while my Dad, being a physician wasn’t exactly the religious type – probably more spiritual and sublime.
Then I got into reading the Greek classics. I spotted a paperbook, which I guess my mom was reading – the Iliad – and I devoured it. The tales of heroism, sacrifice, courage, and redemption captivated my young mind. The vengefulness and cunning of the Greek gods was striking. And somehow, I wondered what happened to the Greek gods – and whether these gods sort of chilled with the Catholic god – I was now venturing from the world of literature
I started asking “silly” questions that somehow made the priests and my religion teachers squirm:
- Why weren’t dinosaurs mentioned in the bible?
- Were there dinosaurs in Noah’s ark?
- Can I have five hundred wives too like Solomon?
- If my dad killed me because God told him too, will I allow my life to be taken by my Dad?
- Why were all these people killing each other?
- Why did a god kill people who did not believe in him – why can’t this god just click his fingers and voila – all people believed – if he can’t make people believe he can’t be that powerful? Then the cop out – free will and I held my silence.
Then in high school, I enrolled in a public school, Davao City High School, where religious class was an elective. One buddy of mine, Linus Modequillo opted out and I asked why. He said he was an atheist. It blew my socks off. Here’s a guy, high school, who came out to me in the open and told me – the catholic god does not exist. His dad was the physics teacher in our school by the way. I told him – “God or the Devil’s gonna get you”. He said “they both don’t exist”. So, there I was sitting in elective religious class while my buddy Linus was doing more fun stuff – cmon, if you are in high school, anytime spent outside of the classroom is .. fun. (don’t tell my son, his dad played hookey a lot.. hahahaha.. and still managed to get Straight A’s!!!)
My college years in the Ateneo were anything.. but college. I understood the academic requirements. The university’s goal was to provide me a degree and a modicum of education within 4 years – but I had other plans. Ateneo education revolved around the four walls of the classroom and the mandatory attendance. Frankly, sitting in the classroom, listening to the teacher discuss topics that I understood intimately while my classmates were still catching up was plain torture – and I had to sit through it. Initially, I gamed the system – gave the Ateneo professors what they wanted, gave them the answers they wanted to hear so I can my A’s but I felt I was selling out.
Imagine this – as a Biology undergrad, I wanted to take computer courses to enrich my skillset. The Ateneo’s department heads told me I cannot take computer courses unless I was enrolled in an engineering course – it made my blood curdle – what the f*ck – this is the Ateneo, how is this possible? So I asked – does this mean I have to get out of the Bio program just to take 6 units of Wordstar and dBASE Programming. The NS department under the guidance of Fr Gorgonio Esguerra, SJ said those are the rules.Oh sh*t, I had to uproot myself from the Bio program, enroll in the Electrical Engineering program just to get more units in computer science. Why can’t I tale these courses in parallel – I can handle it. That’s when it hit me – the Ateneo is overrated. – and so begun my decision to thumb my nose at the system at my expense ( I was going to get failure debarred because I would only show up to take the exams – and my PERFECT scores will rendered useless because I had 10 absences ) – I didn’t care – by then I already know that after you graduate in the Philippines – it’s who you know and what you know. If am gonna know something it will be on MY terms.
At times I so wanted to blurt – “Okay I got it. Now can you just give me that exam and be done with all these”. And, it just cracked me up to see that the names in the honors list every semester were cheaters who used lots of kodigos, exam leakages, and outright copying – to the point where I no longer have respect for any Ateneo graduate that has the word laude in it.
Then came Philosophy class. It provided an opportunity to explore the ideas and discuss it in the open. When I read the works of Existentialist philosophers – it seemed I had come home – the ideas resonated. On top of that, college life was punctuated by the political upheaval on the run up to EDSA – and I was in the middle of it – Marx was in vogue – I kinda liked how the manifesto analyzed society – but I disagree with his concluding vision – given that man can both be capitalist and laborer at the same time – a capitalist/producer/consumer. Existentialism and the atheism that came with Marxist dialectical materialism was a very potent mix.
The dye was cast – from a defender of the Catholic faith, I came to understood that there was something bigger than Roman Catholicism. Still I felt that I had to do my due diligence and test the notions of the non-existence of the Catholic deity and explore all the arguments. All my life, I have heard the arguments FOR the catholic deity. I felt it was time to explore all the arguments AGAINST such a belief, such as these:
Zeitgeist [Religion] The Greatest Story Ever Sold 1/3
Zeitgeist [Religion] The Greatest Story Ever Sold 2/3
Zeitgeist [Religion] The Greatest Story Ever Sold 3/3
And so I went to read up and even immerse in Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Shamanism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Evolution – it has been such an enriching experience.
What I gathered is that we all want peace, harmony, happiness – and if one’s belief or disbelief can help humanity realize these aspirations am all for it, provided however, without having to kill or obliterate other people because of their belief or disbelief.
One thing I know for sure – I may not agree with what you believe in – but I will fight to the death your right to say it – and I will also fight to the death my right to say that I disagree with your belief.
Happy Holidays y’all.